Little did we know, that was the best possible scenario for meeting a cockroach, for if you meet a cockroach and it’s NOT dead, it’s scrambling over your dishes in the pantry as you shout every profanity you know with Megan screaming and hopping from foot to foot across the room while you fling all of the boxed appliances out of the cabinet onto the floor and you stare that twitchy motherfucker in the eyeballs and it unleashes its secret roach speed and sprints for the crack between the cabinet and the wall where you know all its family and friends are waiting, breeding, building whole roach civilizations in YOUR FUCKING WALLS that YOU’RE paying money for therefore only YOU have the right to live and have sex in them, and you know that if this roach escapes he and all his roach buddies will be back, they will have won, so you start bludgeoning the general area the cockroach is darting around in with the tool in your hand, a cup –
– until you manage to come down on its ass with such force that the blunt lip of the tumbler severs the bug’s disgusting head from its disgusting body with a mighty crunch and spray of bug juice and you fall back on your heels, panting, swearing that you will not rest until all cockroaches are still and dead and cold in the ground by your hand and Megan stares at you because she’s never seen your murder face until now.
Then, when you think peace reigns again in the kitchen, everything gets much, much worse. The cockroach head starts flinging itself around by the antennae and the roach’s brethren stir in the walls audibly for you’ve unwittingly given them half a dead cockroach body to consume (Cockroaches are willing cannibals, you see, and can also survive on an endless loop of eating their own shit. The life cycle and habits of the American Cockroach prove, irrevocably, that there is no god.). I ask you, which is more horrifying: the sight of a disembodied head rocking itself in a wide, panicky circle, or the scritch-scritch sound of an unknown number of enemy bugs in your walls?
Wordlessly, Megan and I agree that now we are at war.
We’d lost control of our home. We’d engaged with an enemy that WAS A METAPHOR FOR SHITTY ENEMIES. There was a period of time while I stared at that bug carcass that I truly wished I had died instead of it so I didn’t have to deal with the next step in this struggle, the part where I would never win, no matter how many roach traps or cans of Raid I purchased, no matter how clean I swore to keep the apartment (No more wanton snack tray consumption for this girl). Doomed to vermin forever. Emotionally curb stomped and shamed. Never again would I pull back a shower curtain without bracing for the bug orgy that may or may not be going on in the bathtub, or enter a room without scanning every corner for movement. My life was ruined.
I went to a very dark place as we drove to Walmart. Megan, shellshocked in the passenger seat, could only listen as I pontificated on how adulthood was just one shitty revelation after another, time eroding away layers of assumed truths until you were left with a little nub of reality and that reality was full of cockroaches and there was no joy in the world and your apartment might LOOK nice, but really it was festering with pestilence, and wasn’t that an apt description of what lay in the hearts of all men – barely concealed evil? This day would be forever known as the Shittest, Shittest Day in the World 2013.
We arrived at Walmart – not the best place to go to restore your faith in humanity. But it did have reasonably priced chemical weapons which we held to our breasts like lifesavers. Geneva Conventions be damned, this was our life now. Exterminate or be eaten by bugs in our sleep. We would become merciless shells of our former selves saturated with synthetic pyrethroids and prone to genetic mutations.
So we shuffled toward the checkout lines, each of us contemplating our shared crappy destinies. When, Lo! Megan spotted hope in a freezer case.
She pointed to a pink bakery box on the shelf. “Do you think it’s true?”
I narrowed my eyes at the Carvel ice cream cake, it’s packaging boldly declaring that it was WHAT HAPPY TASTES LIKE!. I scoffed. “I don’t believe in those kinds of fairy tales anymore Megan. I’ve seen too much. So have you.”
“But…what if it is what happy tastes like?”
“I’m telling you, kid, happy is something people like me* sell to schmucks like you. It don’t come in no pink box and it sure as hell don’t come with blue icing on top. Happiness is a louse free bed, a place where your food is safe and free to live outside Ziploc bags. It’s a memory to us now, kid, ya hear me! It’s a goddamn memory!”
She defiantly whipped open the freezer door and pulled the cake into her arms. “We’ll see about that. You may not want to taste happy ever again, but I sure as hell do. We can’t let the bastards win!”
So she bought the cake. And after I tore open the roach traps and placed them around the apartment loudly declaring our intentions to the enemy and calling them all the names I could think of (psychological warfare, yo), after I settled onto the couch with my knees tucked into my chest, jumping at every dust mote that floated past my periphery, Megan cut a slice of cake for herself and one for me. We tasted it, and for the briefest moment a sweetness like those childhood years where you believe in Santa Claus and magic and the world being a simple, safe place washed over us. And I thought, well maybe if I don’t get any of this cake on the floor the roaches will never come out again. And maybe – MAYBE – we could learn to be happy again.
*I work in advertising and am therefore Don Draper.