My inspiration to write about myself completely drained out of me for a while there. I’m back and it’s deep into fall. It’s my favorite time of year and good writing weather. I’ve been having a hard time getting myself started. I am hoping a gross story about cockroaches will get the motor running again.
In my last Apartment Life story I was on my way to a new, happier chapter in my life. I do want to tell you the story of what happened after I moved out of the darkest studio and I will. First though I want to go back and tell you one more story of my time with Fuckhead, or FH for short. Why? Well, because as I’ve mentioned before it is therapeutic for me to purge these stories. Writing about my past and the uglier parts of my life has helped me move on from a lot of shame and anger I feel about those times. It has also been a great way to exercise my writing muscle.
So let’s go back to spring of 2002. FH and I had been living in a very small studio for about six months when a one bedroom apartment opened up on the second floor. Like most of my decisions back then, not much thought or foresight went into this one. I wanted a bigger place, so did FH. It would still be cheap to live there and easy to move so I didn’t see any reason not to do it. The fact that living with FH up until then had been rocky at best meant nothing to me.
Despite how strange the previous six months of our relationship had been, FH and I were excited to move into this place together. The other apartment had been mine and he lived in it. But now here we were, doing this together. Arranging the furniture, putting up posters, and organizing our toiletries in a harmonious way. It wasn’t so bad at first. I had visions of doing the place up in style. I imagined us buying real couches and rugs and maybe making things look pretty. I made a few attempts at buying curtains and new bedding, but we never did end up trading in our ratty futon and second hand sofa for anything better. The previous tenants had painted the apartment walls purple. My landlord, in her typical half-assed fashion, had painted them back to white but you could still see quite a bit of color seeping through, leaving the walls looking like they were sweating violet. It was slightly off-putting, but we weren’t picky. The apartment was quite large with a spacious living room, bedroom and giant walk in closet. I was willing to overlook the flaws.
FH had made some efforts to act like a normal human being at that time. From what I remember he did do less drugs, but he still drank heavily. He also made it clear that having more space meant that he could have more people over. He saw having a bigger apartment as an opportunity to invite his friends to live with us for short periods of time. So we did and I didn’t complain about it. I didn’t feel I could. Also the guys that ended up staying there were nice. One of them was a guy named Chris who ended up overdosing and dying two years after he lived with us. He was a real sweetheart. He often smelled of body odor and piss, due to his heavy drinking and mostly homeless living, but he was fun to be around. Surprisingly he was easy to live with and respectful of our space. I was very sad when he passed away and I still think of him fondly.
The other friend of FH’s who lived with us briefly was Scott. I quickly developed a soft spot for him. He was a misguided geek. He was very smart, witty and fun to hang out with. I enjoyed ribbing him about his bad fashion sense as he often wore a windbreaker with jeans and dress shoes, making him seem well older than his 24 years. He was interested in making movies for a living and had actually graduated college and gotten a job in the field. Most people I grew up with did not achieve such goals so I was impressed. I admired his drive and dedication. It was something both FH and I obviously lacked in life. I also liked Scott because he seemed to appreciate me in ways that FH never could. He was always very grateful to me whenever I did anything nice for him. He was appreciative of my cooking and once told me that my vegetarian lasagna should be served in restaurants. Even though he never said anything, I could tell that it made him uncomfortable when FH would get drunk and treat me poorly. I sometimes wondered if he ever tried to talk to FH about it. Not that it would have changed anything, but Scott seemed liked the type of guy who might do that.
What this story is really supposed to be about though is cockroaches. Yep. After battling mice in the first studio I’d rented downstairs, I now had to contend with cockroaches on the second floor. At first it didn’t appear to be a huge problem. I remember seeing them around here and there, but it didn’t seem like a big deal. Of course I wasn’t happy about it, but what was I going to do? My standards of living were quite low at this time. I was just content to have a roof over my head (although we did have to deal with a big leakage problem in this place too at some point) and a place to keep my stuff. Who was I to get picky about things like disease spreading insects? Don’t be so uptight, I told myself, they’re just bugs. It’s not like I was a stranger to cockroaches. The apartment I’d shared with my mom when I was in high school had them. I’d survived many a stoned evening fighting off bugs in my kitchen. They were always trying to harsh my buzz. All I wanted to do was heat up my frozen pizza, man.
