My apartment has been invaded on several fronts.
In the past few months I’ve been plagued with mosquitoes, mice and a fiancé—all wanting to share my space.
Let’s start with the mice….
Saul (the aforementioned fiancé) and I thought it was just an adorable little mouse.
He would slyly pop his head out from behind the bookcase or joyfully sprint along the baseboard leaving a trail of whimsy (and a few mouse droppings) along the way.
“I don’t mind him do you?” Saul asked as we watched him giddily scamper into the closet. “He’s kind of cute.”
“I agree,” I replied feeling a bit smug that my fiancé and I valued ALL life. We were the power couple of rodent lovers.
We didn’t make the connection at the time the crazy women from Grey Gardens also valued all life and the result was raccoons living in their guest rooms.
We soon learned that there is no such thing as “a mouse”. I’m not sure why there is a word for just one of these furry fiends. Where there is one mouse there are several mice. Those things apparently mate like hippies at a Woodstock concert.
I began by catching and releasing them—I actually caught two who seemed to be good buddies and walked several blocks to release them to a life of frolicking in a field. It wasn’t one of those moving moments you see in YouTube video where the monkeys or elephants cry as they see sunlight for the first time…I clumsily pried open the metal box and screamed as the mice scrambled away in terror and ingratitude without a single look over their shoulders thanking me for saving their lives. .
And to make matters worse—the other mice caught on that the trap was actually….well … a trap. No amount of cajoling them that an endless supply of peanut butter and cheese was awaiting them inside would convince the stubborn little buggers to enter the one way maze . They mocked me as they ran across my floor at just the perfect moment to frighten the wits out of me or peeped their head out of my shoe as if to say, “I’m so cute and indestructible aren’t I?”
I soon became like Hemingway—not because of my writing skills but my desire to hunt and kill. I bought supposedly humane electric traps that the Amazon description said felt like a warm hug as they electrocuted the life out of the wily pests . My house became an insane asylum for rodents who went in for shock therapy but never came out.
I actually think I saw a tear run down the face of the St Francis of Assisi statue perched on my kitchen shelf.
Saul went on the murderous rampage ride along with me but was probably the only person I knew who would pray for their tiny mouse souls before we tossed their bodies in the trash.
The mosquitos were another story.
Saul HATES mosquitoes.
I mean nobody likes mosquitos but Saul HATES mosquitoes. Every bite is taken as a personal affront. And I’ve detected in his tone more than once the ever so slight accusation that I am personally responsible for all the mosquitos in Brooklyn—not the infamously stagnant Gowanus Canal that runs through the heart of my neighborhood, but my tiny bird bath and one-gallon watering can (that he earnestly dumps out every time I carelessly turn my back). He has repeatedly informed me that the thimble full of water in my backyard rain collector can be a potential breeding ground for several thousand larva.
“This one got me right between my shoulder blades where I can’t even reach to put on Benedryl. I know it did it on purpose!” has been the sound I’ve awoken to so many mornings that I now crave a cup of coffee when I hear it.
Each wound on Saul felt like an attack on me and I became defensive every time I heard that familiar pesky buzz near my ear in the middle of a hot summer night.
Luckily my friend Sara helped me with this divisive issue. She is sensitive to mosquito bites too. She informed me that these following responses to mosquito bites are not acceptable:
- Toughen up! They are part of life!
- Wherever we move there will be mosquitos.
- You are not the only person in the world who has been bit by a mosquito.
- Again I have to hear about this??
I thought I was helping Saul get stronger but Sara informed I was only helping him get angry at me. She suggested a simple “I’m sorry. Let’s go find that mosquito and kill it!”
It seemed kind of dumb and simplistic to me but by god it worked!
The amazing thing was I didn’t even really have to mean it! I just said the words and pretended to look around a bit and it seemed to sooth Saul.
You are welcome to steal that tip for your own use.
Which leads me to the largest, most talkative and beardiest of these invasive creatures…
It’s not that Saul is such a horrible awful person. It’s just I’ve lived by myself for 18 years and have become a little set in my ways.
I mean there are certain things I like to do every single morning such as read 1 page from 12 different books in a personally specified order. These books range from the Bible (if people are going to use it against me I want to know what it says—we Catholics were always told to leave it to the nuns and priest to read), to Shakespeare to books on the Civil War and Presidents and of course a few Broadway books thrown in for fun
Oh and after I’m done reading I like to straighten the apartment by going from room to room using an elaborate counting system that determines what gets cleaned first and taking a sip of coffee for a reward after each room is straightened.
As you can see s there is nothing odd about my life—it’s just an ordinary OCD existence.
But I am finding that when you let someone in intimately , they seem to have opinions about these normal everyday things.
