Cockroaches of New York,
I’ll understand if you decline to read this letter; that’s why I’ve put what’s important up top. I’ve said some mean things about you. I find your little eyes revolting, and your little knot-sized heart makes me panic, and I hate the little click your adult body makes when you fall from the countertop to the floor. It was horrible of you to move into my microwave last summer, and the time you somehow got into my mother’s bra during a college information session is really unforgivable. She had to fish you out in a room full of people. You’ve made me such a paranoid; each time my roommate S. cuts her eyes to the ceiling or a wall I think she’s seen you. But I’m willing, right now – just now, so I’d take the opportunity if I were you – to extend the beginnings of a truce.
You might have guessed that this letter has something to do with our encounter yesterday (are you smart? I don’t know.). You’re correct. But for this to make sense, you’ve got to get to know me a bit – at least the bit pertinent to this gesture. It’s important to know that I’m a punctilious traveler, always early, fingering my ticket. The size or significance of the journey has no impact on my behavior. I suffer pangs of remorse if I’m not on the subway car nearest to my next exit or transfer. On the way home, I root around for my house keys a block before I reach my apartment. I’m at the airport an hour and a half before departure, always. I tell you this because I think you might relate (you time your trips across my kitchen wall particularly well).
Being somewhat of a lazy person, this monstrous dedication to punctuality is tremendously helpful. If I don’t have a schedule, I’m happy to stay in bed until I get too hungry or think a bath sounds nice. I can see an elevated train and airplanes from my bedroom window; their cycles lend a pleasant rhythm to my inaction. It’s only the thought of a place to be and a time to be there that prods me out of bed – I look at that train and those planes as if through the face of a clock, and the sweeping hands interrupt their spell. The tendency has its drawbacks as well: I fight frustration that my boyfriend H. “walks too slow.” I am overly resentful of latecomers, but I hate being the first to arrive.
Yesterday morning (you remember), I flew JetBlue from JFK to San Jose. The flight was scheduled to depart at 7:05 and the weather was clear on both coasts. I had set the alarm for 4:45, and when it chirped I gave a morning speech to H. about how I would miss him, and then hopped right out of bed and headed for the shower. There are only a few things short of flood, fire, and family emergency that could derail my travel agenda. You’re one, and you stood in the curve of the tub.
I really thought I was hallucinating. You were big that day, as big as my thumb, and so still. I’d been waiting for this moment since the heat set in. I knew you would crawl up some drain, but I didn’t know when. And you were so unbelievably still. I must have made some noise, a strangled scream, because H. said my name. I didn’t see him as I sprinted back to the bed. My face felt funny; I gave myself a headache from screwing it up so tight. H. gallantly made his way into the bathroom with a paper towel, and returned to tell me you’d gone down the drain. Did you look up at me while I took the shower? Do you have a sense of humor? I was in limbo position, feet as far from the drain as possible. I thought you might have gotten behind my shampoo, or in the soap dish, or on the ceiling. It was the dirtiest I’ve felt while clean.
I left fifteen minutes later, fifteen minutes late. Any other day, I’d have been running a countdown to takeoff in my mind. Yet: I didn’t even look at the clock. I didn’t ask my cab driver if he had heard me properly (JFK, not LaGuardia). I didn’t count the cash I’d just gotten from the ATM.
I got to the airport a bit after 6. I didn’t take out the money for the cab fare until we were stopped in front of the JetBlue terminal. I took my time at the check-in kiosk, though I had arrived well into my usual grace period. And I stood in line to check my duffel bag, one that would probably have fit in the overhead compartment. Hungry and on a roll, I got in another line to buy breakfast. My flight, 169, began boarding while I was in line. I knew this because of the giant screen above cashier, which flashed, “FLIGHT 169 – BOARDING.” But panic-free, I stayed in line. I bought my berries and cheese, and walked up to the gate and right onto the plane. I sat in my seat, buckled my belt, and we took off 15 minutes later.
You spent me. I had nothing left. An immutable struggle, me and clock, dissipated unremarkably in your wake. Do I have a certain increment of anxiety to expend each day? Did you sap it in less than a second? Or could my day just not get worse? Maybe I was in shock, just numb to the clock and the plane. Perhaps you just did quickly what you do regularly – distract me. In any case, look – I got on the plane on time. I did it without being a human stopwatch. And I want to say thank you.
This is going to be a long road for us. I’ve never had a positive thought, even a neutral one, about you before. And please don’t misinterpret this letter: you are fundamentally unwelcome in my home. But, cockroaches of New York, I’m ready to think about our relationship.
Jane (Apt 2R)
[Pictured above: Beetle bracelet purchased to ward off cockroaches.]