The only time I’ve ever wished I lived in the country was during the months when my marriage was falling apart.
There aren’t many good places to break up with a spouse, but one of the worst has to be an inner-city apartment block with paper-thin walls, meaning that your neighbours can hear every slammed door and smashed plate.
There may be such a thing as a quiet divorce – but mine wasn’t one of them.
Like most writers, I worship silence. During those months, the noise levels felt almost intolerable. Each morning I stumbled down to the mailboxes, only to meet neighbours who were as red-eyed as I was – sleep-deprived on account of me and my soon-to-be-ex-husband.
“Sorry,” I would mumble. “So sorry.” And I’d rush back upstairs, wishing I lived in the country. In Kansas, to be specific – so I could stand in the middle of an empty prairie and shout, “You a*hole!!!” at the top of my voice, and hurl things, and kick things, and cry, without neighbours knocking on walls or slipping notes under the door offering help or suggesting couples therapy.
Now, in my new post-divorce apartment, the shoe has been placed firmly on the other foot.
You could call it irony; I’d tend to call it marital statistics. Brownie Girl, my gorgeous, sunny-natured neighbour who leaves baked chocolatey goods at my door, is in big trouble. For the past few weeks my bed has been shaking from all the striding and pounding going on next door, and I pull my pillow over my head, and wish I, or the Brownies, were in Kansas.
Germans have a passion for never-ending red tape, but when it comes to personal relationships, they cut free fast. Suddenly the shouting matches are over; Herr Brownie has left the building. The janitor changes the name on the doorbell to Brownie, Singular. And my lovely shiny neighbour looks as if she’s shrinking, leaving for work with a cap over her eyes and sleeves pulled over her hands, as if she wants to disappear herself.
“I have to do something,” I say to my friend Tiny. “I’ve been there and it’s terrible.”
“I think he was gay anyway,” muses Tiny. “No straight man wears muscle shirts, unless they’re from Kansas.” I ignore him. “I’ll throw a party. Tonight. To cheer her up.”
“Really?” He looks doubtful. “Do you want her to lose all hope?”
“Don’t be silly!” I make a swift list of everyone who can be gathered at short notice. “So?” I shrug defiantly. “It’ll be a party of divorced women, gay singles, men embroiled in midlife crises who want to escape their families, unemployed artists and out-of-work actors. What’s wrong with that?”
“We’re not exactly poster children for romance,” sighs Tiny. “When was the last time any one of us was in love?”
I look back on recent dinner parties, featuring the repeated question, “So how was your date?” and the repeated answer, “Okay, I guess… but… nah…” – followed by the whole table nodding in agreement. “Nah…”
“Oh my god!” I stride to the window and take deep gulps of exhaust fumes and self-knowledge. “We’re the Nah Club!”
“Right!” Tiny sparks up at the definition. “We’re like a panel of experts on failed relationships. Seen so many. Been through so many. We’re veterans from the Battle of...”
I cut him off. “Enough with the metaphors!”
Brownie Girl is approaching the building; in spite of the golden sun, she looks chilled and grey. Had I also looked like that, contemplating the shards of something I believed would be whole forever?
“I’m going to change,” I say. “I’m don’t want to be a Nah anymore.”
“Really?” Tiny stares interestedly. “You’re unlocking your heart? Getting back on the Love Trail?”
As the sun blazes into the room, I feel something shift inside me. Maybe it is my heart, creaking open again.
Wherever I’m going next, it’s going to be good. And nothing at all like Kansas.
Words: Sarah Quigley