July 10, 1995
Midafternoon in the piney woods of Texas was a scorchfest, and the overcast skies did nothing to alleviate the discomfort of 95-degree temperatures with high humidity. However, I was serene. I had my own apartment in a college town, things were cool inside, life was cool outside. I had classic rock on the stereo, a Sonic Diet Coke on my desk, reading for class was done for the day,,, what more could a 21-year-old girl ask for?
Cloudy days force you to be creative, finding things to do indoors. I decided to sort through my cassette tape collection, keep what I wanted, throw out what I didn’t. Since I was back and forth between home and college, I carried ten years worth of the soundtrack to my life in a good-sized zippered bag. I began sorting tapes, enjoying the walk-shudder down memory lane.
Mili Vanili? What was I thinking?
Debbie Gibson? Tiffany? . . Yeah, not so much.
There are labels on cassettes, the adhesive kind that you can write on, then peel them off, and stick them on the tape of your choice. I had discovered that I could put the label in a Brailler, so my tapes were labeled that way, in Braille. I reached into the bag, into a corner, and took hold of a loose label, one that had obviously peeled off of a tape. I pulled the label out to see what it said, so I could find the matching tape and put it on. (I can identify cassettes by the feel of them, and/or the sound they make when you shake them, but Braille labels make it faster.)
As I held the label in my hands, a shadow fell over the summery college afternoon, a pall of slowly dawning horror, as I came to the conclusion that the “label” in my hand was a leg, a dry rubbery-textured crinkly-sounding leg that was attached to the body of my lifelong sworn enemy, the water bug.
A note of explanation, in case water bugs aren’t nationwide. I’ve been told that roaches are small, and water bugs are their king-sized counterparts. Roaches are like scrunchy paper if you have to pick them up with a paper towel, water bugs are like,,, well, they’re evil. That’s what they are, no less than evil, and you may not be aware of this, but water bugs have a conspiracy against blind people. They like to die right where we’ll have to step on them. They have conventions about it, I KNOW they do! That is not paranoia, that is FACT! Well, like I said, I was 21, self-sufficient, supreme in my newfound state of independence. So I did what any self-actualized 90’s woman would do. I flung the actuality of all my nightmares as far across the room as I could, then spent an hour or so making a 12-foot wide circle around the place where I thought it might have landed, so as not to step on it, praying it really was dead, and not behind the stove, assembling the troops for battle.
A friend came over later. I requested that she get rid of it, without confirming for fact that it was what I thought it was. Unfortunately, she had a little boy, who hollered with all the nthusiasm of an eight-year-old at his first major league baseball game, “It’s a giant roach.”
They left. The dead bug was gone, butthe the effect lingered. The blessing of being a writer is a vivid imagination, and the curse of being a writer is . . a vivid imagination. I began to remember a movie I’d seen when I was ten or so, Creep Show, a screenplay written by the god of writing to me, Stephen King. This movie concerned a guy who wasn’t nice, and it ended up that one night while he was asleep, roaches came out from everywhere, attacked him, and killed him. My Dad thoroughly enjoyed describing it to me, in the sadistic way men have of finding humor in the fact that girls are scared of bugs. So as afternoon turned to evening, I sat alone in my apartment, and visions of Creep Show danced in my head.
Like I said though, “I’m a Woman.” I decided I wasn’t going to take it, so I set out to neutralize the enemy threat by spraying it down. Picture a smallish brunette of medium build, stalking “the enemy” Rambo-style with a can of Raid, hunting them down wherever they were lurking to ambush me. I took them all out, no enemy hiding place was safe–under the cabinets, along the baseboards, in the closet, along the walls, EVERYWHERE. I showed no mercy, spared not the elderly nor the infants among them. All in all, the attack probably lasted fifteen minutes, but it was executed with a thoroughness that would make any military general proud.
I noticed a heavy chemical smell in the air, and decided I’d sprayed too much. To be safe, I called my Mom and asked if bug spray ever expired. She said it didn’t, and we decided I just went overboard with the bug spray.
The next day, a friend came by, everything was cool.
The following day, my mom came down to clean my carpets while I was at class. When I came in, she said, “I know why your bug spray smelled weird.”
I’m like, “Why?”
“Because it was red spray paint.” Along the walls, under the cabinets, along the baseboards, all in the closets, RED . SPRAY PAINT! Three years earlier, I went to a Halloween costume party at a club, and my friend who took me made our costumes. I was Pennywise the Clown, so she spray-painted a red wig for me. In a couple of moves from dorm to apartment, that spray paint stayed with me, although I had forgotten it. My Dad put it under the sink when I moved into the current apartment. I assumed the can under the sink was bug spray, because that’s what was always under the sink.
My Mom cleaned it up for me, when she could stop laughing. When questioned about it later, the friend who had visited me without mentioning the half-can of spray paint on my wall said, “I wasn’t sure what it was you were doing. I didn’t want to offend you, in case you were trying to decorate or something.”
I just wonder, if there might possibly be red water bugs in that town, (they say roaches can adapt to anything.)