If you sit very quietly in your room, on a brown, faux-leather armchair, curled up sideways so that the side of your face is against the back of the chair and your legs are drawn into your chest, and the heater isn’t on, if you are very silent, everything around you becomes very loud.
If you do this, when the fridge isn’t humming, and the heater isn’t on, there is a sensation of everything around you moving and making noise, and you are still and quiet, and the people making noise around you don’t know that you are there. They might know in the back of their minds that there is a room there, and you could be in it, but they don’t consciously think about it. There is a wall between you and them, a hallway, and then another wall, behind which are the rooms across the hall from you. The people in the hallway are standing and moving in an empty space, and behind the walls on either side of them, in box-shaped, hollow carvings, other people are sitting or going to the bathroom, maybe, or making dinner or sleeping or crying or smiling, sealed off in compartments. The noise permeates from the hallway into the rooms behind both walls. The floor vibrates when the elevator goes up or down. There is a noise that accompanies the elevator as it transitions between floors. Sometimes the elevator doors open.
There are walls separating the box-shaped, hollow carvings as well. On the other side of the wall, against which your bed is pushed, is someone else’s couch. On Friday nights, people sit on that couch and talk. Sometimes, you wake up in the late night or early morning and hear voices and are confused. And sometimes, on Sunday afternoons, when you’re taking a nap, someone will play orchestra music, and the light will come through the window next to your bed, and there is the creaking of the walls and the sound of the music and the sound of unintelligible whispers.
There is a gap under your door, and the light from the hallway always shines through. The hallway is lit twenty-four hours a day. When you go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, you see that light, and sometimes you hear the elevator move. On Thursday nights, you can watch the pattern of the shadows of differently-sized shoes walk past through the gap under your door. It’s quiet on Saturday mornings; there aren’t any patterns.
You have woken up in the night before because someone has dropped a pot on their floor, which is your ceiling, or because someone wearing high heels has chosen to cross the room.
When you roll over in bed at night, sometimes the light comes through the shutters at a different angle than it did before. The person who lives in the room that you can almost see into from your window has either turned their light off or turned it on.
There is the water, too. People taking showers or flushing the toilets. Washing dishes. And the smell of coffee on Tuesday afternoons and lasagna on Wednesday nights. The laughter on Thursdays.
The laundry room window is always open, and sometimes the smell of laundry detergent and dryer sheets seeps into your room. Your window could be closed; it doesn’t matter. It sweeps over the books on top of your heater, and it mingles with the elevator and the voices and the water and the light, and the other smells.
Someone in your building plays the piano. You hear it when you are brushing your teeth and when you are pouring milk over your cereal in the morning and when you are taking off your shoes, but you’ve never actually seen them. They keep different hours, move at different rates.
There are holes in the wall, from pins of different sizes, from posters that used to be hung there, and a stain in the corner next to the fridge. Your rug doesn’t quite cover the stain. You hypothesize that the walls were once a different color.
Emily Hoeven is a third-year senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, studying English and French. She writes the column "Growing Pains" for The Daily Pennsylvanian and is co-founder of the website PennFaces (pennfaces.upenn.edu). She is obsessed with cats, has somehow survived college without downloading Venmo, and currently has 48 books by or about Virginia Woolf checked out from Van Pelt.