Needing a Piece of Peace
The Complete Absence of Quiet or Quality Time
When I first transferred to the Denver office from Kansas City, I was thrilled to see my new office digs. Panoramic view of the Rocky Mountains from the west wall, and my “officle” (office/cubicle combination where you have your own room and door, but there’s a gap of about 18 inches between the walls and ceiling) was tucked out of the way in the corner. Click-SLAM.
Yes, my work space is large and seemingly private, but it’s also right next to the hallway access door closest to the restrooms. Which means people go in and out of this door roughly every 4 minutes all day long. This door is one of those vacuum lock security deals, opens from the hallway after you wave your badge in front of its scanner, and bounces the click-SLAM echo off the walls and into my left ear.
I have headphones, and do occasionally wear them to both muffle the office noise and to listen to music from my hard drive. However, each and every time I don my headphones, I may as well have a flashing neon sign over my head that says, “Come bother me!!” Those headphones are like a magnet for people to call me or plunk down on the other side of the desk holding piles of cr*p to add to my Inbox. And besides, I’m not a big fan of strapping appliances to my head, and after awhile those headphones start to squash my ears and give me a headache.
I’ll just be on a roll on some project and then Click-SLAM. Then I’ll focus again, and someone will IM or call me through my computer on the Communicator network. While typing away in response to an IM, a prompt appears with a little “ding!” to let me know that I have four new emails of Urgent status. With attachments. And then my cell phone rings. Nine hours a day.
But hey –one really doesn’t expect to achieve peace at work. And I can live with that most of the time. One should, however, be able to recover from work by going home. What I presently have is something nearly intolerable.
After a great deal of research and accompanying sticker shock, we signed a lease online from two states away for an apartment. There was no time or money to personally fly out from Kansas City and tour any properties before making the move and, being light in the wallet, we got what we got because it was close to both our jobs and in a very safe part of town with a coveted school district. And at first blush, the place seemed fine. It’s basic and ugly and has all the charm of a loaf of stale bread, but it fit our basic needs. By the third day or so we knew why they gave the dumb out-of-towners this particular unit.
Chuck E. Cheese is quieter than our apartment. Although we’re tucked away at the back of the complex with a nice big green space out front, there are typically no less than a dozen kids at once playing right outside our doors and windows. We’re on the bottom floor and directly level with the grounds and sidewalk – not even a 1-foot rise to give the illusion of some kind of disconnect. Even with the doors and windows closed, it sounds like there’s an elementary school recess happening right in our living room. That goes on for 4 or 5 hours. Every day. Look - I’m not a complete ogre. I have an occasionally noisy child of my own, and I can appreciate that these kids play outside a lot as opposed to letting their IQs drop in front of the television, video games, or computer. But do they need to scream at the top of their lungs right outside the bedroom window at 10 at night? Doesn’t throwing rocks at the building get old after about 45 minutes? The other day, after about a half-hour of loud banging right outside the front door, I went out to investigate, and found that two boys had a skateboard hanging on a rope from the second floor and were swinging the skateboard into the building.
Even when granted a break from the noise, we can’t even open the blinds or windows to let in light or fresh air because of where and how our apartment is positioned. The kids will gather in packs and peek in to see what we’re doing and chatter. Every few minutes, people walking to and from their apartments pass within 3 feet by the doors and windows of our place because that’s where the sidewalk is. It’s like living in a square fishbowl, so we typically just keep the blinds closed all the time. And I wonder why my houseplants are all dying.
A typical evening at home involves walking through the door to a boxed-in hellacious mess. God bless my boyfriend, but he’s a slob of epic proportions. It’s like living with Pigpen – he just walks around and explodes in debris. My mate and child can destroy 5 hours of housecleaning in 20 minutes. So begins a typical evening of making dinner, picking up, preparing lunch and work clothes for the next day, doing various odds and ends, all the while trying to placate a toddler.
You’d think I’d finally be able to decompress and vegetate once she goes to bed. Fat chance. I’ll sit down to watch TV or crochet or read when she’s finally tucked in and, if I’m REALLY lucky, I’ll have exactly 9 minutes before the phone rings. End call and pick the book back up. Well, whaddya know – the cat’s throwing up. Clean up cat barf, wash hands, and pick up crochet work. Daughter starts screaming from her bedroom because she doesn’t have her favorite stuffed animal. And different favorite blanket. Retrieve favorite things and then try to watch the news. Somebody knocks on the door to try to sell me magazines or chocolates. Politely refuse and make an attempt to clean the bathroom. The moment my hands are in the bleach water, the phone rings again. Get off phone and pick up a book again and realize I have to pee. Give up and stare at wall.
When everything does quiet down semi-permanently, I should have already been in bed an hour ago. But I’ll stay up an extra hour or two in desperation to have a little quiet time to myself, as this is my only chance. I go to bed, and the hooligans outside are apparently playing scream-tag in the dark outside the bedroom window at 10:30 p.m. I’ve complained about this to the apartment manager; she tells me to call the sheriff’s department. And I suppose I could, but I feel kind of funny calling law enforcement on 8 year-olds unless they’re actively participating in arson or animal torture. Finally get to sleep. Cat pounces on bladder and/or pretends she’s a scarf across my neck. Boot animal out of bedroom and fall back asleep. Boyfriend gets home from work. Click-SLAM.
I typically get about 6 hours of sleep a night and it shows. My right eye has been twitching almost non-stop for a year. I’m beginning to understand why some people eat Valium for dinner or fake their own deaths.
I have nowhere to go to escape. Given life’s necessities and our chronic lack of funds, I have nowhere to go – no “happy place.” I try to take a vacation day when my boyfriend’s at work and the kid is at preschool. Set myself up on the sofa for a nap or a few hours of court shows on TV. Wouldn’t you know it but that’s the day the apartment complex decides to re-shingle the roof and run the leaf blowers. Try again to leave work early to maybe go for a drive by myself, and the preschool calls and says my kid has a fever and threw up all over her new clothes.
I don’t have sexual fantasies anymore. I have fantasies of cozy, quiet rooms stocked with good books and Leonard Cohen on the stereo. Or lounging in a patch of sun streaming through the huge windows in some Frank Lloyd Wright affair overlooking the beach. Or sprawled out on a giant leather sofa in front of a roaring fireplace with a bottle of Shiraz and snow coming down at a rate of a foot an hour outside.
Or I’ll daydream about this funky little apartment I had right after my divorce several years ago. I called it my hidey hole. It had erratic plumbing and was as drafty as a Siberian train station, but it was charming and cozy and quiet and overlooked a little park surrounded by 100 year-old flagstone walls. I kept it so clean you could eat off the floors. I spent about a year there decompressing in a tidy little place that was all my own.
I don’t regret having a child, and occasionally I feel lucky to still have a job. I admit to being something of a lone wolf with some OCD tendencies; I desire more order and control of my time and surroundings than a lot of people. I do poorly in chaos. I don’t want to become one of those batty old harridans shrieking at the neighborhood kids to get off my lawn and then drawing the tattered curtains. I guess what I want is a Pause, Rewind, and Fast Forward button just to rest and clear my head once in awhile.
But I know that’s not going to happen, at least not during my lifetime. On the plus side, it’s supposed to be like 9 degrees Fahrenheit tomorrow with blizzard conditions, so at least the kids will probably stay inside.