Creatures of Habit

I'm watching a horsefly circle our room in a panic.  He came in through the open window, can't get out again.  Do you ever want to tell insects to just slow down a moment, to look at their surroundings, to remember that if they got in, surely they can get out?  Last night as I sat on the toilet a moth came suddenly alive on the wall beside me.  When we were nine or ten, a friend of mine who had rescued a dying bird from the old bathtub in her mother's garden and was now trying to capture a bug to feed the patient had a moth fly into her eye.  She shrieked, ran in circles like the horsefly.  After we laughed about it.  You have a moth in your eye. Things, in that cyclical way that they work, need repairing again.  My bicycle, my computer.  We need to mop the stairs, hoover the hallway.  I forget that the objects in my life, the major ones, need as much attention as the people in my life sometimes.

Yesterday after work, even though it was Friday, even though it was a glorious day, all sun-and-clouds-and-wind, I found myself in a state of deep despair.  Every human interaction seemed a transgression.  I started to hate people, hate things, in equal and powerful measure.  The streets turned ugly and mean.  Women handing out flyers, beggars with their lopsided eyes and plaintive cries, schoolgirls in slutty skirts sharing illicit cigarettes on the circus that is Cornmarket in the afternoon, a lone man with a deep voice standing in the center of the crowd, saying, you must embrace Jesus, or all is lost.

So I did the only thing I could think of: I went home.  This is more complicated than it sounds.  The ride, along the High street, round the roundabout, up the wind tunnel of the Iffley Road, along uneven, potholed James Street, is familiar enough.  It's been memorized, done at every conceivable hour, in every conceivable season, in rain, flurries of snow, rare and undiluted summer sunshine, but it's more about a state of mind than knowing a route and coming to the end of it.  At home I felt ill at ease even in the study, my usual sanctuary: the view into the garden only put me in mind of things to do.  I needed to burrow deeper into the nest.  So I went upstairs, into the bed, even though the hour did not warrent this.  Under the duvet.  Received, as I lay listening to the windowpane rattle in the springtime gale, a message from the Man that put my mind at ease enough to drift into sleep, and when I awoke it was because it was his footsteps on the stairs, his presence in the doorway, his body next to mine.  And how comforting, later, to walk down the road to our pub, to see friends and then have dinner in our neighborhood.  To feel a sense of ownership all the way from late afternoon to late-at-night.  To lie giggling like children in bed after midnight.


This morning I awake thinking of the first apartment I had in Boston.  Two years of dormitory living, tiny, stinking communal showers, no kitchens, wizened mice snacking at students' discarded potato chips, sounds of sniffles, phone calls, drunkeness, DVDs and music, careless, inept sex.  I sought refuge in the views from windows, of bridges stretched across the Charles River, of seasonal beauty in the botanic gardens.  I've never been quite so lonely as I felt those first two years, living in disgustingly close proximity to hundreds of other disillusioned youths.

That first apartment, in Kenmore Square, was too expensive for what it was; an impulsively signed lease at the end of the semester.  A one-bedroom converted into a two-bedroom, so that the living room was only a strip of hallway, the kitchen only a black-and-white tiled place to stand and eat toast in the mornings, gazing out at the tip of the Prudential Building piercing a dynamic Boston sky.  But I loved it anyway.  Up three flights of creaky, carpeted stairs, a hovel of my own, with views of my own choosing.  Custom shelves installed crudely by the man the realty company sent to repaint in September.  There was a moment, I remember this moment so clearly, in early September.  A week after I'd moved in, perhaps.  Boston still shedding the heat of summer, but with characteristic grace, so that the days, slightly windy, unbelievably clear, felt almost too mild, too gentle, to be true.  I'd been out with a friend, having lunch perhaps, and I came into my apartment, opened the bedroom window, sat on my new futon bed, felt this strange elation.