Cockroach Day

TW: See Tags

Our apartment was sprayed for cockroaches today. My girlfriend and I stayed up late last night, pulling dry food, utensils, appliances, paper products, and AS SEEN ON TV kitchen gadgets from every dark corner of our kitchen cupboards. I even had to move the microwave, which serves as a kind of medicine cabinet, covered with plastic pill holders, CVS prescriptions bottles, and green glass jars of herbs, salve, oils, and tonics meant to soothe pain, elevate mood, and alleviate anxiety.

I picked the big metal box by its base, hugged it close to my chest, and wondered if doing so would hasten the tiny lesions that will almost inevitably fill my breasts one day. I can’t help it, microwaves make me uneasy. I think they must be like cigarettes, and that people in the future will shake their heads, smile grim smiles and ask each other, “How could it be, that they didn’t figure heating their food with radiation would make them sick?”

An advertisement for cigarettes from the 1930s. The image is of a woman with red flushed cheeks and pursed lips. The caption reads “To Keep a slender figure, no one can deny…Reach for a LUCKY instead of a sweet. It’s toasted.”

I’d never even owned a microwave until last summer when a lover came to stay with me for a week. I had been working every day for a month, saving money to take time off to spend with Lina, saving money to take time off work in the weeks leading up to and after my mother’s mastectomy, and lastly, for school which would begin just a day after Lina arrived.

I had been so overwhelmed with the urgency to earn more money, be more responsible, be an ideal lover, and a good daughter that I didn’t realize I’d taken on too much. I had completely forgotten about school starting and buying a microwave seemed like the only way Lina could stay fed.

I thought about all of this as I watched the bottles slide across the surface of the microwave oven. I watched my vitamins jiggle in pill box windows that hung open like advent calendars.

“This is a bad idea,” I thought with a pang of regret, as the bottles slid across the black metal surface of the microwave. They teetered dangerously close to the edge.

“You knew what was going to happen,” I admonished myself again as the tiny containers crashed down onto the cool beige tile beneath my feet. Miraculously, every bottle remained intact and only a few mysterious oblong vitamins slid beneath the couch.

At four AM, my girlfriend and I stumbled into our bed.

The exterminator said he’d be there sometime between nine AM and noon, so we woke up at a quarter of nine, got dressed and went back to sleep. The doorbell rung just before noon. I tried to yell “Just a minute,” through the door as pleasantly as possible while Kat wrestled with the skinny jeans she’d somehow managed to peel off in her sleep.

I chatted with the exterminator while Kat ran around the apartment hunting for her keys. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and smoothed my rumpled dress as I explained to him that we weren’t lazy but that we worked swing shift and that we’d been up all night emptying the kitchen cabinets.

He and I agreed that doing irregular shift work was unhealthy. Then he said that we should stay out of the house for at least two hours after he left. I wondered if he wore a respirator while spraying the place, but I didn’t ask. If he wore one, I did not see it.

It only took the exterminator twenty minutes to douse the perimeter of the apartment with poison, for some reason we had gotten into our minds that was only going to spray the kitchen. Kat and waited out in the hall slumped over one another while we waited for him to finish so we could lock up.

Suddenly my eyes became teary, “I hate this,” I said, wincing through my sunglasses.

“I hate being asked to leave the house,” I said as we slumped over each other in the hall. I told her about the way my father would kick my sister and I out of the house for the whole day during the summer, when the voices he heard told him that his little girls were playing tricks on him. Most of the time he was very kind, other times he’d grow grim in his dark corner of the living room where he sat drinking cheap beer and writing in spiral bound notebooks. He’d stand up, menthol cigarette smoldering between his lips, and turn out the  pockets of his cutoffs and the couch cushions looking for change to give us.

When the exterminator was done, she hopped up and locked the front door. She helped me up, my joints still stiff from sleeping, hugged me close and asked me if there was anywhere I needed to go.

I told her I was hungry and we began to walk toward the trendy part of the neighborhood where we live. We’ve lived here together for almost six months, but I almost never leave the house. We walked toward the bourgie shops and I told Kat about how my sister and I would almost always walk to the library to read books. When we got hungry, we’d walk across the street to the Civic Auditorium and buy snacks from the vending machine in the hall. My big sister, always saved one quarter to call home with, just in case, then she’d throw the remaining pennies in the air and onto the lawn in front of the auditorium. I felt sad when she threw the pennies in the air, I wished she’d give them to me.

“Those are for poor kids,” she’d say, when she saw how disappointed I was. I told Kat all of this as I fiddled with the GPS on my phone, trying to find a place where we could both eat. She asked if there was anywhere in the neighborhood I like to go and I laughed because the map program on my phone lists only the pharmacy, my therapists office, my rheumatologist’s office, the allergist, my godmother’s house, and the apartment we share together.

