The noise of the curtains covering the window next to my bed woke me up at around 4am.
I opened my eyes just in time to see a rat jump from the windowsill onto my comforter.
I jumped out of bed, screaming, but my foot caught in the sheets and I crashed to the floor in the middle of my study.
I got up and turned on the lights to check that my visitor was not the product of a nightmare.
The rat, now scurrying under my bed, must have climbed the fire escape to my third story window.
I had heard of other dramatic rodent sightings in Manhattan’s West Village, where I had moved just in time for the pandemic to shut down restaurants, so the rats were out in search of new food sources.
Shivering, pulling on a robe and rummaging through my closets in hopes of finding makeshift rat-catching supplies, I cursed myself for leaving the window open, and choosing to live alone.
I thought of my girlfriend, Celeste, and her plant-filled Brooklyn apartment.
Why wasn’t she sleeping in her bed with her cat, Teaspoons, snoring by our side?
The first time I slept over, Teaspoons spent the night rubbing himself so enthusiastically on my sandals that I had to throw them away, the Velcro straps hopelessly obstructed by his long fur.
Now, several years later, I found myself wishing I had kept the sandals, because of the memory and the smell of cat, a deterrent potential for rodents.
I dated so many people the year after my marriage ended that my therapist couldn’t remember their names.
He called a woman from high society “Hothouse Flower” and “French Übermensch” an economist whose accent and muscles made me fall in love.
There was also a fiddler, an English banker, and a lexicographer who liked kilts and vintage cocktails.
They were all funny, but Celeste was different.
When I saw her waiting for me on our first date, sitting on a stool in a hipster tequila bar, her sea green eyes and delicate neck made my heart race.
As I laughed at her stories and answered her insightful questions, I felt even more heated.
I literally broke a sweat in the crowded bar.
Waving my arm in a gesture, I smelled myself and realized that my rising temperature had awakened years of body odor locked in the fibers of the body. vintage dress that I had worn for the first time.
At the end of the evening, when Celeste leaned in to hug me, I gave her a hug using only my forearms, my upper arms pressed against my body to contain the scent.
“I should have kissed you,” I texted him after I got home.
“How about Friday?” she replied.
Since then we kissed and talked.
I didn’t start dating women until I was almost 40 years old.
Celeste, my first girlfriend, luckily, found my talk endearingly amusing. outdated mistakes and subsequent moments of awkwardness.
When we met, she had also recently left a relationship of many years.
Neither of them wanted to jump into another serious relationship.
But while my other dates focused on pleasure, Celeste and I trusted each other with the parts more difficult of our lives.
But on the night of the rat (which clearly qualified as a tough, albeit brief, part of my life), Celeste and Teaspoons were miles apart.
Our arrangement to live apart while still seeing each other used to work out well.
The nights we were apart, we called each other to tell each other the details of our other dates.
But my freedom also meant that I had no one to help me with crises like the rat, who seemed to have taken refuge in a carton box under my bed
I took a deep breath, looked at the drawing of the feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir that hung above my desk, and told myself that I didn’t need any help.
I used a broom to push the box into the hallway and slammed my apartment door, congratulating myself as I mentally apologized to my neighbors in case the rat didn’t get out of the building.
When I got home from work that afternoon, Mrs. de Beauvoir was upset.
The rat hadn’t been in the box after all.
After I left, he had explored his new abode, gnawed at the shower curtain, knocked over the wooden hand of the mannequin where I hung my jewelry, and, I imagined, perhaps gazed longingly out the closed window while regretting some of his own life decisions. .
Lastly, it had climbed up the dresses hanging in my closet and into the back of a bookcase, making a cozy nest among my sweaters.
He couldn’t see her there, but he knew she wasn’t anywhere else.
I closed the closet door and went in search of my building superintendent.
“Maybe it’s a mouse?” he asked, spreading his fingers a few inches.
“A rat”, I insisted, opening my hands, to confirm the size.
Skeptical, he raised an eyebrow and told me I was in luck, because the visit from the exterminator It was scheduled for the following week.
I called Celeste to ask if I could spend a few nights at her place and maybe borrow some clothes from her, since my new roommate was wearing all of mine.
He said yes. Minutes later, he sent me another text message:
“Gary offers to go catch your rat.”
Gary, an artist who makes a living reviving historic construction techniques, is both strong and delicate.
He is not bothered by the less pleasant fauna of New York.
He often spends his days cataloging the grimy bivalves, fish and occasional car parts that are pulled from the mud during the current cleanup of Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal.
The first time we met, when he was guiding a flotilla of canoes down the canal into New York Harbor, he cheerfully described to us the dangers of his child hunts in Somerset, England, in search of strong, sharp-toothed river eels.
Gary could take on a rat.
But I wasn’t sure I could stand up to Gary.
He and Celeste had recently fallen in love, bonded over their shared passion for reclaiming urban waterways.
They were already talking about moving in together.
Celeste said she didn’t want our relationship to change, even if she and Gary became a serious couple.
Still, she was worried. Celeste and I mixed cocktails, spent hours talking in coffee shops, and went to museums.
Gary helped build some of the elaborate installations for these museums.
And not only did he make delicious cocktails, but he also volunteered for a project to transport grain down the Hudson River on a sailing schooner to make more sustainable alcohol.
He would often arrive at coffee shops with his bicycle laden with branches he had sawn from storm-tossed trees, which he carved into beautiful spoons.
My insecurities kept me from feeling completely comfortable with Gary.
But I felt a lot less comfortable with the rat, so I asked Celeste what time she could come over.
Gary and I met at a hardware store.
He asked me about the rat.
I held out my hands.
He nodded and picked up the biggest trap there was, an oversized version of a mousetrap
Back at my apartment, I handed Gary a peanut butter utensil to use as bait for the trap.
“My guilt spoon!” he said.
Celeste had given me the spoon from Gary months ago.
Now, Gary explained to me that he had carved it out of guilt. for meddling in my relationship
We set up the trap, opened the closet door, and went to Celeste’s apartment to wait.
I sat on the couch with Teaspoons purring in my lap, shedding welcome white hairs on my black jean pants.
Celeste and Gary cooked pasta, because I love pasta, and kale, because Celeste insists I can’t live on pasta alone.
Since I was there, Gary put on an apron over his clothes instead of his preferred cooking attire: just an apron and nothing else.
And he was even more considerate, because he left after dinner, even though he had planned to spend the night there.
Instead, I slept peacefully with Celeste, my love, although we also love others.
The next morning, Gary and I went back to my apartment.
I opened the door for him and waited outside.
“We got it!” he called me.
“And it’s big!”
Gary put the rat in a garbage bag, but I asked him for one more favor.
He reopened the bag and pulled out a photo that he could show my skeptical building superintendent.
Bag in hand, Gary hugged me goodbye.
“I consider you family,” he said.
I returned the hug.
Gary had believed me without hesitation, had jumped in to help, and had shown that he had me in mind even in the distracting whirlpool of a new relationship.
Months later, when Celeste and Gary moved in together, she wasn’t nervous anymore.
He hadn’t lost a girlfriend, he had gained a friend.
And all because a rat got in and out of my life.
Erin Thompson is an art historian and lawyer. She teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
c.2022 The New York Times Company
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Modern Love: If a rat falls into your bed, call your lover’s boyfriend
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