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At Home with Fred the Cockroach

At Home with Fred the Cockroach

The Underwear Incident, strange pets, and some pictures from my new home in Brooklyn

It's hard to feel alone when you're constantly bombarded with reminders that you are not. The challenge is in recognizing those reminders and acknowledging where they come from.


Brooklyn, N.Y. -- Autumn and winter chase each other around the block, sending frosted leaves to crunch beneath my feet as I walk.

The laziest Jack-O-Lanterns smile from their stoops, looking less and less frightful with every passing day. Night blankets the brick skyline and the crowd of other passengers to exit the train at 77th Street veer left and right onto their own streets, shifting the heavy bags on their shoulders or covering yawns with a mitten. 

Banners of red and green lights sway overhead, nodding to the heritage of many of the neighborhood's residents. The houses on my block are massive, but most of them are divided up into three to five separate apartments. They are great confectionary works, adorned with extravagant landscaping and a Madonna statue or three. While each one stands alone in detail, they all blend together in scale, so I am comforted when the two stone lions outside my own house come into view, welcoming me home after a long day at school. 

I fumble for my keys like a proper country mouse would — this is the first time in my life I’ve ever lived in a house with a lock on it, let alone two. I descend into the basement.

My basement. 

I pass through the door into the most exciting (and warm!) part of the apartment. I have a stove with four burners, a full sink, and half-refrigerator: all luxury commodities in New York, as some apartments don’t even have a separate sink from the bathroom. I warm up grandma’s hamburger soup on the stovetop and pop a thick slice of mother’s brown bread under the broiler: the two staples from Oregon that I never let myself run out of. 

Fred the Cockroach scurries out from under his home beneath the fridge and I ask him about his day. He isn’t the best conversationalist, but he makes me smile nonetheless. (Fred the Cockroach used to be "Dead Fred the Cockroach" as he spent about five days on his back in the corner, but on the sixth day he rose again, so I guess now he's just Fred the Cockroach.)

The walls are all 70's paneling and the floors are brown checkerboard, but my bathroom is blue. 1970's blue. Blue toilet, blue tiles, blue shower, blue sink. That makes me smile too. 

I turn on my Johnny Cash station and carry my warm bowl of soup and book bag down the hall to my desk, dig around for a pencil and my ruler, and get started on my homework.

Homework differs from day to day, but when compared to what has been my experience of “homework” from Linn-Benton, I find it difficult to give them the same word. I have over a hundred markers at my desk, but not one highlighter. I don’t pour over textbooks or scribble down notes. I sketch, and pin, and paint. 

At first, this new “homework” sounded like it would be much easier than those things, but it didn’t take long to find that this new “homework” has no end. When solving a math problem, you run a formula and come to a conclusion. When working a fashion illustration, you draw and render and blend colors endlessly. You swear. Things are thrown (Fred hides). There is always something you can do to make it better, more correct, and if you’re not careful, you can sit bent over one drawing until the morning alarm clock sounds. 

Tonight, however, I finish before the new day, forgetting my kitchen and feeling most excited about my electric blanket and fluffy comforter. 

I say goodnight to Fred (and Magellan the Traveling Plant!), and nod off to dream about pretty fabric.


Mornings are my favorite, and in Brooklyn, mornings are almost as peaceful as they were in Scio. No cows say hello to me when I step out to run, but there is a botanical garden a mile up the shoreline that is still beautiful this time of year. And it does smell better than cows, so I really can’t complain. Hot shower, poached eggs on toast, a swipe of mascara, and the rest of my tea to go. 

Such is life in the apartment. I love it. 

I spend about three hours every day on the train, so I’m not in my basement much, but when I am, it really does feel like home.

Bay Ridge Botanical Gardens

Bay Ridge Botanical Gardens

It was rough at first. I’m not going to pretend that it’s been easy to adjust.

When I first got here in August, I spent a week running all over the city trying to gather proof that I had lived here for a year prior to starting school. It was a matter of 80 grand and the entire last year of my life, so I was motivated. Thankfully, when I handed the school a 2-inch binder full of receipts, bank statements, and signatures from everyone I knew, they decided to let me claim in-state tuition.

