Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Audio Roommates

I have three sets of audio roommates. One set and I share a living room/kitchen wall. They also share with me their joy at a touchdown in a televised football game, their disappointment at a loss in basketball, and the excitement and squealing tires of video games.

Another set of audio roommates shares a bedroom wall with me. By 2 a.m., alcohol has propelled the woman's voice into my bedroom. Alcohol increases her linguistic creativity; the F word morphs from a verb into an adjective, a noun, an adverb, then back to a verb.

For many weeks the focus of her linguistic skills was "David." The verbal onslaught would still briefly during vigorous sex, then immediately resume. Oxytocin ("the love hormone"), which is produced during sex and triggers feelings of romantic love and contentment, was powerless against her anger. When David was present, the woman cried in frustration and disappointment. When he left, she wailed in loneliness. The cycle repeated several times.

I moved my pillows to the end of the bed farthest from the wall and directly under the window. It attenuates the noise and lets me watch the moon slide toward the western horizon while I wait to fall asleep again.

One night, a previous set of bedroom audio roommates shared "Don't hit me!" and the sounds of someone being beaten. The police responded to my call with a knock on their door loud enough for me to hear. The beater did not go to jail and the beaten did not go to the hospital, but there was no audio feed in my bedroom for two weeks. The woman moved back to her mother's a short time later.

My third set of audio roommates fills my life with every event in the apartment below me. For three years the apartment has been a revolving door of nearly interchangeable young couples who smoke and test the boundaries set by the apartment managers. The current occupants own a TV that goes to 11; they like 11.

My current downstairs audio roommates are happy in a new romance and their first apartment. In less than two moths the midnight noise has escalated from shouting and door slamming to the sounds of a lengthy physical battle accompanied by a stream of insults in a male voice. I couldn't tell if he was battling with his girlfriend or with the furniture and walls. I did not call the police, as attacking household objects is not illegal.

The next morning the couple was in the living room, singing a cappella and having sex.

I want to escape the sound track of violence that fills my apartment. But moving would not end the violence; it would only keep me from hearing it.

A friend, whose wife is an Assistant District Attorney in a large U.S. city, summed up my reluctance to call the police as the "ambiguity in our collective social contract that lets abusers get away with abuse, and sometimes murder." His wife handles many cases where women did not get the opportunity to say, "Don't hit me" or whose cries were not heard. These are murder cases.

I asked a police officer when it is appropriate to call. Although involving the police can sometimes put the woman in danger or drive her to side with her abuser, the police are skilled at defusing violence. He told me to call next time.

The officer cautioned me against becoming so emotionally involved in the problem that it interfered with my life. He reminded me that women in abusive relationships often believe that the violence is caused by their shortcomings; that the beatings are "their fault." The women love the men despite the abuse. He described his personal heartbreak at unsuccessfully encouraging women to leave abusive relationships.

The Women's and Children's Alliance (WCA), in Boise, estimates that one in four women is the victim of domestic violence at some time in their lives. A staff member told me that only the women know when it is safe for them to escape. Her agency provides resources to help victims leave an unsafe situation and to help both abusers and victims learn new communication skills.

The WCA provides "sock cards," small enough to conceal in a sock. Available in English and Spanish, the cards help victims recognize when they are in an abusive relationship, develop a safety plan, and escape.

WCA staff members can provide training for apartment managers in Boise. I will contact management companies to arrange trainings, and then I will keep the participants' rental offices supplied with sock cards and other resources.

I live in an apartment because it is ecologically and economically the least expensive option.

Apartments consume fewer resources and less energy than single family homes. Multi-unit dwellings promote infill, which allows more people to walk, bike, and bus to work, shopping, and entertainment. Our economy is still reeling from the recent stampede to buy and sell houses.

I hope that apartment managers in Boise will work to provide safe and pleasant homes for all of their residents. Living in apartments will help us live more lightly on the Snake River Plain. Replacing violence with more effective communication will help make Boise a more peaceful and happy place for everyone.

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