I've never felt at peace with the insect kingdom. I have a problem with bugs. And they have a problem with me. I can forgive the hundreds of ants that crawled into my box of Frosted Flakes one time. And I can forgive those terrifying exoskeletons that cicadas just leave everywhere. But what I absolutely cannot forgive is a cockroach disrespecting my personal boundaries and crawling directly onto my face.
I realize there are much greater things to fear than nonpoisonous insects touching you. Murderers, car crashes, clowns. But the worst part about having your worst fear realized is the knowledge that your fears can come true. We live in a world where a cockroach can just crawl right up on your face if it wants to. And this one wanted to.
For all I know, roaches have been trying to crawl on my face since day one. My mom likes to remind me that she was a good mom because when she was tucking me into bed one night when I was a kid, she saw a giant roach in my room and discreetly killed it without me even knowing. I agree: That was excellent mom work because that roach did not end up crawling on my face.
I've always been scared of large bugs, but I'd like to get cocky for a moment and say that of the people who are scared of bugs, I was always one of the braver ones. I used to work in an office that had cockroaches in the bathroom. My co-workers would run out of the bathroom screaming if they saw one. I didn't mind seeing them. I mean, I didn't love it, but I could handle it. I remember going up to one and examining it more closely. As long as you stay away from me, we're cool.
But even when you think you have an agreement, big bugs will get all up in your business. My dad lives in Hawaii, which seems cool until you learn there are giant poisonous centipedes there. The ones I've seen are roughly eight inches long and an inch wide. With legs for days. So yes, nightmares are real. I went through a phase where I wore large men's mesh basketball shorts. It was a dark time for me, sartorially. And nature agreed. I was about to use the bathroom in Hawaii. I lowered my oversized mesh shorts to the floor and a giant centipede took that opportunity to crawl up inside them and over the top of the waistband. I ran pants-less and terrified from the bathroom. The preferred method for killing those, by the way, is a hammer.
Thankfully, the nightmare centipedes live 5,000 miles away. But back in New York where I live, giant roaches still roam the streets. In my first NYC apartment, I had two roommates. Or more, if you count the roaches, which I don't because they didn't pay rent and haunt my nightmares. We also had a dog, so filling the apartment with tons of poison like I would've wanted wasn't really an option. I researched natural roach repellents and found that catnip allegedly repels those bastards. If you can't murder something, at least make it unhappy. So I went to an herb store and bought a little brown paper bag of dried catnip and brewed it as a tea. And yes, I felt like a witch. And then I felt a little unhinged spraying a squirt bottle of sludgy brown liquid in every room of the home. Did it work? I don't know. The day I moved out I discovered a giant dead cockroach underneath my bed. Perhaps it, too, had wanted to crawl on my face. I left it as a parting gift for my landlord.
I moved into a studio apartment. With the new freedom of living alone, I let the dishes pile up for days. I knew in my heart that my dish pile was an engraved party invitation to all the roaches in town. Party at my house, little guys. I came home one day to see a roach crawling on the floor as soon as I opened the door. "You brought this on yourself," I whispered in horror. I tried to kill it but it disappeared. And that's when I panicked. I live in a studio apartment. There's nowhere to hide. I couldn't fall asleep knowing it was in there. I basically felt like my apartment was ruined and that I needed to find a new place to live. I texted a guy I was dating at the time to see if I could come over and seek refuge. My home had been taken over by a single terrifying roach and I couldn't stay. He said no. Obviously, that relationship was doomed.
I trudged to CVS to buy some matches to burn down my apartment. Or rather, I bought some roach spray. And sprayed it absolutely everywhere. Within minutes I looked down and saw the dead cockroach lying at my feet. I don't know if I have the words to describe how powerful I felt. Is warrior princess the right term? But my tiny apartment was filled with clouds of poison that I began choking on. I opened all the windows and still had to leave even though I had conquered the beast. But not before placing a quarter next to it and taking a photo just so everyone could see how big it was. Bigger than a quarter, that's for sure. It was dead, but my roach fear is so extreme that I had a hard time actually collecting the body and disposing of it. Touching a dead roach through a paper towel is still traumatic. And, of course, what if it magically comes back to life?
Two years later I moved in with a new boyfriend. He said he had never seen a roach in his apartment before. That seemed promising. But you know where the very first cockroach sighting happened? ON MY FACE. One morning I was asleep, completely unaware of what possible horrors could unfold. I had no idea that the bedskirt I'd picked out at Bed, Bath & Beyond was creating a direct path from the floor to my face. I was woken up by the feeling of a bunch of tiny legs on my face. My fear of roaches has always made me kind of a jumpy person, so I flashed awake and deftly ripped it off my face and threw it on the floor. The worst part about having a roach on your face is that you have to touch it with your hand to remove it. So I've touched a roach with both my hand and my face. But I'm impressed with how quickly and efficiently I got the roach off. It felt primal. I once found out from a DNA test that I have an an above average amount of Neanderthal DNA, so that could've been part of it.
I remember yelling, "Jesus Christ!" as I threw it on the floor. I expected it to run away, but it was stunned. I could've easily killed it myself. I was filled with a raw, animal desire for revenge. But my boyfriend offered to kill it because he's a nice man. I handed him a sneaker and that was the end. I frantically asked, "Is it a roach or a spider?" As if it mattered. I thought maybe a spider would've seemed slightly better. But no, it was the unthinkable. A roach got too big for its britches and strutted right onto my face.
I felt weird for the rest of the day. I felt strangely invincible. My worst fear had been realized, and I was fine. I survived the thing I had been desperately avoiding my entire life. And I was OK. But then I wasn't OK. Did the roach hurt me physically? No. (Though I did learn from an episode of Law & Order: SVU that they can bite.) But mentally I was a mess. I felt the phantom sensation of bugs crawling on my skin all the time. A few weeks after the initial roach-to-face action, I was trying to fall asleep when I felt my own hair brush against my skin. I jumped out of bed screaming, convinced a roach was in bed with me. I would be in the elevator at work and I had to tell myself there was no way I was really feeling a bug crawling on my neck right in that moment, even though it felt so real.
The phantom sensations lasted for six months. And I thought about the possibility of a roach crawling on my face every night before I fell asleep. And I was very jumpy. It took a year before I felt normal again. Even now, every night I still make sure my bedspread doesn't touch the floor before I go to sleep. I told my dad about my roach run-in and he said that in Hawaii roaches crawling on his face while he's sleeping is a regular occurrence that happens about once a month (!!!!!). "You get used to it," he said. "Actually, I guess you never really get used to it. It's still pretty creepy."