My mother tells a story about when I was two years old, and we were all still one big dysfunction, not that that would ever really change after my parents split up. She and my father had bought lobsters to toss in a pot for dinner, but before they met their boiling end, my parents took one out of the cooler and set one on the table. I freaked—at least according to her I did—I began crying, and screaming, “Spider! Spider!” I said, over and over. Even at that young age I was able to see that lobster is nothing more than a salt-water insect; exoskeleton, segmented body, and jointed appendages: you do the math. I often wonder if that moment is where my fear of most bugs began. They, in effect, ruined lobster for me, forever. I have tried it only once, as far as I can remember, and though it didn’t make me vomit, I can say that it isn’t something I occasionally crave. Nor is it something I wish to try again, sorry.
Now, I’m no psychologist, as I am sure you’ve suspected, and so I am kind of a novice in the way of phobias. I have a healthy fear of heights, but I can’t really claim to be acrophobic. If pressed on the issue, I would say that what I have is a healthy respect for heights. I put forth to you that anyone who doesn’t feel better with both feet planted firmly on the terra firma is the crazy one, but I’ll let you make your own assertions there.
Not that long ago I was a self-diagnosed agoraphobic-in-waiting. Which is to say that I was well on my way to never leaving my house again. At the time, I only left the house to go to work; I couldn’t even manage a simple call to order a pizza. The idea of speaking to a stranger, for any reason, would seize my brain tight and send me into fits of anxiety. But, as I am sure you’re well aware, the bills do not stop coming just because you’ve found yourself incapable of being normal. No matter how I felt about leaving the house, the bills still came every month, almost as if they were on a schedule, and since I was still healthy enough to not want to practice agoraphobia from a cardboard domicile, I went to work on a semi-regular schedule. There were days in which it just couldn’t be managed, and I would concoct some story in order to keep me from under the sun’s shine.
In retrospect, I think it was much more a crippling social anxiety, but isn’t this a precursor to agoraphobia? I really am asking, because, as we’ve already established, I am not a psychologist. I developed this anxiety as a side effect of massive amounts of cocaine taken straight to the face. Whether I was packing it into my nose or smoking it, it kept me locked away for days on end. It also, as it turns out, will make you think a little sideways, and I became convinced that I couldn’t manage normal conversation and that—I suspected—would lead to my addiction being discovered. I was deeply ashamed of my behavior, but was far from ashamed enough to stop.
While I was high, actual conversation really was impossible, unless the person unlucky enough to try to speak to me had several hours to waste waiting for me to actually spit the words out. I would develop a stutter, my mind working so fast and frantic that I couldn’t get the words out fast enough, my brain would shoot several pages ahead and leave me standing there struggling to force the original thought off my tongue. If asked a simple question, the person asking may have to wait, on the other side of a locked door I might add, for several seconds—sometimes even a full minute—before I could manage some semblance of an answer. Unless of course the answer required more than a single word, then they may have a very long wait indeed.
My mind would become a caged animal. One who’s cage was two sizes too small, and they had been repeatedly jabbed with a stick for days on end until they’re insane with fear and rage; snapping and snarling from the sheer anticipation of the next poke. This would happen no matter how I was ingesting the cocaine. If snorting it, I would be able to manage to act almost normal for a while, but I would eventually do so much—usually after an hour or so—that I would be high enough to be frozen to the floor and babbling like a fool. But, if I was smoking it, the effect was almost instantaneous. I would be so high so fast, that I would be lost to the outside world (hell, the inside one was gone too).
Eventually, I would find myself stripped down to my skivvies and literally standing in a puddle of sweat. Scared to death someone would knock on the door, or ring my phone. Even though I was well aware that I did not have to answer my phone, I was somehow worried that not answering would cause the caller to get in their car and drive to my house to find out why. I distinctly remember calculating how much time I would have from any unanswered caller’s house to mine, and God forbid that I heard a car door outside after a missed call. Even if it were moments after, it would send me into fits of panic and franticly trying to remember if I had locked the front door.