Saul doesn’t mind the book-reading—it’s one of the few things in the world that keeps me quiet and it gives him time to have his morning coffee in peace.
He did once ask me what would happen if I didn’t read my 12 pages from 12 different books in the morning.
“Why would I ever miss a reading??” I answered in what I thought was a rather calm voice to the outrageous question but apparently my loud shrill laugh that followed unnerved him enough not to suggest such a scenario again.
I enjoyed my everyday PERFECTLY NORMAL rituals and I also enjoyed the lived-in look of my home. Sure my drawers were messy to the outsider but I knew exactly where everything was (most of the time—say 8 out of 10 times). I enjoyed leaving my clothes to land where they may when I tossed them off after a long day of work and was always sure to pick them up and put them away (or at least hang them at the foot of the bed) the next morning (under the guidelines of the counting system SEE ABOVE)). I liked playing my Broadway show tunes loudly and watching Good Morning America (I never forgave Matt Lauer for how he treated Ann Curry and switched over from my 30-year allegiance to the Today Show) and I liked falling asleep on the couch if I wanted to without someone in my bed wondering why I was being aloof.
But there was something missing in my life that I couldn’t deny—it’s what I call The Light Bulb Moment. This moment is nothing like Oprah’s Aha Moment although I wouldn’t mind if it caught on and became as poplar as that as long as I was credited.
My Light Bulb Moment happened in my 20’s when I moved out from my wonderful cousin Melissa’s apartment in New York where she had so graciously let me live with her throughout my formative first years in the city. It was a tough move but one I had to do. I was moving into a teeny rundown one-room apartment with rats in the hall (not nearly as cute as the aforementioned now deceased mice), and it was my first place that I lived in all by myself.
My first week there, I walked into my bathroom and turned on the light switch only to find that nothing happened. The light bulb was burned out.
And that was the moment I realized there was no one to tell. There was no one to whom I could casually say, “The light bulb in the bathroom’s burned out.”
I didn’t need someone to fix it but I was used to sharing the trivialities of being alive with another person. I had been used to having a witness to even the most minor details of my life but now they were my experience alone. It was not important enough news to share at work or anywhere else in my social world —at least if I wanted to be thought of as an interesting person.
And now these many years later Saul was about to become my new Light Bulb Buddy.
We had been spending about five out of the seven nights each week together already so this wasn’t going to be that much of a change.
At least that’s what everybody said.
But there was a difference and it felt like a big one. Now if, (God forbid,) it didn’t work out, it wouldn’t simply be, “It’s not you. It’s me. I think we need to take a little break.” It would be “I need you to find somewhere else to live by the end of the month. If not, everything is going on the curb.” It was hard to say those words in a kind nurturing way and I was starting to feel the pressure of these increased consequences.
And it didn’t help that smack dab in the middle of that week before Saul moved in I decided to kill my cat.
Let me explain.
Her paw had become infected and she was twenty-years-old which in human years is well…dead really. She didn’t clean herself anymore and wore her matted smelly fur like she was a decrepit old lady in a tattered bathrobe that just didn’t give a fuck how she looked anymore. And although she tried her hardest to pee within the boundaries of the cat box, she usually ended up completely and utterly missing her mark. It was sad and maddening to watch her best intentions go awry as she good-naturedly sprayed all over the tiles of the floor two or three times a day. ‘
But I swear that wasn’t why I decided it was time to put her to sleep.
She was listless and seemed to forget she had eaten immediately after she had eaten. And now the infected paw seemed to be the last straw so I got my fiancé and my dog/cat sitter Jaminson and carted all three to the vet’s office for one final visit.
As Greta lay on the metal exam table in the too-brightly lit room like an old stuffed animal that had been left in the rain and was waiting for the trash heap, it seemed clear as to what the next steps should be. Saul and I looked at each other with a resigned determination to do the right thing.
Then Jaminson who up until then had been standing silently in the corner, suddenly began visibly sobbing before blurting out, “PLEASE DON’T DO IT! PLEASE GIVE HER MORE TIME. I’M NOT READY FOR THIS YET!”
I literally had to have him escorted out of the exam room by Saul so I could reevaluate my options.
Did I let my cat live that afternoon out of compassion and intuitive wisdom or was it crippling codependence so Jamison would stop begging while smoking (and I think drinking wine from his sippy cup) in front of the vet’s office?
I’m not sure I’ll ever really know.
Saul Petting Greta Who is Living To See One Or Two More Days
The next day as Greta meowed hungrily food and slept contentedly on her favorite chair and even begin cleaning herself again (had she realized that was no ordinary visit to the vet and she better step up her game?), I felt a sharp stab of anxious guilt.
And more than anything I was exhausted.
The responsibility of making a life and death decision for this little creature that I have loved and protected for 20 years of was hitting me hard.
