On Men and Pests

I can’t stop thinking about how I killed the crickets

This piece was was originally written and read for an event hosted by Zan and Andy Romanoff in Los Angeles. The themes of the evening were daughterhood, fatherhood, and the patriarchy.

The day Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court I left my apartment and there were two dead crickets on my doorstep. My mother says a cricket in the house is good luck, but what do two dead crickets on a doorstep mean?

I created this, of course, with the poison and the one-gallon sprayer I bought from Amazon. Because a cricket in the house had kept me awake for two weeks.

When I was little, my father cleaned a church and dug the holes for bodies in its cemetery. He put those bodies in those holes and came home after midnight most nights. The cleaning and the body burying were enough to keep a roof over our heads. Me, my two older brothers, my father, and my mother.

A house came with the church sexton’s position. It was white stone with black shutters and a red door. It was three floors and costly to heat, but the church paid for all that.

The minister’s house was behind ours and he set up a line of string across the yard we shared — him, childless, and us desperate for green space to run around in. We were not allowed to cross the line.

That house was home until I was five and my father was fired for speaking to a wealthy church donor. He had hinted at the lavish ways the minister lived off of church donations. The minister had told him, “You are here to clean, not talk to people.”

As retribution, my brothers and I plucked every flower from his garden and hid them in our father’s tool shed. The church owned that, too.

The minister came to our door and called us horrible children.

I felt it for the first time then. Pest-like.

I moved to Riverside, California two months ago after working as a librarian in Washington, DC for seven years. I’d been drawn to the job because I’d grown up recognizing the library as a place of equality — where my poverty didn’t stick out as much. Once I became a librarian I quickly realized libraries — now more than ever — still serve that purpose.

I recently introduced myself to the owner of the only independent bookstore in Riverside and told her I was a librarian. She replied to this fact by asking me what to do about the homeless person sitting just outside. “He comes in and smells terrible”, she tells me. She is not being unkind. She wants to help.

I tell her to find out where the closest free showers are. To print walking directions to them from her store. To approach him kindly, introduce herself, ask his name, say she welcomes him here, but her goal is to keep all of her visitors comfortable.

Give him the resources and directions, I said. Then ask him “Is there anything else you might need help with? You’re part of this city and I’d like to help you if I can.”

She got teary-eyed and I felt nothing because I’d been doing this for years. Picking up the slack of failing government institutions. Helping people around me understand how to serve others, not pity them. Calling 911 for overdoses and injuries on a weekly basis. Remembering names and countries of origin and diagnosed mental illnesses and symptoms of when certain patrons weren’t taking their meds.

I spent seven years treating people like humans in a world that often does not treat them like humans.

I don’t believe any of that was some noble thing I did. It was exhausting and defeating and often traumatizing. NPR headquarters and some of DC’s best-known restaurants were a few blocks away from the library where I worked and no one in any of those places seemed to care about the so-called pests of their city.

I cared.

But I also killed the crickets.

I can’t stop thinking about how I also killed the crickets.

I can’t stop thinking about how Brett Kavanaugh reminds me of every man I’ve ever hated — the minister at the church, the friend who raped me, the professor who told me my writing was “weird” when I was in undergrad, just beginning to decide what I could and could not do. All of the men over the years who took from me in hopes of making me feel less than. Pest-like.

I can’t stop thinking about how we value some lives over others. That people like Brett Kavanagh can continue to thrive, no matter what, even though they’re the actual pests of this world.

My father would hear all this and say “Your heart is so kind” and my mother would say “You think too much, my dear” and I would say I don’t know how to not be angry all the time anymore. I would say I don’t know how to not see everything like it’s a sign these days. I would say, sure, I think too much, but how can anyone not right now?

I would say I feel like a monster, but I’m glad the cricket is gone.

writer & former librarian • A LIGHT forthcoming from Chicago Review Press 2022 • amandaoliver.comtinyletter.com/decorouslines

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