Cockroaches, part 2: Bugpocalypse

My ten months in that apartment were filled with way too many cockroach encounters to count; let’s just say that I probably did irreparable damage to my lungs by spraying Raid around my bed every night just to try to keep them away.

The Raid worked most of the time; it didn’t always kill the roaches, but it at the very least flipped them over on their back, which made it easier to sweep them out the door.

One night in particular, though, the Raid failed me.

It was August 27, 2015, and I was doing what I had done basically every night since Maggie and I had moved in about two months earlier: sitting in my bed, back against the wall, computer on my lap, scrolling through Facebook or Twitter or Buzzfeed and/or whatever else. My bed in this apartment was just a mattress on the floor, so when I sat upright, the windowsill lined up basically with the back of my neck. Somewhere between midnight and 1am, I felt something tickle the back of my neck. With a plethora of cockroach sightings and killings already under my belt in that apartment, my mind immediately thought the worst. I hesitated to reach back, but when I did, I felt nothing but the cord hanging from the blinds.

I breathed a sigh of relief and carried on with internet scrolling. Less than five minute later, I felt it again. I jumped a little, but basically ignored the tickle of the cord. Mistake. This time what I thought was the cord from the blinds crawled around from the back of my neck, across my shoulder and down onto my chest. As usual, I was wearing a low-cut tank top, so this was flesh-to-insect contact. Yes, a cockroach was crawling across my body. ACROSS MY BODY. Not on my floor, not on my counter. ON MY BODY.

A calm person would have probably stood, let the bug fall, and then killed it. I am not a calm person. Upon realizing what was touching me, I immediately swatted it, sending it flying across the room into the dense ground covering of clothes that I keep year-round on my floor.

I panicked for about thirty seconds and then considered my options: I could no longer see the cockroach that just invaded my personal space, so I could just go on about my life like nothing happened; I could set out on a search for the offender that would probably require a search party and at least half the cast of Criminal Minds; or I could leave my life and all my things behind and never return.

I opted for the second option, but when Shemar Moore didn’t answer my text, I realized I was on my own. It was pretty late and Maggie had been asleep in her room for a few hours at this point, so I had to be quiet. I crept out of my room and into the kitchen to arm myself with the longest broom I could find. But first, I needed at least two cans of Raid.

I rounded the corner into our miniature kitchen (we only had half of a stove) to grab the Raid out of the cabinet underneath the sink, when my heart sank again. There, sitting in front of the refrigerator, posted up like he was ready to tear down a city, was a camel cricket the size of a newborn baby.

If you’ve never seen a camel cricket, please don’t Google it. I’ve been telling this story for years and, since no one had ever heard the term “camel cricket” before, I was beginning to think I made up the term and this creature was really something else completely. I wanted to make sure that all future reenactments and tellings of this epic are accurate, so I sucked it up and googled “camel cricket.” The second the image page loaded, I exited out and proceeded to gag. I was right. This beast in my kitchen was in fact a camel cricket. If you really want to see what a camel cricket looks like but are prone to retching at the sight of any bug, just watch the 2014 version of Godzilla. In this version of the monster movie, our favorite giant lizard is battling some distance relative, a gigantic winged creature referred to as “Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism,” or MUTO. I was disgusted by them when I saw the movie, but watching them on TV was nothing compared to knowing that I had been sharing a home with one for God knows who long.

camel cricket
This is EXACTLY what was living in my kitchen

Upon seeing the MUTO, my priorities immediately changed. I slowly backed away from the creature, never breaking eye contact. I made my way into the pantry, grabbed the broom and inched close enough to attempt an offensive attack. After one or two hits and maybe three or four screams, MUTO was dead. I managed to stay as far away from the carcass as possible as I inched it out the doorway with the broom. There was no way I was going to bend down and pick that thing up to dispose of it.

So, MUTO conquered. Back to Priority One: Bedroom Cockroach.

