I had just turned off the ignition and was leaning back in the driver’s seat waiting for Sarah to arrive when a furtive moment on the passenger side caught my eye.
I glanced over. And froze.
It was a cockroach, an insect roughly the size of a small water buffalo.
My muted squeak morphed into a full-fledged “Eeeeek” as I shuddered and involuntarily flailed my arms which is my default reaction whenever I see any creature that creeps and/or crawls.
May I just say right now that I am not a fan of cockroaches. In fact, it could even be said that I am afraid of them. However, the only thing I hate worse than dealing with a cockroach is NOT dealing with a cockroach and knowing it is still alive. Somewhere. Near me.
And so in order to be certain that this cockroach was about to experience the last day of his existence, I flung myself out of the front seat and went screeching around to the other side of the car, whipping the passenger door open and preparing myself for war.
Sadly, by the time I arrived at yon battlefront, the cockroach had already done what every self-respecting cockroach is trained from birth to do. He had scuttled away and disappeared.
A cockroach loose and unfindable in my car? This was not good. Not good at all.
I pondered my options. I could refuse to drive home. I could call an exterminator. I could burn the car to the ground.
But regardless of what option I chose, my mission was clear: I had to get that bug dispatched to the hereafter. But first I had to find him.
I frantically started taking all my belongings out of the car piece by piece-—a pillow, a blanket, a small cooler, my purse, a CD case—hoping against hope that the roach might be underneath one of those items.
He was not.
As my search became increasingly frenzied, I even bent over and peered underneath all the seats, staring fervently into all the crevices where a cockroach might be wont to hide. This maneuver, of course, required me to stick my unsightly, unsmall rear straight into the air which should have been enough to cause Mr. Cockroach to keel over from horror at the very sight. Alas, it didn’t work
He was hidden away. Chortling. Scheming. Planning his next Move of Terror.
By this point in the process, I was truly faced with a dilemma. Sarah, who had been away at a weekend camp, was due to arrive any minute at our designated pick up spot. Sarah is not fond of cockroaches either; in fact, she (like her mom), is afraid of them. And if she knew that she was going to have to spend the next three hours trapped with one in a car, she would most decidedly be underjoyed.
After giving the situation a little thought, I decided the best course of action would just be to not mention it. I would do my Mommy Thing which, as all moms know, means to protect one’s child from any possible unpleasantness. My only hope was that Sir Roach would cooperate with my plan and remain hidden for the whole trip.
And to be truthful, I wasn’t just worried about Sarah; I was also a little worried about myself. I had been up since 4 a.m. and following a strenuous and hectic morning, had hit the road shortly after noon.
By now it was 5 p.m. and I was the next thing to exhausted. I still had a long drive ahead of me and I was seriously worried that if the cockroach were to suddenly appear while I was driving, my overtired nerves would cause me to have a (figurative and literal) knee jerk reaction and cause some sort of terrible accident.
(Which would look sort of funny on the police report. Cause of Accident? Cockroach Appearance.)
But what option did I have? None that I could think of.
I would just have to stay hyper vigilant against any possible overreactions while all the while remaining cheery and relaxed so that Sarah wouldn’t know that anything was amiss. In short, what I needed to do was find that perfect balance between hysteria and serenity.
I can do this, I thought.
I am woman. I am strong.
I will not be cowed by a cockroach.
Sarah finally arrived in the camp van and I gave her a welcoming hug before she settled herself into the backseat with her pillow, blanket and laptop.
Two hours of travel passed. All was well. The weather was gorgeous. We chatted cheerily. There was nary a cockroach to be seen. I allowed myself to relax one little, teeny, tiny bit and told myself that maybe we would make it home without incident.
But it was not to be.
We stopped for a quick dinner and were just pulling back onto the road when to my concerted disconcertion, I saw that Sir Roach was stalking his way across the windshield directly in front of me.
And as much as I hate to admit it, I did flail. And I did screech just a little. It seems as though those reactions are pretty much hard-wired into me and no amount of hyper vigilance can short-circuit them.
Thankfully though, I was able to keep from jerking the car around too much as I said in a calm but urgent voice, “Sarah, honey, do you have any napkins back there?”
She must have known by my tone that this was not the time to engage in idle conversations about odd napkin requests because she quickly handed a few forward. I maneuvered the car to the side of the road and wadded up the napkins. Taking a quick swipe in the direction of the roach, I very efficiently missed him altogether.
He dropped out of sight and went scuttling off, I’m assuming to set up a new area of lurkdom somewhere down in the vicinity of my sandaled feet. And my bare legs.
By this time it was obvious to Sarah that there was A Situation afoot, a Situation that could be covertly covered up no longer. And so I confessed to her what was going on, adding that I hadn’t mentioned it to her before because I didn’t want her to get stressed over it.
