That first morning I made fried eggs. I scooped out a glob of coconut oil and watched as it seeped to the corners of my grandmother’s cast iron skillet. The heat, turned up too high, made this short task an emergency. I frantically fanned the shrieking smoke alarm with a nearby cutting board, quickly switched the stove vent to HIGH, and uttered a concise expletive underneath it all.
Sometimes I have dreams that are mostly nightmares. And in the nightmare I know that it is a nightmare but I also know that it is a truth, or at least a truth that is trying to be a Truth and one that is trying to make itself known to me.
The other night I had one of these nightmares.
I was in an enormous amphitheater. The kind where you might find both a Greek play or a ballet recital on any given weekend. The arena was packed. There were people milling about the stage. Some were waiting for me. Some were waiting for something or someone else. Some were extremely invested and attentive, others were just present.
As I walked in, a path cleared and I kneeled down in the middle of the stage, only then realizing it wasn’t me they had gathered to see, it was this incredible albino translucent frog. It lay on its back on that blue rubbery stuff I hadn’t seen since dissection day in seventh grade.
As I peered down, I could see every part of its insides. The veins, the arteries, the organs. What ran through this frog seemed foreign and real, and suddenly I felt at one with it, as if I was looking down into a reflection of myself, and what I saw was obscenely familiar.
This frog, so obviously in pain, looked up with an earnest face that met mine as though it had been in a state of patient impatience for my arrival. It was the only being in the place relieved to see me, happy to see me. This frog, my frog, smiled at me the most warm and human smile I had ever felt. It smiled at me in a way that I felt at once an intense and sincere connection, and it was at this very instant someone thrust in my hand a scalpel. The intent in this action was immediately understood and appalling.
I could not.
I would not.
As I searched the crowd for someone that might help I felt something grab my other hand. I looked down, and this frog, my frog, had reached for and grabbed my hand. I stared in disbelief- first at our hands, and then up to meet the gaze of this frog. No words were exchanged, but I heard his voice in my head- do this for me. It’s what I need. Please. It’s what must happen. Don’t leave me like this.
There was a sense that this frog, my frog, knew that its purpose here was to be exposed, to be made known, to be seen in a way that might force others to learn, feel, and understand just how deep pain lies, and that, even in an incredible pain that is seen by all, known by all, ignored by all, that it is still in fact pain, and will course through veins poisoning our being, weakening our bodies, destroying our purpose, as though it knows that the very act of bravery it needs will never be committed, because only in that act could this pain be released and allowed a journey that becomes part of somewhere else, someplace else… because even in the release it then becomes the worst possible act of another, an act that the other, well there is no other, just me- an act that I never thought nor felt nor could have imagined was even possible to commit.
I stood in place, and tightened my grip on the scalpel in hand.
I continued this gaze with my frog. I felt in my heart the rush of sadness. The rush of hurt. The rush of supplication. The rush of movement all around, but in this place, in this magnetic space between this frog’s face and mine- time was standing still just for us, so that I could receive what I needed to receive, to understand what needed to be understood, so I could do what needed to be done, without turning back. And it was amidst this rush that I pressed the scalpel just hard enough through the space where its heart was pumping. A tiny trickle of redness fell to the side and ruined what was once pure. What was once contained was now not, and the trickle grew to a steady stream as I continued in the task. Mixed with its blood was an expulsion of sadness, pain, guilt,… loneliness. I hadn’t realized I was violently crying through the death of this frog, my frog, and that also, among this incredible surge of emotion, was a calmness, a peace.
I stayed in my responsibility until I felt my frog lose its grasp from my hand and lose its grasp from a life observed, critiqued, and mis-purposed.
And suddenly I was awake.
The peace was gone. In its place was a heaviness. I was heavy with sweat, heavy with confusion, heavy with hurt, heavy with the image of this frog’s gaze keeping mine, and the rush of its emotion that had pushed its way into every crevice of my being.
I couldn’t shake the images of this frog. They followed me for days, weeks. And even now, months later, its face still haunts me, reminding me of an act equally terrible and freedom-filled. How does this get reconciled? I’m certain it can’t.
I wanted to be rid of them. Those images. And the rememberence of feeling another’s pain so completely that it led to me doing the one thing I never thought possible.
I wanted so badly to be rid of them. I fell asleep intentionally tipsy on the warmth of bourbon so that I might have some other awfully fantastic dream that would at least not be this dream, but I was never allowed that possibility. When sleep did come, it came in short interrupted bits that constantly awoke me in fits of sweat and disgust.
I wanted so badly to be rid of this frog, but I couldn’t. It was there. I was there. It was indeed a part of me, and I had to stand up, next to it, scalpel in hand and look up and into the faces surrounding me that had gathered; the only real benefit being that because of this concert of pain my sins were already known, already seen, already ready for judgment.
And once I had accepted these acts, this nightmare was nightmare no more, holding its cruel power over all my hours. This nightmare is now my Truth and I will accept its awkward invitation, staying instead in its warm quiet presence and sinking finally into its arms, in restful needed sleep. Knowing that tomorrow would hold time enough to converse with this Truth and all its likely companions.
The fly sat on my bedside table. Staring. Greeting me with judgment, that I dare disturb its schedule. It was not a regular fly. It was overly iridescent. At the end of its abdomen was a stinger. And based on my training and experience I know a housefly shouldn’t have a stinger. I know it had a stinger because it didn’t move, not even one antennae as I approached. I sank to its level. I stared back, my two pupils no contest for its compound eyes. I found it immediately irritating. How dare it take ownership in my space, perched overly close to where I rest my body. And since it had the stubbornness to just sit there, I put my cup on top of it. Suffocating its flyness. I immediately felt remorse. But not remorse enough to move my cup remorse.
