I like to think I had more tolerance back then. That I was thicker-skinned. But looking back with the perspective of a man who has since then been mauled by failure, I know I persisted simply because there was nothing else to be done.
Where to start but in the many homes I tried to build for myself? Each one a failure. Each one started with the hope that I could create an island of tranquility away from the fray of the city. And not surprisingly, each one invaded by the messy discord of roommates. Their bags would hardly be unpacked before my islands – too thin-walled and drafty to really be islands – suddenly shrank and revealed themselves to be the cramped apartments lodged in disreputable building that they always were. Always the sound of others hiving about incessantly. Elevator cables whipping all night. The foul stench of cooking grease and smoke slinking in the halls.
Of course, I’m thinking of a very specific apartment. The features of this apartment were generic enough, so that each time I revisit it in memory it takes up a new shape. Blue walls now. Radiator heat. Two bedrooms and a kitchenette. There have been yellow bathrooms and dark-wood furniture, sloping living rooms and threadbare carpets. But, in every refiguring, there’s Rudy. Rudy sitting at the dining room table stooped over the paper, his back curved and hooked like a cane. Rudy looming behind the bathroom door. Rudy in the darkened pantry, his small teeth shining.
I still hate Rudy. Even after all these years, it’s true. I’m not afraid to admit that. If there’s one thing age has done for me, it’s removed the shame associated with petty squabbles and gifted me the self-assurance reserved for the righteously indignant.
But, as with love, hate is a delicate affair. There is a long graceful arc in its development. The giddy bubbling of excited tensions, the spilling of overwhelming desire, the calm of comfortable domesticity. It is the turbulence, the chase, that is arousing. And so it was with Rudy.
He just showed up at my door one night. It might have even been during a night of sullen clouds and heavy downpour. He must have been knocking for a while before I rushed to open the door. And there he was, lurching in a trench-coat, one suitcase in hand.
I am the new roommate.
Ok, Welcome. Here are your keys.
And sure, at first glance I thought he was a little odd. A little hunched over, quick with his hands, slow with his mouth. Under the shadow of his hat, his skin looked leaden and drawn, his eyes impossible to make out. But I never really saw him after that. Because I was working day and night. Even at home, I’d see those numbers moving around the ledger, the stacks of undone paperwork growing and shrinking like a small body breathing. And so I worked and worked and came home and drank and drank. Sometimes I would see Rudy from the corner of my eye scuttling from his bedroom to the bathroom to the kitchen back to the bedroom, making tracks, always the same paths, wearing holes in the carpet.
It was on one of these nights when I saw Rudy tracing his greasy path butted up against the baseboard that I realized I didn’t even know the man. Didn’t know where he worked, if he worked. Or even what he looked like. His silty features all muddled together except for his little eyes and bristly grey brown hair.
And that’s when I said, Rudy, let’s have a beer, it’s about time we got to know each other if we’re sharing this slice of the world, I’d like to know what makes you think, where your people are from, why you’re here in this city of all cities.
Well. I didn’t actually get to say any of that. All I managed was: Rudy. And the poor fellow, I guess the rattle in my voice startled him, because he just looked back at me with frosted eyes and shrieked. And it’s true, we mostly passed our evenings in silence. Me watching TV, or staring at the wall. Him scurrying along his paths or clipping away at his finger and toenails in the bathroom. But when he stood there, frightened by what would have been considered a nice gesture, his body crammed against the wall, I admit that I felt my first flare of hatred for him.
After that, months passed between us in complete silence. A silence that happened to coincide with my being laid-off without severance.
My first Monday at home I got dressed as usual and set up a modest office in the living room: a dinner tray in front of the recliner. The best way to get a job is to make it your job. But, I wanted to stretch my legs a little and ease into the work, so I pulled the recline lever. Well, I reclined straight through to the floor. I struggled to get up but just sunk deeper. I tried to jut my pelvis forward for leverage, but just flopped and accordioned in the seat. I tried twisting myself free, but the chair folded in on me with more force, crushing me as I flayed. People say there’s a beauty in butting up against death, in knowing the body can persist through the struggle – but there isn’t. There is only the humiliation of abject groveling, the pathetic fight to protect the smallness of life, the wilting faith in salvation. And then: a tugging on my arms, Rudy’s long nails clawing my forearms, fishing me out. He yanked and scratched and then suddenly I sprung up and out across the room.
I must have blacked out for a second, because when I came to, panting and looking up in bewilderment for the man who saved my life, all I could see was Rudy creeping against the wall, the tail of his coat disappearing before the slam of his bedroom door. And then I noticed it. The recliner stuffing all over the floor, spilling out from the bottom. Not a tear, but a hole. Scratches all along the base. The seat crease gnawed out. Ragged edges beneath the foot rest.