Much to my surprise, Sarah took this rather alarming news in an impressively non-panicked manner. There was a cockroach of humongous proportions somewhere in the car that could crawl on either one of us at any moment?
Well, fine. We would just have to cope with it, now wouldn’t we?
Marveling at her calm, I pulled out on the road again. By mutual agreement, we had decided to leave the back seat light on so that we wouldn’t feel quite so vulnerable. A cockroach attack by night is never any fun for the attackees and I can’t imagine it providing much merriment for the cockroach either.
I had only gotten about ten minutes down the road when I heard an eek and a muffled shriek from the back seat followed by pounding and thumping. This could mean only one thing. Sir Roach had reemerged.
As it turns out, he had perched himself on top of the pillow leaning against up the window which meant that for a few breathless seconds, he and Sarah were eye to eye. But not for long. Thinking quickly, Sarah whipped off her sandal to give him a good pounding; sadly though, he evaded the attack and darted back into the darkness.
By this point in the day, I was over it. I’d had it. I was bone weary and dog tired and to make things even worse, we were about to enter a lonely, deserted stretch of road that the locals call Alligator Alley. It consists of fifty miles of non-civilization–just road, trees, swamps, and fields populated by bear, deer, foxes, snakes, and of course, alligators.
I couldn’t help but giggle semi-hysterically to myself at the thought of the drive ahead. I had just spent the last two hours worrying about an in-house cockroach and now I was about to enter an area populated by even more scary creatures? What was next? Would we be set upon by rabid turtles?
I sobered up pretty quickly though when I remembered all the stories I’d heard about people driving this stretch of road at dusk and having deer appear out of nowhere and run across the road in front of them. What would I do if a deer jumped out in front of me at the very same time that our resident cockroach decided to crawl across my bare calf?
Would my tired brain and overwrought nerves be able to hold steady without a major jerking of the wheel and an inadvertent dive into the ditch? Could I endure fifty more miles of this trip through the darkness while waiting to be assaulted by a cockroach that even at that very moment was stalking my every move?
I felt my nerves tighten and my muscles clench as I held on to the steering wheel with way more force than was absolutely necessary. Although I tried to make light of the situation with Sarah, I don’t think I was fooling her. She knew I’d had a long day and she knew I was worn out.
As we left civilization behind and entered that lonesome stretch of critters and pine trees, my nerves were stretched so tight that when I heard Sarah say something from behind me, I jumped just a little until it occurred to my weary brain that she was not talking in frantic “I have spied a cockroach” mode. No. She was talking in a calm voice. Reassuring. Soothing.
And just what was she talking about?
Well, out of the blue and for no reason that I could discern at the moment, Sarah started telling me stories. They were stories she had heard over the weekend from the camp speaker—interesting, funny, and moving tales that were fascinating to listen to. As I drove on through the night, I found myself focusing so intently on her voice that I forgot for a while my fatigue and stress and the Lurking of the Giant Cockroach.
And with her voice filling the darkness, it really didn’t seem like very long at all before we saw the first lights of civilization ahead of us and realized we were almost home. As I decreased my speed to 45 m.p.h. I released a huge sigh and said, “Wow, Sarah, those stories sure made the time go by fast. I hardly even thought about that cockroach at all!”
Sarah was quiet for a moment and then she quietly said, “I know, Mom. That’s why I decided to tell them to you. I wanted to help you to relax and not be so anxious.”
I was amazed. And touched.
And then I found my mind jumping backward eleven years to a certain day when Sarah was in the hospital undergoing yet another unpleasant procedure during her cancer treatment. I distinctly remember her fastening her frantic eyes on my face and saying, “Tell me a story, Mommy. Tell me a story!”
And so I did. I rustled through my memory for any story I could possibly think of and when I ran out of those stories, I just started making them up from scratch.
I talked her through her fear, through her anxiety, and when the procedure was over, I saw with great satisfaction that her sweet face was calm and at peace.
And now? Eleven years later?
The tides had turned.
The generations had shifted.
The little girl had become a grown up woman.
Sensing stress and fatigue in her story-telling mama, Sarah brought out the healing tools she knew so well, healing tools that she and I both love so much—words and stories.
And late on that wearying autumn evening, Sarah displayed the presence of mind, the maturity of character, and the richness of spirit to put aside her own fears and gently talk me down the road . . . through the darkness . . . home.
Edited to add: For those of you who have left comments expressing concern that the scary stalker might still be afoot, you will be happy to know that he met his match with a can of Raid. (I would have bought some bug spray before Sarah and I left but I didn’t want my COPD’d lungs to be inhaling the fumes all the way home.)