Monet: I want to go outside
I nodded in agreement.
Monet was the girl in the building next door, living in an apartment on the ninth floor. After classes got canceled, my parents panic bought me a ticket to come back home and self-quarantine with them. It seemed like a good idea at the time when I believed that the situation would get better sooner rather than later, but after being indoors for five weeks, I was pretty over it. Being back home has never felt lonelier. Maybe at around 3 weeks, I’d already seen and discovered all there is to discover in our apartment. The time difference made the physical distance between my university friends and I even greater than it was and, since the borders closed, none of my high school friends could come back. Even if they were able to come back, I wouldn’t be able to see them anyways. They’d be stuck at home too.
Me: what did you get up to today?
I waited for her response.
Monet: finished my last essay. definitely shit but it’s done
She drew a funny face at the end, and I smiled.
Monet came into my life when I found myself awake at 2 o’clock in the morning unable to go back to sleep. Being back home was stressful – the entire situation was stressful – and it was taking a toll on my sleeping pattern. I looked out the window to find that the entire city was asleep. The local government issued a curfew: no one was allowed out of the house after 8pm until 6am the next day. So, it made sense as to why my city was so silent. Usually, there’d be cars on late night drives speeding down the near-empty streets or some motorcycles doing late-night food deliveries. But for the first time in twenty years, it was quiet.
I have this balcony that faces the neighboring building. My balcony doesn’t have the best view, but it lets me see as much of the main street as I need to see on one side of Monet’s building, and the cars in the parking lot collecting dust on the other. Her building is a sandy brown brick structure with dark blue windows. Monet probably gets a lot of sunlight during the day from her floor to ceiling windows that take up an entire wall of her room. During the day, you couldn’t see anything through the windows but at night, the buildings came to life. If the person inside had their lights on and their curtains pulled up or to the sides, you could see the life that lived in there. In Monet’s building, there’s a floor dedicated to some offices so, at night, I see empty cubicles and meeting rooms. Sometimes I see the cleaning staff just before they pull down the blinds. This “night reveal” is the reason why I get to talk to Monet at night.
At the time, her room was the only one lit up. Her desk against the window, blinds pulled up and her lamp lighting up the small space taken up by her art. She was sketching away, and I didn’t even realize I was watching her for that long until she held up a sign against the window saying, “r u going to stare all night?” Her face was well lit. I saw her eyebrow raised questioning my strange behavior. I mouthed an apology, but she looked at me confused. I grabbed some paper and wrote, “I’m sorry” big enough for her to see from her side. She shrugged her shoulders and put her paper away. I took it as my chance to talk to someone, so I thought, “why not?” I wrote her a note asking her what she was drawing. I waved my arms to get her attention and when she finally looked up, she smiled. She put her pencil down, took her drawing, and showed it to me. She sketched out some heads facing different directions – I guess she was testing out what the head would look like at different angles. I held out my index finger, telling her to wait. I flipped my paper to the other side to ask her more about her drawing. It felt good to talk to someone.
Monet: did you watch Midnight Gospel yet?
Me: not yet
Monet: you should! SO GOOD!!
Me: maybe, we’ll see
Monet isn’t her real name. She never wanted to share her own name with me because she couldn’t physically be with me to tell me what it was, so we gave each other nicknames. I never pressed her about her name because if she wasn’t comfortable telling me then so be it. I always thought that maybe she had a weird name or something that was hard to pronounce, and she didn’t want me going around saying her name wrong. She never really asked me what my name was, she just told me she was going to call me ‘Lemon.’ It made sense since I had this yellow sweater that had ‘LEMON’ printed across my chest.
I picked ‘Monet’ as her name since all I ever saw her do was paint or draw or sketch things out. And out of the three framed posters in my room, the Monet piece was (and is) my favorite. My parents turned my bedroom into a guest room after I moved away for university. I wasn’t upset about it, but the room never felt like it belonged to me. Before, my room felt a little crowded, yet it felt so homely and cozy. There were places for me to easily curl up into a ball and the space felt like my own. I never felt lonely there.
Monet: I wonder when all of this is gonna end
Monet: any plans after quarantine?
I wanted to go outside without fear. Get in a cab again without worrying about who had been there before; step foot in the mall and walk around for hours on end, admiring the things on display that I could never afford. I wanted to make last-minute plans with high school friends to go to a party downtown or to go to the beach for a much-needed tanning session. I wanted to walk down the street to my favorite bookstore to look at the new notebooks and art supplies, daydreaming about art projects I could take on with all these materials the shop had to offer. Maybe take a late-night walk with some people. We would take a stroll down my street, past the cars and gas station, turn right on the street with the closed-down education board building, play around in the little empty park and talk about our worlds for a little bit.
I wanted to be let into somebody’s world through the sound of their voice, to feel real connections again. I wanted to know about a person and the things they got up to and what they wanted to do tomorrow, next week, in two months, and for the rest of their lives. I wanted to hold someone as much as I wanted to be held. My body craved the affectionate touch of another person. The sweet caress of my face, the warmth of another person’s hand in my own, a gentle kiss on the lips, or the rise and fall of a chest as my head lay upon it. My body and soul wanted to feel to its absolute maximum. It hungered for laughter that felt whole as if the joy rose from the stomach, up to the chest, and escaped me through a sound so cheerful it caused a smile on the faces of others. God, how exhausting it was to hardly feel anything at all.
I wanted to see people. People without fear or anxiety hidden in the tiniest parts of their faces as they went about their day because I wanted there to be nothing to fear anymore. I wanted relief, elation perhaps, expressed by the people who made it. I wanted people to make it. I wanted, by the end of this whole unbelievable situation, for there to be people to walk past on the streets, people to smile at, people to look at – I wanted there to be people who made it. I wanted Monet to make it so I could finally see her art for myself rather than pressed against her window in the building next door. I wanted her to point at the details of her artworks to tell me what they meant or how she did it. I wanted to know the sound of her voice better than her penmanship. I wanted to meet her so I could finally get to know her name and learn how to say it.
I grabbed my pen and wrote my reply.
Me: go outside. wanna come with?