There is at least one cockroach living somewhere in my car as I write this. I was driving my daughter home from dance class, discussing the difference between Cheez-Its and cheese-flavored Ritz Bits…
Antonia: “Mom, I want you to buy cheese bits because it’s my turn to bring in the class snack.”
Me: “You mean, Cheez-Its?”
A: “Noooo. I mean cheese bits. The round ones.”
Me: “Sweetie, Cheez-Its are square, not round.”
A: “NO. THE ROUND cheesy bits you bought before. Like a sandwich?”
Me: “Ohh…you mean Ritz Bits?”
A: “Yes! Ritz Bits cheese.”
…when a car pulled out directly in front of me. I was going almost 60 mph on a downhill stretch of road with not a soul behind me when some guy in a big, blue Cadillac came out of a side street and gunned it to squeeze his bus between my car and the one in front of me. I was forced to use my brakes, thus inhibiting the fuel-saving strategy my dad taught me of picking up speed going down a hill so you can make it at least half way up the next hill without putting your foot on the gas pedal.
“Can you believe this guy?” I said to my eight-year-old, glancing in the rear view mirror. “Not a single car behind me on the entire road and this jamoke has to pull out in front of me.”
“I know, right?” she agreed, emphatically, from the back seat.
“That’s why you always have to be a defensive dri–” I began my mini-lecture, when out of the corner of my eye I saw something crawling on the car door next to me. “Ohmygodohmygodohmygod,” I said calmly. I have this uncanny ability to remain composed in scary or dangerous situations. You would think this a good thing, to remain calm in a crisis, but it actually works against me at times, because I am so cool and collected that, for example, my boyfriend doesn’t realize that he is about to crash into a car that is drifting into our lane on the Interstate until the last second. The most common reaction to my unwavering composure is, “Why didn’t you yell? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you do something to get my attention?! We could have died!” But, we didn’t.
In response to my quiet, unpanicky voice, my daughter asked, “Why did you say ‘Oh my God’ so many times?”
“Umm…there’s a bug walking across the dashboard,” I told her.
By now, I could see that the thing that was crawling along next to me was a cockroach. In my car. How does a cockroach get into a locked car? I detest cockroaches almost as much as I am scared of snakes. The last time I saw a snake, I climbed up my boyfriend without speaking. No really – I climbed him. We were standing in the driveway talking to his mother and I saw a baby Copperhead slither out of the woods. Neither my boyfriend nor his mother saw the snake and continued their conversation while I threw my arms around Albie’s neck and literally began climbing him until my feet were no longer touching the ground. Apparently, I was struck mute from my fear, but I did manage to point and make some kind of noise in my throat, so Albie and his mom looked over toward the woods before the snake could get close enough to eat them.
As cockroaches go, I am not so much afraid, but rather totally grossed out. Fortunately, this wasn’t the biggest one I’ve ever seen, but it wasn’t the smallest, either. To say it was the size of a small puppy might be exaggerating a bit, but it was much bigger than a flea, and in my opinion, that’s way too big for a cockroach that is crawling across my dashboard while I am driving.
I panicked, but didn’t say anything to my daughter. I continued driving the car without taking my eyes off the cockroach.
“Where is it?” Antonia was asking, panic building in her voice. This kid is not afraid of the school principal; not afraid of the dark; not afraid of clowns at the circus, but when she encounters a bug of any kind, she loses her mind. I am guessing that at the exact moment she asked the whereabouts of the bug, she spotted it, because she screamed a high-pitched squeal and then burst into tears, and began sobbing in the back seat. “It’s a cockroach!” she wailed.
“Take it easy,” I said, cool as a cucumber, “it can’t hurt you, and it’s up here with me. It isn’t even close to you. You’re OK.” At that moment, the roach reached the center of the dashboard, made a sharp right turn and headed directly toward me. I screamed. Antonia screamed. The bug walked over the edge of the dashboard and down onto my GPS screen, across the radio, down toward my feet. Antonia resumed sobbing, and I continued driving, still not looking at the road.
“Where is it?” she cried, gasping as if her heart might stop beating at any moment.
“I don’t know!” I yelled, glancing up at the road. The Cadillac was long gone up the hill and we were approaching the turn into our subdivision. Just then, my garage door opener lit up. It is one of those fancy, touch-sensitive openers that lights up on contact (apparently, not just human contact) so you can see which of the three buttons you need to press to open Door Number 1, Door Number 2, or Door Number 3 of your garage – even though we only have one door and park outside.
“It just crawled over the garage door opener,” I told Antonia. She cried harder.
“What if it crawls on me?!”
“Just keep your feet up on the seat,” I instructed. She squealed as if someone was squeezing the air out of her lungs. “We’re almost home. You’ll be fine,” I reassured her. Then, “You want to get out of the car right here in the middle of the road?”
“YES!” she answered. For a second, I considered abandoning the car right there at the entrance to our subdivision. We were within walking distance to our house. We could just leave the car there with the doors open and make a run for it.
“We’re almost home,” I calmly told her again. “We can jump out as soon as we get into the driveway.”
I sped through the neighborhood keeping my eyes on the floor of my car, glancing up only twice to make sure I wasn’t going to hit the neighbors’ mailboxes.
My feet and legs felt itchy, as if something was crawling all over them. What if there were more than one roach in the car? What if he had friends and they all lived under the driver’s seat? I imagined the Head Roach giving them all the go-ahead to climb up my legs. I slammed the car into park and jumped out. Antonia was already exiting the back seat.
“Take all your stuff and your leftover food wrappers and dirty napkins,” I instructed her. “That’s probably why there is a roach in our car. You leave your dirty containers all over the back seat.” I grabbed a sticky Starbucks cup from the day before. “See?” I showed it to her for emphasis.
She climbed out with an armful of stuff and bee-lined toward the house. I pushed the driver’s seat back and lifted up the floor mats expecting the roach and his buddies to scatter. Nothing. Not a single bug anywhere. I dug through the little basket I have on the floor of the car to keep all my important papers, coupons, and stray CDs. Nothing. I did find an old peppermint candy still in the wrapper, so I removed it so as not to leave any form of sustenance for the roach colony living under my driver’s seat. I believe those things absolutely have the ability to survive a nuclear war. Or, Armageddon. But, I wasn’t going to give them any help, that’s for sure.
I saw a Mythbusters episode once where they exposed roaches to radioactive something-or-other, multiple times, and they lived through it. This proves that even when the world and all it’s creatures and every sign of life is wiped out from radiation exposure, out of the rubble, cockroaches will emerge, unscathed, to continue reproducing and populating what is left of our destroyed planet. (I hear they can live on cardboard alone for like 50 years.)
This morning, we had to get back into my car to go to school. In the dark. I opened the car door, the light came on, and just as before, no cockroaches scattered. I drove to my daughter’s school, coffee in hand, imagining what I would do if the roach suddenly made an appearance. I discussed these options with my eight-year-old.
“Mom,” she admonished, totally composed this morning, no trace of yesterday’s hysteria, “you really shouldn’t crash your car over a cockroach.”
“I know, Antonia, I won’t crash the car, I promise.” I might jump out of it and run, but I won’t crash it.
“That’s good,” she said cheerfully, kissed me goodbye and opened the car door to get out. Then, she leaned back in and said, “Oh, Mom? Can you buy the cheesy Ritz Bits before the roach comes back? Just in case.”