La Villa Strangiato

Many cockroaches were killed in the making of my summer internship. The Foggy Bottom roach community (or FoBoRoCo, as the locals call it) for years to come will tell their children stories about the night that I wiped out a whole colony in one fell swoop. My name will live on forever in their folklore along with Baba Yaga, Krampus, and the Boogeyman.

I should probably explain.

During the first month of my tenure in D.C., I cohabited a basement along with with cockroaches the size of rats, rats the size of cats, slugs the size of pugs, and grasshoppers that looked like something out of a King Kong film.

Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much.

Night after night I lay awake in that cave, tormented by the scuttling insects and phone calls that my Neanderthal of a roommate felt compelled to take in the wee hours of the night.

Each morning I’d tiptoe around roach carcasses, making in my way into the kitchen to find various gastropods leaving slime trails all across the pantry. Our street once reeked of dead rat for nearly a week after one died beneath my neighbor’s porch. I relished the opportunity to go to work each morning, just for the few hours of respite from that dark, dank basement.

During those sleepless nights, I began to realize that this was the way some people spent their entire lives – hell, plenty of folks would think my living situation was downright cozy. The woman sleeping under the bridge down the street would kill for a bed and real roof. The homeless Veterans outside of the metro would relish the opportunity to use my shower, and wouldn’t complain about the black mold.

Gaining this sense of perspective, I began to realize how lucky I’d been to live the majority of my life hitherto relatively varmint-free. When I moved out of the cave last week, it dawned on me how truly fortunate I was to have the option to leave that pit.

Granted, I realize that despite all my whining, I lived in a pretty nice part of town. Regardless of that fact, I had a roof over my head and a soft bed beneath it. I had clean water. No one was shooting up my house or dropping bombs on my neighborhood. All things considered, things could be much worse.

Reflecting on those weeks in the cave, I thought about how difficult it was to fall asleep each night with the knowledge that there was an army of roaches just waiting for me to turn off the light. I recalled how hard it was to keep cool getting ready for work in the 95 degree heat with insects scurrying around my feet, thanking God that I knew I would soon get to leave that place.

Looking back, though, I’m grateful to that dungeon. Were the experience of interning in Congress not humbling enough already, the tribulations of living in that veritable steerage compartment really made me take a step back and realize how much I had taken for granted. And while I’ve since left the cave, I don’t think the cave will ever really leave me.



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