Specifically, the self-destruction of relationships. The implosion. The slow grinding away of that edifice you thought was so secure and now you are left with a pile of sharp-edged debris. Then sand. Then dust.
I’m remembering a time a few years ago when we lived next to a certain couple. Megan and I weren’t good friends of theirs – though that could be said of anyone in the building.
(Sidenote 1: I love cities, but cities also seem to be the ultimate in distancing people from each other. I’m sure that’s as much me as it is city, but a careful guarding from others is one of the things I learned while living in D.C. My first thought when a stranger approaches me is What does this person want from me?
Then I think of New York, and the murder of Kitty Genovese, and the thirty-eight people who saw the murder but didn’t call the police. Would I be one of those people? Or, more to the point, who wouldn’t be?)
I’m protective of my time and my space. Engaging with someone in conversation once means you’re setting up a pattern of talking with a person again and again, and if you end up not liking the person, there is no easy way out of that social obligation. Society frowns on such statements as: “Stop bothering me. You’re boring.” or “I find you slightly morally reprehensible.”
With this guy, George, I already disliked him for the fact that he ended up screaming at his young daughter once for dropping a video game controller. Since when does an Xbox matter that much? Since when is good parenting a lack of restraint?
(Sidenote 2: Our place now looks directly over a street, and we use the roof of the apartment below us as a front porch. Often we’ll take our books out there on sunny days and read. At night, it becomes a smoker’s hangout and a cocktail lounge, the cool breeze welcome after a sweat-soaked Houston afternoon. Across from us is Katz’s, a twenty-four hour restaurant. Just down the street are a slew of gay bars. The streets outside are always trafficked.
A few months ago, Megan saw a man and a woman on the sidewalk opposite. The woman appeared to be trying to get away from the man, but he kept catching up to her and restraining her. What do you do when you don’t know exactly what’s going on and no knife is drawn and what you’re watching could just be a bad moment in an otherwise healthy relationship? When do you take that step and trip yourself into someone else’s life?)
When George and his long-time girlfriend started fighting one night, at first we weren’t sure what was going on. We were watching a movie, and the screaming came in under the soundtrack until a quiet moment sharpened our ears. Then there was the sound of things being thrown, things being broken. We could hear a few words out of every dozen, though the tone was apparent, and the tone was violent.
But many relationships end in violence. Not physical, mostly, but emotional, resentments gathered so long that they end up flooding over the walls of propriety and then all is lost, the relationship damaged beyond repair, love turned to hate, and all you can do is get away from the other person as fast as you can.
I will kill you.
I hope you die.
Five years of my life, wasted.
I gave up my family for you.
Listening at the door, we waited for some evidence that a line had been crossed, fearing that the violence might escalate from words and objects to bruises and broken limbs. The girlfriend tried to leave several times, opening the door, only to have George shut it again and block her way. Was this the time to enter the hallway? Say something innocent? Be a witness?
Eventually, the door opened and she left. The screaming stopped.
How does a relationship grow so poisoned? How do we keep ourselves from poisoning?
Eventually, we turned back to the television. We pressed play.