It was ninth grade (grade nine, Canadians). I was a member of the volleyball team at my local junior high school in Mesa, Arizona. As freshmen at junior high, we were at the top of the social ladder, though I was by no means one of the most popular kids. I was on student council, played in the band, and participated in lots of sports, but I wasn’t passionate about any of my extracurricular nonsense…not really.
But now I’ve gotten ahead of myself. The setting of this sordid tale is the junior high school gym, mid-July, a few weeks before classes started. The volleyball team was required to meet early to begin practising, since game season commenced right along with classes.
That summer, the school had miraculously received extra funding and decided to put it towards refinishing the hardwood floor in our gym. The smell was horrific–all those chemicals laid to rest on a floor of a building that had zero air circulation and a paltry excuse for a cooling system. In the summer heat, it smelled like the principal was attempting to bake some sort of nuclear missile, but our coach swore it was nothing lethal, and we went on to practise in the gym that week despite the offensive stench.
Now, Mesa is a city that thrives on heat. People embrace the desert lifestyle, removing grass in their front yards and instead planting cacti and millions of tiny pebbles, so they don’t have to mow the lawn during the summer. It is hot, hot, hot, and mid-July, the heat is reaching its peak. The only non-human (read: non-air conditioned) creatures that can survive are well-adapted desert animals like geckos and cactus wren and scorpions…and cockroaches, which can live through anything as long as it’s warm enough.
Our gym had always been a giant playboy mansion for said roaches, but when we saw them, they were usually dead on their backs, having killed themselves from straining too hard to squeeze through the drain covers and into the ladies’ locker room [little perverts]. Rarely did we encounter live ones, and if we did, our screaming scared them away as naturally as a Colt .44 does a common criminal.
That year, however, the cockroaches fed off the nuclear chemicals in our junior high gym. Instead of the stench killing them off like it practically did to us humans (albeit teenage girls), it actually made them…well…stronger. They had the ability to survive the fumes, and their new found super strength made them even mightier. They worked out, training in an underground weight room of their own, plotting for the day that they could overtake our school and eventually…the world. They had morphed into creatures of power, no longer afraid of our silly screams, or even the bright lights of the gymnasium, for that matter. They were brave.
On the first day of practise, when our coach realised the unusually high number of roaches in our gym, she mildly warned us of the danger…that the roaches were out in droves greater than usual this year, but we should not panic. They would be gone soon, the principal had promised. So downplayed was the extent of the problem, we girls thought nothing of it. The next day at practise, we all brought our duffel bags into the gym, sat down to change from street shoes to volleyball shoes, and went on our merry ways.
At the end of practise that day, as we waited for our coach to unlock the ladies’ changing room, a scream erupted from the group of us. I, having not seen the terror-inducing miscreant, nevertheless screamed along with my teammates. If they were scared, I was scared.
But then I realised they were backing away…and screaming…at me.
I knew. With no further investigation, I knew the cockroaches had gotten me. In an instant, I saw the scene play out in my head: While I was practising my bumps, sets and spikes minutes before, my duffel bag had fallen from the table with the other girls’ bags, and landed unceremoniously on the floor of the gym. The roaches swooped in for the kill, hiding in the folds and pockets of my bag, waiting for the great moment of their power to come forth.
It was then, standing outside the locker room door, that I saw death. Running in maniacal circles, I swatted, flailed, screamed, yelped, gagged, clawed, and very nearly cried, in an attempt to save myself. A dear friend finally came to my aid, which was noble indeed, because…well, isn’t it obvious. The plan of the mega-morphed roaches was foiled, and we watched as they scurried away from the group of crazies, but I still couldn’t sleep that night.
Black and shiny, with giant antennae and wings (yes, wings), they’d flown and swooped and creepity-crawled all over my body. I’ve never been the same since that day. Luckily, I was given a fair amount of pity, and though the other girls were surely disgusted with my plight, at least I didn’t have to live out my days at school being known as “Cockroach Girl” or something else ridiculously painful for my 13 year-old ego.
The Cockroach Incident of the year 2000 is partially to credit for my marrying Poor Kyle–he has never seen one in real life; they don’t live here in Alberta, Canada–too cold or something. Anywhere the roaches won’t live, I most surely will.
Thank you, Poor Kyle, for saving my life.
Now who feels itchy?