“Purr. Purr Purr. Isn’t it a beautiful day?” She seemed to be saying. “I wouldn’t have missed this for anything!”
Living life not in a vacuum was a bitch.
But now that vacuum was about to be filled with yet another tender life.
And he had drawn a floor-plan-for-two of my tiny bachelor apartment.
Here is a bit of advice to any of you who may be contemplating moving in with someone.
When one of you lives in New Jersey on one side of Manhattan and the other lives in Brooklyn on the other side of Manhattan, DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT plan on moving the day Manhattan is pretty much closed off to traffic because every major leader of every country is at some meeting at the United Nations.
Saul and I have had a history in the car and it wasn’t always pretty.
We love road trips but took issue with our competing apps.
“Why does yours say to go that way? Mine says to go through the Lincoln Tunnel!”
“Well mine says to take the FDR Drive and maybe she knows something yours doesn’t”
We speak as if they are real people giving us directions and believe the other one’s “person” is a either sadistic bully or really bad at giving directions. If I would venture to say Saul hates anyone on this earth it would be the “lady” on my phone.
It’s not like either of us researched for years or even minutes before downloading the perfect driving app—they were chosen by chance and maintained by habit but by god we were sticking to our guns.
I will spare everyone the details of our misguided maze into the Nine Circles of Hell otherwise known as midtown Manhattan on a Saturday afternoon but will leave you with the image of being mired at 57th and 8th Avenue with a large menacing bulldozer continuously circling our tiny car as we fumed inside–each mentally blaming the other for the mess we had somehow gotten ourselves into.
“I think if we had gone the way I said….”
Luckily it’s uncomfortable and claustrophobic to commit murder in a Mini Cooper so both of us survived.
That night I was somewhat relieved to have gotten through the first day and secretly looking forward to eight hours of shuteye without having to deal or communicate with another person.
Then I woke up in the middle of our first official night together to find Saul rummaging through the bedroom frantically looking for his iPod touch.
He had woken up suddenly realizing he didn’t know where it was and couldn’t wait until morning to search for it. And he somehow didn’t think rustling through a stack of papers a mere inches from my right ear would in any way disrupt my sleep.
“YOU ARE ACTING CRAZY!!” I screamed at him thoughtfully.
Oh and FYI—anther tip…yelling at someone that they are acting crazy does not seem to calm them down.
Let’s just say the peace and relief of the first night disintegrated quickly much like a tissue in a rainstorm
We found the IPod touch a few days later. Someone (allegedly me) had thrown it in a bag of stuff they (me) were planning on going through at a later date (never). I pretended I was the hero in finding it and Saul gamely went along with the ruse.
But that second day when Saul finally was moved in—that Sunday evening—the apartment looked surprisingly cozy and not cramped at all. Sure we had no actual doors except to the outside and the bathroom, but we used our collective Suspension of Disbelief to convince ourselves that curtains were almost the same thing.
We cooked our first meal together as cohabitants. Then we did the 7-Minute Workout together (I did it twice in a row but who’s counting?) and watched Cagney and Lacey (my choice) before reading aloud to each other from some inspirational and spiritual books.
It was pretty much my dream couples night.
Then Saul happened to see online that the first night of the Blood Moon started in ten minutes.
Now up to that point I didn’t’ even really know what a Blood Moon even was but it suddenly felt essential and urgent to see it. I mean at my age one’s rare sighting opportunities start to have more meaning.
Saul and I ran outside to the front of the brownstone where my…or rather our usually quiet Brooklyn block was full of people standing in pairs or with their children looking up at the night sky in silent awe.
As the moon began to disappear as if by some master illusionist’s slight of hand, we were all literally and collectively moonstruck.
There is something quite bonding when a group of people who are usually so disconnected and scattered come together for one purpose—especially when the purpose is as mysterious and enchanting as the moon.
And was that what Saul and I were doing?
Were we coming together as we looked into the mystery of building a life together—battling mosquitos and giving old cats a little while longer to enjoy this life…figuring out the best path to take and dealing with the detours sometimes with grace but more often not…setting traps for mice while gingerly trying to negotiate the emotional snares of living with someone you love?
I don’t know why it so much easier to hurt and be hurt by the person you love most dearly. What I am beginning to learn is that as we create this new life together, we both need to be aware of each other’s wounds—those wounds that were festering long before we ever met—and to avoid at all possible costs picking at those wounds even if it if it means “losing” the argument.
But tonight it was all about the moon and appreciating the unexpected magic that comes our way.
One by one people returned back to their homes .
And Saul and I took each other’s hand and returned to ours.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keith Hoffman and his partner Saul now use the mutually agreed upon Waze driving app. Their cat Greta is still alive (at least at the moment he is typing this).
HOMEWRECKER: THE STORY OF SAUL AND SASHA