The Comfort Of Strangers. (I’m Her Ghost.)

We live on the fifth floor of an apartment building that overlooks several houses and backyards. We chose the fifth floor because of the view. And over the years we’ve gotten to know the people who make up that view even though they have no idea who we are. I take a great deal of comfort in this view and the people who live here. It’s like a rerun, an old movie, a longtime friend.

There was the naked couple who ran through the first snowfall of 2009. They moved out two weeks after we moved in and I still kind of miss them.

There was this:

There’s the girl who has so much sex and with several different guys, we have often wondered if she’s a professional. There’s the family of five, the lawyer, the guy without an air-conditioner who leaves his door wide open at night. He has a massive back porch, perched on the roof of four-story walkup, but never uses it. I covet his porch. But I bet he covets my central air.

There’s the gay couple, the couple who fosters dogs, the NYU student with the pet rabbit. There’s the little hispanic girl who rides her tricycle in the afternoon, the one my son loves to watch from our bedroom window.

There’s the polish couple who smoke together in the kitchen, then disappear for weeks on end. There’s the old Brooklyn lady who hangs out her window on hot days wearing a muumu. She watches people who are unaware, as we watch her.

There’s the doctor with the Flickr doormat, the couple next door to him who has a fat cat. They all share a backyard. Sometimes they combine parties. The yard is often illuminated with white lights.

There’s the guy on the third floor above them who BBQs on his fire escape almost every night and during every season. He sips Coke, hangs out his window and flips different cuts of meat.

I love these people. I love watching them come and go and work and play. I love their pets, their kids, their oddities. It’s the living equivalent to a blog—I feel like I know them, they haven’t the slightest clue as to who I am or that I’m even out here at all.

But there is one person within this view I cherish more than everyone else. She brings me the most comfort. And I want to explain why, put it in writing, I don’t want to forget her.

For the first several weeks of Elliot’s life I slept on the sofa. I wanted Toby Joe to get as much sleep as possible since he had to return to work right away. Elliot has always been a pretty good sleeper, but he does get up at night to eat. One of the feedings that remains relatively constant, and has since the day he was born, is the 4:30 AM feeding.

In the beginning, I had a case of the baby blues. And while they weren’t nearly as bad as what I experienced with Em, they were there. And that 4:30 AM hour was a particularly lonely one. It was February. The sun wouldn’t be up for hours, and I was alone with a baby who didn’t yet know I exist. The apartment was dead quiet, even the cats were in other rooms snoozing alongside other warm bodies. So I would nurse Elliot and look out over our view in search of some life, something, anything. There was a streetlight on Bedford Avenue, the occasional taxi cab, a hall light or two gleaming up through a domed skylight, otherwise, everything was dark.

This city really does sleep, contrary to what they say.

I would lie awake, staring outside, watching and waiting. And all my little TV screens, all my friends were sound asleep. All but one.

She wakes up every morning at 4:30 AM. I haven’t any idea what she does for a living and I can’t really see her. I can’t really make out her features, or how old she is. I know it’s a woman and I know she wakes up every weekday morning at 4:30 AM to go somewhere. I know it takes her a long time to get ready.

Besides work, she doesn’t get out much. She’s often home on Friday and Saturday nights all by herself. Her TV flickers and glows in the evening and usually goes dark around 11 PM. Sometimes she falls asleep with it on and it remains on all night. I guess her TV is her company. I get that. I’d have done the same if we had a bigger place.

For the first few months of Elliot’s life, when I was alone at 4:30 AM and feeling a little blue, I would sit with her. I wouldn’t bug her. I couldn’t. And she didn’t know I was there. But I would sit with her. I’d send her messages like: What is your name? Why are you always alone? Are you lonely? Where do you work? Why does it take you so long to get ready? Do you take vacations? Who are you?

What is your name?

Are you lonely?

Elliot is nearing 6 months of age. I’m floored by this. Six months! Time really does fly especially when the punctuation involved is generally the same. And my friend? She’s still out there.

I don’t get to visit her much anymore. But I do still sit down with her from time to time and I do still send her messages. She still takes forever to get ready. And I still feel comforted by her light, her ritual. And, yeah, her.

This woman has no clue who I am, that I know anything about her existence at all. But I really needed her company. My only hope is that she finds some of her own.


  1. I love this story. It’s so beautiful and sad at the same time. Powerful writing.


  2. This is stunning. Every sentence. But I especially love the way you see this woman.


  3. This is beautiful.

    Also, reminds me of Rear Window. Everyone has a small glimpse into each others life.

