Three Short Stories About Bugs, and Their Attendant Life Lessons

(The creepy crawly kind! Don’t worry, though: there are no photos. I’m not a monster.)

Bugs! We can all agree that they are horrifying, yes? Yes, and I will brook no dissent on this point. My proof: yesterday, I read my first and last Reddit thread ever, about a woman with severe arachnophobia for which she is in extensive therapy, whose nightmarish excuse for a “boyfriend” thought it would be “funny” to spend a period of months accumulating a jar full of spiders, then pour the contents of the jar over her head as a “surprise.” (Spoiler alert! She dumped him.) The cruelty perpetuated by this medieval spider king masquerading as a contemporary human person resulted in a Reddit thread in which 100% of participants agree that she is justified not only in refusing to take him back, but in burning down his house.

Opposable thumbs, the ability to accessorize, and being extremely creeped out by spiders: these are the things that make us human.

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PROLOGUE

I am really, really scared of almost all bugs.

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ACT ONE: The Creeping Horror

I am six years old, maybe seven. After a rough afternoon of hijinks on Frederick Place — I’m going to guess that we were either playing Red Rover or were roller skating and pretending to be Olympians, in which case I was definitely Katerina Witt — I laid down under the birch tree on Nicole Spadafino’s front lawn and briefly fell asleep. Not for long, and then I got up and went home for dinner.

While sitting at the dinner table refusing to eat because my Italian-born mother had the temerity to make tomato sauce out of the fresh summer tomatoes she painstakingly jarred with olive oil and basil each year rather than buying Ragù like a real American,* I started hearing a noise.

Scritch, scritch.

Scritch, scritch.

Like, in my head.

Scritch, scritch.

It did not get me out of eating dinner. It did go on for most of the night, though I eventually managed to fall asleep. I woke up the next morning, greeted by sunshine, some kind of awful homemade Italian non-Froot Loop breakfast, and scritch, scritch.

At the doctor’s office, a nurse peered into my right ear and thought she saw something — probably a ball of wax, or maybe a Eustachian tube that had moved out of place — so they squired a jet of water into my ear to flush the offender out. Some wax did come out; I’ve always been waxy.

And so did pieces of an inchworm.

I learned a valuable lesson that day: never go camping. Because camping happens in nature, and nature is where the bugs live. The bugs do not share our moral code, and have no taboos against using your body as a human warming drawer. If you voluntarily go into the bugs’ house and choose to sleep on the dirt, don’t come crying to me when you end up with a sinus cavity full of beetle eggs. The rest of us will be at the Hilton, enjoying the indoor plumbing and lack of vermin crawling into our various orifices.

* You are perhaps not surprised to learn that I was an intractable child with poor taste. Yes, I kick myself now.

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ACT TWO: The Enbuggening 2, Electric Boogaloo

I am thirteen years old. My Aunt Mirella has come to visit from Florida; it will be four more years before I learn that she’s not actually a blood relative, but had been the Mother Superior in the Italian convent where she and my mother were both nuns before inexplicably leaving the church and moving to Bayonne, New Jersey. Because I am the youngest member of the household, Aunt Mirella gets my bedroom during her stay.

There are a lot of tchotchkes on my dresser because I want to look cool and interesting, and I’m still trying to figure out who I am.* Among them is a small ceramic bell; don’t ask my where I got it or why I thought it would contribute to “cool and interesting,” because I don’t know.

Aunt Mirella is well aware of my feelings about bugs, namely, that I would saw my own leg off with a rusty teaspoon rather than voluntarily be in proximity to a bug. At the end of her visit, she tells me that under the bell, she has placed (1) a $100 bill and (2) a centipede. If I can lift the bell and confront the centipede, the $100 is mine.

In retrospect, I now understand why so many children do not like nuns.

After her departure, I refuse to enter my bedroom for three days, sleeping on the living room couch. Eventually, my father goes in and cleans off the dresser. One hundred dollars is a small price to pay for peace of mind.

Marie Kondo be damned: this is why you should not have useless tchotchkes cluttering up your surfaces. Fewer tchotchkes means fewer opportunities for terrible people to play bug-related pranks on you, and as a side benefit, you’ll spend a lot less time dusting.

Of course, this story has a secondary, more insidious lesson: never trust a grown up. Because there was neither cash nor bug under that bell.

I know! I know.

* I have several more decades to go on this project. Or, as an Apple product might say, “One minute remaining.”

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ACT THREE: Denouement 

I am twenty years old, living off-campus during my senior year of college with my best friend Dan. We have a big apartment in a nice location, in a building with a swampy underground parking garage and an ill-kept garbage chute. It’s basically a cockroach incubator with some people living in it, but the rent’s not bad. In other words: it’s a college apartment.

The roaches have some kind of deal with building management where they agree to keep out of sight until prospective tenants have seen the apartment and signed the lease, so by the time you realize that you have 342,877 other roommates who will eat all your food and scare all your friends away, it’s too late. I assume there were kickbacks involved, or maybe building management were actually six-foot-tall sacks full of roaches wearing cheap suits; unclear.

I’m managing not to go completely insane because the roaches seem to know that they should only come out at night, and only ever in the kitchen. Dan is slightly less terrified of the roaches than I am, so he’s in charge of bug-squashing any that venture over the threshold. (There’s no point in trying to kill the ones in the kitchen. There are too many, and they know where the knives are.) Knowing that they have a limited perimeter of operations keeps the roaches pretty well in line. I devise a strict schedule of eating times. We have an uneasy truce.

Then Dan goes out of town for a week. This emboldens the roaches.

