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The Living Room
Diane Weipert – Voyeur
So I’ve been living in my apartment about 15 years, and one evening I walked in the living room, which has three bay windows which face the gardens in the back, and over half a block of gardens and across a small street, there was this bright window that I’d never noticed before, but it’s at the exact eye level of my third floor apartment. After a while I realized that I’d never seen it because there had always been curtains, and I think it was always dimly lit, the curtains were often closed, and all of a sudden there is this bright light and no curtains, and it was like a movie screen.
Fifteen years, and that window has meant nothing… I haven’t even noticed it, and now it’s all I think about.
There were new tenants, and it had always been a living room, and now it was suddenly a bedroom, and there are these two people in there, and they were naked, this young couple in their twenties. They were really lovey-dovey and they were always naked.
The thing is they pushed their bed so that the head was up against the windows. So their heads – you could see both of their heads lying there. So you’d see things that were just shocking. I’d been there all of this time, and suddenly you could see people having sex really clearly, amazingly clearly. I had no idea that you could see so well across such a distance, and it was really uncomfortable. My husband and I were still adjusting to parenthood, and it wasn’t the most romantic time in our lives. My son was probably three, and when you’re new parents to a toddler, especially because he sleeps in bed with us too, so he’s literally right between us, the last thing you need is a couple of hotties getting it on across the window, reminding your husband of everything he’s not getting.
To have this really beautiful, young woman, that was really thin and… And naked, all the time, really… You know, it was really frustrating. She had this beautiful, tall, lanky, well-built boyfriend. At first, because I felt like my husband was going to be staring at this naked woman all the time, I started closing the living room curtains, which is really kind of silly, and it made our room really dark. We’d never closed those curtains, so that didn’t work.
I thought about making a really big sign that said, “CLOSE YOUR CURTAINS” or “BUY CURTAINS.” They didn’t even have curtains. “BUY CURTAINS, WE CAN SEE YOU.” And I thought about going by their building – I had no idea what their unit was – and leaving a note. Then I started thinking that was really silly and prudish, and started realizing that they were just young, and I had to just get over it, and live with it, and move on. And so that’s what I did.
We got really used to them, and they became sort of this symbol of what we used to be in our twenties. They were living this really carefree time, and that’s another thing that was kind of hard not to sometimes… When you’re in early parenthood you get a little bitter, I think, at some of those freedoms, and we’d watch them sleeping until eleven, while we’ve been up since five with our toddler, and we saw them eating breakfast on the roof together…
So we got used to it. We would notice, like “Oh, look, they got a new plant in there.” They became sort of part of our lives, because they were just always there, and never ever bought curtains.
Do you think all the neighbors in your building and the surrounding buildings also saw this?
It’s funny – I think the way that we are positioned… Because all of the buildings around us are different sizes, and our building is the tallest one on our block, but it’s exactly at the right level to see… I have a friend next door and then a friend across the way, and all of them have windows facing the gardens, but all of them are blocked. And I look at the other windows of the buildings around us and I don’t think anyone has this perfect level view. The irony is that I’m such a private person. And I don’t know, am I supposed to have maybe respected their privacy and just looked away? But it’s impossible, because that’s the way the chairs face… They face the window; I couldn’t not see them if I wanted to. But I guess I could have not gotten the binoculars.
* * *
So time went by, and this is maybe a year and a half later, two years later, and I remember seeing their room and the light was on, but it was empty. I thought that was strange, because it was five o’clock in the morning, and they never went anywhere early. It was like that for a whole week, it was just this empty room with a light on, and I thought that was strange. They didn’t seem to be there as often, or maybe just she would be there, and he was gone for long periods of time. And we just kind of forgot about them. There wasn’t as much action going on, and they weren’t as present, so we just kind of lived our lives and forgot about them, for maybe seven or eight months.
At the end of last year, in December, there was this night when my husband and I separately had both seen this woman, naked, sitting in the window. Kind of chubby, slump-shouldered woman who was just looking down at the street. And we both thought it was so strange… Just couldn’t figure out who she was, what she was doing and why she was naked. A few nights later there was this young man standing right at the window, by the bed, and he was skeletal – he was so thin – and he was bald, completely. And we realized it was the same couple. They had completely changed. He was sick, there was something serious wrong with him.
After that, I just watched the window all the time. He would sit, all day he was there… Because I work from home, and I would see him all day in the bedroom, either lying down or sitting at the computer. Then after a couple of weeks he was just lying down, and he was just there, and his bald head would be up against the pane of glass, all the time. And she would be there, and she’d come in and she would bring him things, but mostly it was just him there, by himself, and sometimes he would have his knees bent and you could just see how skeletal they were; they were just bones. Sometimes he’d kick off the blankets and he was just lying there naked, and emaciated. Then, after a while, he was just always burrowed under the blankets.
I found myself thinking, “Well, maybe he’s been through chemo and he’s recovering, and he’s going through this sick phase before he gets well…” Because he was so young, he was such a young guy.
We had to go to Colorado to see my family for Christmas, and I worried all the time I was there. I thought about them, and I worried that he wasn’t going to be there when we got back. I worried all the time about it. When we got back, about ten days later, he was still there, but his head looked so much smaller, and there were a lot of people there. Then I got out my binoculars, I got my birding binoculars. I’m not proud of it, but at that point I felt so invested…
It looked like people coming to say goodbye, and there was this sort of short, blonde, mid-western-looking woman, who I guess was his mother, and then there was this young guy who just kept pacing the halls. You know, you could just see… There were two doorways leading out of this room, and you could just see him go down one side and through the other, and back, and forth, and back, and forth… And I’d figured he was the brother. It looked like the girlfriend’s sister was also there – it was just a guest that looked like her.
