Through Any Given Door

2.39 Kakaroach

1958 • Oahu ~ Claudia and Mom stayed in Hawaii for four months after I left, walking the beach, sightseeing, going to movies, swatting mosquitoes and smashing cockroaches.

Claudia in Oahu, Feb 1958

No matter how carefully my sister cleaned, how much she sprayed, or how many she nailed with a magazine—from tiny clear insects to four-inch black beasts, all with hard-shell wings, malevolent eyes, and quivering antennae—her apartment was still overrun with cockroaches. Even the trophy-sized ones brazenly made their way inside her place. Armed with a yellow thonged zorie, she performed a nightly routine of inspecting every square inch of her small studio apartment: around the walls, along the floors, behind the pictures. She peeked beneath the bed and between the bedclothes. She looked under the tablecloth. When the coast looked clear, she’d switch off the lamp, skip three strides, and leap through the air onto the bed. Of course the coast looked clear. Roaches aren’t stupid. They’re nocturnal, leaving their nests under the cover of darkness.

When Claudia reached over one night and turned on her bed-light to get a drink, she discovered a convoy of them inches from her face, crawling all over the water container on the stand right next to her. The creatures simply gave her the stink eye, made a mad dash and a sharp turn down the side of the table to escape, and headed back to their safe harbor behind the small white stove. She didn’t sleep the rest of the night, or the next night either.

On a humid Hawaiian afternoon in late October, swaying to Don Ho on the radio, the perfume of plumeria wafting through her window, my sister—almost five months pregnant—was trying on clothes to see what still fit. From the back of the tiny closet in the bathroom, she dug out her horsehair slip where it had been crammed in the dank darkness for more than a year. The waist section was silk to the hips, with the horsehair flared out so stiff and wide that only one underskirt (rather than three mesh crinolines) was needed to keep a skirt full. She pulled it from its metal skirt-hanger, lifted the stiff underskirt over her head steadying it like a tent, extended her arms through, then slipped the coarsen brown slip over herself, her arms trapped straight up over her head, the skirt midway to her waist. She heard this curious odd scratching sound. She opened her eyes. The whole skirt was pulsing—alive with cockroaches, crawling with nymphs, juveniles, studs, cousins, aunts, uncles, parents, and grandparents.

“Aaaighhhhh!” Ripping it off in revulsion, she hurled it away and it landed, cattywampus atop the toilet. Frantically brushing hundreds of them off her bare skin, pulling at the ones whose claws were caught in her kinky brown hair, she took off shrieking down the hall. Barefoot, dressed only in her bra and panties, she waited on the edge of her bed—legs jerking, shoulders shuddering, her whole body twitching hysterically—sobbing until Bobby got home. The instant his crooked grin and Navy-blue bowed legs sauntered through the door she flew up and down, flapping like a chicken with its head cut off, screaming and swearing until he got the slip out of the apartment and down to the dumpster.

The next day, when she told her neighbor the story and her friend informed my sister that some species of cockroaches could fly, Claudia resolved to leave. She also could no longer take being plagued with recurring nightmares of a baby in a bug-ridden bassinet. There was no way she was going to have a child in a colony crawling with cockroaches. On the last day of October she fled back to California and moved in with Carleen, too.

Carleen knew to have Claudia unpack her luggage on the driveway, having discovered the congregation that stowed away in my suitcase when I showed up four months before. The small stucco house on Verdugo Avenue was crowded as it was.

End of Part II

to be continued in Part III…

© 2018. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

Share this:


  1. Susan Price says

    I lived for for a year in a traditional Japanese house (in Japan) with tatami mats for flooring, except the bathroom and kitchen. I slept on the floor on a futon. To turn on the light in the main room (it was all one “big” room divided into sections by sliding light weight doors called fusuma). The light hung from the ceiling in the middle of the room could only be turned on by pulling the string, which meant you had to enter the house, take off your shoes at ground level entrance space (genkan), and step up onto the tatami, walk across to the light and pull the string. Sometimes I stepped on those kokiburi (huge black cockroaches that could fly). Yuck. I look back and now I wonder how I managed to sleep on the futon on the floor knowing that the kokiburi were nearby AND so were big red millipedes (but at least they made a scratching noise when crossing the tatami). During the summer it was bug time, but in the winter, the snow and cold kept the bugs out of site (maybe they migrated?), but then I had to use a portable kerosene heater to keep from freezing. Fortunately, traditional Japanese homes are very drafty so I was not asphyxiated.

    • You, my dear, are a far braver woman than I…

      • Susan Price says

        Only when it comes to bugs. Beside, when everyone in the houses around you are facing the same environmental challenges, it is the norm. Plus, I was a young adult: 25 years old. At 26 I moved into a second story little Japanese-style apartment. No kokiburi. I was only “brave” for one year…

  2. Oh man, I think I would have had to be institutionalized after the slip episode!!! Wellll….we have been having a constant battle with huge, huge roaches the last couple of years. I mean huge (this is Texas after all). In the past we had kept normal sized ones at bay with sprinkling boric acid around or those electronic things ya plug into a wall socket. But nada worked on these huge critters. Supposedly these are called ‘tree’ roaches and are outside roaches. Oh yeah, that makes it better—not. Even tho it was ‘just’ one or two a week strolling about in the house, we’ve been going the professional spraying route every 3 months. With supposedly poison safe for humans. They have finally dwindled down to just a rare occasional one. I’ve been told Asians eat them in stir fry. I know…TMI

  3. Hello, did Claudia leave him then? Did they get divorced?

  4. Barbara Jacobsen says

    When my mother visited us in AZ she carefully showed me a jar with a “cricket” she’d saved in the sink… guess what it was! That wasn’t enough to convince her to leave, though.

  5. Jim Chatfield says

    Sounds like the summers in Mississippi when we went TDY for schooling in Biloxi. Darn things seem so big you could ride them like a horse.

  6. Janet Sasaki says

    We went to Hawaii once, and the last! Saw that the aluminum windows in the vacation rental corroded from the high humidity, drove a car around the island, said, is that all there is?

    Your cockroach story is worse than my cockroach ones. Number one, our family had a rental home for a while in San Bernardino. I can still smell the powder that we had to shake all around the floor edges to kill them. Number two, the cockroaches that climbed up the drapes and fell onto our beds at night at a motel in Barstow on a hot August night.