As an artist and writer, I already worked from home and was used to living alone. Then came the pandemic.
During the past few months, my neighbour has taken over our shared porch. He is a bouncer who has been out of work since the bars here in North Carolina closed. Previously, we kept very different schedules since he worked nights and slept during the day. He hardly ever used the porch. Now, he is usually there at the window to greet me when I open my living room blinds in the morning.
Being a native New Yorker and a natural introvert, I guard my privacy. Before the pandemic, my neighbour and I would speak only occasionally – it was a “How are you?” “I’m fine” kind of relationship. But on the first day of the state’s “stay-at-home” order (which was put in place at the end of March), he went out on the porch – and he has been out there pretty much ever since.
Now it feels as if I have a roommate. While other women have gone bra-less during the pandemic, I must forsake comfort; I open the blinds only when I’m ready to be seen. He also invites friends over and I can hear their conversations, whether I want to or not. When that happens, I have to give up trying to get any work done.
That said, it has sometimes felt like a blessing: at the height of the pandemic, I didn’t feel lonely. If I wanted company, I could just talk to him through the window. I’m 60 and he’s in his early 40s, but he’s an interesting guy, well-travelled, and I’ve discovered we have a similar political point of view.
We talk about how Covid-19 is impacting our town: Asheville usually attracts tourists to its River Arts District as well as the Blue Ridge mountains, but not this year. He tells me about his studies, as he’s taking art classes and my background is as an artist. He shares his worries that he’s become out of shape while the gym has been closed, and now that it’s open again he worries about working out around strangers. I talk about my fear that I might be stuck here for the winter, when I would usually travel to India, and we complain about the weather.
He has also proved to be considerate. He’ll usually listen to music and has a very varied taste. I told him early on that I didn’t mind if he played jazz, but that anything else would interrupt my ability to work – so he’s stuck with that.
I’ve avoided joining him and his friends because they don’t wear masks, but I’ll sit with him when he’s alone. I feel safer with him there. The guy is 6ft 2in and more than 220lb (100kg) – no one is going to mess with me! It’s a small porch but we’re able to sit 6ft apart – and, at the moment, we’ll sit out there together a couple of times a week. I used to read more on the porch, but now we usually end up talking. Occasionally, I’ll hear his motorcycle start up – then I know the porch is all mine for an hour or so.