I remember there was just this little gathering going on in the living room right below. The neighbors were standing around and having drinks, and they had no idea, at all, of what was going on right upstairs. I would watch people come and go… Then after a while everyone left, except for the girlfriend and the mother. I spent all that evening sitting vigil in the back of the couch, and watching.
I remember the girlfriend lying beside him for a long time, on her own, and she was just stroking his face so tenderly… It was so much affection that really transcends the kind of young love that you expect. All I could see was the top of his head all that time. I remember later seeing her standing by the bed, with the mother on the other side and they were just all talking, and she put a hand on his forehead, she put the back of her hand on his forehead, then she was wiping at her eyes, and you could tell that there was this sense that something — that it was getting closer. Then I could see this reckoning, where she was wiping at her eyes and touching his forehead, and wiping out her eyes, and…
There were candles lit, and this young woman was on one side, and his mother was on the other side. And they just were lying there for a really long time, and they had their hands just resting on his chest… And so I watched it for a long time…
The mother and the girlfriend were lying on either side of him, and you could tell this was the end. I thought, “Now all that’s left is the girlfriend and the mother, and inexplicably, me. Me, I am one of the three people at the deathbed.” They lay there for a long time, and then they just got up, and they went into the other room, and I realized that it must have been the moment…
All this time, I always had this sense that they’re gonna break up, they’re gonna move out. Nobody that age stays together very long… And I had no idea, it was this beautiful love story. So the next day I got up and I went to the window first thing, and they were folding up blankets and stacking them on the bed, and I figured that he had been taken away in the night. So I was in the kitchen and my husband called because he knew how obsessed I had gotten with this situation, and he said there’s activity over there. I came running, I got my binoculars and I looked, and I realized that he was still there, he was still on the bed. His body was still there, and it was the coroner. So the coroner and his assistant came, and they had these white, plastic gloves on, and they pulled his body to the edge of the bed and onto this white sheet, and I just remembered the lifelessness of it. It looked so shrunken… It almost looked like a shrunken rubber proxy of a body; so incredibly dead.
They wrapped him in the sheet, and they zipped him into a vinyl bag, and they put him on this kind of gurney. They took the gurney out, and… I just had this very strange impulse, and I ran and threw on my coat over my pajamas and ran out to the street, and ran to the corner, and I was there just as they were hauling him out. They were carrying him out, and the girlfriend was there. She was talking to one of them in the doorway, and they loaded him into this van, and I realized that they didn’t know me at all. I had no place to be there. And they looked at me… I remember the coroner’s assistant looking at me like I was a sort of a rubber necker in the street, looking at this grizzly scene. And I realized that’s what I was. I had no place to be there, and suddenly it all felt so perverse.
So I went home and I felt very strange about the whole thing. I tried to tell myself that, well, I never wanted to be a part of their lives. I was the one that wanted them to put up curtains; I wanted them to shut the intimate stuff out. I was uncomfortable with it. I was the one that wanted out. And I started remembering, all of a sudden, when I moved to that apartment so many years ago, and I was in my mid twenties, that I just shared the apartment with a roommate, because it was too expensive, and my bedroom was in the living room. And I remember how when I first moved in, I pushed the head of my bed up against the three bay windows, so that in the morning I could see the sky. I had no clue, it never occurred to me that anyone could see me. I remember that I felt like whenever I looked out the window I never saw anyone, and I never closed my curtains either.
Did you ever find out either of their names?
I never have found out their names, and I looked through the local obituaries obsessively, for weeks, and there was never anyone that fit his description. There was never anyone young enough, or that looked like him, so no idea. I walked by their place several times, and there are only numbers on the mailboxes and the buzzers, there are no names, so I can’t look up anything. I don’t know, I have no idea who she is. I have no idea who he was; no idea what he was sick with. I don’t know if I’ve gotten anything right. Maybe they were married. But I didn’t get wrong the fact that he died, because I was there for that. Because I saw it all.
I think about that a lot, how he chose… That he chose to die in that bed, in that bedroom, and he didn’t choose to go to a hospice, or anywhere. He wanted to be in his bedroom. All of those long days, from the morning when I looked out, in the evening he was just exactly in the same position. That was where he wanted to be. It’s where all of the happy times were, I guess, and the end times.
Just a couple of days after it happened, she was up on the roof with a friend, doing yoga. I’ve watched her lying around a lot. She went out of town, I think, for a bit, and she’s still there. I have been watching her recovery, and instead of being this young woman, she looks totally different. She looks so changed. She just looks like this very experienced, world-wary person. She has a job now, that gets her up very early, because I get up at 6 and she’s already dressed and heads out at 6:15.
The other night I saw her, and she was in her bedroom, she was wearing this baggy T-shirt, and all the lights were on, and she was dancing… Just dancing around her room. So yeah… I want her to move on. This young woman, that I was so cranky and bitter about, now I feel so protective, and kind of maternal.
If you ran into her, at the corner market, or something, do you think you could ever say anything to her?
Yes, if I ran into her, I wouldn’t say a thing. What would I say? “I have been watching you through your window.” How creepy would that be? Yeah… No way. She doesn’t know that… She doesn’t know that there’s this person, this complete stranger, that’s out there really rooting for her, you know?
* * *
I never got the binoculars when they were walking around naked, or having sex in the window. That was the most mortifying thing for me. So it’s just like me that I would want to avert my eyes during the sexy parts, and then get the binoculars for the death scene. That’s so typical me…
Facing off with the toys you can’t shake.
What does it mean to become a parent when you’re no longer speaking to the parents who raised you? Our producer Jackie Sojico is about to find out … because she’s 7 months pregnant.
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