I don’t like bugs. By “don’t like,” I mean they make me run screaming like a little girl. I don’t know how this fear began. I was OK for most of my childhood. I don’t have any traumatic experiences involving bee stings when I was 8 years old or anything like that. I think it all began in early 1991, when my mother rented a little movie called Arachnophobia. You ever see this one? About swarms of killer spiders on the loose in a small town? The ads called it a “thrill-omedy,” so Mom rented it thinking it would be a scare comedy along the lines of Ghostbusters. But it was more “thrill” than “omedy” and I was covering my eyes during the climactic battle with the two foot long lead spider. From that day forth, I was afraid of spiders. As time went on, the fear grew, and now all bugs scare me. Well, there are some limits. I mean, ants and mosquitoes are OK. The way I see it, I don’t fear creepy crawly things as long as they are smaller than my big toe. When they’re as big as my foot, well then, I have a problem.
There are no cockroaches in my part of Canada. Too far north for them, I’ve been told. They just don’t like the cold. I had never seen a cockroach, except for in bug rooms in zoos and such. They were a personification of my fears, but always safely behind glass. They couldn’t harm me, because they were always in zoos, being cared for and imprisoned by all kinds of experts. In this world, we have walls, and those walls are defended by dedicated professionals. I was happy. I was blissful. But no one told me that those walls don’t exist in Japan.
So, you can imagine my utter terror when I came home from work one night, turned on the light, and a 4 inch cockroach looked up at me.
I screamed. I wish I could tell you that it was a manly expression of surprise, but no, it was a scream. A full blown, buxom-blonde-in-a-horror-movie-that-had-just-come-face-to-face-with-the-monster scream. It looked up at me in shock. I took a step back. It ran under a corner of my kitchen mat that was upturned slightly. I stayed nice and close to the door, ready to make a hasty exit. I could see the antennae of the cockroach twitching out from under the corner of the mat. That cockroach was standing between me and access to my home. I had to get around it somehow.
I’ve always tried to be a man of peace. I knew perfectly well that there was a peaceful solution to this. I opened up my door partway, and propped it open with my shoe. I would lift up the floor mat, and, if all went well, the cockroach would scurry for safety in the great outdoors. My plan seemed flawless. I crept towards the floor mat. The antennae were twitching quicker, now. It knew that something was up. I grabbed the floor mat by its center. I took a deep breath, and pulled up the floor mat with all my might. The cockroach didn’t scurry out the door like I hoped. Instead, the flying mat swept it backwards, and with a tiny thump it hit the kitchen wall. It landed on the floor, and scurried beneath my kitchen cupboard. The shoe propping open the door came loose, and the door slammed shut. I cursed under my breath.
Now I was afraid that the cockroach had made its way into the nice dark crawlspace that is the cupboard under my sink. There was only one way to find out. I threw open the door. The cockroach wasn’t in my cupboard, but just clinging to the underside of the door. My action made it lose its footing, and it was back on the floor. It scurried along the floor towards the now-closed door, and hung a left, snaking its way into that tiny space between some various bottles of cleaner and my washing machine. I moved the bottles of cleaner aside and saw no trace of it. I assumed that it was hiding under my washing machine. Accepting this stalemate, I walked into my living room and began taking off my suit.
When I had slipped into my casual clothes, I remembered that I had stopped at the store to pick up a few things, and I had tossed them onto the washing machine in the split second before I saw the cockroach. I went back into the kitchen to grab my things. As I was pulling the shopping bag from off of the washing machine, I screamed again, and jumped back. It had climbed the wall. That bastard had climbed the wall. And there it was, looking at me from the top left corner above my washing machine.
This was the first time I had seen my enemy. It was standing perfectly still, hoping that I wouldn’t see it. It would have been a great strategy, if it weren’t for the fact that it was brown and my walls are white. It just stood there, a very tiny head barely protruding from an armored body. Two long antennae stuck out from its head, constantly twitching, constantly searching. I knew it was aware of me. It was a very familiar shade of brown. The cracks and wrinkles in its body reminded me of something I had seen before. And then, it occurred to me. It looked like a piece of poop. It was a piece of poop with legs and antennae.
