You Abandoned Me with a Cockroach: A Love Story

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It was 7:30 one Thursday morning and I was sound asleep, curled up like a potato bug in my girlfriend’s pink and purple bed.  I can’t say with much accuracy exactly what I was dreaming of, although, given my dream history, it probably involved either playing with a big bunny or losing my teeth.  In other words, my attention was fully absorbed in something exciting.  I’d gone to bed at 1:00 the night before, and my alarm was set accordingly, programmed for 9:00 so that I would be getting the standard 8 hours of sleep that every human must have.  That’s a requirement.  Go under that number and you will be exhausted; go over it and you will officially be a lazy bum.

Suddenly, a harsh, loud, pounding noise pulled me from my rest.  It was my girlfriend, slamming on something by the kitchen sink.  My head hurt and my vision was blurry.  I longed to go back to losing my teeth.

“What the heck are you doing?” I asked.

Delicious Coconut: Toolkit Required

“I’m opening this coconut,” she said.  She had a coconut in one hand and was banging on it with a giant hammer like she was John Henry workin’ on the railroad track.

“What?” I moaned.

“I want to drink the coconut water,” she said, and proceeded to keep whacking away at the thing.  I briefly entertained the thought of going back to sleep.  The coconut had no quit, though.  As opposed to helping my cause by just plain breaking open, the stubborn thing refused to yield, remaining as impenetrable as a bank vault, and so I gave up and dragged myself out of bed.

Sleep is an important part of my life.  I do it every day and often look forward to it. Being in a relationship is also important, although it sometimes makes sleeping a lot harder.  Since I’m happy in my relationship, I try to accept not getting enough sleep or being woken up.  Sure, it’s a little annoying, but it’s more imperative to be a good boyfriend.  I try.  I’m generally supportive, spend lots of quality time with my girl, and often tell her that she’s beautiful.  Too often in today’s society, women feel that men only want them for their personalities – I like to remind my girlfriend that I also love her for her physical appearance.

What I’m getting at is this: If one had to choose but one thing, would one choose love or sleep?  It’s not a very interesting question, as this is typically not a decision a person must make.  There are times, though, when it’s as paramount as anything.  In the instance of the coconut, I suppose I could’ve gotten grumpy and told her to be quiet.  I didn’t want to be that guy, though, and so I chose instead to let it go.  I chose love over sleep.  Also, I don’t want my girlfriend to feel controlled or inhibited in any way.  If she wants to smash open coconuts with a sledgehammer at 7:30 in the morning, she has the right to make that decision.  Just as I have the right to purchase coconut water in a can and present it to her shortly before throwing her hammer in the Han River.

On another occasion, though, I had a bit more difficulty dealing with the love/sleep dilemma.  It was on a weeknight, and I was stressed because I had an especially hard day ahead of me at work.  My girlfriend, as she always is, was impeccably sweet and comforting.  Around 1:00, I decided to call it a night and shut my eyes.  Two hours later, I was woken by the blaring sound of my girlfriend’s security system.

I would feel so embarrassed trying to describe the Korean thief to a sketch artist.

“Baby?!” I hollered, shooting up in bed.  The door slammed.  The security alarm was still going off.  My girlfriend was not in the bed with me.  The room was dark and my head started spinning.  What the hell was going on?  I wondered if I was going to have to fight somebody, and tried to remember where the giant hammer was kept.  Just then, the door re-opened, with my girlfriend standing in its outline like I was looking at a photograph of her in a picture frame.  She typed in a few numbers and the alarm went off.

“Sorry,” she said.  She was fully dressed.  “I have to go to the store.”

“The store?  Now?”  I looked at my phone.  It was 3:15 in the morning.

“I saw a cockroach in the bathroom,” she said.  “I can’t sleep.  I have to go get repellent.”

No one has the right to be afraid of cockroaches until after they’ve seen that last segment of Creepshow.

My girlfriend’s apartment is nice and clean, and she likes it that way.  The presence of a cockroach was too much to stand.  It had to die, and it had to die now.

“Can’t this wait until later?” I begged.  “I really need to sleep.”

“No,” she said.  “I can’t stay in here with the cockroach.”

“Maybe it’s friendly,” I said.  “You really have to go now?”  She nodded.  “Well, I won’t be able to sleep with you awake and fighting bugs.  I’m going to walk back to my place, then.”

I can’t explain precisely how my mind was working.  It was very decisive, sort of like a dog’s.  When a dog’s owner throws a stick and tells him to fetch, he either goes or he doesn’t.  A dog never stops to ponder, thinking about his owner and asking himself, “If I don’t go fetch, how will that make him feel?”  All I wanted was to sleep, and so I put on my clothes and left.  I split.  I chose sleep.

My girlfriend sent me a text message the next morning.  It said, “I can’t believe you abandoned me with a cockroach.”

All made up.

Yes, yes I did.  It’s one thing to abandon your girlfriend; leaving her alone with an insect makes it worse.  If it wasn’t for sleep, I feel none of this would’ve happened.  That’s my defense.  Luckily, we were able to work out the abandonment incident and I was able to return to her apartment, which is now equipped with a cockroach patch.

This morning, I was again yanked from sleep by a loud sound.  In the alley in front of my girlfriend’s place, people walk around with wheelbarrows, picking up recyclables that they can sell.  Today I was woken by the grating screech of someone’s wheelbarrow tires; it was as though he was barreling along and a cat or a small child ran in front of his wheelbarrow and he had to slam on the brakes to avoid vehicular homicide.  My eyes snapped open, my brain confused.  But there was my girlfriend, with her head tucked up against my chest.  My arms were around her shoulders and hers were around my waist.  Our legs were intertwined.  The wheelbarrow also woke her up, and her sleepy eyes looked up and met mine.  It was, really, the most beautiful way to start a day.  The morning sun came in through the window and everything was quiet again.

