In college a girl I liked, Erin, came to spend the night for a Le Tigre concert and I begged her to get rid of a huge cockroach that found its way into the living room. I knew it would mean our relationship would only continue in a platonic sense from then on, but I just needed the bug gone, I couldn’t take its darting around. I knew it would probably find its way onto my face in the night and that would be it, my brain would just shut off. So she killed the roach and it was over, I was fine with it. My brain knew I would find another woman to fall for some day, and maybe no cockroach would ever come into my house ever again. Some apartments just seemed to attract more roaches, and others I would live in for years without ever having one roach. It was only palmetto bugs that seriously bothered me, the flying ones. Even though the smaller roaches, German cockroaches, were worse, signaled infestation, the one time I had a place with those bugs it didn’t bother me that much. They were plentiful but small. I could kill them and it didn’t make me feel too terrible. That was my main problem, that I could not bring myself to kill big cockroaches, no matter how much I hated them. Their size crossed a boundary for me – as big as a mammal, a mouse, and I could imagine their suffering. I could embody them too easily with human characteristics. Spraying them with poison, watching them writhe in agony as their nervous system boiled away was more than I could handle. And crushing them – they had guts, and their splintered carapace mixed with the tapioca goo reminded me of jpegs college friends would shock me with of shattered human bodies from building missteps, or serious car accidents. My friends liked that seeing death would ruin my night. I couldn’t stop talking about the mangled bodies they showed me, and sometimes I’d cry, which made them laugh hardest. I got a cat after college, and unluckily found my way into another apartment with really old plumbing that palmetto bugs would use to get into the sink or tub. What was lucky though is that my new cat would grab the roaches as soon as he saw them, shove them into his mouth without hesitation and eat them. I’d have to plug my ears so I didn’t hear him crunch them up, didn’t imagine the burn of hopeless adrenaline that I would feel trapped between the teeth of a tiger. The cat eating them was part of the “circle of life,” I’d tell myself, my guests. I eat meat, but not candy or cookies shaped like people or animals. I never throw out any toy or doll with a face. On MSNBC’s homepage there was a story about a drone being shot down over Pakistan. The picture of the sad, crashed drone, its crumpled wings stuck broken at acute angles, looked like a bird I hit years ago with my car. It sat suffering on the side of the road, breathing syncopated as it died, and I could not bring myself to put it out of its misery even though my father said it was the most humane thing to do.
Art by Stephanie Tyson