In New York City, I was walking to a friend’s apartment and had a buddy’s girlfriend with me. It was late at night and in an intimidating neighborhood, so we were walking pretty quickly to meet up with everyone. Suddenly, there was a rustle from behind a few garbage cans, and we both jumped, not sure what caused the noise.
Now, I had moved from the suburbs of Connecticut to NYC less than a year prior. The main thing my family tried to impress on me was the tangible, impending danger that waited around every corner. These were the “mean streets” that wanted to take my wallet, my phone, and my foolish naiveté in thinking that I could make it in such a rough-and-tumble environment. When I heard the commotion of a hidden aggressor, all these fears came rushing to me at once. I instinctively tensed.
Rats in the city
Instead of a mugger, a rat no bigger than a hot dog leapt off a trashcan and scurried away. I relaxed and started breathing normally. Not only were we not about to get attacked, but it was just a harmless rodent that you see everywhere. Heck, I had a bunch of hamsters when I was a kid. If anything, I think they can be kind of cute. Unfortunately, my friend didn’t share my feelings, screamed loudly and raced across the street.
“Oh, I forgot that was a thing,” I said, after thinking for a moment. I recalled a time when we were waiting for the subway with a group of people. We were all chatting and killing time when she let out the same blood-curdling scream that was a mix of pure terror and nervous laughter. A rat, it turned out, crawled out of a hole, grabbed some food, and then disappeared again.
This was a girl who was, and still is, every bit in control of her own life. She’s financially independent, went straight from undergrad to her Master’s degree, and works for one of the most demanding companies in the city. I had forgotten that this confident, young professional was also deathly afraid of rodents of all kinds. Laughing at both the absurdity of the situation and to relieve my own stress, I crossed the street to meet up with her.
And she refused to walk on the same side as the rat the entire rest of the way.