Metamorphosis

Something caught my eye from underneath the patio table. A katydid: bright green and leaf-like, large flat abdomen, spindly limbs. The convulsing katydid appeared to be fighting a terrible, silent foe. He writhed and attempted to stand, over and over, only to fall each time. He remained still for a moment, then started again. Had I not known that his spasms likely indicated his imminent death, perhaps his dance might have been comical.

I wondered if he suffered. When I remember, I imagine his face filled with anguish. This, I know, is impossible. Yet the face haunts me in a way I cannot explain.

Those long, thin legs twitched. I found it inexplicable that he could get himself up—his body so long and flat, his legs so skinny and seemingly useless. In proportion to his body, his legs just didn’t seem strong enough to be able to lift him from lying position to semi-standing. He was trapped—both by his useless legs and by the death intent on claiming him. Time continued to be suspended; this was confirmed when my eyes flicked to the lifeless clock on the wall. 

I sort of registered the presence of my son nearby, yet I couldn’t seem to stop staring at the katydid. We watched in silence.

Suddenly, I found myself overcome by the macabre scene. I hurried inside, telling myself that I was planning to go in anyway; it had nothing to do with the bug.

Insects, presumably, simply die, just like people. Old age, illness, whatever. It’s not always shoes and poison. Still, I wondered if it was my fault that he was dying. We had sprayed for bugs throughout the summer; likely, there was still poison remaining on the patio. Inside the house, I felt uneasy.

***

The first pangs signify labor. They wake me up and I just know. Just as quickly as I realize this, I note that the fear I’ve expected is surprisingly absent. I look out across the room but it’s dark and inky. The soft red glow from the digital clock brightens only the immediate area next to my head. 4 a.m. I decide to start timing the contractions but instead I drift off to sleep. 6 a.m. Light jolts me awake. Slowly, calmly I rise and trudge up the stairs to the kitchen. I actually feel good with each step, despite my enormous belly and stiff, swollen ankles. In the kitchen, I find my mother and grandmother. I say nothing, but something in my face gives it away. They jump in unison and their voices rise, chiming like bells, filling my ears and my mind. I cringe and walk away. I want to shower.

I take my time showering, bending over and gasping every so often as the tremors take over my body. I grit my teeth as the pain comes, allow myself to feel the fear until the pain passes.

I emerge from the foggy bathroom, scrubbed clean, dressed, and made-up. The looks on my mother and grandmother’s faces are identical—their expressions reflect the panic and fear I perhaps should be feeling. I label my thoughts as clichés, but they fit anyway: this is it; it all changes now.

Eighteen hours later, Kaden, my son, comes out to greet the world.

***

I went back outside later and the katydid was motionless. Kaden, from behind me says, Oh. How sad.

 I felt something move in my chest, something almost like loss.

***

 

My husband came in from the garden, excited about the praying mantis in the green beans. He brought him home from work, he said, and left him right there next to the trellis. He relayed the story of finding the praying mantis in the parking lot at work, locating an empty pack of cigarettes, stuffing the praying mantis in the box, and carrying it around in his front pocket all day until he came home to set him free. He opened the pack sometimes, he said, and each time the praying mantis had his little legs hooked on the edge, peeking out. I imagined it vividly. In my mind he looked confused, scared. In my mind he looked cartoonish, unreal.

***

One week later, Mike declared, He’s still in the beans. He must like it here. I nodded, but disagreed inside. He’s our prisoner. He can’t like it here.

I thought about the praying mantis. I wondered about the trauma of being trapped in an empty pack of cigarettes for a day before being placed in an unfamiliar environment. Could he really be happy? Maybe he is in so much despair that he’s rendered immobile. It seemed impossible that he could make it all the way back to where he came from, even if he knew where that was. What if he had a wife? Or a favorite bush that he called home?

I pondered the incidence of Stockholm syndrome in insects.

***

It’s just Kaden and me tonight, and I feel obligated to do something with him. I tease him about taking him on a “date.” He protests the term, but I see his face flush with honor and excitement. We drive to a burger place. Our conversation is strained, monotonous. Mostly we eat in silence and I yearn for home with such force that it borders on resentment.  

We end up at the mall. We spend a good 45 minutes in a store full of gag gifts, funny coffee mugs, and pot leaf brownie pans. I laugh with him, but my hand remains on my phone as I constantly check the time. I’m exhausted by the time we get home. I entertain the idea of offering a make-up date another weekend; it’s on the tip of my tongue to suggest some wild, expensive activity that he would probably love. I agonize, thinking about all I have to do over the next few days, about the hours I lost this evening doing what amounted to an inattentive parent’s lackluster outing with a neglected ten-year-old.

I turn to Kaden to apologize for the uninspired evening and I notice that his grin is wide, his eyes glitter in the light of the kitchen. This, he says emphatically, was the best night ever. His skinny arms wrap around my waist, and he squeezes before running back to his bedroom. It feels like a blow to my gut. I want to cry. I sink into the sofa and let the shame wash over me from head to toe.

***

As the sun set and the stifling summer heat waned slightly, I went out to the garden. The solar lights illuminated the droopy leaves, wilted from the late afternoon sun. I watered the pots of herbs, closed my eyes and inhaled the sweet odors of orange mint and the nearby basil. I plucked the weeds that surrounded the ripening tomatoes and swelling cucumbers.

I avoided the beans. I did not want to catch the eyes of the praying mantis, for fear that I might recognize the look in them.

***

Mike tells me a horrific story about an ugly and misshapen wolf spider he caught in a box. Later, he opened the box and the light startled dozens of small, black miniature spiders from her body. They scattered around the box before reorganizing on her abdomen. Their presence created a lumpy monstrosity.

I learn that the female wolf spider carries her babies on her back until they are big enough to hunt on their own. Dozens of them cling to her as she hunts.

The wolf spider mother carries her babies for few weeks, feeling their presence every moment of every day until one day they scurry off, no longer needing her. She likely never sees them again. Is she haunted by their memory when they are gone? Does she feel their little bodies on her back like a phantom limb? Does she ache with grief and loneliness? Or, does she feel liberated, free from the burden of responsibility?

This final thought resonates with me. It couples with shame.

***

It’s quiet.

I wish Kaden a happy birthday as the morning rays spill through the kitchen blinds. The sunlight illuminates his face, and he gives me a sly smile. I touch his thick, coarse blonde hair—so much like mine in color, yet so different in texture. I smile back, suddenly remembering his once soft, baby-fine pale hair…when did it change?

Eleven seems impossible; I remember his fifth birthday vividly, as though it were yesterday. In eleven, I see possibility: the man he will be, the way his sensitivity will wound him in the years to come, his eventual absence from the kitchen in the mornings. I sense hints of the emotions I, his mother, will feel as he emerges from the cocoon of childhood. Fear, pride, emptiness, freedom, time, loss. I’m sure he would say he’s ready.

But I’m not.

 

2013