My demand is simple. To sleep. To rest through the night. To wake up just before the sun rises, and dress – quietly. To enjoy the blackness smiling into blue. But Erica doesn’t agree. Nor Don. And especially Sharonda.
I have never called the cops. I don’t believe in the police state, the carceral system, inviting them into or around my home or person. So you can imagine how scared I must’ve been. At 2 a.m., peeled like an orange from the warm sleeve of sleep, when my bell rings once. Then, loud banging on the apartment building door. The knocking hurried as angry as little feet. The walls of my apartment shaking. Someone trying to break in.
Don and Sharonda are friends. Have been for 15 years. That’s what I learn when, after a week of living under Don, I ask Sharonda if she can talk to him about the noise. The every day and every night scuffling. The fighting. The yelling. The throwing. The strange chemical smell coming through the vents. Objects falling, furniture moving, bodies jumping, music blaring – all night.
Sharonda says: They just moved from a house, it’ll take some adjustments.
Sharonda says: You’re not used to living beneath someone. You need to get used to the noise.
Sharonda says: Don would never hit a woman; he’s my friend.
Sharonda says: Maybe if we get him carpet that will help.
Don invites me up. After getting several pleading notes from me, he knocks on my door. “I want you to meet my girlfriend,” Don says. Reluctantly, I follow him. When we get to the top of the steps, I feel discomfort as loud as the inside of a steam engine. I take one step inside the door and keep it open. Erica, tall, dark-skinned, and skinny as a rail, smiles weakly. “Hello,” she says while putting up a painting on the wall. “Sorry about the noise,” she says. “We’ll get better.” Don chimes in. “See, she’s putting the apartment together – that’s all. You can hang out with us if you want,” he says, smiling crudely. I swallow hard. Mumble something about leaving, half run back to my apartment. They know where I live, I think. I’ll never escape them, I worry.
Before Don & Erica, there was M. M used to live in that same apartment. M was quiet, thoughtful, and hardworking. M got up every day to go to work. M never had spontaneous parties at 5 a.m. M went to bed and slept through the night. M never knocked on my door and cornered me in my home. M didn’t need carpet. M was easy to live under.
I have migraines. They always begin the same. I don’t sleep the night before. I struggle to get out of bed. Time passes and so does my window for breakfast. I drive to work and then suddenly, the light is too much. My eye winces on an image and sneezes it up. Everything is backwards and crinkled like used napkins. I cannot focus on the road. Actually, I cannot see at all except for vague shapes and shadows. I park at school and run to my office to make coffee. Except I am too late. The nausea has already begun. The diarrhea is coming. I vomit in the office trash can. On my way to the bathroom, a student calls after me. “Miss Harris?” they say. I look at them and then away. I know their face, but I have no idea what their name is. Actually, come to think of it, I cannot remember anyone’s name. What is my name? I think. You are Jalynn. Ja-lin. Jay-land. I finally make it to the bathroom and pull on the door knob. But for some reason, I can’t open it. Oh no, my hand is going numb. I force my hand on the door. Then, when I get back to my office, I down two Excedrin and wait. But by this time it’s too late. The numbness has already spread up my arm. I should leave to go home. But I stay. Because I can not see. And, because I don’t want to go back to the noise.
Erica & Don like to smoke. Sometimes their smoke alarm goes off for hours. At first it’s tobacco striking through the hallways. The “please don’t smoke” sign dimly taped on the apartment building door. And then there’s another burn. A chemical smell coming from the vents in my bathroom. At night, when I shower the smell blasts over me like fog. I gag and open my windows. What is that? I think. It smells like college. Frat parties at D1 schools. New York City Saturday nights. In the bathrooms after the drag show. It smells like white lines not snorted but burned.
Before Sharonda there was B. B showed me the apartment. Its high ceilings, full-sized kitchen, and long hallway. The long wall of cabinets, large tub, and hardwood floors. All of it captivated me. “I like this place,” I tell B. “Except, I have a lot of plants and there’s not enough light here.” “Hold that thought,” B says. He leaves the apartment and I follow him. Across the hall there is another door. He opens the door to a wide room with two wall-length windows. “This is my office right now, but you can have this room too. It’s a perfect room for a writer.” And I see it: the next great American novel written here – in this eggshell blue light-drinking cave. “I’ll take it,” I say.
