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Commentary: The Cockroach That Broke the Camel’s Back

When I moved to New York City from California last year, it felt like a pretty grown-up thing to do. I was 22. I’d never lived far away from home for more than a couple of months, and for most of undergrad, my parents (and, more importantly, my dog) were only a few hours drive away. So when I packed my belongings into exactly two tattered suitcases, each under 25 pounds, and moved them into a 8ft x 8ft box-shaped bedroom on the upper west side, I felt pretty darn cosmopolitan.

And for the first couple of months, I held it together. I paid rent, taught myself how to jaywalk and prepared pasta-based meals for myself, all while calling my mom a totally normal number of times per week.

But all it took to unravel the facade of my newfound independence was a cockroach.

To be fair, I’d had a rough couple of weeks. One of my roommates had threatened to kill herself a few days before. Everyone else was out of town, so I was the one who calmed her down and walked her to the emergency room. A few days later, I caught the flu. Quarantined in my room with a 103 degree fever and a half-eaten pack of salteen crackers, I started to seriously question my ability to take care of myself… without the help of my parents.

And then, as all of this was coming to a head, I learned I was sharing my bedroom with a cockroach the size of a ceramic mug opening. I know this because I succeeded in trapping it before I totally lost all of my composure. It only just fit within the rim—its spindly brown legs and squirmy antennae were poking out from inside.

At the time, the cockroach felt like a manifestation of all the problems I was dealing with. I was in over my head, with life and the cockroach, and while I knew the grown-up and responsible thing to do would be to get the cockroach and flush it down the toilet, I was petrified by the idea of getting anywhere near it. From across the room, I could hear it making a rustling sound, the sort of gross pitter-pattering noise that only tiny legs can make on a linoleum floor.

So I called my mom, piled a stack of books on top of the mug and stared at it until the morning, when I texted a friend and she got rid of it for me.

My roommate is doing better now. But we, like many of our my peers, are living in a sort of middle ground of adulthood. I’ve moved away from home, am trying to support myself financially and in many ways function the way an adult should. But I don’t feel like an adult yet.

When I was a kid, I think I was expecting to wake up the day after my eighteenth birthday and have suddenly acquired all of the traits that make people like my parents seem so… responsible. I imagined myself rolling out of bed in a well-ironed suit, ready to take important phone calls, drive myself to work and solve all of my own problems.

But in my ten months of experimental adulthood, I’ve discovered that growing up isn’t a solitary experience. Part of being an adult—maybe even the most important part—is being able to recognize when you need help and being brave enough to ask for it. Luckily, In New York City, I’ll always have cockroaches to remind me of that.

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