I still remember those tiny crawly things in our New York apartment. My parents called them cockroaches, and my grandparents would stick their noses up in disgust whenever they saw them.
I wondered where they came from, where they scurried to when the lights came on, and if they slept with me in my bed. I didn’t like that thought.
The crawly things both excited and scared me.
They vacationed behind sofas and in between freshly washed dishes. They would waterfall down the curtains, hide in every hole in the wall, and come out in waves under beds and stovetops. They watched TV with us, ate our food, and played with my toys when I wasn’t around.
They didn’t live with us—we lived with them.
One day, as I played on the white-tiled floor of our kitchen, I saw a jet-black cockroach bravely run across the room, right over my hand. I could feel its tiny feet on my palm and see its antennas feel the air. The cockroach appeared as big as my small hand.
My eyes widened.
Then it ran off to its family, and probably hid in the corner of the wall with the yellow wallpaper that peeled off a little more each day.
I jumped up and held my hand like it had been injured.
“Is everything all right?” my mother said when she saw my frightened face. I nodded my head and ran to the living room in the comfort of my loud TV that would scare away the tiny crawly things.
At night, I turned into a sneaky cockroach myself.
From my bed, I could see murky shadows slither across the wall; every small, pitch-black object reminded me of cockroaches.
Frightened, I crawled out of bed, crouched low, and quietly ran from my parent’s room to my grandparents’. I blended into the inky darkness and wouldn’t stop until I reached their bed.
My grandparents waited for me each night. My grandmother would think of how to create a new twist to the same story she told me over and over again.
I eagerly climbed onto their bed and over them like they were two big, soft mountains and I was an explorer in search of a new adventure. I always sat in the windowsill beside their bed. I would sit there and look down at the busy city life. When you looked outside the window, the people who walked in the night looked like ants that ran in a straight line to their colony in their anthill.
My grandmother captured me with a web of stories and fantasies of talking animals and little fairies that would eventually lull me to sleep.
“It’s time for you to go back to bed now, little doll,” said my grandfather when he saw my droopy lids in the light of the streetlamp that shone brightly outside.
“No,” I said.
“Oh dear,” my grandmother said as she called for my mom to get me.
As my mom carried me back across the living room to our bedroom, I could sense the cockroaches watching us as they reclined on the couches in the silence and safety of the night.