This piece of poop had turned my peaceful evening at home into a nightmare. I had tried to be nice. I tried to show it the door. But it wasn’t budging. I knew, that like those mosquitoes I so casually swat back home, this was another insect I had to destroy. No more Mr. Passive Resistance. It was time to kick some butt. I knew, if I wanted to sleep that night, I had to kill it.
I grabbed one of the bottles of cleaner. That was to be my weapon of choice. I lined up the bottle with that cockroach’s armored body. I pulled it back slightly, winding up to deliver the death blow. I flung the bottle forward, turning it into a pile driver of death. And, with a speed I thought not possible, the cockroach took off on a dead run towards the top right corner above my washing machine. The pile driver of death harmlessly hit the wall with a clunk. The cockroach hit the top right corner, turned, and began heading down the wall. I knew I couldn’t let it get away. The adrenaline in my veins had switched me over from “flight” to “fight.” I took the bottle of cleaner, followed the cockroach’s flight down the wall, and again threw my pile driver of death forward. I hit the wall just in front of the cockroach. The cockroach pulled a 180, headed back up my wall, headed along the top of the wall, and then began heading down the left side. I pulled back the bottle of cleaner, again took aim, and once again rammed it towards the wall. The cockroach changed its strategy this time. Now, it sped up, and I missed it with the bottle as it continued its route down the wall. It landed on the floor behind the other bottles of cleaner. I started throwing the other bottles of cleaner aside, looking for it in desperation. There was no sign of it. This time, I knew, it had to be under my washing machine. There was no other place it could be. Again, we had reached a stalemate. But this time, I could start taking preventive measures.
Even though my garbage can was only one quarter full, and garbage day wasn’t for another two days, I took out my trash. I had some breakfast dishes sitting in the sink from that morning. I scrubbed them all until they shone, dried each one, and put them away. I grabbed a sponge, grabbed some cleaner, and wiped down my counters until they glinted in the glow of the fluorescent tubes. I went through all my cupboards and found all the food that wasn’t sealed as tight as it could be. I resealed everything so it was all airtight. My kitchen was now spotless. That cockroach had no reason to return.
When I went to bed that night, I was afraid to turn out the lights. I hadn’t been afraid of the dark since I was 14 years old and had watched the original Night of the Living Dead one Sunday afternoon on the A&E Network. Surprisingly, though, I had no problems falling asleep. It was like when you wake up from a nightmare. For a few seconds, your body is pumping with adrenaline, but then it quickly wears off, and you’re exhausted. Well, the adrenaline had worn off, I was exhausted, and actually had the best sleep I had had in weeks.
However, my paranoia returned with the sun. I cautiously opened the door to my kitchen, and breathed a sigh of relief when I noticed that there was nothing there to say, “Good morning!” I had my breakfast, did my dishes right away, and left for work. I had never been so relieved to leave my home. But still, the fear was crippling. What if it was there when I got back? What if, heaven forbid, it was back with friends? I couldn’t stop talking about it to my coworkers, so, at lunchtime, they took me down to the grocery store and I bought the most powerful roach sprays and a box full of roach poison. It was now a state of total war. I was prepared.
But I was still paranoid when I went home that night. This time, I opened the door slowly and peered into my kitchen. I threw on the light and saw…nothing. It wasn’t back. Again, I breathed a sigh of relief and tried to sleep easy that night. Even though I’m now armed to the teeth, I’m still in fear of something no bigger than my foot.
This all happened about three days ago, and that cockroach hasn’t been seen since. Sometimes, at night, when I’m trying to get to sleep, I’ll hear a faint pit-pit-pit from my kitchen and wonder if the cockroach has returned. Well, half of me is worried that it’s back. The other half dismisses this as paranoia; the same paranoia that comes when I’m tenting in the mountains, and I start thinking that the wind in the trees is a bear wondering if I’ll be a good midnight snack. I haven’t set the traps or sprayed all the corners with roach spray, yet. No need to fear until I have something to fear.
I don’t know why I fear bugs. I had no childhood traumas with them. When I was a kid, my house had mice. The mice didn’t bother me. And mice can be worse than cockroaches. They spread the hanta virus, after all. Maybe I have to start thinking of the cockroaches as mice. Yeah, that’s it. Cockroaches are mice. Big, brown, mice that can climb up walls.
Boy, do I miss my cat.