In the apartment that I grew up in, the windows face out onto a beautiful view of the 59th street Bridge, the Chrysler and Empire State buildings, and the sparkling East River. They also face out onto the windows of about thirty six other apartments in my building complex. My dad would warn me when I was younger that, just the way I could see them when their lights illuminated their apartments at night, they could see in. For some reason, this fact never stuck. I had a sort of ostrich mentality about it -- I won't look at the window when I'm naked and changing, or dancing around watching myself lip sync in the mirror, and nobody will see me do it.
My current apartment looks out on another building in a similar manner, but lacks window treatments and views of anything else. I see only bricks and, until recently, curtained windows. As anyone who has experienced living in a room with no view can attest, this makes gauging weather and time of day incredibly difficult. One way to figure out what to expect outside is to watch what your neighbors put on. Is Man Who Always Sits on Computer at Curtainless Window That Looks Directly Into My Bedroom wearing a scarf? Is Lady Who Never Blows Out Her Candles Even At Night wearing tights, or bare legs?
Despite my initial rigor, once the decor momentum is gone, it can be hard to prioritize the little details that remain. The chandelier that I bought online so optimistically two years ago hangs on the over-the-door coat rack I snagged from the dollar store. The lace runners I grabbed at the dollar store sit in an abandoned basket in the corner of my bedroom. And the curtains I purchased sit in an old beach bag, along with the curtain rods I never installed.
It occurs to me on occasion that I'm experiencing the ostrich syndrome again. Just because I avert my eyes when I do my naked sprint from bedroom to bathroom doesn't mean anyone else has averted theirs. And yet, my curtains remain folded. My original reasoning was that the dollar store near my house had run out of tension rods, and I didn't have a screwdriver to install regular racks. I imagine that, ten months later, they have probably been restocked. But I've become complacent in my fishbowl. I am comfortable in my routines, dropping my towel before a panicked look out the window and a quick re-robe.
I remain aware of the presence of potential company through those windows, but until recently, hadn't had definitive proof that anyone had ever actually been present at their window while I was home in full view. I hardly ever see Super Duper White Couple's living room, and I've only ever gotten a glimpse of a narrow sliver of Mismatched Red Curtain with Blue Curtain Guy. Lady Who Never Blows Out Her Candles Even At Night I have never seen, but I would not hate educating her on basic fire safety.
About a month ago, a couple moved in. Their computers came; their furniture was all set up. In no time, the place felt like a home. I know this, because they neglected to install curtains.
Since the Fully Visible Couple moved in, I found that I moved around my apartment in a more deliberate way. I avoided singing at the top of my lungs, because even if they couldn't hear me, they would certainly see the circumference of my gaping mouth and assume I'm singing 'Let It Go.' I wore a robe instead of my birthday suit, and I don't turn the kitchen light on after about 11 pm. I don't like the neighbors to know how much I night eat. I am vaguely aware that they are there and have a clear view, and I get that they see my illuminated groceries. The darkness of the kitchen makes it so that their only clear view is of the contents of my fridge. But I myself am in the darkness and unseen, and therefore, do not exist.
My delusional reliance on my ostrich theory came to a sudden and decisive end one Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks ago. I had just come back from brunch, and was absentmindedly tidying up around my sink area while I sang some top forties pop song performed by some youth younger than me. As I turned, I happened to glance out my kitchen window.
I was Face to Face with Curtainless Couple. Curtainless Man was pointing at me and giggling, while Curtainless Woman began to register that I was visible to her, and she was standing in just a bra, and that she was probably visible to me. Before her face had registered the shock and horror she was trying to emote, I had stopped, dropped and rolled into my living room in a panic.
Curtainless Man had long, unkempt dark hair and a beard. His dark features lit up as he pointed me out to Curtainless Girl, her mouth hanging open in the way that just precedes a squeal of shock or horror. It didn't help that she was standing there in her bra and underwear. What if cruel fate were to put us in the same place, at the same time somewhere, sharing a space? The thought was too much to bear. Its one thing to think realistically, knowing that since your window is in a stranger's unobstructed line of vision, there is a good chance they will see you in your house, and you might be doing something really embarrassing. It is quite another to be present for this realization, and watch the look of horror creep up onto your barely-dressed neighbors' face. Seeing a person's silhouette as they go around their business alone obviously can feel really intimate, but making eye contact with that silhouette? That is way too intimate.
All of a sudden, every embarrassing thing I had done in my house came rushing back to me. I would list it all, but it is mostly just doing things naked that I could have done clothed. I had the unnerving feeling that these two had been privy to the happenings of me and me alone. Our windows were perfectly parallel. I was a living part of their realities, in the same way that they were a part of mine. There was nowhere else to pretend to look, but at each other. They were two real people with bodies and thoughts and the ability to watch and judge. They were as tangible as I was, and have always been. Crouched on my living room floor wincing from embarrassment, I decided it was worth ordering a couple tension rods online.