This article about the role of men was originally published in Dorothy Parker’s Ashes, a fabulous, NextTribe-endorsed literary magazine run by and for women.
At first, you don’t miss him. What an asshole, right? Seven years with a loser who lied through his teeth, lived a double life, and exhausted you with the predictability of his unabashed failures. He was always big, bold, and brave in the face of mythical tyranny.
But he had a skill. A value that cannot be denied. He killed the big bugs. You don’t fear spiders, serpents, the errant wild possum, rabid raccoons, or the venomous southwestern Gila Monster you have encountered twice in the wild. You have one great horror: The giant, American, sewer cockroach, a reddish-brown beast the size of a substantial human hand, sometimes glamorously glossed over as a “Palmetto bug.”
It is after 2 am, a pile of dishes stinking in the sink. The city has flushed the sewers again and something prehistoric crawled from places deep and dark to inhabit your entire world. It is feasting on microwave burrito detritus. Kill the roach or kill yourself? One of you must die.
Roach in the Nightgown
You remember being 12, visiting your estranged father at his Floridian bachelor pad. He drove a gross Trans Am with a gold eagle on the hood, wrote softcore men’s adventure stories, and sang Rita Coolidge songs poorly to you as you sat on shag carpeting wearing a Garfield nightshirt with the half-lidded cat proclaiming, “I’m not overweight, I’m under tall.” Even though you were long and skinny as a rail, you committed early to a middle-aged woman’s shopworn lament about size and girth. It seemed sophisticated.
He used to beat your mom so there’s tension. You feel something run up and down your arm. A roach is trapped in the sleeve of your bedclothes and rather than open the wrist and let it run out, you jump up and down in hysterics as the cucaracha travels throughout the garment. Bad Daddy laughs.
Making the Call
All these years later you must kill a nasty roach or stay up all night. It’s him (roaches are boys) or you. There’s no bug spray, so you reach for the most toxic substance in the house, the Victoria’s Secret shit. You spritz, spritz, spritz the roach and nothing. No shrivel, no fear. Now you have a fancy roach smelling like something dead: a romantic wish.
“Can you come over and kill a bug?” This is one of the first calls you’ve made to your ex in months since the breakup.
“What time is it?” he asks. He sounds rested and this infuriates you.
“Just come over now and kill this bug!” You slam down the phone and expect nothing.
The roach hasn’t moved but he is shellacked and fragrant. His vile antennae are active. At any moment he could scamper into a small hole in the wall that would come out the other end of your nightmares. If this bastard gets away, he becomes part of your reality for the next few weeks. A soft breeze, the pillowcase on your cheek, a peanut shell crunching underfoot, everything will become the roach.
You have a doorbell but your ex pounds on the door like a Neanderthal. Boom, boom, boom. He is standing there in his underwear and large, black work boots. His hair is in disarray. He holds a slab of pallet wood. There’s a joke to be made about a blunt tool but you don’t feel funny tonight. You point to the pile of dishes and send him into the kitchen alone.
“Holy shit,” he says under his breath, and you are slightly comforted that the length and width of the roach are impressive enough to be seen as a worthy adversary. You hear banging, slamming, something breaking, swearing, and wood popping plaster. You won’t be getting your security deposit back. You curl up on the couch, hug a pillow and pull your knees up to your chest.
“What’s that smell?” he yells from the kitchen. You don’t answer, and he doesn’t ask again. Your secret is safe with me, Victoria.
At the end of a board is a smashed roach. The ex smirks and brings it near you but you bury your face in the pillow and he steps back and takes it outside. He returns, victorious, with his hands in the air.
You say thank you, weakly, and feel tired and overwhelmed by the weight of old memories and new terrors in the night.
“You wanna beer?” you ask, “It’s not refrigerated.”
“I’m not even getting laid for this am I?” he asks.
“Hell no,” you say plainly but without malice.
You sit on the stoop together drinking the warm beer.
He looks into the starless sky, “Can I get a little forgiveness for doing this?”
You consider his request and shrug, “I don’t know. I could write off like 35% of your dirty deeds.”
You clink bottles in a lazy toast to seal the agreement. A worthless favor for a worthless reprieve.
When he leaves, you think about only two problems in life: Do you leave the door open to air out the stench of Victoria’s Secret Romantic Wish? And if you do, are you inviting another roach to come crawling into your life?
It’s like that with everything that bugs you. Relief fades to a conundrum. You think about the roach who swam from the depths of the sewers to taste the flavors of Mexico, to be doused with the fragrance of love, to be murdered by a bestial giant in the dead of night. We should all go out with such glory.