Living with Roaches: The One I Did Not Smash
Why war against roaches? One day, they may inherit the earth.
My upbringing had instilled a fervent dislike of these basic, ancient insects. I had been told they spread disease and bacteria from the rotting food they consumed. But the fact was that I hadn’t caught even one common cold since cohabitating with them.
ARNA MILLER / HTTP://FEATHERANDSPOKE.COM
Some instances must be considered stand-alone moments.
Night settled with a slight chill, and Albuquerque’s adobe buildings still held heat like stone warmed by a doused fire. I sat upright in bed, reading by lamplight an article about a plutonium vault in southern New Mexico that would outlast our society. Scientists, historians, and science fiction writers had assembled to determine a warning for the site, something that would convey meaning through 500 generations of linguistic change, a symbol that could caution robotic slaves or extraterrestrials or intelligent cockroaches.
As I read the wind stilled, and I heard cockroaches swarming my compost pile outside, the rustling of their hard skeletons through my food waste. Between the quiet turning of pages I heard a closer scratching, a sound not unlike the breaking of a bleached and fragile eggshell. The immediate proximity of the sound diverted my gaze. On the opposite side of the room a cockroach had burrowed through the wall, half of his body extruding. His front legs braced and pushed against the whitewash that lined the interior of my adobe home.
“Roach,” I exclaimed and cast a finger to the dark window, “be gone.”
The roach flexed its antennae but did not retreat. He had made such great progress tunneling through the compact sand, clay and straw wall, willed onward by the pheromone trace of others, following new and ancient trails. A spined front leg pressed the wall; he was pleading with me.
“Roach,” I said again, “you are not welcome here.” When the roach did not withdraw, I laid my article down and advanced. These roaches and I had been at war.
In other parts of my country—the bluegrass fields, the alabaster cities, and amber waves of grain—these cockroaches are considered pets that live with dirty citizens. I carried to New Mexico this disgust that the “clean” feel for the cockroach. The desert clime aided the roach, as the winters were often too mild to freeze them or force them back into hiding. And I lived in a poor neighborhood where cockroaches came up through the cracks in the sidewalks, and where they, having successfully invaded a home, could survive for almost two months on the glue on the back of a postal stamp.
One Sunday I bombed them. I locked the doors and sealed the windows and released toxic chemical gasses. When I returned four hours later, I found no corpses on the carpeted battlefield. One defiant cockroach strolled along the ceiling. He made no errant steps but followed a straight path across the spackling.
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