The Cockroach that Saved Our Marriage

You don’t know how close it came. How close I was to leaving that night, while you slept in the other room. My bags were packed, although not literally. I couldn’t figure out how to get the suitcase out of the closet without making too much noise.

I was furious that you could sleep while I paced the living room. I was livid you slumbered peacefully while I slammed glasses and cabinet doors in the kitchen. It peeved me you dozed while I cried in the next room. Still… I didn’t want to wake you.

It convinced me you didn’t care. It convinced me that tomorrow would resume for you, with or without me. I nursed a glass of wine I didn’t want, my throat raw from yelling, and wished I had a cigarette. I don’t smoke. I’ve never smoked. I just thought it would look cool. 

I swirled the wine around in one of those fancy stemless glasses your aunt gave us at our wedding. It was some bougie blend you were saving for a special occasion and I left it open on the counter all night. Anyway, I swirled too hard, and it sloshed over the rim of the glass and dripped onto my favorite gray shorts. That was your fault, too. Somehow. It was also my breaking point.

I marched to our hall closet, whipped open the door and pushed the gift wrap and games and old sweaters aside to find my suitcase. It was hiding in the corner, underneath a pile of old gift bags I intended to reuse but never did. As I swept them aside and reached for the handle, a rustle made me pause. I turned on the light, and there he was, resting on the zipper.

Look, we can talk about gender bias another time, or search the internet for how to tell if a bug is a male or female. I didn’t care that night, and I don’t care now. As far as I’m concerned, that cockroach was a guy. 

And he saved our marriage.

He was big, dark brown, and did not care that I was nearby. His long antennae wiggled back and forth and I swear to you his front legs lifted so he could look at me. 

I stepped back with a yelp because I hate them. I don’t care if they are a product of our environment, have some nasty purpose in nature, or are harmless. I hate them. I waved my hands in his general direction, as if I could produce enough wind to knock him off my bag. He held firm, his nasty little wigglers still moving, eyes I couldn’t see staring at me. Ick. 

We had a standoff. I don’t know how long it lasted. Maybe hours. Probably seconds. During that time I noticed he had little splashes of bright red on his back. I recognized the color. It matched to the bottle of nail polish that spilled in my bathroom drawer. I forgot to clean it.

That fucker had been in our bathroom.

I wore that polish the night we met. I wore it at our wedding and brought it on our honeymoon. That’s when the bottle cracked, which of course I didn’t notice until I unpacked. Which led to a stained bathroom drawer, and a spotted roach.

Which reminded me of you. I questioned my choices earlier in the day, and reevaluated my role in our argument. Was I running away out of anger? Because I was bored? Or was I just scared that, after a year of bliss, things might get difficult. That I might have to work to stay present, rather than move on like I’d done before.

Does life have to be about new beginnings? And endings? Can I ever be happy in the middle, or do I always have to work toward something. What if I just stood still? The idea made me tired, and Earl (did I mention I named the cockroach Earl during our standoff?) wasn’t going anywhere. So I closed the door and went to bed. 

You stirred a little. You reached a hand out and whispered my name. It diffused the rest of my anger. Full of doubt, I went to sleep, expecting a restless night and an awkward morning. No sooner had I laid my head on the pillow then my eyes closed and I drifted away.

I don’t know what time it was when it started. A light wind drifted into my hair and lifted it. Enough to make me open my eyes. It tickled my scalp, and I reached a hand over my head to check the pillow. Nothing was there, but the sensation of something crawling remained. Fatigue won out. My eyes closed again, my hand resting on my stomach, the clock I’d given you for our first anniversary ticking on the wall. 

There it was again. An itch on my head. Tiny legs scurried down my bare arm. It stopped on my hand. 

Out of instinct, my arms swung out as I jumped out of bed. Something had definitely crawled on me!! Covered in goosebumps I ran my fingers through my hair, rubbed my hands across my body, and checked the sheets. Then I heard the sound. 

The air whistled when it flew, propelled by my hands. The wall made a distinct thwap as it collided. There was a loud crack as it landed on our hardwood floor.

I don’t think it survived.

Surely it could not survive. 

It had to be dead.

I was not going to be the one to check.

I switched my light on and gave you a jostle. You murmured, so I jostled harder. You wiggled then settled, so I punched you in the arm.

“What?!” Your eyes were bloodshot. Your nose ran. I pointed in the direction of the thud.

“Roach.”

Here’s where you did it, my love. Here is where you fixed the problem. Here is where you grabbed the wheel of a boat that had stopped rocking and turned it in the right direction. You didn’t speak, sigh, or express any disappointment or annoyance. You went to the bathroom. You got a tissue. You picked up the roach.

“Is it dead?” My voice was a pitch too high. You nodded then flushed it down the toilet. You washed your hands. You kissed me, whisper soft, on the lips with a sweet smile. You went back to sleep.

Did you know roaches have a smell? I wanted to lie back down, but that odor stayed with me. In my hair. On my skin. It’s the back of the cabinet underneath the sink. It’s the corner in the bathroom behind the toilet. It’s the bottom of a teenage boy’s hamper.

So I showered and washed my hair. Twice. I crawled next to you and molded my body to yours. Half awake, you sighed and clasped my hands. My love, you’d gotten out of bed in the middle of a night, without question or judgement, to get rid of a roach. You’d gone to bed with tears in your eyes. You’d said my name in your sleep. 

It was OK if things got difficult. I just wanted to be still. With you.

The next morning we made love. You made coffee while I wiped up the wine-stained counter. If you noticed your “special occasion” wine bottle in the trash, you said nothing. I made pancakes.

“That roach last night was weird,” you mentioned, pouring syrup over your butter-laden stack. 

“How so?” I raised my eyebrows. You kind of laughed, then shook your head. 

“Maybe I was tired, I can’t tell. But I think it had red dots. Like it was part ladybug.” 

“Aww,” I said, reaching across the table for your hand, “poor Earl.”