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Apartments, Cockroaches, and Appreciating the Old Year

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There are a few things in life that consistently make me happy: getting kissed by a pretty girl, hearing anything by Billy Ocean in public, and being able to open a jar of pasta sauce without struggling would be a few examples.  Having a clean apartment is another thing that puts a smile on my face.  It doesn’t even have to be that clean.  Sure, the dust on the bookshelf is thicker than most of the books and the microwave looks like 8 pounds of meatloaf exploded inside of it, but those are things I can easily ignore.  As long as the place is in moderately good shape, I’m pleased.  Today, just being able to go into the cupboard and see the clean dishes inside made me want to break down in the joy of accomplishment the way Halle Berry did when she won the Oscar.

Of course I was aware that it’s the New Year and I’m starting it out rather well, with the apartment looking nice and clean.  In having this thought at this time of year – the first days of January – I suddenly became reflective.  Basking in the glory of my non-disastrous living quarters, I found myself thinking about the empty apartment I lived in two and a half years ago.

Back in August of 2009, my wife and I agreed to separate.  I moved out of our house and got my own place.  I was 31 years old and would be living alone for the first time in my life.  This was a major time of change, causing me to re-evaluate what I wanted.  In doing so, I set two goals.  I wanted to write a novel, and I wanted to live overseas.  Thus, when I got my apartment, I was determined to eliminate distractions and, also, avoid making the place too much of a home.  The apartment was stark and empty, white and austere, when I moved in, and I decided to just keep it like that.

I had no furniture.  There was no bed.  I slept on the floor.  My laptop couldn’t access the Internet.  I bought a ten dollar television set from Goodwill to watch movies on (in collaboration with my VCR); I didn’t get cable and its antenna didn’t pull in any stations.  There was an AM radio so I could listen to the baseball games and I took a wooden chair from the dumpster at the apartment complex to sit in.

I inherited that chair, and I was also lucky enough to inherit a nifty cockroach problem.  “Cockroach,” I firmly believe, is the ugliest word in the English language.  There’s not a single part of that word I like.  Personally, I would prefer not having any cocks or roaches in my general vicinity.  The word should be changed, somehow, to make it a bit more appealing.  If my friend has “cockroaches,” I’m not going near the place; if he has “boobie beetles,” maybe I’ll swing by.

But I digress.  When you’re sleeping on the floor, having cockroaches really sucks.  I’d wake up with a big brown sucker scurrying around close to the tip of my nose.  My solution was to take my 5 pound dumbbell and pound the little bastards into oblivion.  And I pounded a lot – my neighbors probably thought I was building the Ark in there.  There was one cockroach, though, that would gain my affection.  I called him “Night Roach.”  We met on a weeknight.  I woke up around three in the morning, having to use the bathroom.  Right when I flipped on the light and started to relieve myself, I saw him paused under the backend of the toilet.  I tensed up.

“Chill,” I told myself.  “It’s just a boobie beetle.  Don’t make a move and maybe it won’t make one.”  The two of us were engaged in a standoff, a blinking contest if you will.  I finished doing my business, left, and went back to sleep.  The bug was cool, so I decided to leave it alone.

In the morning, the cockroach was gone; the next night, there it was again.  We went through the same procedure.  Neither of us moved, both perhaps frozen with fear.  This turned into a routine – every night I’d have to use the bathroom, there he was, hanging out by one of the big rusty screws that held the toilet to the floor.  The mood was changing though, getting lighter in tone, and I was starting to look forward to our run-ins.  I started calling him “Night Roach,” and I even made a little song for him.

“Nighhht Roachhhh,” I’d sing to the tune of Love Boat.  “He’s exciting and cool/Nighhht Roacchhhh/I’m expecting you!”  Then I got to talking to him.  “What’s up Night Roach?  You doing okay?”  He was like my pet.  Sort of.

Finally the night came when catastrophe struck.  In my half-asleep daze, I went to the bathroom.  Of course, Night Roach was there, chilling like always.  But this time, he didn’t stick to our routine.  No, Night Roach came running up to me like a happy puppy.  I’m not sure what he expected.  Did he want me to pet him between the antennas and call him a good boy?  Well, unfortunately for him, I reacted by screaming and stomping him to smithereens.  Afterwards, I felt horrible.  Poor Night Roach.  One night he was being serenaded, and the next night he was being murdered.

Love is such a fickle thing.

No matter how bad my apartment in Korea gets, I haven’t gotten any bugs or cockroaches.  Today was January second, and while most people thought about fresh starts, the New Year, I found myself thinking about the past.  I haven’t made any New Year’s resolutions, nor do I plan to.  There’s a certain notion that says brand new beginnings signal chance, opportunity.  The dawning of something different – a fresh start.  But the real convenience of the New Year is that its newness is figurative; I think when a person really has to start everything over again, that person suddenly begins to value how nice it is to have everything stay the same.  I would kind of dig an ‘Old Year’s’ party, maybe sometime around the middle of August.  A year is old then – the things only live to be 12.

Way back when I moved into that empty apartment, I had a new beginning staring me stark in the face and, looking back on it, I didn’t know what the heck to do with it.  For this New Years, I’ve decided to basically stay as I am.  Imperfect but fairly happy, just as my apartment is dusty but fairly clean.

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