For the first month, I was living in my landlady’s guest room with the same carry-on suitcase I’d been living out of since the end of April, as the renovation of my apartment wasn’t quite finished.

I appreciated her hospitality, but there were a few “stretching” moments. One day, for example, Gelsomina very kindly offered to wash my laundry. 

When I got home from school around seven, her entire family, including her grandsons my age, were seated in the garden having a full Italian dinner under the clothesline, which, to my horror, was supporting the laundry I had given her. 

All of the white laundry I had given her.  

Gelsomina invited me to come join them, and when food is concerned, one does not say no to Gelsomina, lest you be killed. So there I was, in the midst of a dozen piping Italians, poking at my spaghetti in the shade of my own drying underwear. 

I’ve forgotten keys, metrocards, homework assignments, and my sack lunch, creating issues that only snowball when you live alone 90 minutes from school. You let your rice boil dry: the fire alarm goes off and your landlady threatens to call the police. The trains break down and you’re stuck in the dark for 30 minutes and late to your midterm. You get sick and no one’s there to walk to the store. You get locked out of your house and no one’s there to let you in.

You go to church and you realize you haven’t had a hug since the previous Sunday. 

In September my sweet German flight-attendant friend, Karin, was in town for a layover and asked if I'd go with her to hear a favorite speaker of hers. At the church where the spreaker was (that just happened to be below my first apartment in the Financial District), a woman named Ogo got up to speak about her fashion boutique in Brooklyn that she had just opened. I didn't get the chance to meet her, but I couldn't quit thinking about how needed to meet her.

A few weeks later, I was talking to my landlady about the families that live upstairs. I heard her say the name "Ogo." How many Ogos can there be? I asked Gelsomina if she knew what Ogo does for a living.

“She-a just-a open a boutique-a on 83rd-a street,” Gelsomina said.

Once I had scooped my jaw up off the floor, I knew I had to go meet her. The woman I saw at a random event in a church that just happens to be on my old block, a hour from my new neighborhood, just happens to own a fashion boutique 2 blocks away, and just happens to live in the apartment above mine.

Long story short, I met Ogo and her twin babies, helped out in her shop a couple times, and now she checks in to make sure I’m doing alright.

It takes me about an hour to get to my church in downtown Brooklyn via train, but last week I met a couple sitting behind me who just happen to live on my block, and they offered to drive me from now on: a luxury that is unheard of in New York. The same day, another couple to my right announced that they’re starting a community group in our neighborhood this week. 

All this time I thought I was the only one at our church who would live all the way in Bay Ridge. I thought I was alone.

School is teaching me a lot. I am lectured at from nine to six most days — it’s a lot of information to take in. But what I’m learning the most from is being on my own. It’s in that “aloneness” that I am forced to see how alone I am not. 

Manhattan Skyline, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

Manhattan Skyline, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

Every day when I step outside and walk to the train station, I don’t walk there alone. At night, when I walk along the river and see the city and the the stars reflecting off the water, I’m not afraid because I know that the One who designed those very stars is there by my side. 

How can a person know these things? 

I know because I’d be blind not to know.

And when I don't feel Him beside me, He's in the friends that send letters from home, or the old man that holds the door when my arms are full of textbooks and sewing supplies. People like Ogo and Karin. The Indian-takeout my parents send, hanging on my doorknob when I get home from a hard day.

He’s in the absolute stranger that walks up to me, shrugs his shoulders and says to my face, "even though you’ve been learning a lot of new things and have been working so hard, God wants to be your Father through it all,"  before disappearing into a crowd.

He’s in the kaleidoscope of Monarch butterflies that envelop the bench where I’ve been crying, like a big yellow kiss. He’s in the art professor who preaches the gospel to me though every Renaissance painting, and He’s in blue tiles and Fred the Cockroach who’s scurries make me smile.

He holds my hand on every sidewalk, delighting when I laugh, holding me when I cry, and happy to be on this adventure with me. 

It's hard to feel alone when you're constantly bombarded with reminders that you are not. The challenge is in recognizing those reminders and acknowledging where they come from.


Katherine xx


Photos from The Brooklyn Nest

An International Friendsgiving

An International Friendsgiving

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