They start sneaking out of the kitchen, hanging out during daylight hours. They come into the living room; fine, I can give up my daily 4:30pm Golden Girls break until Dan gets home. A few days in, they start meandering down the hallway, toward my bedroom. The place where I study. Where I sleep. Where I have my impromptu Madonna dance parties. Where I hide from the roaches. 

No.

(I had no language to express this at the time, but I now realize that I “literally could not even.” Thank you, 2013, for finally allowing me to articulate this confusing morass of feelings.)

Killing the roaches myself is a non-starter, as this involves approaching the bugs, coming into contact with them, and then disposing of their remains; touching a dead roach isn’t really much easier for me than dealing with a live one. Spraying them with Raid has the same challenge: the bugicide is a little easier, but the interment is harder with an intact corpse.

I dart into the kitchen long enough to collect all the bowls, mugs, and tupperware that I can carry — no glasses, because transparency won’t work here — and as a roach ventures more than halfway down the hall, I trap it under a piece of kitchenware. Out of sight, out of mind. They can be dealt with when the official bug executioner returns, at a time when I am safely away from the apartment.

When Dan gets home a few days later, the hallway is a minefield of overturned bowls, and I’m eating mac n’ cheese out of my hands.

The lesson here, of course, is: don’t skimp when outfitting a kitchen! Because a good set of bowls is handy for so many things.

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Happy Sunday, y’all! And remember: if a person you thought you could trust ever pours a jar full of spiders over your head, any ensuing reaction on your part is completely justified by the extreme emotional distress, up to and including blowing up the entire earth.

31 Comments

  1. I was laughing and crying in fear throughout the stories! Gosh, I didn’t have an ear incident but had a Christmas beetle stuck in my long, wild hair. It came out in pieces which sends cold shivers down my spine to this day.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. In high school I had a science teacher who thought a “fun and interesting” way to pass a class period was to show us a video about black widow spiders. This was not just any video, this was essentially the Barbara Walters 20/20 expose of the arachnid kingdom. I had never heard of black widows prior to this class. After this class it was at least 5 years before I could go to bed without first pulling back every single sheet and blanket and then putting them back on one at a time, inspecting each layer for tiny killers. This is almost certainly why I hate science. And why I describe myself as “an indoorsy kind of girl.”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. When I was a kid, my sister and I would spend hours watching the cockroaches getting caught in roach motels – not sure if that was the official name for the small rectangular box that attracted them and then had them stick inside unable to move. Don’t think I could handle that now though – at least not with a smile.

    Like

  4. Oh the cockroach story hits home… My surprise in moving to Hong Kong were the Asian flying cockroaches, brave little mother feckers, tormented me endlessly. My local friends could never stop laughing at my fear… Fortunately, there has been some strange peace between us…no longer in my flat (I keep it very clean…so maybe they now just think I am a waste of time). 🙂

    Like

  5. My first year in grad school I awoke at some ungodly early hour of the morning (something like 8am) to the sound of a surprisingly spry elephant in my tiny room.

    Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.

    I opened my eyes expecting to have to have a conversation with this elephant. (“How did you get in here.” “How do you move your giant ungainly feet so quickly?” “No, there’s no WiFi; this is 2003.”) But the elephant was surprisingly uncommunicative. Mostly, it seemed, because it didn’t exist.

    Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.

    The noise wasn’t coming from the apartment above or beside. It was definitely in my room. I sit up… and the noise sits up with me. “The call was coming from inside the house”, as it were; there is a monster in my ear.

    This being grad school, I was still a scientist. My cool, rational, scientific mind determined the best course of action was to scream uncontrollably into the void. (In this case, the void was not some douchey white dude’s existential crisis; it was my flatmates’ total apathy at hearing cries of terror reverberating throughout the apartment.) I was alone. With a monster. In my head.

    I managed to coax it out onto a tissue with some strategic head orientation. (To this day, my greatest anatomical feat.) It was dark as night. A shred of the abyss sheathed in a carapace of malice.

    And the tiniest fucking beetle I have ever seen in my life. Like, you know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? This little shit could have been their Baryshnikov. Swan lake on my ear drum.

    I crushed it as best I could (How do you crush an Ångstrom sized ball of hate?), and took it to the health center. “This was in my head. Look in my ear and tell me there are no eggs, or you will have to deal with a psychotic episode.”

    They told me there were no eggs.

    I still fear that noise.

    Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.

    I still wonder.

    Liked by 17 people

  6. Fun Fact: In Florida, we have ginormous cockroach-esque demons incarnate called Palmetto Bugs. They’re often the size of a large mouse.

    Even funner fact: Those motherfuckers will shoot chemical weapons into your screaming mouth as you attempt to rodeo clown usher them from your abode and you will taste burning for 3 days.

    Worst fact: I found one in the folds of my towel after having used it to dry. Another shower was, obv., required.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I expected a lot of commenters to come down hard on Aunt Mirella here, and I’m glad to see they have not, because I am in love with her.

    Also, a tiny spider fell from a tree into my eye once. When it crawled across my retina, a giant spider was superimposed over the entire world. It took a woman with fingernails to get it out of there, which was actually more horrifying than the spider.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Two words: Infinite Jest

    A character in that book is similarly horrified by the insect whose name I refuse to type (or utter). He traps them under glass tumblers and they steam up the cup as they asphyxiate.

    Bugs in ears make me think of Wrath of Kahn, and if there’s anything worse than a bug in your ear, it’s that movie.

    Like

        1. Daryl and I will both like you even if you never read it. But he and I have has some seriously good conversations about it, so it’d be soon awesome to have you join that club.

          Like

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