At the time, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. But as I began spending all my time at home waiting for the job market to turn, the smaller things became bigger, insurmountable things. Crooked cabinets, scud bunched up around the faucets, the fact that Rudy never went to work, uneven baseboards, persistent dripping, and the nightly reoccurring theft from my food supply. I tried to let these things go, but when you’re cramped in a small space with a man who runs at first sight of you, is always sneaking in and out of rooms, who is perpetually scratching himself, and collecting and storing trash in his room – these worries become your only company.
And then one night, the bruises from the chair still plum-blotched, I found a plastic bag in the freezer filled with bones. They were chicken bones – nothing grotesque. But, they belonged to one of the frozen chickens I hadn’t yet gotten around to eating. As far as I could tell after a careful reconstruction, all that was missing was the spine – and the meat and organs, of course.
I had ignored his odd behavior up until then, excused his mess, found other justifications for the accidents and destruction that began shortly after he moved in. But, with everything there is a limit. And Rudy, master of skirting thresholds, had finally trespassed on my sense of order.
I started keeping detailed reports of his behavior and habits – tracking for inconsistencies, compulsions and vulnerabilities.
During a two month long observation period, Rudy barely left the house. This is because, unemployed – and most likely, unemployable – he had nowhere else to be. His daily habits were as follows: during the day, he never left his room. I would tape his door shut from 9am to 6pm, when having proved my theory, I would remove it. As soon as the sun set, he became animated, feverishly anxious and mildly disruptive. I began synching my sleep schedule with his in order to collect more data. His nightly routine would start with a rustling noise – like newspapers being torn and stuffed into small holes in the walls. Then he would start pacing and scratching the walls – an insufferable noise that could be heard everywhere, closing in on me through the vents and floorboards, penetrating the sanctity of the house. Then the pacing. Always the same paths. From his room, to the bathroom, to the kitchen. There was nowhere else to go so he just circled the perimeter, saturated the space with frenetic energy, left his odor on the chairs and couch, paced closer and closer to my bedroom door. All night long. The sound of his footsteps, his chewing, his whimpering.
After the observation period, I collected and reviewed my notes and determined that I could no longer be reasonably expected to live with Rudy – invader of my peace, terror to my well-being. However, I believe observations are entirely meaningless if not applied to theory and practice.
I made a simple trapping device that would gently suspend Rudy while ensuring that his filthy hands were bound behind his back. The elegance of the device lay in its plain construction that minimalized the possibility of mechanical failure. A weight pulled Rudy up by the arms and waist, while gravity did the work of stretching his body – elongated the pain and preventing the marks of permanent injury. If Rudy were to relax, the pain in his shoulders, arms, and wrists would increase. If he tried to stay up in order to reduce the pain, it would require a great exertion of effort that would eventually exhaust Rudy’s lanky, dangling body. I calculated that a tightly-wound steel cable with a modest thickness of 3/32 inches and length of 8 feet looped into a rig could catch and string him up as he passed through it. The device had a one-way locking mechanism – ensuring that no matter how much pulling and struggling were to occur, it would stay firmly clamped.
I ordered some savory, pungent take-out, the kind full of stews and dips and slaws that leave their stink on your hands and house. I rigged the device near the take-out and made a few adjustments to the height and sensitivity of pull – as one can never be too sure. Then, I waited.
I was so excited I could hardly sleep. I could only think of the peace, the stillness that would blanket my house after eradicating Rudy. All night, the little trickling sounds of the building jolted me awake. I mistook feet padding the hallways and chairs skidding the floors for the sounds of Rudy clawing his way out of the devise. In all my excitement, I hardly closed an eye before the crash of dishes woke me to the most pleasurable sound: Rudy’s frantic yelping and braying against death.
I’m no monster. I wasn’t about to kill Rudy over some take-out, a stolen chicken, broken chair, invasion of my privacy and the general mood of gloom and doom he cast over the apartment. So, I ran out to pay him the favor of saving his life. I must have looked a horror because as soon as Rudy caught sight of me, he started flailing, causing the wires to cut deeper into his chest and arms. I hushed him like a mother. Said sweet things, calmed his nerves, stroked his matted hair and released the cord that was welting his torso.
And then he looked right through me with his yellowed eyes. When he was standing, still swollen about the arms and chest, he said something to me that I still haven’t been able to parse, that still haunts me.
I stand before you daily and offer the potential for recognition, and yet your failure of vision, your failure to note the potency of our similarities, the congruity of our difference disappoints me daily; but it is this cycle of strife and ignorance that will bind us together in perpetuity, my friend.
And then Rudy bit me. Hard and direct, right across my face and arms. And then fled into the hallway, down the stairs and into the snowy street.
Analeah Loschiavo is a writer living in Chicago by way of Miami. Her work can also be found at Queen Mob’s Teahouse.