Guo: Cockroach in the Bathtub

by Clara Guo | 11/2/16 1:12am

The year is 2059. I have always dreaded retirement: the sudden release from commitment, the odd opportunities to spend my afternoons in pajamas. What am I supposed to do with the free time? Pick up another hobby, probably. Read more books — more non-fiction, definitely. Maybe even write a novel (plot, genre and characters to be imagined at a much later time). Take care of my granddaughter when she’s born (this one’s a no-brainer). Mentor med students? Teach some courses? Sleep. A lot.

I suppose the options are endless, but I still fear the day I turn in my badge, hand back my scrubs and say goodbye to the hospital that has been my second home for the last few decades of my life.

I used to say, to the utter chagrin of my med school roommate, “Cadavers instead of bugs.” Cadavers are easy — scientific and detached. Bugs are difficult — unpredictable and fast.

Over junior summer of college, I lived in Beacon Hill, Boston with two friends. One unfortunate Wednesday night in July, I came home to a cockroach in our bathtub — not a cockroach like the ones we dissected in physiology, its body pinned and legs cut; rather, a cockroach, thin, indestructible, wildly running faster than my eyes could follow.

I shrieked, a high-pitched squawk that must have echoed throughout the building, slammed the bathroom door, fast-walked to my room, watched “Gilmore Girls” with the volume on high and waited, quite impatiently, for my roommate to arrive home.

Half an hour later, the front door opened. I greeted Sarah with a, “Hi. I think there’s a cockroach in our tub.” (Looking back on it now, I could have broken the news with more finesse, but I was in a panicked mindset that did not allow for logic.)

Sarah’s response? The same as mine when I tried to wash my hands 30 minutes earlier. Her yell, equally as loud as my shriek, was repeated several times in shock.

We opened the bathroom door together, and Sarah stuck her head inside to confirm the cockroach’s existence. A slew of curse words exited her mouth, followed by a quick Snapchat of the roach posted to her story. We spent the next 10 minutes brainstorming effective killing methods. We could drop a cup (or a plastic storage box) over the roach — but how would we then dispose of it? We could slip a piece of paper underneath the cup and then carry the bug outside, but which one of us would aim and do the slipping and discarding? We could just wait for our third roommate to return from her business trip and in the meantime use our kitchen sink to brush our teeth and the bathrooms and showers at the spin studio down the street.

Eventually, we agreed that the situation should be dealt with as soon as possible. What if the cockroach escaped the confines of the tub? Would we simply avoid our apartment until it died of starvation?

After our unproductive brainstorming session, Sarah and I sought outside help. We knocked on every single apartment door in the complex (there were only four apartments total), frantically asking for roach-killer volunteers. Everyone refused but preempted their refusal with empathetic “Ew’s” and appropriate expressions of terror.

Defeated, we walked back to Apartment 3. We sat in Sarah’s room, a safe distance away from our tub, our panic slowly morphing into the dreadful realization that we may have to attack the roach ourselves.

We texted friends — anyone who would be up at 8:55 p.m. and close enough to Beacon Hill to be willing to make the trek over. Less than ten minutes later, Sarah’s friend agreed to drop by after work on his way home to Fenway.

At 9:30 p.m., he arrived. He took one look at the bathtub, grabbed two paper towels, turned on the shower to subdue the roach’s run and smacked it.

We offered him beer and ice cream as thanks (we had at least four tubs of half-eaten ice cream in the freezer, courtesy of my wisdom tooth removal five days earlier), but he refused.

At 9:35 p.m. our apartment was roach-free.

We celebrated with the following: (1) laughter, delirious with relief and the knowledge that, in a day (or, most likely, a week), we would look back on July 13, 2016 and relive the past few hours not with fear, but with amusement; (2) social media, specifically snapchats of us taking out the trash that housed the dead roach; and (3) ice cream at JP Licks, despite the tubs at home, because we deserved a pretzel cone and unique (and slightly overpriced) flavors with embedded pineapples.

I don’t remember when my fear of bugs began. My fear of heights, I can pinpoint to our sixth grade family vacation to Yellowstone, when I distinctly remember walking down a path a few feet wide, one side sharply dropping away and the other alternating between cliff and emptiness. I never did cross skydiving off my bucket list.

It seems like such a silly thing to fear bugs. I’ve thought about the evolutionary drive behind this phobia — perhaps it originated as a protective mechanism against poisonous animals, just as we are evolutionarily designed to detest the overtly bitter.

Forty-three years later, I’m happy to say that my fear of bugs has diminished greatly. I’m sure I’d still jump in fright if I ever saw a cockroach scurry my way, but I doubt I’d need 1.5 hours to cleanse my home.

My childhood fears have ebbed with age, but others have replaced them. Fear for my children’s safety, of a botched operation, of stagnation. Fear of retirement, unsure of my productivity and wisdom. These are the fears I hope to one day confront and vanquish, although I have yet to discover a foolproof strategy that fights the recurring abstract.

I still have two years, maybe three, until I say goodbye to the practice. Plenty of time to explore new hobbies and subdue old fears.