I saw a bug today. I can’t handle bugs.
From a distance, I think they are really awesome. Closer up, they are a reminder of what I grew up in.
I know, to some degree, bugs are inescapable. It’s normal to have a few gnats, a spider, maybe even a fly or two living through your house. But that was not my experience. It wasn’t a fly or two; it was dozens of flies.
I used to close my room off hoping I could keep them out, but each time several managed to remain in my space. Large, constantly buzzing, disgusting flies. I remember sitting at my desk, with my shirt over my mouth and nose, because one had been flying so close to my face that I was afraid it was going to fly right up my nose.
I remember the flies “dancing” just feet from my bed. Were they mating? Were they fighting? I don’t know. I shouldn’t know. I shouldn’t have been close enough to know.
And I couldn’t leave. I had to stay in prison. A prison infested with flies. I couldn’t even sleep because I feared I would swallow one. Even at my cleanest, I felt dirty. Flies exist in filth. And this prison was filthy.
People rarely visited, with the exception of family on Christmas. Even then, my mother would just grab trash bags, throw all of the shit sitting around the living room in the bags, and then toss the bags in the shower hidden behind the curtain. As soon as everyone left, she’d empty the trash back out all over the house. I thought that is what everyone did. Everyone must have piles of trash and useless shit sitting around their house.
I didn’t know any better, but at the same time, I recognized the conflict. As a young child, I wondered why we had to hide everything whenever someone came over. If it’s normal, why are we hiding it? Even as a child, I saw the dissonance between my mother’s words and her actions. But I could never question it. You never question the queen.
It wasn’t just the fly infestations. It was also ants. Everywhere. Not surprising at all, considering the squalor. Old food left wherever. Garbage left out. Wet cat food left out for so long it would dry up and harden, and leave a nasty stench throughout the house. The ants would travel everywhere. Hundreds of them. I would sit for hours and just kill bug after bug. I became so good at it, I could put it as a skill on my résumé.
I would obsessively clean and protect my space as best I could. I tried to clean the kitchen when my mother wasn’t home, but there was just so much shit. Shit that my mother refused to clean. She didn’t see a problem with anything. If something was old, or broken, or useless, she insisted on keeping it. No one could throw it away.
And because she would never change her ways, the filth stayed, and the bugs kept coming.
And now, every time I see bugs, I am reminded of the squalor I lived in for so long. While I am grateful to be out and in a clean environment that I can control, those experiences will stay with me.