I couldn’t sleep—again—and my boyfriend, Alex, was asleep next to me when I first heard the noise: a pattering of footsteps across his hardwood floor.
They were faint, as though they were in someone else’s house.
They didn’t sound human. They sounded small, like little creatures—or a tap-dancing bug.
I turned toward Alex, but he was snoring, so I decided to investigate myself. I followed the sound toward the bathroom and it stopped. I looked down and screamed. The biggest roach I’d ever seen was in the middle of the linoleum floor, playing dead except for his long antennae moving side-to-side.
“Natalia?” Alex said from the adjoining room. “A roach!” I said. “Kill him,” he said, then started to snore again.
I’m not one to kill bugs of any kind. I think of their suffering, but also of their bug friends and families. Have a spider you don’t want inside your house? Let me know and I’ll scoop him up and get him outside.
But a three-inch roach?! No offense to them, but roaches must be the least attractive and scariest-looking of all the bugs out there. But, we’re all God’s creatures, right? After all, there’s karma to think about.
As the roach continued to play an unwarranted game of Freeze Tag, I surveyed the room looking for a weapon.
Do I kill him? Or catch him?
The only things I saw handy were a toilet brush and a plunger—one could kill and one could capture.
The thought of killing him saddened me—plus, what a mess with bits of him possibly getting caught in the toilet brush—so I opted for the plunger. I tiptoed to the ugly bug, hoping my victim wouldn’t move. He didn’t. I silently put the plunger over him and decided that Alex and I could deal with him in the morning.
“What’s the plunger doing in the middle of the bathroom?” Alex said a few hours later. “Wait,” I said, running over to him.
“The roach is under there. Don’t move it. We need something to catch him with.” As I went to look for that “something,” Alex said, “All we need is my shoe. I’ll step on him.”
“Nooo,” I said, rushing back into the bathroom, jar in hand. “I’ll get him with this and take him outside.”
Alex slowly lifted the plunger as I got ready to catch the roach, who was bound to scurry away. But he was gone. I examined the entirety of the plunger: no roach.
This game wasn’t over. Night after night, as soon as Alex started snoring, the roach would return.
Every night he’d get away when I’d approach with the jar, as though he sensed my plan. I studied his exterior—his tough-looking body that was only three inches long yet managed to induce so much intimidation and fear in humans a thousand times his size.
I watched his antennae move endlessly and noticed that one was shorter than the other. Why? The result of a roach fight?
I tried talking to him, coaxing him closer, whispering about my day and asking him about his. I told him how wonderful the world was outside the house—that he should learn to live a little, go exploring. But nothing worked.
By day, I became obsessed with roaches from studying up on their mating habits (did you know that female roaches raise their wings at male roaches and the males flap their wings back if interested?) to learning where they prefer to hang out (i.e. water sources, like under sinks). I also discovered that if you see a small one there are probably more nearby, like their parents. (Ick. One roach was enough, but a family?!)
The more I didn’t capture the roach, the more research I did.
Alex’s house was immaculate, so we couldn’t understand the allure for the roaches. Alex suggested calling an exterminator, but I didn’t want to kill them—I just didn’t want them in the house. Plus, I hated chemicals. I looked up all-natural methods to get rid of roaches. A common way was combining borax and sugar, then applying it in areas where you’ve seen roaches or anticipate them, like near pipes and along baseboards. But the thought of the mixture destroying the roaches’ digestive systems made me cringe. So, I opted for my capture-and-release method instead.
The only problem was the capturing part.
Finally, after a week of playing hide-and-go-seek with the roach, I caught him. But now what?
Thankfully, Alex’s roommate, Ralph, didn’t believe in killing bugs either, so he agreed to release the roach outside once I had him in the jar. He asked if I was ready and took the roach outside, down all 20 steps to the sidewalk. I was almost sad to see him go—now what would I do during my bouts of insomnia?
That night, the click-click-clicking started again.
Once again, I tiptoed to the bathroom and saw not one, but two, roaches. “He sent friends!” I thought.
Catching two roaches would be much tougher than one. I went off to the kitchen to find two jars and managed to capture one of the two. In the morning, Ralph released him outside.
That night, I heard more clicking. I found three baby roaches and my research haunted me, “If you see a small one, there are probably more nearby, like their parents.”
I went to the kitchen and gathered more jars.
Back in the bathroom, it looked like I was playing that crazy carnival game where someone shows you something under a plastic cup and then keeps moving several cups around at lightning speed.
Suddenly I heard Alex laughing and saw him in the doorway, half-asleep. “Natalia, let me call an exterminator,” he said. “I’m not killing these guys,” I said. “They’re babies.”
The baby roaches were fast.
I caught none.
The next night, a big roach was back—perhaps the mother?—and I placed the jar over her perfectly—I was now a pro. But then I wondered what would happen to her babies without her.
I stared at Alex, fast asleep, and lifted the jar and let her go.
As the weeks went on, I got better and better at capturing roaches—and never did see the gigantic mother and her babies again. Each night, I’d capture one, then two, then three roaches.
They’d gone from taking up residence in the bathroom to living in the kitchen near the sink, scurrying across the floor when I was mid-insomnia and mid-movie on the couch. They continually reminded me that I was not alone.
On the nights I didn’t see any at all, I found myself worrying about them, hoping they were okay.
Perhaps it’s strange to assume that the roaches and I shared some nocturnal, insomniac connection—that we kept each other company and filled in as each other’s companions when the rest of the world was asleep. But I can come up with no other explanation.
Each morning, Ralph would see my jars lined up and waiting for him, and he’d let the roaches outside.
Before I knew it, two months of the catch-and-release game had passed.
I was going away for the summer and I wondered what would happen to them. I begged Alex not to get an exterminator while I was away. He vowed not to.
“Natalia, after you left town, Ralph and I never saw a roach in the house again,” Alex said. “They must have missed you.”
My relationship with Alex didn’t last, but my relationship with roaches did. Ever since that summer, whenever I see a roach on the street, I smile and bend down to examine it. Was this the big one that got away? Or the mother of the roach babies? And I swear it has an antenna that’s shorter than the other. If I see a roach stuck on its back, I find a leaf or a stick and turn it over—after all, they have houses to invade and people’s lives to change, one roach at a time.
Author: Natalia Lusinski
Image: Domas Mituzas at Flickr
Apprentice Editor: Molly Murphy; Editor: Renée Picard