Eight months later, I get home from a walk and there’s a note on my door. It reads: you need to sign a new lease with us. Sincerely, Motivated Money Makers LLC. I’m suspicious. B never told me he was no longer the property manager. I look up the company. It is not registered anywhere. But there is a Facebook page. It belongs to a woman who sells more products than a Japanese vending machine. She sells events and credit repair and lead & home inspections and make up. Every service ends with one resolute word: “consultant.” I take a picture and send a message to my friend, “Motivated Money Makers, huh? Sounds like a scam, right?” I throw the paper away.
B says if the person behind Motivated Money Makers is named Sharonda, then it is true, I have a new property manager. But that’s odd, B says, she got this job back in December. And you’re saying she’s just reached out to you? Hmmm.
When Sharonda and I meet, she’s with another woman and a man. These are her business partners. But two months later, there is still no website or portal to send the rent money. And Sharonda says the woman and man are no longer working for her. She tells me not to email the original email. Instead, text her if I have a maintenance request. Instead, Cash App her the rent. I do not Cash App her the rent. I write a check every month. Then, after pushing, she gets me to Zelle her the rent.
One night, my CO2 alarm starts squealing. I panic and open up all my doors and windows. I don’t want my cat to suffocate. I stand outside and the men come quickly. Sirens blaring, yellow jumpsuits, red hats. “It’s broken,” they say. “But it won’t shut off automatically. You’ll have to smash it against a wall so it’ll turn off.” “Can’t you just take it with you?” I ask. “No, but you’ll need your landlord to order a new one.” “Erhm,” I say, “I don’t want to smash it.” “Why – aren’t you angry about something?” I am, I think, but I’m too tired to do anything about it.
I tell Sharonda. Sharonda never orders a new CO2 detector. Just like she never orders carpet. Just like she never gets Don & Erica to quiet down. Actually, come to think of it, I haven’t heard from Sharonda since August. Hmmm.
Don & Erica like to fight. Whenever I see Don sulking on the stoop after a fight, he likes to assure me, “I would never hit her. She just likes to egg me on.” This week they’re broken up. I know so because my next-door neighbor says he saw her packing her things into plastic bags while pleading “no, no, no.” “Did you see the sirens the week before? They woke me up,” my neighbor asks. “No,” I say, “what were the police doing here?” “I don’t know,” he says. “The lights woke me up. Somebody must have called because they were fighting.”
I have never called the cops. I don’t believe in the police state, the carceral system, inviting them into or around my home or person. So you can imagine how scared I must’ve been, at 2 a.m., when I called the cops.
-911 what’s your emergency?
-Hi, yes, someone is trying to break into my apartment building.
-Can you see the person? Can you give us a description.
-No, I can’t see them. I don’t feel safe. I’m not going out there to look.
– Can you tell me us anything about the person?
– I can hear their voice. It’s a black woman.
I don’t tell them I know the voice, especially yelling. That it’s Erica.
In the morning, I wake up and the door is broken; cracked open like a split. The glass is shattered. And a breeze whips through the door like water through a straw. I need to move. I can’t live like this. I call Sharonda.
-Miss Harris, what’s wrong?
-Someone tried to break in last night and the door is broken. It was Don’s girlfriend.
-Can you get someone out here to fix the door?
-I will, Sharonda says.
Seven days later, the door is still broken. I need to find the property owner, J. But I don’t have his number. I only have his first name. I ask my neighbor, “do you have J’s number?” “I found it as soon as you left last time, but I can’t seem to find it right now.: “It’s ok, just call me when you find it.” I go on a walk. When I come back, there’s a man standing on my doorstep.
-Hi. Oh, you’re the guy who saved me from the bees nest in my kitchen this summer!
– Yes, so happy you’re here. I was just looking for you.
– I’m J.
– J! I have been looking for you. I need to tell you I’m moving out. I can’t do this anymore.
– Good. J says. And stop giving Sharonda your money, she’s been embezzling. I haven’t gotten any rent money to pay the mortgage since summer.
I gasp. Of course. Motivated Money Makers, LLC. It was all in the name.