We ended up going to this healthy yuppie fast food restaurant I’ve wanted to try, but have been avoiding because I have social anxiety and also because it has the word ‘Skinny,’ in the name. The food was good and cheap and wished that my sister was there with me because I thought that she would love it too.

Kat ordered a fountain soda and I wanted one too but I can’t have one because I’ve become so allergic to mold, that I’ve discovered that every fountain machine drink and ice machine on the planet is filled with mold. But I was very tired and this is a relatively new ailment, so I forgot and ordered an iced soy latte.

My sister called me as we trudged back to the apartment. She told me my mom had been admitted to the hospital again. She has had another psychotic episode. I had known it would happen soon. I have been waiting for this since Christmas. I sucked up my latte greedily as my sister spoke fast into the phone. I felt the familiar heaviness in my chest. It’s the feeling I get when I’ve been exposed to mold. I hold the phone away from my ear so Kat can hear too.

For my mom, the madness is slow, and can take months to creep on. I talk to her every day and so I know when she’s moving in that direction. I have known for a couple months now that I’d need to go up to the country and have her admitted soon. But I’ve been waiting for her to be undeniably stark raving mad. I knew that neither my brain nor body could take multiple trips up the coast, trying to chase after Mom and get her to take her meds and get her admitted. I decided that this time, I needed to step back and just wait until she got sick enough that no psych nurse could send us home.

It’s been really painful, to detach enough to let my mom be sick without going into full blown crisis mode. I’ve been reading books on co-dependency and that has helped a great deal.

I was planning to go up Monday but apparently my crazy countdown clock was off by two or three days. Mom has a different kind of schizophrenia than my dad had, so most of the time she is just depressed and anxious, but rooted in reality. This is probably about the seventh or eighth time that she’s had a psychotic episode. The last time it happened was about two years ago and I spent about six weeks going up and down the coast on a bus, trying to take care of Mom at home without dropping out of school.

When Mom got very sick last time, the year before last (check my older posts) I read all I could about the likelihood of developing schizophrenia at my age. Having two parents with schizophrenia has gotta put me at greater risk, right? I found articles for parents of kids with a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia, the article said that the kids should avoid drugs, trauma, and in vitro exposure to poison. The article made me laugh.

A black and white photo of a Mexican farm laborer in the 1960s, his hands full of plants, a child about three years of leans against a wooden crate his face to the camera.

When my mom and her six brothers and sister were growing up they had to work in the fields picking grapes, strawberries, oranges, cotton and whatever else was in season. Crop dusters flew over fields and sprayed grey clouds of poison on the sticky green leaves of the plants they picked, poison settled in the black of their hair, the pink of their lungs, through their smooth brown arms, and through their tiny fingertips until it seeped into their blood. I wonder about the poison and about the trauma of racism and wonder if that’s why three of the seven children have had schizophrenic disorders.

When we got home, the exterminator stood in the hallway speaking Spanish quietly with our building’s superintendent. I heard the maintenance man ask if we had animals living in our house, or if it was just bugs. I laughed, but I can only joke in English.

“Hey!” I shouted down the hall to the exterminator, “Stop telling everyone our secrets!”

The exterminator laughed, translated the joke, then raised his eyebrows smiling, ”He takes care of the building,” he said to me in English, “He knows everything.”

We laughed together, and I wondered if he thought I meant the leather whips hanging from hooks on the wall, the chains in the clear plastic bins by the bed, my Santa Muerte shrine, or the other queerness that litters our apartment.

We unlocked the front door and my lungs start to sting and I began to cough. I didn’t know if was the poison in the air or the mold back at the coffee shop.

It would seem that Everything make me sick. Everything makes me hurt. I decide to take a nap. It seems like the right thing to do, but first there is one unpleasant task that must be attended to.

The cockroaches had come out of their crevices to languish on the floor. They laid there on their backs, motionless until I came close with wadded up baby wipes to smash them and wipe their guts off the floor. My stomach turned as I wiped cockroach guts up off the kitchen floor. I smelled the air and something smelled like being little. It was the smell of cabinets beneath the sink in the house I grew up in and the roads that run through the fields on the way into town. It is a scent that is thick and sweet like syrup you’re not suppose to too touch.

It smelled like danger and uncertainty, the smell of something that is both toxic and familiar. It was the smell of something that you don’t even know is making you sick. And so I did the only thing I could think of. I opened up all the windows, and turned on all the fans and let clean, fresh air blew through the house. I washed up my hands, peeled off my clothes, jumped into bed and pulled the covers up past my nose. It’s going to be a long hard week and I’m going to need the rest.

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