The best neighbors are quiet

I've always been a pretty lucky person. I can usually find a good parking spot, my socks often reappear from the dryer in actual matching pairs, I'm excellent at finding cheap airline tickets online, and I'll probably win the lottery. My chances of winning the lottery are made slightly thinner by the fact that I don't buy lottery tickets, but I'm still sure it's going to happen one day soon for me.

But the area in which I've always been the luckiest is in who I get as a neighbor. Now I wish I had neighbors that cooked for me, fed my cats, and were willing to sort my recycling for me, but I think the odds of that happening are worse than my chances of winning the Powerball. No, I've struck gold in the most important of neighbor qualities — quietness.

Having a quiet neighbor is hard to find because I've always lived in townhouse-style apartments. I remember when my son, Silas, was a toddler and throwing a fit, or simply throwing a ball in the house, I would tell him, horrified at his noisemaking abilities, "Silas! We share walls with other people!" Once in a great while, while living at my old place, I could hear the pipes running and hissing and I'd know that someone next door was taking a shower. I couldn't really mind this too much. After all, perhaps the best combination of a neighbor is one that is quiet and practices good hygiene.

When I moved into my current townhouse I spent a long time thinking about what great insulation must have been put between the units. I knew a neighbor existed, I occasionally saw her out getting the mail, but I never heard a peep once we were both inside. The other side of me was so quiet that my only hint that it had anyone living in it was the lack of a "For Rent" sign in the front window.

With all this good insulation, Silas and I have spent a fair number of mornings shouting up and down the stairs about what to pack in his lunch, whether he'd rather wear a Star Wars or an Iron Man T-shirt, and, of course, my screaming across the house that he shouldn't yell in the house. I've read in parenting magazines to always teach by example, after all. I would run the dryer at 2 o'clock in the morning on nights when I couldn't sleep, stomp up and down the stairs like a barely trained house-elephant all day long, and occasionally arrive home from work in the pre-dawn hours, slamming doors and windows as I headed off to bed.

Now I have new neighbors, and they have inspired me to apologize for all my previous, louder, behavior. I don't have really good insulation — I had really good neighbors, and I never appreciated them until they were gone. I'm not saying my new neighbors are particularly loud or terrible, just normal people who live their lives remarkably similar to the way I live mine. I realize I can hear the dryer buzz through the wall, I can hear each and every time a door is closed, and the neighbor kids must have that same house elephant that I do, that goes up and down the stairs all day long. Still, I consider them good neighbors. They have never thrown a party, I don't hear fighting, and I have never heard them screaming down the stairs about Iron Man T-shirts before school. Plus they pick things up at the grocery store for me and offer to sort my recycling. Not really, those things won't happen until I've won the lottery.

Zoe Abel sometimes wants to bang her head against the wall in frustration, until she reminds herself that she has shared walls. You can contact her at

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