I wake from groggy sleep. I hear my new next-door neighbor fiddle with his new key in his new lock. For some reason, I need to see him, to peek at him through the mere door that separates his unit from mine. It is late, but still I think: just one peek.
There has been no male living in this house in the past year and a half. I am for irrational reasons terrified of the day that there will be a male living here; it upsets my peace of mind for wordless reasons, some of which you can guess and some of which are only shadows cast on the wall of my imagination. Yet another reason for me to move out, and soon.
It takes me minutes to make it across my floor, creeping silently with bare feet on hardwood. The cat follows, also silent. I do not know why it’s taking this long. I reach the bathroom, then I wake up. Relief cascades over my skin like hot water: only a nightmare. Sleep overtakes me again even before my heart slows down.
I do it all over again, this time making it to the door. I wake up.
This time I make it to the door and peek through the crack. As I am leaning in, he opens the door. He is young, as young as my landlady has described, more than ten years younger than I am. He is extremely tall and lanky; he is generically good-looking with an easy smile. He asks why I’m awake.
I wake up.
This time I get all the way to my answer: “I heard your key in the lock.” He nods and invites me in to his part of the house. Even though Zen’s litterbox is in the way, I shove the door open and go inside.
I do not think about how the door wasn’t locked from my side, how he could have so easily opened it. I do not think about that.
Once inside, I watch him unpack a box in the bare room. He sets books on the floor. I watch his arm, dark with sun already, and muscle-pretty like a basketball player’s. He has many smiles for me. We share iced tea. We talk about the neighborhood and other meaningless things. I imagine there is some foolish attraction on his part, and defer. He presses forward, stepping forward. I defer.
The blow across my face comes quicker than I expect it. It upsets me that I expect it more than it upsets me that it comes. Grey stars burst across my vision; I have a mere moment to appreciate them before blackness descends.
I wake up.
This time I make it past the opening door, the showing off, the flirting and the dizziness. I make it to feeling my face shoved against drywall, my neck pressed so hard I know I’ll choke. This is not an unfamiliar feeling, although it is over a decade old.
Once you feel it, you know it.
I wake up.