OK. After the end of my 3rd marriage, I promised myself I’d never get caught up in another emotionally intimate relationship with anyone ever again. I believe that was back in 1999. So, fast-forward to 2020 while in the midst of a Coronavirus lockdown, as I returned to my desk with my microwave reheated mug of coffee, I did something I probably shouldn’t have done; I acknowledged with a nod and two other gestures the presence of a neighbor from across the street. Sure, the simple act of a nod of recognition, the lamely celebratory raising of the coffee mug I held in my right hand, and a wan wave of hello with my left, I mean, what could possibly go wrong with doing that?
She was sitting next to her window where she was either doing her Monday through Friday, 9-5 office job from home, or perhaps just communicating with other isolated family or friends, or at least so I imagined, as I had seen her do for the last 250 some days-or-so of our mandated housebound self-quarantine. She had shifted her gaze from whatever she was doing at the exact moment I had arrived at the window in front of my desk when I made my reappearance from the microwave in the other room with the hot coffee. My neighbor saw the nod, spotted my subtle caffeinated salute, the weak wave, and then responded with a slight smile in return, along with an equally washed-out wave.
Here is where it may be best to give you some background as to what transpired prior to this windowed encounter. I thought that on several occasions I had caught this woman looking over at me via my building’s third-story window through her building’s third-story window. And I’ll admit, I had snuck a few furtive glances her way as I worked away each day by my window. For the last several months or so, from across the street, we had seen each other at our window-adjacent desks doing whatever it is we each did throughout the day. During that time neither of us had ever made the slightest effort of confirming to one another that the other one even existed.
What possessed me that fateful day maybe I’ll never know, but what’s done is done. Since then whenever we noticed each other from across the street we nod to one another, exchange a long-distance toast with whatever drink we have at hand at that time, wave, and then smile. It’s all innocent enough, isn’t it? Well, I thought so. But my, my, my…how quickly things began to progress and escalate, then go out of control.
From the looks, nods, toasts, waves, and smiles our windowed relationship blossomed. Eventually, as our shared nods and etcetera salutations progressed, we wordlessly began to move our windowed relationship up to the next level. It was still too chilly here in Hobohemia, NJ, to open our respective windows and engage in a haphazardly hollered across-the-street conversation. So, we did the next best thing. Since the onset of the virus scare, stores and restaurants had been compensating for the lost volume of on-premise business by making deliveries to the buildings in which we were shuttered. These deliveries came either in large paper bags (since plastic bags had recently been banned in Hobohemia) or cardboard boxes. Thus, everyone in town had an abundance of these delivery packages to recycle and reuse. I know I certainly did.
Now, can you guess what we did next? That’s right, one day after we had performed our mutual acknowledgment rituals, she held up a strip of what looked like torn corrugated cardboard. With what I guessed must have been a chisel-tipped green Sharpie she had written in script Good Morning! I was speechless. It took a few moments for me to regain my composure, but after a pause, I held up the index finger of my right hand in the universally understood gesture that says, ”Hey, give me a minute here!” Finding a now empty cardboard box from a recently delivered case of Zuccardi Q 2015 Valle De Uco Cabernet Sauvignon red wine I ripped off a box top flap, found a chisel tipped black Sharpie, and then in large block letters scribbled Good Morning on it. I confess that I’d added a smiley face next to the Good Morning at first, but after a bit of introspection, I determined that I was just not a smiley-symbol emoji kind of guy, so I tore off the section with that drawling from my message before returning to my window to display my sign. She gave me a thumb up, which I returned in kind, and then we both resumed doing whatever we do at the desks by our windows all day long.
In retrospect (a term I always joke about as being the 20-20 vision of a**holes), perhaps we both should’ve just stopped there and then and return to doing whatever we both were doing. But we didn’t. From that point on our handwritten missives became more extended, elongated, and elaborate. We both maintained an adequate supply of Sharpies and surplus cardboard close at hand by our windowed perches in order to communicate with one another throughout the workday.
What began with two-word morning greetings eventually evolved into sentences and paragraphs of written information traded in a question-and-answer format where we both began seizing this window of opportunity to learn things about one another. The two of us now knew each other’s first names. How our days were going. What bar and/or restaurant we would each go to when this in-shelter home prison sentence had been duly served and what we’d order upon that glorious and momentous occasion. This went on for a few weeks until, and I admit that what happened next was entirely my fault; we hit a rough patch in the relationship.
Following what I believed was the completion of one of our many window exchanges, I looked up to see another woman from across the street in the building adjacent to my original window woman who was looking down from her fourth-story window at me and what we’d been doing. What else could be done but to nod, offer the toast, then wave and smile at that woman on the fourth floor? I know what you’re thinking, but I’ve already entered my mea culpa plea regarding that incident, so from here on out I’ll just exercise my right to remain silent in order so as to not incriminate myself any further in this matter of my admitted guilt.
After what I honestly thought was an absolutely inculpable act, and while my hand was in the air still in mid-wave at the fourth-story neighbor, I looked back over at my third-story neighbor and saw a look of hurt and pain had crossed her face. She stared at me for a bit more before staring up at the direction of, at least from her vantage point, the invisible window woman that was across the street from me on the fourth-story of the building adjacent to hers. My third-story woman then turned to face me again for a few seconds with a look so cold it probably could’ve given an icy glacier a fatal case of frostbite on a hot summer’s day. She next looked back in the direction of her fourth-floor resident rival, and then back toward me once more. Before I had the chance to process what had just happened her left hand was raised to flip me the middle finger salute while quickly lowering and closing her Venetian window blind with the right one.
From there on my third-story window woman never acknowledged my existence again. She either completely ignored me or else closed her blind to shut me out. I knew I was a man in the proverbial doghouse from which there’d be no escape. Yes, we were done—period—the window of opportunity had wordlessly closed for good. This was of course not the first time any of my failed relationships had ended in a breakup, but this was the first time any had been so thoroughly terminated without a single word ever being spoken. In the past, I’d dug the grave for most of my relationships with a choice of unwise words. This time I had been done in with a nod, a gesture, a smile, and a mere wave of my hand.