The worms are writhing deep inside me eating at my flesh. I reach down between my legs, to the red, itchy, swollenness and squish them between my fingers. It brings no relief. There are too many of them. I have had these before, these pudgy, squirming, worms but each time they are worse. This time I consider getting a knife and cutting my private parts out. I squeeze my eyes shut and can see the shiny, silver curve of the knife and imagine the relief it would bring me.
My mother has treated me for these worms before, but they always come back. Cutting everything out seems like a better solution in my six-year-old mind. I remember what happened last time she found out.
“You dirty little heathen,” she had said as she stripped me naked, her eyes squinted, wrinkled at the edges, the disgust and hatred evident to me even without the words.
She laid me across her lap and inserted a suppository, not so much painful as horrifying.
“Get dressed and stay out of my sight,” she said as she pushed me off.
I wanted to disappear – permanently.
I cannot tell her I have them again. I am afraid what she might do this time. I have to get rid of them myself. In the hot, tar-like darkness I devise a plan.
I decide to go to the bathroom and put toilet paper drenched in cool water on my swollen skin to try and get some relief.
We live in a small house. There are eight of us crammed into three tiny bedrooms. My parents’ bedroom is across the living room from the bedroom my three sisters and I share. My two brothers share a room right next to ours.
I turn the doorknob and peek out to see if any lights are on. The house is quiet and dark. I tiptoe across the hallway to the bathroom halting every time the floor creaks, looking through the darkness, waiting for the sound of my parents’ door opening. When everything remains quiet, I continue.
When I reach the bathroom I open the door and flip the light switch pausing to allow the roaches to scurry into the cracks and crevices in the walls and the holes in the rotted floor. I never go to the bathroom at night because I am terrified of them, but tonight the worms are unbearable.
Standing on my tippy toes I reach the faucet and turn on the water just slightly hoping the trickle will not make too much noise. I wet piles of toilet paper and place them on the side of the sink next to the toilet so that I can reach them easily. A puddle starts to form on the floor as the excess water drips from the drenched toilet paper. I sit on the toilet and dangle my feet in the air to avoid the straggling roaches. I hold the cool, wet glob of toilet paper between my legs and squeeze it trying to wash the worms away. Then I place it within the folds where it can cool my red, hot skin. Relief comes quickly.
As I wait for the toilet paper to become warm and no longer effective, I watch the different roaches crawling around on the floor. There are German roaches that are small, thin, and long. Then there are cockroaches in various stages of life. The baby cockroaches are small, fat, almost oval shaped. The teenage cockroaches are medium-sized and the large adult cockroaches have flat, black eyes that stare right at me. Luckily, missing from the bathroom tonight are the worst roaches of all – the ones that fly.
Everything in the bathroom is nearly within arm’s reach. The grimy green linoleum is broken off in several places exposing the rotted floor and holes underneath. The tub has several marks where the porcelain has been chipped away and there is a black ring where the caulk is supposed to seal the tub to the wall. There are always black specs covering everything in the house – roach droppings – and the bathroom is no exception.
I look down at the faded green bathroom rug that is bunched up and showing the mildew on its peeling rubber bottom. It is then that a baby roach catches my attention. He must have fallen off the crinkled-up rug into the pool of water on the floor. He is lying on his back, legs flailing, and I know that he is drowning. Though I am terribly afraid of him, I feel an overwhelming sense of compassion for his plight. My troubles begin to fade away as I focus on him and his perilous situation. If I don’t save him, I know he will die. If I save him, I know he will grow up and torture me just like the others.
Won’t my parents think I am even more disgusting if I do something like this? What will saving a roach say about me?
I turn away from him and watch another roach crawling up the wall forging trails through the dirt and grime. I wonder what his life is like. Does he feel sad or happy? Will the baby roach’s mom and dad be sad if he died? I think my parents would be relieved if I died. They tell me all the time how much they don’t want me, but maybe his parents would be sad.
I look back at him still flailing in the water. I get down from the toilet, kneel down and watch as he struggles.
“I don’t know what to do about you,” I whisper, “I want to save you, but it would be a stupid thing to do.”
My eyes are clouded, hot with tears. I cannot stand to sit here and watch him die. I grab the empty toilet paper roll and scoop him up. I lay it down and watch him crawl through it to safety. I wonder if I made the right decision. I am so unsure of myself and feel ashamed for doing something so ridiculous. I feel pathetic, hideous for saving a roach.
I clean up the mess I made and flush everything down the toilet. I tiptoe back across the hall and crawl back into my sleeping bag on the hard floor where I sleep. I hoped the relief I’d found would last, but I can feel the worms squirming, biting at me again. I know I will have to tell my mother in the morning and the hot tears come again slinking down the side of my face and pooling in my ears.