The bugs are coming out. Little fly things, spiders, mosquitoes – they are creeping through the cracks of our doors and windows, hiding in the threads of our carpet and coming out when we least expect them.
This makes me nervous. The other day, I was at home in San Jose. While taking a shower, I lifted the bottle of shampoo to find a giant spider lurking in a corner of the tub. I screamed, naturally.
I think my fear of spiders is inherited. My mother used to tell me stories of the fist-sized spider that sat in a corner of their bathroom in Vietnam. She was terrified of it. To worsen matters, her aunt used to tell her that if she was bad and went to hell, there would be nothing but spiders – millions and millions of them – crawling all over her. As a result, I grew up learning that it was perfectly acceptable to crawl into a corner and screech for my father whenever I saw a spider in my room. Even to this day, I’ll hand my brother an old magazine or rolled up newspaper and beg him to carry out the task for me.
My fear of cockroaches, on the other hand, is not inherited. This comes from all the nights I’d spend at my grandmother’s house in Orange County. First of all, the house was already large and creepy. As a child, I would hold my breath before walking through the dark hallways at night, cringing for fear that a hand would shoot out of nowhere and grab at my shoulder. Secondly, going into the kitchen for a drink of water would produce an unpleasant scuffling across the tiles as the shiny black roaches scuttled past my slippered feet and ducked underneath the cabinets.
I live in perpetual fear of tiny feet and antennae tracing up my back and trailing over my feet. I hate bugs. I kill them without remorse. Sometimes, when I’m bored, I fantasize about living in a world without insects. Screw pollination and whatever else it is that makes insects useful. We could make do without.
It’s funny how irrational fears can be sometimes. I’ve never had a truly traumatizing experience concerning insects, unlike my friends who have had bugs fly into their mouths while they’re simply standing there. My mother’s friend has a son who bit into a sandwich only to discover that a bee had lodged itself between the slices of bread. It stung him on his palate, and the experience was so disturbing that the next time a bee flew into his car, he literally panicked and drove into a flagpole.
But nonetheless, I fear. I dread the idea of cockroaches taking over my apartment; I cringe at the thought of spiders hiding underneath the sinks.
I remember two summers ago when my cousin and her family were over. Her daughter, Kayla, was four years old at the time and was staying in my room with me. She had an irrational fear of the chirping sound that crickets made outside our window. Throughout the night, she’d wake me up with terrified whispers of, “What are those? I’m scared!”
For the first two nights, I’d mumble, “It’s just the crickets. Just try to sleep,” and try to go back to bed. How was I supposed to explain a mating call to her anyway? Finally, on the third night, I rolled over and mumbled some ridiculous explanation about cricket princes who wanted to find their cricket princesses.
“It’s like a song,” I explained. “Like a love song, or something.”
Oddly enough, this explanation was all it took to satisfy Kayla and expel her fears. For the rest of her stay, she’d lie still for a moment after getting into bed and then whisper, “It’s the cricket princes, isn’t it? Have they found their princesses yet?”
“Apparently not,” I’d whisper back.
I guess it’s easy to cure a person of some fears: crickets, strange and exotic foods, a new school. But some things are not so easy to shed: rejection, meeting new people, disgustingly large spiders.
I would like to think that with time, we will all learn to live with the things that scare us. We will be able to turn our pauses into forward steps, our fears into fairy tales.
In the meantime, though, I think I will continue to stock up on arsenals of old magazines and newspapers strategically stacked around my apartment. After all, you never know when something’s going to creep up on you.
TERESA PHAM needs a battalion of on-call spider squashers. Submit your resumes to firstname.lastname@example.org. XXX