    The dancer, the couple celebrating a homecoming, the playboy pianist, Ms. Lonelyhearts & the crazy dude who offs his wife.


  4. This made me cry in such a good way. Go over there and introduce yourself … and tell her exactly what you told us.


  5. This is so beautiful. I’m glad you had someone to comfort you when you needed it. Maybe she took so long to get ready because she was busy sending thoughts to you too? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

    At 4:30 here, I look out my window and see a deep, black forest. There is a measure of comfort in that too. I like knowing there are places in this world where a mom of three can go and be completely alone.


  6. This was lovely, both in the words and the images.


  7. Eden! I love that film. Oh, yes. I must watch that again. It’s been over a decade.

    Holy crap.


  8. Love every word of this.


  9. OMG. I LOVE this so very much. This is exactly why I always wanted to live in the city — there is such a mixture of loneliness and togetherness. I feel impossibly sad and happy whenever I am in the city.


  10. Wow, y’all. Thanks for all the positive comments. It means a lot to read these things and hopefully might be enough to keep me blogging! Heh


  11. What a beautiful story, Mihow!!


  12. This is my favourite post of yours so far!
    Every word is gorgeous.


  13. Some find a secret garden. You’ve found a secret cityscape all your own! Love your telling of your story. =)


  14. I really love the photographs here but the best picture you made was with your words. Thanks for noticing the lonely loners.


  15. So awesome. Makes me wish I’d paid more attention to our view when we lived out there. We were on the 19th floor, but in Jersey City, so wasn’t quite as cool as your Brooklyn scene. ;)


  16. That was… beautiful. Thank you.


  17. That was awesome. Completely captures what I loved most about New York. And beautiful photography too.


  18. That is amazing. I work in an office building with a view of a funeral home parking lot next to a hospital. There are several regulars that park there every day and come and go a lot. We have made up stories of their lives. You have us SO beat. I think you should go over there and introduce yourself to that lady. I bet she needs a friend. I’m glad you’re back. Your boys are getting so big!


  19. I can relate. Many many years ago when I moved into my own place for the first time there was a cello player who lived below me. He was in the symphony. I had no TV and it was before the I pod. I spent many mornings and evenings alone except for the sound of his cello. That sound made me so happy. I would anxiously await him waking in the morning to practice. It meant there was life. Someone, other than me, was out there. He will never know what he did for that very young college girl, but I will always remember him.


  20. Beautifully written.


  21. So glad I checked your site tonight. That was eloquently written and a beautifully told. Thank you for taking the time to write it. Reminds me a bit of stories I read in “The Sun Magazine,” my absolute favorite publication.


  22. Loved this. And I too experienced that middle of the night am I the only person in this frickin town who is awake feeling. I never thought motherhood would be so lonely. I live in a moderate sized town in Texas but at the time I was going thru this with my infant son, we lived in an artsy neighborhood with not many thru streets. I was always amazed to see a car or two drive thru the neighborhood at 3AMish. Like you I wondered who they were and where they were going and was oddly comforted to know I was not be the only person awake on the planet.


  23. Lovely writing (though it made me tear up a little, too). Oh, the melancholy of the wee morning hours.

    I don’t know if this is considered stalkerish, but is there any way you could find her address & send her a little bouquet of flowers? Or pick some wildflowers & leave them on her doorstep? If you want to, write her a little note; and if not, anonymous is okay, too. I sometimes think we’ve forgotten how to give each other these little gestures of appreciation.

    Apologies if the flowers are weird. I live in a little town in Wisconsin, and isolation is pretty much a way of life.


  24. This is absolutely gorgeous!!

    This reminds me of a strange book that I LOVED as a child. It was the one of the few books I wouldn’t donate when my mom became a teacher and needed books for her classroom.

    The book is called “What the Wind Told,” by Betty D. Boegehold. It is a story about 6 different windows and the really weird and strange thing that lives behind each one. For instance, there was a man whose apartment flooded every day so all of his furniture was nailed to the wall, there was also a really dirty (?) family who lived in garbage and some other really strange happenings that I can picture, but can’t quite remember exactly.

    I wonder if I still have that book somewhere at my parent’s house. Anyway, thanks for the memories!


  25. I love this.
    Thank you.

    This is why I like to have my curtains open. Just in case someone need someone around. I’m around.


  26. Good stuff! Very, very interesting!


  27. Just came across this today- how wonderful that in this big big world, someone cares about her, in some way.

    I could be her. Lonely. It would be nice if I thought I was receiving silent messages in the night as well.


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