Some Severe Situations #3: “The Bug Laughs Last”Books/Art/Culture,Features/Interviews,Home,News Joe DeRosa
This was bad. Three and a half days in bed. This was twice as long as that time she killed the beetle. But this time, this time it was a cricket…and that cricket did her good.
She deserved the guilt. She knew she did. After all, she reveled in squashing the son of a bitch. And she did it with a big, fat smile on her face, feeling healthy, feeling reformed, like when she dieted for a bit and then broke to eat a box of chocolate-covered donuts from the gas station.
You know how hard it is to get your hands on a cricket, much less kill one? Of course you do.
She only caught the thing by accident. She was just turning on the shower and it happened to be in the spigot’s line of fire. Probably was climbing the curtain liner. Wrong place, wrong time. So there it was now, knocked on its back, nearly drowning on the floor of the tub.
She almost stepped on it. Imagine that: trying to clean off, and she almost ended up with this disgusting thing squashed underneath her bare foot. Revolting. Luckily, she saw it in time. After her initial gasp, she snatched it up in some toilet paper. She thought it was a roach at first. But when she saw those back legs, all pointed up like painted-on eyebrows, she knew she had a cricket.
She felt lucky. The water hadn’t killed it; the body twitched with just enough life to show it still had some fight in it. This old insect wasn’t ready to give up yet. But, despite the effort, it broke so simply. With just a slight pinch of her thumb and forefinger, she made the head give in. And then she flattened the body with disappointing ease. And that was that. The cricket was dead.
It had barely cleared the toilet bowl, all balled up in tissue and caught in the flushing current, when her remorse started to settle in. And by the time the Kleenex casket disappeared down the drain, she felt a regret that could’ve given Judas’ shame a run for its money. So much for being “cured.” All that was gone now. She’d taken a life again. And, worse yet, she’d been gleeful in doing so; giddy and wondering if it knew what was coming. If it was afraid.
She remembered how rough the bout was after slaying that beetle. Sure, when the coffee mug first came down on it, the crunch was satisfying. Almost erotic. But the fulfillment was fleeting. Just like a john with a whore, easy passion was followed by a charging, ugly comedown.
So here she was, a whopping eighty-four hours later, stuck to the sheets of her bargain store bed. The long spells of deep, black sleep were interrupted only by brief respites to eat boxed food—cookies, crackers, and such—and periods of introspection about her foul actions.
Her grandmother used to say, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.” The crime, of course, referring to a sinful deed—and the time the emotional burden that came with it. She then remembered another of the old woman’s quips, used in different, yet not completely dissimilar circumstances: “Only time heals.” So this self-condemnation would pass. Eventually.
The answering machine went off again. The ringer on the phone was off, but the machine was just too far away to be disconnected. It was strange hearing the sound of voice messages without the traditional annoyance of preceding bells. But it made the messages seem more genuine, like the people were actually there, in the house. That illusion would’ve worked more nicely had every message not been foreshadowed by her outgoing greeting. “You missed me! Tell me what I need ta’ know at the sound of the tone!” The sound of her own voice disgusted her. It was almost as offensive as the fake enthusiasm she pumped into the words.
But she had to do it. She couldn’t let these people know who she really was. Think about it.
The tinny voice of her therapist played through the cheap device’s speaker. “It’s Mark Maynard. Just checking in again. Never heard from you on Tuesday and just want to make sure everything’s okay. Give a call, please. Thanks.” Mark. It bothered her the person that was trying to fix her—he hated when she phrased it that way—“No one needs fixing, just adjusting…”—but it truly irked her that the so-called genius working on her brain didn’t have a “doctor” or even “professor” attached to his title. That’s what she got for going to a social worker and not a certified psychologist. But psychologists didn’t work on a sliding scale…the selfish pricks.
How was she going to explain this to Mark? She was right back to square one. Worse even. This was negative zero. She really buried the needle. Their sessions began just after the beetle incident. And that was nine months ago. At that point she’d felt the need to talk to someone because her behavior had spun viciously out of control.
