5/27/20: A Big Black Bug

I don’t go to sleep easily, but it’s very easy for me to zone out. Really all it takes is a persistent background noise, something low and insistent and monotonous, and my brain starts moving in unison with the susurrant loop, and whole tens of minutes go by as I stare blankly at something, registering nothing, thinking about nothing, aware of nothing except the sub-conscious rhythm of my mind futilely fingering oblivion like its a bolt of cloth it’s considering buying.

This happens a lot in the shower. I can easily lose 30, 40 minutes of time in the textured sound of falling water. Especially now, when there isn’t anywhere to go, not enough work that I’m willing to do, and nothing to get back to except the constant anxious thrum of life in a pandemic.

(That anxious thrum by the way is now so familiar that it’s almost possible to forget about it; which feels worse than the more active fear of earlier months on some level.)

Today I was in the shower, in a low trance, when I looked over the curtain after catching an impression of movement in the space between my eye and ear: a sort of fuzzy drone, neither sight nor sound. I saw that against the ceiling there was a big bug, some kind of winged insect. The bathroom was steamy, and I wasn’t wearing my glasses, but it didn’t look like any bug I’d ever seen before. It looked like two hornets sewn together, end to end, with a point on either extremity. It was all black, about the length of a AAA battery. Its wings moved so fast they only registered as a circumference of haze haloing the bug’s body. That body was long and segmented, with a major joint in its middle, so that one half was crooked down, like a hag’s finger.

Something was wrong with it. It was moving hectically. It kept buzzing up and colliding with the ceiling, and then dropping, and then darting in a random direction and colliding with the ceiling again. I willed it to go away, to stay somewhere I could watch it and finish my shower. Bugs fill me with dread because they’re too small to control. They look horrible, but that’s not their most excruciating quality. I wouldn’t mind their nightmare forms if they were easy to manage, easy to keep track of, to corral or repel. But it came towards me, feverishly flew over the shower curtain. It hit the ceiling again and, dropping down again, flew under the shower head and was brought violently down on the ledge of the tub by the running water.

On its side, and closer to me now, it still looked inchoate and abnormal, still like two bugs fused together, or struggling in some sort of martial embrace or mating dance. It kicked and turned by my shampoo bottle. It spun in place, describing little half circles, and the dropped part of its body quivered.

I took the showerhead down on its ribbed tube and pointed it at the bug. The spray pushed it up against the corner where the tub met the wall, and then the bug slid down and forward into the tub itself. It sluiced quickly to the drain. It was just big enough to catch on the lip of the drain lid, so I applied the water directly again, until it went down the drain completely. I kept the showerhead pointed at the spot for a few more seconds, in case it should try to come up again.

I don’t like to kill things, but I didn’t agonize over what I did. Guilt is not what I felt, but I did feel, briefly, something. I can’t say what kind of life is in insects; it can be hard to move towards the life in other human beings even, and an insect’s life force is much more remote than even that. But there was some kind of life there, an unrepeatable fragment of vitality, and I felt something, watching the drain and wondering if the bug would crawl back out, angry, and fly at me with whatever stingers or pincers it had. Briefly I thought about what it was going through: was it dead already, or was it lodged in the pipe, confused, blinded maybe, or maybe it was injured: did the heavy water ruin permanently the onion skin of its wings, the only beautiful thing on its body? Do bugs fight against inevitable death, or do they recognize and move into it docilely, like an audience being called back to its seats after intermission? Is there some grief at the final severance, or just some last insectoid calculations, a final balancing of the books? What I’m asking is, is the death of something so small and so different a tragedy, or a procedure?

But there was no permanence to these thoughts. They didn’t stick in my head. It was just a second or two before I reentered the standard environment of human anxiety, and all the day’s worries and persistent anxieties rushed back in, the way the sound of the engine refills the car as soon as the window is closed.

Because there’s this kind of selective, obliterating discontinuity to the mind. It transitions so quickly out of certain thoughts, certain moods – even as others drag on, unstoppable, for hours, days, months, years. There was just a flash of poignancy for me after killing that bug, a brief phase where it didn’t seem ridiculous or maudlin to consider the nature of its life, the horror and mutilation I’d inflicted upon it mainly because I was naked and vulnerable and didn’t want it touching me.

But the poignancy was chased down some interior drain of its own, and I won’t remember any of this tomorrow, or maybe even later tonight when I stare trancelike at the ridges and whorls of the ceiling with the TV on low, whispering white noise soothingly. The mind is so miserly with permanence, it pushes so much out into the long washes of time, the endless, obfuscating, obliterating white noise of the past.

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