Wednesday, May 18, 2011

“Roaches”

            Growing up in Delaware and Illinois, occasionally a German roach or two crossed my path. These little insects seldom grew larger than the size of my pinky’s nail so they barely drew my attention. Whenever my parents spied one of the critters, insecticides permeated the air for days until the invaders vanished. Moving to Texas, however, changed my relationship with roaches forever.
Photograph from Flower Pictures@ www.flowers.vg
            When we moved to Texas, we stayed for a few days with my grandmother and my uncle’s family in League City. Their pier and beam home, built in the 1940s, sat on a huge lot with plenty of bushes surrounding the structure. In the back yard, Grandma kept chickens in a coop because she preferred fresh eggs every morning. The combination of a coop, bushes, empty lots, Texas humidity, and poor housekeeping added up to a haven for all kind of insects.

            The first night of our stay, I innocently went into the bathroom to take a bath. Holding my slippers, nightgown and robe in one hand, I flipped the light switch with the other. And the entire floor moved! Forty-five years later, the terror still hits me whenever I remember my earliest experience with Texas roaches—Gila monsters! Armored with brown exoskeletons, the hundreds of roaches clicked and clattered in panic as they escaped the overhead light. I screamed, backed out of the room, slammed the door shut, and pushed against it with all my might to keep these creatures from attacking me. My father laughed at my reaction, but I refused to use the bathroom during our three day visit unless he stayed in the room with me. My fear extended into the bedroom. I couldn’t sleep because my imagination insisted the hairy legged creepies crawled over me if I slept. My sister finally agreed to shake the bed off and on all night long because my childish logic reasoned they wouldn’t attack us if we kept moving.

            Naturally, these monsters dogged me throughout my childhood. One spring, I volunteered to cut back the dead parts of our palm tree. The roaches landed in my hands and hair, sending me screaming in desperation for my dad again. Another time, I stayed a friend’s house where they made a surprise attack when I entered her kitchen. Fortunately, I didn’t encounter the roaches often, and usually my father rescued me from their assaults by smashing them with something. I learned that these roaches appeared in every house in Texas, coming in for water and to chow on stray crumbs. Every surprise raid left me trembling and phobic.

            The worst invasion I experienced, though, occurred when I lived in College Station. The four guys occupying the apartment above ours forgot to take out their garbage before Christmas break. When I entered our apartment, the stench of rotting fruit and meat permeated the entire place. Gagging as the stink practically knocked me off my feet, I quickly threw open all the windows so my roommates wouldn’t have to deal with the odor. At first, I thought we’d left something in our own kitchen, and so I went into that room and switched on the light to investigate. Imagine my horror when those giant roaches poured out of the ceiling light fixture and dive bombed through the room, aiming for my head! Needless to say, my roommates found me sitting out on the porch when they arrived a few hours later.

            As an adult, I’ve tried to overcome my fear of these huge insects. When my son captured one and insisted on having it as a pet, I managed to dust the area around its jar without total meltdown. I watched Joe’s Apartment and closed my eyes only a few times with each viewing. However, the unexpected attacks of these Texas monsters still send me scurrying for cover. My husband scoops them up for me and tosses them into the toilet with heroic nonchalance while I scoop my feet away from the floor or dash into another room, often screaming like a girl! I guess some things will never change.

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

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