Our plane wasn’t even off the ground in Anchorage and Clara was already laying her head on my shoulder and wistfully saying how much she missed her pet guinea pigs. This was not surprising. She is very attached to all of her little friends. And her guinea pigs are her special treasures that had to be left behind for our two week trip to Hawaii.
“I just really miss their sweet little wiggly noses,” she said softly into my arm.
“I know,” I said, “It will be okay.” I ran my hand down her back a few times consolingly. “But we are going to a tropical island. There are going to be all kinds of animals there. Lizards and fish and cool birds. You know, they actually have Wallabies on this island? They are like small kangaroos and they live in the jungle not far from where we are going to be staying.”
She smiled and seemed to cheer up a bit. She was the self-appointed mother of all delicate creatures. The girl that so often would remind us that “God makes everything for a purpose”. The girl that makes us carry spiders, not just out of the house, but to a quiet home under the tree in the front yard. The girl that told me, just yesterday afternoon, while deep in thought, that she would be perfectly fine letting mosquitos suck her blood if it didn’t leave itchy bumps behind. Clara. I put my arms around her as the plane rumbled around us and we took off into the bright afternoon sun on our way to our adventure.
But an adventure is not called an adventure for nothing. And the sun that shines brightly over the ocean in the afternoon quickly sets beneath you in the evening. And as it fizzles out, it leaves you floating like a dark black thing in a dark black oil and you lose the sense of motion and time seems to stretch on forever and children become tired and clingy and claustrophobic in the tight airplane seats and homesick and wake up from five-minute naps asking about the guinea pigs, where are the guinea pigs, why am I not holding a guinea pig.
It was late when we finally arrived at our ramshackle Bed and Breakfast and the children discovered that it was little more than the basement of a stranger’s house. And it was even later when, by the light of our rented Jeep’s headlights, we discovered that we couldn’t get through the front door into the apartment itself and were likely going to spend the night on the pair of dirty couches in the entryway. But Clara held herself together through all of this. She was a voice of reason and understanding both to her frustrated parents and to her confused and half-asleep younger siblings. “Let’s just pretend it’s a reverse escape room!” she said, making a game out of our attempt to break into a stranger’s apartment. She chose joy. And she made peace. Until suddenly she did not.
It was nearly eleven o’clock when we finally were able to unlock the front door of our apartment and make our way into the tiled spartan living room.
I flipped a light switch and the room was immediately filled with a flickering light from a dying bulb across the room. There was a shriek from a young girl next to me. A little boy pushed past my leg charging into the room and then turned to run right back out again while gurgling in confused fear. We were not alone in this strange AirBnB tomb.
Something nearly the size of a small dog had skittered across the floor as we entered and was now peering at us from behind the large wooden entertainment center along the wall.
In the flickering light, I could clearly see its long fishing pole antennae as they waved slowly in the air, as if they were long arching black tongues motioning for us to come closer, trying to taste us.
My children retreated into the corner of the room. My wife went with them. They turned on a lamp. I turned off the flickering kitchen light and crossed the room to turn on something more substantial.
The creature changed positions and sat under the television staring at me and my terrified family.
It was the biggest cockroach I had ever seen. Approximately four inches long covered in brown segmented armor, spiked legs that carried it back and forth around the entertainment center in anxious patterns, and those long black antennae constantly waving in the air, hunting, warning us away.
“It’s just a cockroach,” I tried to say casually.
“I don’t care,” Clara’s broken voice spoke for the group. “I don’t care what it is. Kill it.”
I tried to hide my own feelings and pretend to be calm. “Okay, but, it’s just a bug.” I caught myself before mentioning that they are very common here. I avoided paying too close attention to the couch the children were now cowering on. “I’ll see if we can open the door and get it to go outside.”
“No!” Clara screamed. “You will NOT. You will KILL it.”
I didn’t want to kill it, because I didn’t want to go anywhere close to it. It turned to look at me and I felt like it could read my mind. Could sense my fear? It inched closer and I stepped away. Yes. I believe it could.
“Um…” I swallowed hard and glanced around for a shoe or a magazine that I could use to crush the monster. There was nothing. “Clara,” I said, still watching the cockroach as it changed positions again and the children shrieked once more in chorus. “Whatever happened to ‘God made everything for a purpose’?”
“This is different.”
“Is it?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, “God made everything for a reason, and he made THIS so that YOU would KILL IT.”
I was stunned for a moment. “Really?”
She waved a hand in my direction to rush my violence along. “YES! God wants you to kill him.”
Andrea and I exchanged worried glances. I looked from the cockroach to my daughter. I wasn’t sure at this point which creature in the room terrified me more.
I picked up a discarded flip flop and wielded it above my head like Excaliber. “As you wish, Joan of Arc. I mean, who am I to argue with the will of God.”
Andrea shuffled the kids into a back bedroom and I took a deep breath, mustering my courage to charge into the den of the dragon. In the end, it came at me instead.
Six loud slaps later and I was standing in the doorway to the kid’s bedroom. “Well, guys. Welcome to Hawaii.” I tried to smile as a shiver rattled up my leg, tapped me on the top of the head and then jittered back down the other side.