I imagine by now you’re wondering why I would subject myself to such abuse, why on earth would anyone do this to themselves, right? Well, the best—and only—answer I can offer is: I was a junkie. I was so utterly caught up in my addiction that it took me a long, long time to even realize that I wasn’t enjoying it. Even though I was counting the moments until I would find the courage to kill myself. Even though I was petrified to be in a room with a stranger to the point that I would drive halfway across town in order to go to a store that had a better chance of fewer customers than one around the corner. Even though on my way home with a fistful of cocaine I would gag repeatedly, my brain getting so amped for the dope, that I would almost vomit. Even though it was eating me from the inside out, I always thought I was just partying, in a locked room, all by myself. Truth be told, I am still a junkie; they say you’re never not one again, whether you’re using or not, and I’d have to agree with that statement. I do still think about the rush, but then I remember that puddle of sweat, and keep on keepin’ on.
But there was something else, something that was far worse and still haunts me, even now. The bugs. Junkie or no junkie, all the locked doors and twitchy tongues, the bent brains and shameful sweats never were as bad as the bugs. Here, in North Carolina we call them waterbugs, I’ve heard them called palmetto bugs and American cockroaches as well, but can’t say for sure if they’re the same thing or not. I think it’s important to note that there really is no way to keep these things out of your house, they’re not like regular roaches where you can have the bug man come and spray a few times and they will die off. No, these things are everywhere, they come from outside, and no matter how clean you keep your house, no matter how meticulous you are, they will get in.
Coming from Maine, I had never seen a bug as big as a waterbug, and certainly had never seen one that big that could move as fast as those fuckers do. Plus, some of them can fly, and the sound of their wings has a very distinct buzz to it. You can hear one coming from a block away. Not long after I first discovered these mutant beasts, I made my first rule concerning them: if I see one, I have to kill it. I can’t tell you how many times I have had one scurry up my leg, or run across my shirt. Once, when I was about 17, I was lying in bed just about asleep, my mind was drifting away to dreamland and a waterbug ran across my open mouth. Legs on either side of my lips! Needless to say, I didn’t get any sleep that night. So, if I saw one, I would kill it. That way it would never get the chance to crawl on me.
But they took over my mind whenever I would use. I not only felt like there were things crawling all over me, but I would see those big fat bastards lurking in every shadow. I was convinced that they were waiting for me to look away. Then, in that instant, in that fraction of a second that it takes for my brain to send a signal to my eyes explaining to them that it is completely and utterly convinced that there is a waterbug darting toward us, then they would charge me, run up my leg, and cause my heart to stop from the intense fear they instilled in my drug addled mind. If I actually did see a real one while I was all coked-up, I would let it have whatever room I saw it in and hope that it would be content with that. I couldn’t risk trying to kill it, and have it get on me; they would find my body right where those six little legs first touched my skin, pipe in one hand, my pecker in the other, and a big fat puddle of shit in my shorts.
I’m not like other junkies, in that I don’t know exactly how long it has been since I last used. I never bothered to mark a calendar, or make a mental note. All I can say for sure is that it has been years. Probably not ten, but maybe, can’t remember. All that time and I’m still a little crazy; I am still working through some issues that I developed in those days, but I’m getting better, and the fact that I can even see that I am, is progress.
I have made some really good progress actually, in many aspects of my life, but some are harder to shake than others. A couple weeks ago some friends went out of town, and asked me to stay at their house to take care of their dog. Having been in desperate need of some canine company since I lost my best friend earlier this year, I accepted. One issue that I still deal with quite often is insomnia, late at night my brain gets obstinate, and it refuses to settle in. This problem gets compounded when I’m not at home. Especially if I am in a strange bed, so I wasn’t at all surprised on my first night there I was still wide awake at 2 a.m.
