On Friday and Saturday nights we were relegated to the basement so my father and mother could watch Rated R movies. If we needed to use the bathroom, we stood at the bottom of the steps and called up for permission to come upstairs. My father yelled down the steps for us to fill his plastic cup at the keg stored in a fridge behind the paneled basement wall.
We tried to curl our small bodies into the cracked leather sofa, but it was a mean piece of furniture and never gave under our weight. Rough tears in the sofa pressed seams into our sweaty legs, and getting off the sofa was like peeling a box of bandaids from our thighs.
Crickets hopped into the basement every summer. They were black and shiny and prehistoric. They could survive a nuclear fallout. They were armored and they jumped quick and high and far. The males pulled their wings across each other behind the walls, scaring us even when we couldn’t see them. Their bodies were heavy and imposing, their back legs were freakishly thin. They wore Darth Vader helmets, and they had long, thin antannae. When we watched TV, they leapt across the floor, appearing out of nowhere.
We teetered on the sofa holding heavy black textbooks over our heads. We swayed under the weight and threw the books at the crickets. Occasionally the book smacked over the cricket, killing it. More often, the book landed near the cricket, scaring the cricket into a high, desperate leap into the air. We screamed and bent at the knees, scampering across the sofa, our feet slipping between the cushions. This was not the fun fear of children playing. This was terror. I believed they could eat my face and kill me, and those hours spent with the crickets in the basement have left me petrified of crickets into adulthood.