It all began in her early thirties, with the accidental slaughter of some ants. And then there was the fly. But she had to kill it, or else the goddamned dog never would have shut up. Then came the caterpillar. The toe of her sandal came down on it unintentionally. There was plenty of time to retreat. But her morbid curiosity directed her to do otherwise. And it was glorious seeing the hairy worm’s guts shoot out from its head like mustard. Still, she didn’t eat for an entire day afterward. She hoped she’d never do that again.
But you know you never mean things like that when you think them. You need to hit bottom before you can get clean.
So that’s what she set out to do. And four years later, the journey ended with her tracking a beetle through the house for two straight days. Studying it. By the time she positioned the coffee mug over it, she knew which way the thing would scurry in the hopes of avoiding its ceramic death. And that was that. Nothing darker than premeditated killing in cold blood. It doesn’t get any worse. So she started seeing Mark.
Their first few sessions held an energy, a mood, identical to the one she exhibited during her bouts of bedridden malaise: somber motionlessness and quiet decay. Eventually, after another marathon of silence, Mark would say, “Whenever you’re ready.” Never in a snide way, like a husband patiently waiting outside the bathroom door for his wife to finish doing her make-up. No. The words were meant to nurture, to let her know she wasn’t the only one in the world like this, to massage her anxieties to the point where she felt comfortable enough to share them.
Mark wasn’t passive; he just understood. And that bothered her. More than once, she wished Mark acted more like her father and demanded, rather yanked from her, whatever bullshit it was she was hiding from him. That would’ve made this all so easy. But he didn’t. Maybe he was afraid to. Or maybe he was just good at his job, if you could call it that. “Whenever you’re ready.” Yes. He was good at this. Because, one day, she was ready.
At first, the subject matter was safe. So safe, the twelve-dollar session fee was arguably criminal. Pained discussions about television, the weather, supermarket sales; the kind of benign banter her grandmother called “soup talk” because it usually took place during the first course of a meal, before the entrée, before the good stuff came out. One day she shared that, and a few other memories of her grandmother, with Mark. “Only time heals. Sounds like your Grandmother was wise, teaching you that. See, time reaffirms that we will endure, and it also gives perspective. Perspective helps us, in a healthy fashion, analyze past occurrences so we can put them behind us. That’s how we conquer regret.”
Regret. For the first time she was truly interested in the session. Up until then, she’d kept showing up out of obligation. But now there was something for her to sink her teeth into. She told Mark everything she could about her father, and her life, and the losses. But not the bugs. Not yet.
You don’t share something that wicked that quickly. You have to trick them into thinking you’re a decent person first. You have to get close enough that they feel too ashamed abandoning you.
So no talk of the bugs, but she squeezed all else she could about her life and shortcomings into that one twelve-dollar hour they spent together each week. And each week, as she’d leave him, he’d absolve her of her sins.
Finally, a year or so in, Mark breached the subject. “There’s something you’re still not telling me. I think you’ve been honest and open…to an extent…so far…and I think that’s great; very brave. But I’m feeling the need to push you now so we can really get some good work done. I hope you trust me.”
How did he know? How could he possibly have found out about her dirty, little secret? He acted like he didn’t know the specifics, but he sure as hell did. Therapists—if you could even call them that—always giving innocent, almost ignorant gestures, but always having a greater knowledge and motive behind them. Sneaky. Still, she was cornered. If she didn’t tell him, he’d blackmail her for sure. She’d talk or he’d take her down. It seemed like he needed her to talk. Once again, he was acting nothing like her father. Her father told her if she talked about it, he’d do it again. But what did that matter? He did it again anyway.
So she spilled her guts, the way a liquor store robber does on his partner, trying to save his own ass. She told Mark all about the ants and the fly and the caterpillar and the mosquito. Lastly, the beetle.
The first few chats they had about it ended—or were abruptly interrupted—by uncontrollable tears. The time she hyperventilated was by far the worst, but, for some reason, it was the hitting herself in the face that popped into her head more frequently. She wondered why that was. The slaps didn’t hurt, and she didn’t fear she was going to die like she did when she ran out of breath. Maybe it was because Mark had to hold her down on the floor to get her to stop. That was a first. Being held down had never been the end—before, it was always the start.
