Here’s a confession: I have an inordinate fear, almost a phobia, of cockroaches.
This is a fear so serious that in my house no one is allowed to call them cockroaches, because the very word is (as we say in the progressive world) triggering. Instead, when we want to refer to the loathsome insectile vermin, I force people to say “tangerines.”
As in, “MOM! There’s a tangerine in the bathroom! Hurry!”
I grew up in New Orleans, which if you have ever lived in that city or visited it or stepped foot in it, you may know swarms with not just your regular American tangerines, but the appalling flying version, three to four inches long, dark brown to bright red-brown, depending, apparently, on gender and age.
One of my fondest memories from late adolescence comes from when I was taking a run one late evening. I was coming up on what I thought was a large puddle across the road when – suddenly – the puddle gave the oddest shimmer. I stopped dead, about two yards away. And…the puddle split into a million tangerines and scuttled into nearby sewer grates.
I have never really been the same since.
The large brown tangerine, though it lives outside, loves to come inside: through the pipes in your sinks and bathtubs. Through window sills, under doors, cracks in foundations, straight through the holes in your hopes and dreams. So almost daily as a child and adolescent and right up until I left my parents’ house for graduate school in Arkansas, I would open the bathroom door or a cupboard door or turn on the light in the kitchen and scream with terror.
My mother would come and kill it for me. “I used to be afraid of them too,” she told me once. “That’s what being a mother is,” she told me. “You learn to get over it.”
I didn’t believe her.
But last night my kid woke me out of a dead sleep at two in the morning. “MOM! TANGERINE!” and I stumbled into the bathroom with my shoe in hand and smashed it dead.
Yes. In our household I am the Lord High Slayer of the Tangerines.
I don’t say I’m happy about it. But I guess my mom was right: the mantle has passed.
(Original art by Cooper Jennings Burgh)