Knowing that a fear is irrational does not make it any less powerful.
For instance, I know there is no reason to be terrified of cockroaches. They are much smaller than me. They are, for all intents and purposes, harmless. (Well, if you don’t consider the ramifications of spreading disease, germs, and bacteria.) It’s quite possible they are more scared of me than I am of them, but I doubt it.
I pretty much go bat-shit crazy when I see a roach. I’m talking screaming, dancing, levitating, all-out panic kind of crazy. Evacuating to the nearest surface capable of holding my weight. Even if that happens to be another human being.
Back in my VIP Tour Guide days, I literally crawled over a client’s lap…well, technically three client laps since the family members were sitting next to each other…to escape a roach that scampered across the deck of a boat ferrying us from the Magic Kingdom to the Grand Floridian dock.
I scared the bejeezus out of my middle school students (and quite possibly taught them a few new words) when I pulled a book from a shelf in my classroom and had a roach run across my hand.
I mean, this is Florida. Quite possibly the bug capital of the world. So roaches are an inevitable reality.
My Knight and I saw something on 20/20 or Dateline or some TV show that revealed that movie theater floors are a virtual paradise for rodents and roaches. It makes sense when you think about it. A never-ending supply of sugary sodas spilled, buttery popcorn dropped, and a variety of candies scattered across the floor.
Even the most diligent theater crew doesn’t vacuum and mop the entire floor between each showing, so throughout the day/evening, quite a feast can be amassed. Add to that the fact that the room is shrouded in darkness the majority of the time, and it’s pretty much the perfect storm for infestation.
Learning this was harrowing and horrifying. After all, going to the movies is my absolute favorite hobby, and while I certainly get plenty of mileage from Netflix and Redbox at home, there is nothing like the theater experience. The smell of popcorn. The previews. The anticipation as the lights go down. The laughter and shared emotion with fellow moviegoers.
So to learn that my cinematic comrades and I were not alone in the theater was disconcerting to say the least.
But my love for movies was strong, and it won out over my fear of roaches. I continued to go to theaters, but told myself I’d be more cautious. I vowed to never put my purse or bag on the floor and swore I’d take antibacterial wipes for the armrests and backs of chairs (though I never did). Maybe it’s the same kind of voluntary amnesia that allows women to give birth again after experiencing labor the first time, but somehow I pushed the unpleasant knowledge from my mind in my pursuit of silver screen happiness.
I must have been lucky. I cannot count the number of times I’ve sat in a dark theater and never encountered a rat or roach. Perhaps they have different tastes in movies than I, or perhaps they were there with me all along and I just never saw them. It makes me shudder to think they were scurrying unnoticed around me as I sat riveted to the screen, but it’s possible.
And may I say, I was perfectly happy being oblivious.
Until this weekend. When I nearly unseated an entire movie theater at the Oscar Best Picture showcase.
We attend the showcase every year to see the Best Picture nominees back to back. It’s an all-day event, and one I look forward to almost as much as Christmas. This year, our theater gave us white tent cards with our names on them to place on seats. During the breaks between each film, people tend to go out for fresh air, concessions, restroom breaks, etc., and it’s helpful to have a card indicating which seats are reserved.
Like many other patrons in the theater Saturday, the passionate fan in the seat in front of me had placed her tent card on the back of her seat so that it sat just above her head.
As we sat entranced by The Revenant*–our last movie of the day Saturday and my least favorite of the eight nominees–I noticed she was not alone in her seat. A roach was clearly silhouetted on the top of her chair against the light of the screen.
I nearly came unglued. It was one thing to consider the vile beasts on the floor around my feet. I had never even conceived that they would be ballsy enough to crawl up the seat and so near our heads.
I immediately pulled my feet and legs as high into my seat as I could get them, gripping the armrests for dear life as I struggled not to scream and cause mass pandemonium.
The roach tiptoed across the top of her chair and then across her tent card as I tried to climb into the seat next to me on top of My Knight, who had noticed my behavior and was peering into the darkness to seek the cause.
I pointed at the black splotch against the stark whiteness of the card, and just as My Knight realized what was happening, the roach disappeared over the top of the card mere inches from the woman’s head.
As I pictured the roach making his way into her hair as she sat unaware, I almost lost my shit. I slapped at my own hair as phantom sensations of creepy crawlies rippled across my scalp. I bit my lip against the scream that rose within me, aware that I didn’t want to send an entire theater into panic and be featured on the evening news as a stark raving lunatic.
I wanted to muster the strength to tap the woman on the shoulder and warn her, but before I could get my courage up, the roach reappeared at the top of the card and headed down the back of her seat into the darkness.
My panic multiplied, and I cursed our position in the middle of the row. I scanned the people blocking my exit on either side of us to gauge which ones would be easiest to climb over.
My Knight tried to comfort me and tell me it was gone, but I knew the truth. It was still there. Lurking in the darkness.
I tried to take deep breaths and tell myself it was irrational to be so terrified. That it was only a bug. And only one bug. But not knowing what was in the darkness was maddening. I pictured hordes of roaches covering the underside and back of my chair, their bodies writhing together as they prepared to attack.
Leonardo DiCaprio may have fought off a bear and hypothermia to survive that film, but he wasn’t the only one suffering.
My calves cramped from holding my legs at such an unnatural angle to keep them in My Knight’s seat. My feet had pins and needles as they went numb from the loss of circulation. My neck and shoulders ached from the tension as I held myself away from the seatback and scrunched my head down to avoid the top of my chair. I kept my arms off the armrests and cradled my purse to me, hoping it hadn’t already been invaded.
I have no idea where the roach ended up, but the remnants of his memory crawled all over me long after we left the theater. It’s a wonder I didn’t awake screaming in the night from roach nightmares.
What I have seen cannot be unseen.
*Side note: The Revenant–kind of ironic that the word means bogeyman, visitor, demon, haunt, phantom, bump in the night. How apropros!