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January 23, 2013

When I first moved here, in my freshman year of college, I lived in an apartment with two other girls. My best friend Chelsea was one of them. It was a strange and terrifying year for all of us. For me, moving from a conservative small town to a liberal metropolis was like being splashed in the face with cold water. It wakes you up. The more of the world you see the more you come to know yourself. It was in this awkward first year that I made a rash decision that followed me.

One night, I made a barrel of spaghetti for my roommates. We barely ate half of it. I knew we would never finish it all. I remembered the man who lived across the hall from us. He was in his late twenties, maybe early thirties with a belly that betrayed a close personal relationship with beer. He never spoke to anyone. Most of the time, if you passed him in the hall or at the mailboxes or in the laundry room, he would be wearing headphones. He never smiled or waved or spoke. The best one could expect from him was a short nod. The only thing of interest about him was that he seemed to shy away from anyone who was interested. He seemed very lonely. I can’t speak to whether he was actually lonely or not.

This night, for some reason we—I decided we should bring him some of our leftovers. There was a short conversation about who should bring them to him. Michelle said she thought he was creepy and that he probably had trophies from all the young generous college girls that he’d killed. Chelsea giggled nervously and said there was no way. She couldn’t stop laughing. I was annoyed.

“Fine, I’ll go.”

I loaded two Gladware containers with spaghetti. I went across the hall. Michelle and Chelsea watched through the peephole, presumably taking turns. Actually, probably only Chelsea was watching. Michelle was probably texting her boyfriend. Anyway, I knocked on the door. There was no answer. I waited a few seconds and knocked again.


He was dressed in his pajamas and wearing headphones and in the hallway beside me. I jumped out of my skin.

“Jesus Christ, you scared me,” I said.

“Is there something I can help you with?” His face was dead; his voice was cold.

“Oh, I just, well, we made a bunch of spaghetti—there’s no meat in it or anything—I made too much for us and—it’s still warm—I just thought maybe you’d want some. It’s not poisoned or anything.”

“No, thanks,” he said frigidly. He pushed his door open and started to enter.

“Are you sure? There’s no meat in it or anything.”

He turned around.

“Thank you, but no.”

He closed the door. I felt pretty stupid standing there in the hallway with warm spaghetti. I went back in to the apartment.

“What happened?” Chelsea wondered. “What did he say?”

“He didn’t want any. He just said, ‘Thank you, but no.’”

“He probably still has a bunch of human heads to get through,” Michelle said.

I was baffled. He seemed insulted. I only wanted to share our bounty. Chelsea said she thought he was mysophobic and wouldn’t eat strange foods. I wish she had been right.

The next day there was a note pinned to our door, like we’re living across the hall from Martin Luther. This missive was just as inflammatory. It was typed and was addressed to the inhabitants of apartment #14.

Michelle was furious. Chelsea was scared. I was confused.

“This is why I never do anything nice for anybody I don’t actually like. Strangers are assholes.” That’s what Michelle said anyway.

“You’re right. But why write a note?” I wondered. “I understand not wanting the food. Fine. You don’t want the food. You don’t have to be a dick about it.”

 After Chelsea and I talked Michelle out of going over there and fighting him, we decided our tactic would be to fight fire with fire, or, to be more accurate, coldness with coldness. If we saw him in the hall, pointedly look away. If two or more of us pass by him and are talking, stop talking in an obvious fashion to make him aware it is on his account. We stuck to it for the rest of the time we lived in the building. There was no way for us to tell if he noticed at all because we always ignored him and he was doing the same to us. A domestic cold war.

War is by its very nature destructive. Retaliation proliferates. Hate is communicable and eats away at the soul. I hated that man, whose name I don’t even know, and what good did it do me? What good did it do him? Communication, honest, fragile, beautiful communication is the only way to eradicate hate. It may sound trite, but it can’t be denied.

I feel sick over the whole incident and it has stayed with me trailing along like a short-legged ghost, reminding me of the day that I allowed cynicism to dig a claw into me. My belief in the ultimate goodness of humanity wavered. I have decided that this is a new year and that I need not carry any more baggage than I need.  I was looking through my things and I found that note. I haven’t read it in a long time. It seemed kind of ridiculous. I don’t know why we got so upset or why he should feel the need to write such a letter. I also don’t know why I made so much spaghetti. Never cook when you’re hungry, I guess. That’s the lesson I will take from this instead of the destructive but almost universally accepted notion that strangers are assholes. I am a stranger. You are a stranger. Let’s talk.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 23, 2013 6:21 pm

    to fear love and kindness is not truth. I hope you continue to reach out to others.

  2. iusedtolaughatbridgetjones permalink
    January 26, 2013 7:18 am

    Wow. In a strange and sick way, that letter almost reads like he thought he was helping you see some truth he believed. Whatever, though, that’s just unsettling. Burn the letter and keep offering spaghetti to strangers.

    • January 30, 2013 3:38 pm

      I know. I was glad to move out of that building. I’m keeping the letter though to remind myself not to let cynicism take control.

  3. February 7, 2013 9:46 pm

    I enjoy your writing. I would read a book from you. (random thought)

    • February 9, 2013 1:43 pm

      Thank you. I have actually been working on a book, a novel. I’m hoping to finish it by the end of the year…


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