At least the cockroaches at my mom’s apartment had some common decency. They’d kept themselves confined to the kitchen. I soon learned that my apartment with FH had a much bigger problem than I’d realized. I started noticing that when I’d come into the kitchen at night, as soon as I turned the light on, there was an awful lot of scurrying. The cupboards seemed to have an alarming amount of black specks of what I’d come to learn was cockroach poop. It was vile. I had to keep everything either sealed very tight or put it in the fridge. I talked to my landlord. With her now familiar disinterest she told me she’d have an exterminator come by. She also explained to me as casually as possible that the roaches never really leave, they just move from apartment to apartment, but she’d make that call to the bug guy, no problem.
One night I was lying on the couch watching television. FH was out and I had the place all to myself which was not a common occurrence. I was probably watching some MTV reality show like the Road Rules/Real World challenge. I was cozy and enjoying my alone time when a cockroach decided to crawl up the couch and onto me. I’m not sure how long it had been on me, but it made it almost all the way to my face! I leapt up, screaming and smacking myself. I was shaken. It was way worse than the mouse fiasco. I could handle these things being in my darkened kitchen, but once they started messing with my leisure time that was it! After that incident I was always super alert and looking around for bugs. Before I could get into bed or into the shower, I always had to give the place a thorough scouring with my eyeballs. I’ve never been a good sleeper, but I had an even harder time when I started thinking about what might be crawling on me while I slept. Ever seen the movie Creepshow? Yeah, that’s what I pictured.
Even FH was affected by the roaches. I’d kind of thought of him as unflappable. I mean, he’d been a hobo/gutterpunk/scuzzball for so long, I figured he was used to having disgusting things in his living space. But he was bothered by them. Sometimes I’d catch him in the kitchen,in his boxers, looking under the fridge with a flashlight. He was in awe of how many of them there were living in our apartment. He wanted to be rid of them too. He’d become more twitchy since they’d started showing up outside the kitchen.
During our time in the roach hotel I didn’t drink or do drugs very much. I was thinking about why this was and it’s clear to me now that for those first two years of our relationship he essentially became my drug of choice. I stopped doing anything else outside of worrying about him, taking care of him, trying to be what he wanted me to be. My journals from that time are nearly blank. I did nothing creative at all. My entire focus in life became trying to stay in this completely shitty relationship. So when in September of 2003 FH told me he didn’t want to live with me anymore it came as a huge shock.
We were lying in bed with the lights out when he quietly admitted to me that he wanted to get his own place. It was as if he’d kicked me in my stomach. I remember sitting up and tears exploding. I cried so hard I couldn’t speak. He held me and he said he was sorry. I was so confused and hurt. At that point I had given him almost two years of my life. I had stuck so much misery out with him and what was I getting in return? He didn’t want to come home to me at night? He didn’t want to sleep next to me? He didn’t want me to take care of him anymore? It didn’t make any sense to me. All I wanted was to make him happy and he couldn’t wait to get away from me.
After that night I tried to keep it together. I tried to believe that he didn’t want to break up with me, he only wanted to have some personal space. I attempted to wrap my brain around the idea that he didn’t need me to cook or clean for him. He didn’t need me to take care of him when he was hungover or make sure he had clean clothes. I worked on finding myself a new apartment and packing up my stuff. My friends asked me what was going on with us and I’d tell them “Oh, we’re not breaking up.” They’d look at me quizzically and then sort of nod sympathetically, knowing I was trying to convince myself of this as much as I was them.
On the day we were officially moved out I took a day off from work to clean the empty apartment. FH didn’t help me. He’d shuffled the majority of his things off to storage and planned on couch surfing until he found a place of his own. I’d spent my first night in my new studio, drinking and crying, feeling utterly alone. I thought I’d gotten it all out, but when I was done scrubbing and mopping I sat down in our now empty bedroom and lost it one more time. Who was I kidding about this whole not breaking up nonsense? It felt like the beginning of the end to me. In hindsight though, the beginning of the end was at the start, because this relationship was doomed.
Something happened to my heart that day. Something very dark started to grow inside of me, like a cancer. I finished cleaning up, gathered up my supplies and bid farewell to my insect roommates. I trudged back to my new place, feeling heavy and uncertain. I thought having cockroaches crawl on me and my boyfriend basically dumping me was the pinnacle of horribleness in my life, but I had no idea how nasty things were about to get.
To find out what happened after the roach hotel read this. To find out what happened when my life stopped sucking, stay tuned!
The black and white photos in this post were taken by my BFF, Shona Taylor. She’s awesome. Check out her website.
I’ll leave you with this classic little piece of cinema from one of my favorite films. He’s really eating that. Just in case you’re wondering, no, I’ve never eaten a cockroach (that I know of).