A lot of people say friendships are short-lived in New York City. Everything moves so fast. You talk to a kind stranger on the subway then never see him again. You give someone directions and wish her well on her journey. I’ve had many of these fleeting conversations. But nothing compares to the one I had with Benny.
I first met Benny after waking from an afternoon pity nap– rosary beads in my hand and religious articles all over my room. A pity nap is the kind where you have nothing to do, no job, nowhere to go and no money in your pocket, so you just pull the covers over your head and pray to every religious figure (dead and alive) you’ve ever heard of– from Jesus to Buddha to Jehovah to the Dalai Lama –to make all your problems go away.
Thanks to a debt collector that woke me up from my nap, I couldn’t sleep. So I made myself a plate of leftover pasta. Just as I was about to heat it up, I found Benny on the floor near the microwave. He was lying on his back, kicking his barbed legs in desperation, his torso the color of a rusted coin from the 1970s. I grabbed a napkin, crouched and picked him up. There he lie in my hand, the ugliest, most pathetic cockroach moving slowly, like a battery-operated toy about to lose its power. I lost my appetite.
I wondered how many New York kitchens he ransacked before he decided to crash at my place. It didn’t matter now. So, I held him and gave him a name. He looked like a Benny — innocent and non-threatening. Just a sad little creature who wanted something to eat.
“Benny, baby,” I said, cradling him in front of my chest in the napkin. “I’m sorry. I’ve been searching, too. I can’t seem to find the sugar bowl, either. It’s like you almost seem to have what you’re looking for. But it’s always an almost. Always an almost.”
He curled his legs as if he understood me. But he didn’t. In another lifetime, Benny could have been my friend, my partner in crime who’d steal packets of sugar for me at the diner; the silent listener who’d hand me a tissue to wipe my snot after I’d been crying.
Instead, in this moment, in the quiet of my apartment with the overcast sky out the window, he was a dead insect in my hand. I wrapped him in the napkin and slipped him into the toilet.
“I’ll find the sugar bowl for both of us,” I said.
And I will.