With Consideration for the Cockroach

I recently spent time visiting dear friends in Charlottesville, Virginia. I slept on a twin size air mattress, sharing one of the bedrooms; it was like a week long sleepover party. At one point during the festivities, there was some excitability concerning a cockroach on the ceiling fan. I apparently slept through this ordeal as it was described to me the next morning when my dear friend stayed up all night, staring at the fan blades while slight scuttle and scratch subtly filled the room. At one point she sprayed the fan with bug spray. But alas, this Gregor Samson was a true survivor.

The American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) is the most common cockroach in the United States; it is typically 4 centimeters in length, egg shaped, and has wings. Although some may find it, well, pretty in its own way, encountering a cockroach is a bit intimidating; it moves quickly, comes out at night, and although it is a winged insect, I am grateful they seldom fly. The American cockroach can survive without food or water for quite a long time, up to three months, and the damn things can survive freezing weather. They are quite lucky I suppose. Unlike the common house mosquito (culex pipiens) whose average lifespace is seven days, the cockroach can live up to fifteen months. 

When I was younger my greatest nightmares were filled with tornados and nuclear bombs. The latter is due to several reasons. Ronald Reagan was president; the music video for Genesis’ “Land of Confusion” (1986) aired on MTV; and let us not forget the television movie that came out three years earlier, The Day After directed by Nicholas Meyer. Everyone dies. The cockroach, lives …?

This, of course, is myth. According to Kate Stanton’s article “Would Cockroaches Really Survive a Nuclear Apocalypse?”, the insect’s “reputation for resilience, likely contribut[ed] to the belief that they could even survive a nuclear bomb and subsequent radiation exposure” and that the “breed quickly, lay large numbers of eggs, and are harder to kill with chemicals than other household insects” leading we humans to believe “they can withstand anything, even a nuclear bomb.”

Our nighttime visitor remained in the fan for the duration of my stay and although my host kept the light on and bug spray within reach, the insect did not make an appearance during my own waking hours. 

There are well over 4,000 species of cockroaches in the world, then there are the ones defined as reprehensible, disreputable, awful; another species that carries hate in their hearts with a willingness to hurt others, who want us awake with the light on. How strange. Who knew the winged insect who scurries in the dark could be more human than many of our fellow sapiens.

Heather J. Macpherson writes from Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in The Carolina Quarterly, Bennington Review, 580 Split, Blueline, The Worcester Review, Dr. T.J. Eckleberg Review and other fine places. She teaches writing in the English Department at Worcester State University.

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