From two rooms away, Bart and I heard my mom scream at the top of her lungs. We jumped up and looked out the door only to see her running from the bathroom, ripping all of her clothes off, and yelling, “don’t look! Don’t look!”
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I grew up in the Bird Rock area of La Jolla. We don’t have alleys in La Jolla. We have “ways” and “lanes”–and though they look like alleys, they are named. I’m quite sure that we don’t have rats. But there are lots of really huge mice around. We also don’t have cockroaches. No. They may look, act, and be genetically identical to cockroaches, but in La Jolla they’re called water beetles. At least that’s what my mom tried to call them. She would slip up now and then, and the word “cockroach” would be used. But for the most part, “water beetle” was the preferred term. She was terrified of all bugs, but cockroaches held a special place of fear in her. Most likely from a story her mother used to tell her about the time she lived in China in a place where if you went into the kitchen at night and turned on the light, “the whole wall moved.” Covered in cockroaches.
Um, I mean water beetles.
For a while, my mom was prone to wearing long, flowy garments that brushed the ground. Even when out in the yard doing light gardening or simply watering. She would do this, and her mind would wander as she sprayed water around the back yard, her thoughts in far off lands (her childhood in India and what is now Pakistan, for instance) or simply in areas inconceivable to most of us.
On one such evening, after a pleasant half-hour in the back yard while the air cooled and the glowing sunset faded toward night, my mom was in the bathroom down the hall while Bart and I sat in my room, talking about and listening to music. She was combing her hair and began to think to herself how wonderful it would be if you could think of something and it would simply appear. A delicious dinner, perhaps. Or an object you needed. How amazing and useful that would be! You simply think, and it’s there. (I don’t know if she ever saw the “Shore Leave” episode of Star Trek, but it’s pretty much along the lines of where her mental wanderings were headed.) She stopped herself short, though: What if you thought of a cockroach? That would be terrible!
At that very moment a cockroach walked up onto her shoulder.
Which is where I started. My mom had one of the biggest freak-outs that you could ever imagine. She screamed at the top of her lungs and ran out of the bathroom–tearing off all her clothes as she went, yelling “don’t look! Don’t look!” to Bart and I as we hurried out of the bedroom to see what was wrong.
She ran and grabbed something to put on, while Bart and I simply stood there, utterly baffled. When she managed to calm down to a point where she could speak in a somewhat rational manner she finally conveyed the reason for her distress. Bart and I went in search of the, ah, water beetle. At first, we were looking at each other and wondering if she’d just totally flipped her lid. But after several minutes, yes, we did find the nasty thing. In retrospect, it’s obvious that the water beetle had managed hitch a ride on my mom’s long, flowing clothing. But for a while there, she was absolutely convinced she had conjured it out of thin air. I wish she’d conjure up the winning lotto numbers. Now that would be useful.