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You can't get away

Being chased by little demons


There are billions of spiders in my basement. Whenever I go down there, I'm afraid one will swoop down and bite me on my brain. They must be at war with the roaches in our kitchen, because I notice those have been skirmishing in battalions lately. Our exterminator even stood us up for our second follow-up appointment, probably because she's petrified. I don't blame her. I myself am constantly shrieking loud enough to set off car alarms across the street. "Is that a ROACH?!" I holler. "What is this place, a PEAT BOG?! Do we live atop a MASS GRAVE or something?!"

Chris ignores me. He's not that chivalrous when it comes to killing bugs anymore, not since our place turned into the Amityville Horror for insects all of a sudden. If he had to kill bugs for me, it would take up his entire day, so he does his share and I'm expected to do mine. But roaches don't bother him as much as they do me, which is odd because he grew up in a house with a mother who could clean. My own parents were wholly housework impaired. Growing up, I remember at one point our bug situation was so bad that roaches were actually falling off the ceiling and into our hair.

"Kids," my mother said, "I think we have a roach problem."

"Really?" I smirked. "You mean the kitchen floor isn't supposed to be crunchy?"

Our solution was to simply move. We moved three times in one year once. Not just to escape roaches, though. We were escaping other things, I suppose, but it solved our bug problem for a while, anyway. At least until the ones that followed us found each other and commenced copulating to create a swarm of their own. So you can't get away. It was like being chased by little demons. Then we moved to Florida, where the roaches resemble big black tanks with antennae.

"Get comfortable with it," my mother said. She herself had to get comfortable with the reason we moved there. She'd given up the nighttime cosmetology courses she'd so enjoyed in order to work on the space program at NASA, and to this day, I believe my sisters and I were the only kids in class raised by a missile scientist who harbored broken dreams of becoming a beautician.

And the roaches. I never got comfortable with them. Recently I was in Mexico City at the Hotel Nikko and spotted one in the bathroom, and I recognized him. That's one of ours, I thought. Jesus God, how do they find me?!

You'd think you could get away, but no. I remember in second grade, I had a baby molar that was rotting right out of my head, probably because of my mother's penchant for leaving us bowls of Halloween candy for breakfast. The tooth had to be pulled, which necessitated a dental appointment, and my mother told me she'd pick me up at school after lunch. "Just wait for me in class," she said.

God did I want to get away! So I thought I could escape the whole ordeal by simply breaking for it at recess and running home. There, I sequestered myself on the top shelf of the hall closet behind a box of notes we kids had written, ironically, to the tooth fairy. My mother had kept them ever since our baby teeth began dropping from our puckers like pomegranate seeds. The teeth were in there, too.

"Ha!" I thought. "She'll never find me here."

It had been my fool-proof hideaway of all time. I used to sit up there and listen to everyone look for me. "Anyone seen your sister?" my mother would ask. I even detected concern sometimes. I'd smile and eventually come out if there wasn't an ass-beating on the agenda.

So imagine my surprise when she came through the door that day and barreled straight to me like a magnet drawn to a big tool. There I was, all quiet because I thought maybe I was still invisible, but she swiftly moved the box aside and reached for me. "Come," she said simply. "You can't get away."

I whimpered all the way to the office park. "How did you find me?" I asked. She didn't answer, instead she said, "You'll feel better after it's all over."

Of course, I know now that I'd always been found, that until then she'd simply let me believe I'd had a hiding place. I think about that a lot these days. Maybe it's because I'm old enough to have a bag of broken dreams all my own. Because she's right, you know, you can't get away. You need to look inside that sack sometimes and see what isn't beyond mending. You need to face your demons and then feel better after it's all over. If you're lucky, though, you have people in your life who will let you hide sometimes and who will reach for you when you can't get away.

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