I went about my business. I put away clothes that were in a laundry purgatory in the corner of the room. I brushed my teeth. Picked out clothes for the next day. Still thinking about that fly. Wondering what its fate should be. Thinking that maybe it should have done what every other normal fly would have done given my presence, and flown away. I looked for a tissue. Specifically for the box of tissues I had put in my children’s bathroom just the day before, the box that boasted: A: ALLIGATOR, in an overly inviting blue and green, a box that entices a two year old to want to pull out every single tissue in one sitting, I was looking for that box, but it was missing. So I grabbed exactly two squares of toilet paper. Two squares, because one and I would have to feel too much of the fly, and three would be excessive and wasteful for this task.
If I were the conspiracy theorist type, I would think this is what a drone fly looks like. Equipped with a tiny camera and tiny boom mike. Sent in this space to gather my creepy secrets as if it were conducting a very important research study concerning, among other interests, human flossing habits, to determine if I floss only the two weeks leading up to my dental appointments or actually every day of the whole year as I unfalteringly tell my dentist I do. If I were the conspiracy theorist type that’s the sort of thing I would think.
As I flushed the fly, I didn’t feel redemption. I felt disgusted in my need to keep my space clear of such beings, small and innocuous as they might be. I was disgusted by my interactions with it, that I couldn’t ignore it or wait it out for it to just fly away. I was disgusted that I let it become a part of my day and that I had given it a backstory. If the fly had done what it was named to do, my conscious could be free and clear of these affairs.
Three days later my son complained of a shiny bug with wings and awful eyes staring at him in his sleep.
My immediate thought: now it’s an infestation. And then: wondering if entomophobia can be inherited.
Two days after my son complained of the awful bug on his wall I saw a spider. I crouched to study it, expecting of course an ordinary spider. Hope within hope was lost almost immediately. It was not an ordinary spider. What I would give for a regular, friendly, slightly humorous and anecdotal black spider of the Charlotte variety. This was not a Charlotte. The abdomen of this spider was a deep penetrating red, seeming to draw its color from its vein like legs, a lesser red that promoted the circulation of its eerie color throughout the rest of its body. At its mouth were pinchers much like a scorpion, possibly not out of place, but unexpected on this creature. The thing reminded me of poison and immediate death. It crept along the edge of my bathtub, and once aware of my presence, it held still for its inspection. I explained to it that I had already met its accomplice several days back and that it had been no match for my two pieces of toilet paper and had met a swirling watery end by flush.
I afforded the spider no courtesy of time under a cup. This thing was immediately categorized as harmful and hazardous, and thereby removed.
Aside from wondering why my home seemed haven for all sorts of villainous pests, I gave the thing no further thought.
Except that this (hopefully) lone red spider reminded me of a true infestation of a colony of incredibly small spiders I once saw swarming on a wall. At first I thought they were tiny ants. But as I pressed my face next to the wall at an adjacent angle, I saw that they were the fastest, reddest, tiniest spiders I had ever seen.
Several weeks later, possibly not by coincidence, I moved.
There is this garden, and when I say garden, I remember it being more forest than garden, but a forest of orange trees, trees growing lady fingers, morning glories, and rows and rows of strawberries. These beautiful plants and fruits grew together in what seemed to me, at age six, an incredulous forest of horticulture, each plant growing into the next, extending itself just to the point where it met, but did not overwhelm its neighbor. It seemed a haphazard symphony of growth and sunshine that additionally emitted an amazing aroma that could unmistakenly only be earth.
The air here was filled with this sound of the world actually growing, and underneath, it was a cacophony of tiny inhabitants, unaware of the glorious show above. At age six, I was happy just to be with my Grandpa as he walked his land, listening as he described each plant by its scientific name and why it was planted and where, not by accident at all. I usually stayed quickly near his side, because he walked with knife in hand, eager to share the fruits of his labor, my stomach a welcome recipient. He would slice and share our way through his trees, walking slowly, keeping pace with my questions and small legs. He would chuckle as my face soured when I heartily devoured what I thought was sweet navel, but was in fact pure grapefruit.
One afternoon, I heard my brothers run out into this garden. I was always left behind, but I was quick to catch up. I found one brother jumping up and down on what looked to be a rectangle of carpet. Obviously it was out of place here in this space, but my six-year old mind did not continue on with the question of why it might be there.
I did my sisterly duty of pushing my brother off the carpet, and proceeded to jump and jump and jump and jump and jump.
My squeals of delight turned quickly to cries of terror. I suddenly felt piercing stings all over, all at once. My legs were covered in fire ants. Not a few, not twenty, my legs were completely covered in ants, as though they were intent on eating me alive as quickly as possible. I screamed and started running to the house. My Grandma appeared at the porch and kept me from entering, but told me to strip while she got the hose. My brain somehow caught on, but instead of waiting for her to find a source of water, I stripped, ran 300 feet past the house, and promptly jumped in their lake.
That night I lay carefully on the couch, my body having been soaked in a full bottle of calamine lotion. My legs, stomach, and hands a cakey mess of pinkish white relief. My brothers grinning behind their books, trying ineffectively to not burst out laughing every five minutes. They were only too happy that I served the brunt of that harsh lesson of why one would leave pieces of carpet out in a garden. It was my Grandpa’s first line of defense in the extinguishing of fire ant mounds.
Of course, and obviously.
I’m sure there is also a Charlotte-esque type moral here, something along the lines of being mindful in other people’s habitats, or not jumping blindly on carpet that might be holding something else back, down, or away. Or possibly even, not pushing ones brother, or against horseplay in general.
If those were the lessons I was to learn that day, I didn’t. All I can trace to that day in the garden is that it was the beginning of my life versus insects, all.