I’ve been told by people in the know that cockroaches are not inherently dangerous–it’s just their startle power and wicked disgusting phenotype that causes them to strike panic wherever they go (that, and the fact that they are apparently the only living organisms that could survive a nuclear holocaust. The realization that you are more fragile than a cockroach is a great start to one’s campaign against pride.)
These otherwise brilliant people have never met a palmetto bug. They are the Goliath to a regular cockroach’s David. The ‘hapless’ newborns are about and inch and a half long and an inch wide, and as for the patriarchs–if so inclined, you could leash the things and make a sappy video montage that involves the two of you playing fetch and taking obedience school classes and cuddling up in bed watching a movie while you stroke its shell. (Though your dreams of fame may have been squashed at the American Idol auditions, it’s a comfort to know that you are one My Cockroach and Me Youtube video away from instant viral stardom. God bless America.)
The psyche of these things is also utterly unlike that of a regular cockroach. Whereas most cockroaches are content to scare the bejeebers out of you once before scurrying off into the recesses of your walls, palmetto bugs like to milk the fear process for all it’s worth. Committed to terror at all costs, they’re the kamikazi artists of the insect kingdom. You think I’m kidding, but no–these misbegotten reprobates will literally crawl into your living room, flip over onto their backs, and wait, twitching, for death to overtake them. It can take days. And right when you’ve become convinced that they are goners and get close enough to dispose of them, they give a violent twitch and watch with wicked grins on their faces as you flee the scene. This continues day after day until little roach graveyards are littering your room and you’ve taken to sleeping on the couch (true story–not mine), which you endure until some friends invite themselves over and you realize you have to pay your dues as a human being and make your home inhabitable again, so you gird your roach disposing loins only to discover that half of the little buggers were just kidding have scuttled on to plot new mischief in the walls. (Wait, you don’t just leave dead roaches around in hopes that they eventually disintegrate and you don’t have to pick them up? Oh. . .right. I, uh, don’t either.)
They’ve started to get increasingly creative about it. Once, I ripped open the shower curtain to find that in the
4ish 9ish minutes that I’d been showering, a dying roach had summoned its final strength to hail Mary itself into position between me and the door, where it lay, head down and legs splayed flat against the floor in miserable victory . It took me at least 10 minutes to muster the courage to leap past it. Then I slammed the door and didn’t go into the bathroom for two days. (Don’t judge–I have a rare and little-known condition called “Life Incompetency”.) A few weeks later, I pulled down our attic ladder and was startled to find myself face to face with a cockroach head. Apparently one of them, in an impressive show of commitment, had beheaded himself on our ladder; when the body fell away, the head was left dangling by an antennae, the better to send me screaming to the other side of the house.
Oh, yeah, and then I found one in my loofah.
It was several weeks ago. . .I’d had an uncharacteristically relaxed morning and was feeling genial toward the whole world as I hopped into the shower. I flipped the water on and let it run over my head, relaxing into the heat and humming a happy tune, unaware of the Zen-ruining mischief afoot.
I reached for my loofah with the following thought sequence:
“I wonder if I have enough bodywa–”
“What is in my loof–”
The 2.5-inch roach sprinted up my arm, slipped, hung on for one desperate moment in which we both thought we were going to faint, and then fell to the tub floor. We eyed each other in mutual panic and loathing, sharing a single, bravado-soaked thought: This means death, devil-spawn.
It’s a terrible experience to be trapped in a slippery tub with an insane and frightened cockroach that can’t decide which part of you is more of a threat. Cockroaches respond to threats by scuttling back and forth very quickly, which strikes me as a singularly ineffective defense, but then again I’m not the one who could survive a nuclear holocaust so maybe I need to shut it.
In any case, the cockroach was exercising his right to defend himself via scuttling, and I was exercising my right to flip the heck out about it. We perfected a little dance that involved him racing one way in the tub while I hopped on one foot in the other, then reversing directions and do-si-doing all the way to the other end of the tub. It was great fun, but my heart could only take about 10 seconds of it before I managed to leap, still screaming, from the tub.
I took a moment to assess the damages. I was mostly unscathed, except for the lower half of my right arm which I was going to have to amputate later to get rid of the creepy roach leg feeling. My heart turned to stone with this realization. No roach renders me limbless without serious consequences.
I did my own slip-and-slide dance to our roach-killing station under the kitchen sink and came back double-fisting roach spray. That little hellion didn’t have a chance. Still hollering (if I took a breath I don’t remember it), I unloaded half a can of spray onto him, then tried to rinse his miserable carcass down the drain–only to find that the roach was totally capable of making my life miserable in his death, too. He got stuck halfway down the drain and clogged the tub. I took a moment to begrudgingly admire this son of Jezebel’s dedication to the cause.
Unfortunately, that is the climax and the falling action of this particular story, because I blocked out the next several moments, though I presume they entailed fear and trembling, some creative attempts at roach disposal, and a flood of tears over my lost innocence after I had to resort to pulling it out with my bare fingers.
As I’ve been writing, I’ve been wracking my brain for some way to justify this story’s existence, but so far I haven’t been able to construct a moral for you to take away. I wrote it purely because I want sympathy for my life-altering acquaintance with palmetto bugs. But feel free to take a walk on the postmodern side and pull your own moral from this story.