Angels in Odd Packages

The nicest man I’ve met in months – maybe years – came to my home to kill cockroaches. The irony is not lost on me.

It’s hard to admit that a few uninvited guests have found their way into my home. I stand in shame just like the fastidious parent who receives a call from school, “Please come pick up your children. They have lice.” We think that pests indicate improper grooming or cleaning. We have a hard time accepting ‘roaches happen.’

Only one roach at a time has appeared in my home, usually late at night when on a whim I return to my kitchen with a snack in mind and flip on the lights. Nothing kills a late night craving faster than seeing a little cockroach scurry across your kitchen floor.

At first I lived in denial, convincing myself that a single stray had found its way into my home. I killed it and felt relief. Then a friend and her husband came for dinner, and another roach got wind of my impromptu feeding and decided to make an appearance, a profoundly disturbing addition to any dinner gathering.

You know, if you see one, that indicates more are hiding in your walls,” my friend informs me in a calm voice. “They could have come home in food from the market. That happens all the time.

The look of horror that crosses my face and my, “I can’t handle this conversation,” quickly followed by an involuntary shudder that races through my body prompts my friend’s husband to intervene as his wife threatens to continue. “Hon, I don’t think she wants to hear any more about this.

I was just saying—”

Look, it’s like how you feel about mice. Would you like me to start talking about them?

I had a mouse here once,” I started.

Okay, enough of this,” my friend jumps in, the calm in her voice gone.

Cockroaches continued to visit about once a week – sole travelers out for an adventure – and I decide to take action, sending an email to all the other residents of my building inquiring as to whether anyone else had uninvited guests. Quick replies of, “No, not here,” fill my inbox making me feel depressingly singled out. After two days, the neighbors directly below me write, “Oh yeah, we’ve had them since last year, but not many. Suddenly they’re back.

Since last year?

Not only are the roaches back, they’ve decided to expand their sightseeing. While I certainly wish my neighbors had acted upon their infestation when it started and kept the little buggers from paying me a visit, complaining won’t help at this point. I call the pest control people and schedule an appointment.

Today Oscar arrived. I have never encountered a cheerier man, which only proves that the quality of your life is not based on the quality of your job. He kills bugs for a living – probably mice, too – and walks into the room as if he’s the most blessed person on the planet. He played with my dog and talked about growing up in this neighborhood, revealing that his brother had been shot and murdered twenty years ago about six blocks from my home, prompting his mother to sell their house. He shared this information with a neighborly casualness, not one to wallow in past pain.

So while Oscar arrived to kill the creepy crawlers in my kitchen, he waltzed in and killed my sour mood, the one that took root after an unpleasant family reunion for Thanksgiving, the day I was to honor all that is good in my life, but instead, having celebrated amongst the whiny and the depressed, only served to take me down to their level.

For two weeks I’ve been trying to bounce back. I’ve made mental lists of all I appreciate. I’ve read books to alleviate my mood and get me away from myself. I’ve strolled in the sunshine and cuddled with my loving dog, the dog that yesterday appeared to sense my sadness and crawled upon my lap and rested his head on my chest as if to say, “I know, I know. But I’m here for you and I love you.” He didn’t demand his usual midday walk that invariably interrupts my most productive moment. He didn’t cry for a cookie. He didn’t place his needs before mine. He just stayed close, maintaining body contact with me for hours as if trying to infuse me with good energy to push out the bad.

But despite all these efforts, my sadness remained. I thought of my mom’s question as to whether I would be hosting Christmas morning again this year, the question I sidestepped not wanting to sound snarly and cynical.

And when my father asked last night what we should do for the holidays, I had to ask, “What do you mean by ‘we’?” fearing the inclusion of those I cannot name. I capped my question with, “I’m still recovering from Thanksgiving.” He wanted to know more, but with my son in the backseat I said that we should carry the conversation over to a different time. I wanted to say, “No gathering, no way. I’m looking to be adopted by a new clan.

But when Oscar the roach man came today he began to exterminate the lingering gloom. He brought little traps that he hid in the backs of cupboards, out of sight, but there to serve. And as I recline comfortably with my dog still pressed to my side, I picture my residue sadness lured from my body, migrating towards those traps, getting stuck, unable to come back to nag me. I picture Oscar returning as promised in two months to remove the used traps, my home pest free, his carting away the captured pain and poison. I picture him rubbing my dog’s head and shaking my hand as he moves out my door.

And I picture myself Christmas morning wearing a smile, sitting with just my son and my dog, or maybe with an invited friend or two, fresh baked muffins cooling on the counter, a shining California morning streaming through our glass doors and our high windows with views of the ocean. I picture the presence of joy and the absence of sadness, and I picture Oscar surrounded by love. Thank you, Mr. Roach Man. You are my angel.


Anonymous said...

I STILL shudder when I think about the great mice invasion of 2001. Ick. Glad you're getting all your pests taken care of.

Girlplustwo said...

I heart your roach man. (And your friend's husband, btw)

i am sorry to hear you are still blue. i think, though, that you are rising up from it - both Oscar and your willingess to do what you want rather than what others want to pull you into doing.

hugs to you.

Anonymous said...

all vermon skeeves me right out. my cleaning lady mentione mice droppings and i'm pretending that she didn't see/say that.

you and your son are MOST welcome here, where we keep the holidays friendly, low-key and fun. having no family close by, we've made up our own traditions and i have to tout the virtue of NYC on xmas morning ~ a visit to rockefeller center to see the tree and lunch out afterwards.

i'm glad that oscar the roach man was able to give you a glimpse at someone that embraces life with the cup 1/2 full.

hugs to you my friend.

Emily said...

Beautiful post. I love the image of the roach man as an angel. You never know where blessings will find you.

Anonymous said...

I have been melancholy, as well, but it has lifted somewhat in the last few days.

Diz Rivera said...

I love your dog a tiny bit more than Oscar, but it was close, man.

Here's to shiny Cali Christmases with only the ones we love.

dweezila said...

i love this piece. I love that we can feel the disappointment of being with the family, and how you can also feel how important you and your son have become to these same people. YOu are crafting a life all your own. You can stay home on Christmas morning with your muffins and your dog and your son and I bet you'll feel very much at home. Beautiful.