Dear people next door,
We have thin walls that separate small spaces. I can hear your television from my living room. Your children watch cartoons in the morning, and I can hear old musicals playing on TCM at night. Sometimes your eldest sings along, I think my Father used to watch those when he was a kid. At mealtimes I can hear you on both sides, opening the cupboards searching for ingredients to make food that smells foreign to me. Your children try to help by opening them and closing them again and again, loudly. Sometimes, it wakes my baby.
Dear hijab-wearing people next door,
We introduced ourselves today. Your little boys are nearly the same age, 2 years old on one side, 18 months on the other. One of them loudly drags a toy across the space in front of my apartment, from one side to the other. They smile up at me with the sweetest little grins as I walk by. It melts my heart.
Dear fellow mothers next door,
I’m sorry. Yesterday my two-month-old son got his first shots, and he was up all night long. I think it woke your son around 2 am. I heard you get up and sing to them a song I didn’t recognize, it seemed to work. This fussiness shouldn’t last long.
Dear families next door,
One of your husbands brought food over this morning, after we had been up all night with our baby. My husband thanks you. It was delicious, but a bit too spicy for my taste. I wonder how long it took you to make such a wonderful, home-cooked meal from scratch. We are still eating microwave vegetables, boxed mac and cheese, and frozen pizza most nights. I can’t imagine spending all that time in the kitchen after caring for children all day long.
Dear fellow parents next door,
How did you survive this stage? You seem to have maintained your sanity, but sometimes I feel like everything I knew about the world was a lie. Do all people really start out so small and vulnerable, demanding all forms of attention that exist nearly all hours of the day. They make it seem so simple and easy to have children on TV, sitcoms are a lie! I think you could tell I was having a hard time, you smiled at me empathetically today as I held my screaming baby while the repairmen fixed the faulty fire alarms. They were so loud.
Dear Iraqi families next door,
Your husband brought over food again, this time I ate it and it was delicious. I made you each a hummus plate with veggies and Triscuits, I hope you like my “American” version. I spoke the few words I knew in your language, amounting to “Hi, how are you?” and “I am well”. It made you smile to hear my attempt, we talked a bit in English. You told me that you watched television to try and learn English with your kids. Your husbands go to the University while you stay home during the day. You are from Iraq, and absolutely loved my hummus.
Welcome to America! Our husbands attend the University together, and we talk sometimes during the day. I hope your sister back in Iraq is okay, you seem worried about her. I am working on my Arabic, but I’ve been told it is one of the most difficult languages to learn. It equates to learning English when you have never spoken it before, I hear. Our children make noise at night sometimes. It can be hard to live so close to other people, but we smile and laugh about it when we see each other. We are glad you are here.
“The People Next Door” was written by Lacey Cargnino, undergraduate student in International Relations at the University of Maine, organizer for the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine, and staff member at the Wilson Center.