I went into my bedroom, feeling a little strong coming off of the victory in the kitchen, but still very scared of what was hiding in my room. For some reason, the idea of picking up a pile of clothes – my most prized possessions – and finding a cockroach stowed away was almost as appalling to me as having a cockroach crawl across my body. Almost.

But I had to do it. I went into my room, armed with a broom (I never found the Raid) and started hesitantly pushing clothes around. A few times, Bedroom Cockroach made an appearance, only to scurry to another pile of clothes.

Yes, I keep several, separate, piles of clothes on my bedroom floor at all times. There’s the dirty clothes pile, which is just an overflow from the laundry basket, then there’s the jackets and jeans that I’ve worn but aren’t dirty enough to be put in the dirty clothes pile, and then of course the pile full of other things that I try on and ultimately decide against, but am too lazy to hang back up. On the rare occasion what I completely clean my room, there’s usually still a pile left on the ground: the pile of things that just won’t fit in my closet because I ran out of hangers or because I don’t want to put too much weight on the hanging bar and make it fall to the ground (for a fourth time).

As Bedroom Cockroach made his way from the dirty clothes pile to the not-good-enough-to-wear-that-week pile, I was sure I was outsmarting him. This chase wasn’t going to last much longer.  I was right behind him when he ran under the edge of the clothes, and he went running again when I pushed them to the side. But the strange thing was that he wasn’t running away from me like he had been all night. He ran toward me; obviously, I was standing off of the ground, so he ran under me and under the bed. As I stepped down to corner him under the mattress, I glanced back at where he was running from. I’m not sure cockroaches have brains, but I’m pretty sure they all share the instinct to run away from the broom that is trying to crush them. So him running toward me seemed very strange.

As I looked back at the clothes, his actions made more sense. I was no longer the only threat in the room. There stood, looming over the room, was a camel cricket at least twice the size as the first, and much bigger than Bedroom Cockroach. Here I was again, in a stare-down with yet another Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism, not sure I could come out on top.

The way MUTO2 was positioned, it was very close to the clothes on the floor, but also very close to the bookshelf where I kept my clothes before they make it to the ground. I didn’t want to smash him into my clothes, but if I struck too far away from the clothes, I ran the risk of hitting the shelf and missing MUTO2 completely. As all these things are running through my head, I fixated on the idea that I could possibly miss if I swung my broom less than accurately. I pictured monster barely dodging my broom, letting out a roar that would shake the windows, then launching toward my face, wings sprawled, claws out. I wasn’t actually sure how high these things could jump, but anything that looks like it came from a sci-fi movie should never be underestimated.

I raised the broom over my head a few feeble times, not quite ready to attack. After what seemed like half an hour of staring down Godzilla’s nemesis, I realized that the longer I waited, the longer it had to act. This was it. I had to do it.

“Al,” I said to myself. “This is it. You’ve only got one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime…”

I swung the broom so hard that I was sure I put a crack in the earth; it happened so fast that I could barely see any connection between the broom and MUTO2, and at some point I started screaming.

The good news was that I didn’t yet have a camel cricket latched onto my face. The bad news was that MUTO2 was nowhere to be seen.

Some combination of the sound of the broom hitting the floor and me screaming managed to finally wake Maggie.

“Al?” She said feebly from behind her closed door. “What’s going on?”

I begged her to come out and help me. Not only was MUTO2 missing in action, but Bedroom Cockroach was still on the loose. I was losing this battle and they were probably calling in reinforcements.
“No. I’m naked,” she said.

“I don’t care! Please help!” Eventually I convinced her that I wasn’t going to shut up until she came out to help me. I broke down for her the events of the night so far. The most pressing issue was clearly the camel cricket: was it alive and hiding? Plotting its next attack? Or dead and smashed into a million pieces?

I was NOT about to get up close and personal with its hiding place to investigate, but from far away, I saw something that gave me a little hope.

“Is that a cricket leg or a string?” After a few minutes of coaxing Maggie to go up and check, we determined that it was almost positively a camel cricket appendage lost in the strike. I pretended I was following her to the place where the cricket was last seen, but I never planned on going any further than the doorway until it was confirmed that the monster was dead and removed.

