The Year of the Cockroach

Contributor: Kristina England

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Jenny pulled her hair in a ponytail and smiled at herself in the mirror. She fixed her dress, pushing one last wrinkle out of it.

Then she left for work.


Jenny had been through a tough year. Unexpected weight loss and cramping had led to tests and medical bills.

Then there was her attitude. She was having constant mood swings. This ongoing shift in emotions had impacted her relationship with her husband, her coworkers, even her twin sister.

"I can't do this anymore. I'm not happy," she said to her boss, crying in his office.

"I don't understand. What changed, Jenny? What is it?"

"I don't know."

Tears were always followed by a too-straight-faced posture, denial, and the inability to seek help.

The weight loss got worse.

She had colitis, so she went to the GI doctor insisting it was a bout.

Blood work showed nothing.

Her primary doctor sent her for thyroid and cancer tests.

Again, nothing.

She didn't mentioning the mood swings to the doctors. Why should she?

Her husband and others said, "Go to a therapist."

Of course, she saw the therapist during one of her "normal" phases.

"You don't need therapy. It sounds like you're just under appreciated."

She had been in the same job position for years, hadn't succeeded in her afterwork initiatives, but the truth is she was the one holding herself back, timid, afraid of failure, and unable to stand up to aggressive personalities.

Nor did she deal well with the coworker who had physically hit her.

She had told the therapist none of this. She had held back when her boss, her husband or the therapist questioned her.

She was the classic definition of passive aggressive.

Maybe the capped bottle inside her had started to leak.

Her boss had no choice but to involve HR. Her husband had no choice but to move out.

She felt the leaking fluids festering inside of her, the skittering of a cockroach across her heart.

She knew everyone else couldn't see what was going on but how could they when she was baffled herself.

Her job, her husband, her life, her body was infested with cockroaches. And by trying to fix it all with answers, she was just spreading the bugs.

"I think it's how so-and-so treats me."

"I think it's because I don't know where I'm going."

"I think... I think... I think..."

"I wish you could hear yourself. The answer's different every time."

"I may have to fire you. Do you understand that? Figure it out."

That's when the GI doctor called.

"Listen, you've been colitis free for seven years. I'm taking you off the medicine for now. We'll see how it goes. I just don't think you need it at the moment."

She burst out crying, hung up on the old man. She was scared to say she was scared. She picked up the phone, dialed employee assistance, and set up an appointment with a new therapist.

She then dumped the last of her colon pills in the toilet and flushed.


Two weeks later, she sat in front of the therapist.

"When was the last time you cried?"

"A week ago."


"I don't know."

"Let's start from the beginning."


Two months later, here she was leaving the house with her husband still asleep in the bed upstairs.

She had gained back twenty pounds, no longer looking like the "scarecrow" her sister had lovingly and worriedly nicknamed her.

The cramping had gone away as well.

But more importantly, the depression was gone.

Her boss was elated. "Whatever you're doing is working."

The funny part - for the last two months, she had no clue what was different. It was only last night, at a colitis support group where she had the revelation.

A young woman named Samantha was recounting a similar episode.

"What happened to you?"

"My body rejected the drugs. I lost hair, started having headaches, all kinds of problems. Did you know that stuff can mess with emotions? I didn't have that part, but it was scary," Samantha said.

Jenny immediately went home and looked up reactions to her medication. Weight loss, cramping, and mood swings were among the potential reactions. Her GI doctor has always said there was a risk of rejection, that the drug could damage your liver. But she had never bothered to look at the other symptoms.

Her therapist kept telling her that although she was an anxious over-thinker, he couldn't make sense of the depression, anger, and occasional paranoia that had led her to him.

Now it all made sense.

She wondered if the new woman in the mirror - the risk taker her therapist was developing - would have been possible without her GI doctor's random decision.

Maybe everything was about timing. Even the cockroach. She wouldn't have become this new and admired woman without that damn skittering cockroach.

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Kristina England is a Virgo residing in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her poetry and fiction is published or forthcoming in Extract(s), Gargoyle, New Verse News, The Story Shack, The Quotable, Tipton Poetry Journal, and other magazines.
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