I wrote this on the plane on the way to San Francisco. Long flight.
I killed a cockroach today. No, I suppose I cannot say certainly that it was a cockroach because I have never seen one before in real life. In fact, I'm not sure that I've ever even seen a picture of a cockroach. But somehow I've developed an idea of what one should look like, and so when I saw this large brown beetle-like insect scurry across the bathroom door this morning, I was convinced that it was one of theses creatures, mythical in my mind up until that moment.
I'm not sure why there are no cockroaches in Wisconsin, were I'm from. I'd venture a guess that they like to avoid cold climates, but then they survive in seedy apartments in New York, right? Maybe it's just one of those ideas I've made up in my mind, but I've always associated "la cucaracha" with hole-in-the wall apartments in NYC, restaurants that aren't up to code, and Mexico. That's all we really hear of them, after all. Perhaps I've only lived in houses clean and new enough to block out cockroaches, but then the apartment I live in now is newer and probably better insulated, so that can't be it either. So, I guess I've avoided roaches my whole life because they've, like anyone who prefers cities and warm destinations, avoided my homestate of Wisconsin.
I was home alone this morning when the roach appeared. I had woken at 4am to catch an early flight to San Francisco to spend the weekend with my sister who offered to fly me out for my birthday weekend. Incidentally, that morning was my actual birthday. But the cockroach was not quite the surprise gift one might hope to find on their b-day morn. My boyfriend, a Naval officer, was on duty for the day, and so I was by myself when I found the bug.
As soon as I saw it, my heart began to thump dangerously against my chest as if a miniature man was trapped inside trying to get out. I think it was the surprise of something moving that got my blood flowing so early in the morning--my reflexes thinking it might be an intruder. And indeed it was an intruder.
When I pushed the bathroom door open, it ran from the crevice where it was hiding, no doubt as afraid of me as I was of it. When the door stopped moving, we both froze, considering our next moves. My mind went first to the shoes in the bedroom closet, an obvious weapon for the job, but the closet was too far. I didn't want to risk losing track of the bug, after which I would not be able to shower or sleep in the apartment ever again. So I used my peripheral vision to scan the tools at my reach. I needed something small and light enough to be swung quickly, but long and thick enough to prevent me from having to actually touch the roach. It had to be hard enough to smush it in one blow, with enough surface area to get the whole bug. next to me was a laundry basket filled with clothes. There might have been something in the laundry closet that would work, but my best bet was the linen closet behind me.
We kept all kinds of miscellaneous things in the closet--tool box, drill, light bulbs, towels, and cleaning supplies. One of the latter would have to do, so, attempting to keep one eye on my intruder, I turned quickly around to choose my weapon and spotted an almost empty bottle of Scrubbing Bubbles bathroom cleaner that was flat and light enough for the kill.
The bug hadn't moved, and so I took my stance. Suddenly, the words of my father, the softball coach, came flooding back to me. Feet shoulder width apart. Elbows down. Grip the bat right hand over left. Swing level. Eye on the ball. "Step on the egg, and squash the bug," meaning step lightly with your left foot and pivot on the ball of your back foot as you rotate your body.
I did just as my father had told me all those years from T-ball to high school. I was never very good at softball. Not a natural athlete. But as I followed through and blew that cockroach to oblivion, all those years in the batting cage seemed to pay off. It was the home run I'd been waiting for, and I could almost hear the crowd cheering in my head as my dead enemy fell to the floor, smashed flat in one swing. I thought, maybe, that my dad would be a little proud.
Now, I couldn't actually touch the thing, or I would risk throwing up the cold chicken and garlic toast I'd had for dinner just a few hours earlier. Bugs don't scare me as much as they disgust me, and I needed to stay as far away from the thing as possible. I made sure it was dead and then ran to the kitchen closet for the broom and dust pan. I swept the dead bug into the yellow dust pan and walked it carefully to the toilet. A bug in the garbage meant I might see the bastard again and be reminded of the traumatic event, but a flushed bug would guarantee he'd be gone for good. (Although, after years of flushing insects, alive and dead, down the toilet, I've always had this irrational fear that somehow the insects would gather in the plumbing and conspire against me. I imagined a crew of lady bugs, house flies, spiders and grasshoppers in a huddle, brainstroming ideas on how to get their revenge until finally, one day, I would be sitting innocently down to empty my bladder and an entire flock of bugs from my past would swarm up at my bare bottom, attacking and taking no prisoners. But, it's one of those irrational fears that pop into my mind and must be ignored in order to live a normal life--like the fear of darkness, a fire or house thief in the middle of the night, the fear of a plan crashing down and taking you with it. You just have to put these fears aside--for your own sanity.)
So I flushed the bitch. I know I shouldn't be so harsh--the poor bug was probably just seeking shelter in the weather changes of November in Jax, Florida. Probably had a family at one time. But somehow I think that the bugs are always out to get me.
When I looked in the mirror, I half expected to see myself transforming into a giant version of the little brown beetle, and wondered if that was what Gregor Samsa had done wrong to deserve his metamorphosis. But my reflection showed just me--my normal self. Wild permed hair sticking out in all directions, mascara smudges circling my eyes, and all at once I felt pity for that little bug--that this was the last sight he or she saw.