When something goes bump in the night, I leap into action. I do not cower. I’m filled with an abundance of adrenaline that I’ve been trying to free myself of for decades. As a child, my father would answer the call of bogeymen, but in the many years since, I’ve been quick to bolt out of bed and grab a weapon — a pewter candleholder, the pointy-nosed clothes iron, the hardback version of the Dalai Lama’s The Art of Happiness, whatever’s handy — and stalk the hell out of the noise-maker. In those moments I have zero doubt that I could destroy an intruder with Happiness, bullets be damned. To date, this drama has only gone as far as Act One, probably because my general aura of Navy Seal-ishness works like a force field around the house.
Sadly, I don’t have the same precision attack instincts for insects. I’m mightily afraid of them. Pretty much all insects. When a bug shows up in the house, my adrenaline explodes into a cloud of fear, and the Dalai Lama bugs out. I don’t trust their size and speed; I can’t comprehend their ghoulish exoskeletons; I’m allergic to bee stings and therefore reasonably deduce that all bugs can asphyxiate me, so I get a head start by hyperventilating when they approach. Worse, I know that where there’s one bug, there are a dozen more hiding nearby, ready to rush me and take over the world. They’ve been lying in wait not just all winter but since the Big Bang, and they outnumber us by zillions. They sit around deep underground and in trees and walls and laugh at our insecticides and our flyswatters and plot the demise of the human race. Someday, we will answer to cockroaches.
I’ve seen foreshadowing galore. Not long ago, I saw a spider on a wall in the house, experienced the near-fatal rise of adrenaline and yelled for my partner to come get it. What happened next changed my life. When she squished it with a flip-flop, hundreds of baby spiders came running out of — off of? — the dying spider, covering our floor and half of the wall in what can only be described as a Trojan-Horse-style invasion of arachnids. I ran for the can of Raid, and she began pounding them with the flip-flop, and in the fog of war, I exterminated babies. When it was over, their little corpses littered the living room, and when we should’ve been celebrating victory or at least high-fiving our survival, we were instead overcome with shame. What had we done? They were babies! We began the mournful process of sweeping up their sad eight-legged corpses. In the dark of night, I lay awake Googling, “Do spiders feel pain?”
I love spring. I love the desert. I trust that I still wield the corners of Happiness deftly enough to scare off the bogeyman. But I also know that with the blooming of flowers comes a new generation of stealthy insects. In my rational mind I fully appreciate their role in the ecosystem, and in the months since arachnopocalypse, I’ve made every effort not to kill anything so willy-nilly. I’ve also tried really hard to erase that experience from my memory, where instead it grows like an anthill. Still, I’ve begun to admire the artful webs in the corners of the porch outside, if not the ones in my head, and I’ve become weirdly interested in scientific research about the central nervous systems of insects. Of my own nervous system, however, there is no news. Still vigilant.