After lying in bed and reading for an hour or more, I got up and went to watch a movie, thinking maybe a documentary will slow me down a little. I turned on my computer, and went to grab a beer—something else that might dim the lights—from the fridge. When I turned to find the bottle opener, I saw it. The little fat fucker was perched right on the edge of the counter above the drawer I was headed to. Now, I can say “progress” until my peepee’s hard, but when it comes to those little six-legged ninjas, I might as well be wearing pig-tails and shouting for my Daddy.
It took me five minutes to find the light switch when I first got to the house, but let me tell you, I suddenly wished I had took the time to find an implement of destruction afterward. While I was trying to mentally picture every corner of that house in an attempt to recall if I had seen anything with a long handle that wouldn’t pound holes in the walls, I stood as still as possible. Not really holding my breath, but almost; inhaling and exhaling as slowly and quietly as my fat-ass could manage, and believe me it was watching me as closely as I was watching it. One of us was scared and the other was glad of it. Though it isn’t ideal, because of the required close proximity in order to use it, I finally decided on one of my flip-flops.
While trying to keep an eye on my prey, I slowly moved around the counter to brag one of them, but when I went one way, it went the other. Suddenly in a rush, I grabbed my intended weapon and rushed back to send my tormentor to Hell. As is the case much of the time, and the reason I had tried to watch him so closely, he was fast and vanished behind the coffee maker. I tapped the right side of it trying to coax it out the other, and it worked just as I planned, but once again, it was too fast for me. That side of the counter in their kitchen acts as an island, and separates the kitchen from the dining room. The little demon must have known that I couldn’t reach him if he could get to the edge fast enough because he was like a blur of legs and evil as he made for freedom, and the chance to exact his revenge later. Missing with a poorly placed swat, I watched as he made the corner and disappeared up the wall.
The kitchen cabinets end evenly with the end of the counter and momentarily blocked my view, which I must say caused my brain to twitch a little. So I ran around the counter to finish the job at hand and watched as he ran behind a painting on the wall—not only could he hide there indefinitely because I won’t touch the damn thing while I know he’s back there, but I’m not going to destroy someone’s art they way I would…, anything at all that belonged to me in this same situation. It’s also tricky because I can try tapping one edge or another to try to force his flight response to send him back into harm’s way, but I risk knocking the art to the floor and damaging it anyway, and that would be a kick in the dick. I tried it just the same, and am happy to report the painting stayed hanging right where it belonged, but the waterbug wasn’t at all interested in giving me a win of any kind and stayed put. What my tapping did accomplish however, is forcing another little asshole—that I hadn’t yet seen and was just as big and nasty as the one I was currently hunting—to flee in the other direction, back into the kitchen.
I managed to kill the second one pretty quickly, but the first eluded me for another hour or so. I’m not sure if it was just a busy week or if there was some sort of hit taken out on me by the Godfather of waterbugs, but in the five days that I was in that house I literally killed a sum that went into double digits, including one more later that night. Whenever I would see one I would immediately find a flip-flop and start the hunt, but—and here’s the rub—while I was searching, and for a while after, I would get the old familiar twitches. I could feel the creepy-crawlies on my legs, arms, and neck. I would see little black rockets shooting at me from the corner of my eye. I would be unable to concentrate on a book, or movie. I couldn’t even go lie down and try to sleep; how could I possibly sleep with all the invisible insects crawling all over me? Noises, no matter how small or recognizable, would cause me to have to tip-toe around inspecting everywhere I imagined the ninjas would hide.
So, no, I’m not a psychologist, but I do play one on the internet, and I don’t know how to fix this one. I know that they can’t hurt me; I know that I’m being silly; I know that if one actually were to get on me it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but my mind isn’t able to justify these facts. Those of you that believe in the Gods may think that this is my penance for a life spent killing off millions of unborn brain cells, and maybe you’re right, but what kind of God avenges slaughtered brain cells by forcing me to commit genocide on bugs?