The other morning, as I was trying to administer an exam to my students, an uninvited guest made a mockery of my professionalism.
I had just handed out the exam booklets and asked for quiet when a student in the front row informed me that a cockroach had just run under my rolling backpack.
Now, send me a lizard, a beetle, a garden snake, even a spider, and I’m all right. I can handle it. But not a cockroach.
I ask the student, “Was it a little one (holding my thumb and index finger so close that they’re almost touching) or a giant one?” (I don’t even estimate the size with my fingers since the thought terrifies me.)
“Oh, not that giant,” my charming student says and then holds his fingers about three inches apart.
I look up at the class and shout, “Keep your eyes on your own paper!”
“I’d let this go,” I explain to them, “but I absolutely cannot tolerate roaches.”
One student suggests, “Maybe it crawled inside your bag.”
My face contorts like a stroke victim’s as I imagine this, and I reach into my backpack and pull out my pencil case, throwing it feet away from me onto the floor.
“No talking!” I command, knowing how panicked I sound. I pull out folders and let them sift through my fingers haphazardly as they also become strewn on the floor.
I look up. “Quiet!” I yell, though nobody is saying anything.
They are simply staring at this scene as I dance around on tiptoes, waiting for the roach to show himself or fly into my face, as only Palmetto bugs can do. It’s amazing how silly I look. And I know this because I have temporarily floated out of my body and am watching this scene from above. Consciously, I want to maintain control and just let my students take their stupid exam. But my body is restless with fear. My disembodied self shouts to my physical self, Stop moving! Just for one minute, stop moving! But I can’t.
Finally, I kick the backpack over, and sure enough, the roach is clinging to the bottom of my bag.
“There he is!” shouts a female student.
“Is he alive?” I ask and then notice his antennae moving nervously. I grab a dictionary from atop my desk and bravely smash the roach, which runs under my backpack now lying on its side. I kick the backpack away again, and the roach goes running. The student who originally advised me about the roach’s existence sucks in his breath excitedly. Again, I smash the roach with the dictionary, and he begins to quiver and spasm (the roach - not the student).
“He’s still alive!” yells Female Student.
At this point, I lose all decency. I stand over the already injured roach and smash it repeatedly with the dictionary, shouting through clenched jaw, “Fuck, fuck, fuck!”
I hear myself saying this, knowing that impropriety is not what has endeared me to my students. Still, I cannot stop myself from muttering the “F” word repeatedly…and I hear them laughing.
With the roach finally dead as a doornail (what do live doornails look like?), I start to breathe again. I hear my heart pounding in my ears and remember I have a class of students in front of me. I stand up straight, point my index finger and waggle it at them, saying, “Now get to work.”
Diligently, they lower their eyes to their papers and commence their exam. They look frightened, and I’m not sure if it’s due to the challenging nature of the test or the knowledge that their professor is a lunatic who will be assigning their grades and determining their fate for the next semester.
But I don’t care. That roach made me lose face with my students (I surely had nothing to do with it), and I hate him. I take no responsibility for what transpired in that classroom. But just in case that roach was the embodied spirit of a yogi guru, I will meditate with full dedication this evening and ask for forgiveness. Maybe I’ll even record myself doing so and post it on You Tube so my students can see the serene side of me.
Or maybe I’ll just start carrying bug repellent inside my backpack.