Over what seemed like an endless number of sessions, and an eternal line of questioning, Mark chipped away at her sin. He took each instance of slaughter incrementally, learning more from the after effects than the event itself. They talked more about her father than she wanted, or thought was at all necessary. The topics weren’t related, so there wasn’t any point. Stupid. Still, she played ball. It was a small price to pay to finally get this crap off her chest. She was starting to feel light. Something was leaving her: regret.
Slowly—very slowly, mind you—things got brighter. She was healing. Improving. Evolving. She remembered the day Mark used that word; how much strength she felt.
They never realize the weakest-looking ones are the strongest, capable of anything. Murder, though regrettable, takes immense strength.
And her improvement continued, only looking forward now and barely ever thinking about what came before. And all of it culminating last week, when Mark gave her a plastic, gold trophy of a cartoonish grasshopper, standing upright and rejoicing, like it’d just crossed the finish line. The trophy had a cheap, metal plate at its base, which had the words “You’re A Winner! Keep Hopping Right Along!” inscribed. Mark assured her the insect ordeal was behind her, and that she had finally let herself off the hook, and a bunch of other stuff about how she was a “good person,” and, “the people with pure hearts unfairly to suffer the most,” and whatever. But she didn’t need to hear any of that. She had power now. She could feel it.
And then, the very next day, that damn cricket had to taunt her. No, it was testing her. No. It was pushing her.
And now, she was staring at that stupid fucking trophy from the self-induced, pseudo coma she’d ordained from her bed for close to a week now. What the hell good did it—did any of it—do her? The sessions, the advice, Mark’s empty blessings—all of them were Goddamn worthless. Her grandmother’s guidance had more value. And it was free.
ONLY time heals. Only TIME heals. Only time HEALS.
“Only time heals.” Now that was sound wisdom. She repeated the phrase over and over again in her head, eventually starting to think there was another layer to the words. She remembered that’s the thing with grandmothers: they know more than they let on. They’re tricky, like crickets. Like therapists. Always hopping innocently about without a care in the world. But if you really look into their eyes, you’ll see pain, and fear, and a familiarity with the dangers of this world.
Those sayings of theirs, they sound like the text in greeting cards, but they carry something deeper. It’s true.
Time. Duration. Minutes. Hours. Days. Evolution. The future…
The realization struck her, hard, across the face, like her father used to. Time healed through progress, not just the way it made memories fade. Becoming better, stronger, that’s right…that’s how wounds really get mended. She thought back to the ants and the fly and the caterpillar and the beetle, each critter more sophisticated than the last, each bringing more blame and less satisfaction as it died, but each erasing the burden left behind by its predecessor. In some way, this was growth.
She’d been erasing guilt with greater guilt, like erasing the heartache felt during a therapy session with the harder, deeper, stabbing anguish summoned in the next one. It was like her father drinking more vodka to get rid of a hangover. The method was effective, but counterproductive. He woke up miserable every morning with a “head like a goddamn hammer hit it.” And he’d grab the bottle to fix things. And it never did. But then he got turned on to heroin from that girl he called his “gal pal,” and he didn’t drink much after that. And he calmed down. And he died with a big, fat smile on his face.
It was the transition that cured him. He’d spent years like a snake eating its tail. Finally, in the end, he figured out the trick was discovering a new way to sate himself. Something greater, something different. Evolution.
The answering machine came on again. “It’s Mark. I know I called yesterday, but I’m really becoming concerned now. Please call me as soon as possible so I know you’re OK.”
OK? How about better than OK? How about fixed?
Mark would be proud. This wasn’t negative zero. This was one hundred percent. She’d just reached the peak by coming around from the other side was all.
She’d park outside his office. Not right outside, of course. But just down the block, where those dumpsters would camouflage her car.
And she smiled. She smiled because it was so easy. She smiled a big, fat smile, because all this would soon be over. Everything would be better. She had power.