Maggie poked around with the broom to try to find the carcass; each time she pushed a piece of clothing and another shifted or fell, she screamed, then I screamed. I’m starting to wonder why none of our neighbors came to the door to make sure we were OK.

After a few minutes of searching and screaming, Maggie found the body and I ran straight into the bathroom and closed the door while she disposed of it.

Feeling successful, Maggie was set to go back to bed. But that wasn’t the end. Bedroom Cockroach was still on the run and, by this time, had plenty of time to plan an escape route and/or attack plan. Although it was at least 2am at this point, I managed to get her to stay awake and help.

We cautiously pushed around the clothes on the floor, but Bedroom Cockroach was nowhere to be found.

“It’s gone,” Maggie kept saying. “I’m going to bed.”

“It is NOT gone!” I insisted.

Every time we found Bedroom Cockroach and lost him again in the dense forest of clothes, Maggie tried to convince me to give up. I suppose it wouldn’t have been such a bad idea to just go to bed, but there were a few things on my mind that I just couldn’t shake:

  1. How am I to be expected to sleep in a room where a predator, who had recently invaded my personal space, still lurks? Clearly he had no problem coming into my bed when I was awake, so what’s stopping him from crawling all over my body while I sleep?
  2. OK, say he doesn’t crawl all over my body while I’m asleep. Say I manage to fall asleep despite my constant feelings of fear and dread. Say I wake up in the morning, totally rested, not having been woken up by terrible nightmares featuring Bedroom Cockroach himself. Fine. BUT what about that morning when I woke up to get ready for work? What about my daily routine of tearing through piles of clothes looking for a flannel and jeans to wear that day? Would he be hiding under there waiting for me? Would he be inside of my favorite red and black buffalo plaid shirt and crawl out onto my hand while I was driving and cause me to wreck my car, injuring myself and possibly others?

I couldn’t take that chance.

“I’m not sleeping until this thing is dead,” I told Maggie. “And you’re not either.”

Because she’s such a great friend, she stayed up with me. We chased Bedroom Cockroach from pile to pile of clothes, Maggie swinging the broom and me acting like I was going to help from 10 feet away with a single shoe in my hand. Finally, around 3am, Bedroom Cockroach made the mistake of running through an open space on the floor (one of very few). We launched into action, both managing to land a hit on him. We mostly hit each other, though, so neither of us ended up fully hitting the pest.

We lost him again and, again, Maggie tried “OK now he’s really gone. That’s it.”

I still wasn’t giving up. After only a few more minutes of pushing socks and underwear around, he emerged. He crawled, wounded and desperate, from the pile of clothes toward the bed, where all this began. He had probably been living there for days before he made and appearance on my chest, so I can only assume he was making his way there to take his last breaths.

But we weren’t going to give him that pleasure.

With one soft hit with Maggie’s broom, he was dead. Crushed, lifeless, on the floor. I took absolutely no time to celebrate, because I knew what was coming next: the cleanup. As Maggie left the room to get something to wrap the carcass in, I followed her out then ran to the bathroom and locked myself in until she assured me that the house was cockroach-free (at least, as far as we knew).

cockroach13cockroach14

Even with Bedroom Cockroach vanquished, I wasn’t comfortable sleeping in that room. Maggie was feeling a little burst of energy from all the excitement, so we went into the living room and turned on Broad City. I ended up going back to bed close to 5am, after picking up a drunk friend from a frat party just because I happened to still be awake. After all of this, he should be thankful for Bedroom Cockroach or else he would have been walking through campus barefoot all night.

I wish I could say that this was my last encounter with cockroaches in that apartment, but it was just the beginning. We won the battle, but the next ten months were riddled with a bloody war with casualties on both sides.

The few places I’ve lived since leaving that apartment in early 2016 have been surprisingly cockroach-free. But the memory of Bugpocolypse 2015 lives on; every time a piece of lint flutters onto the ground, every time a slight breeze moves something that catches my attention out of the corner of my eye, I go into panic mode for a second.

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