When I was young, I went through many phases.
My childhood can be clearly divided into the obsessions I developed and practiced religiously.
The most memorable to me were the months in which I dedicated my every waking hour to the pursuit of scientific knowledge.
In the past, I had been terrorized by insects.
They were constantly popping up in places that seemed unnatural and inappropriate, like in my bed or clinging to the edge of a toilet.
To me, there was nothing worse than curling up in your freshly cleaned bed sheets, laying your head down on the pillow, and closing your eyes, only to feel the tingling sensation of tiny little legs skittering across the back of your neck and into your hair.
There was one period of time in my childhood when I kept discovering strange looking bugs in my comb after I finished fixing my hair.
These were no lice. Compared to a louse, these bugs were Godzilla.
I would pick it out of my comb, shudder, and hope it would be an isolated event.
But these particular bugs became all too common a sight in my hair each morning.
I looked through books to identify the bug so I could read about it. I needed to know if it was an insect that might dwell in one’s hair.
When I matched the species up with the bedbug, it wasn’t easy information to swallow.
Eventually, my anxiety about the situation grew into something of a maniacal frenzy. I scratched my head until it bled and pulled clumps of hair out of my scalp.
“They’re living in my hair!” I screamed at my parents.
“Lenore, they can’t be! They’re too big to live in your hair. Maybe a few made their way up there accidentally, but there’s no colony of bedbugs in your hair,” they’d say.
Days went by, and I didn’t spot another one.
My head was free of the bedbug infestation, but the scratching from all the psychosomatic itching left my scalp scabby and even itchier. It was weeks before the dried blood stopped falling from my head. My mom even tried to get a new bed such as these hospital beds engineered for safety as well as new pillows.
And after all of it, it seemed all too likely that I had imagined the whole thing.
This incident soured my relationship with bugs. They became my enemies. It didn’t take them long to realize that they had messed with the wrong little (possibly delusional) girl.
I decided to direct all of my scientific experiments in the direction of bug research. Only bugs, though. I would never hurt a real animal.
Most kids like to catch bugs and put them in jelly jars. They punch a few holes in the top and throw some sticks in there in an effort to recreate their natural habitat and try to keep the insects alive long enough to call them pets.
I did this too, but I didn’t make air holes in the jar. Instead, I watched to see how long it took for them to suffocate. Then I’d document specific reaction times in a little spiral notebook.
I referred to them as my “findings.”
This process was not, to me, an exciting one. It was a matter of importance in the scientific community. If I didn’t run tests to see how long a certain insect could survive without air or water, who would? How would we as a people ever know? The way I saw it, my lab experiments were a necessary evil. Humans simply needed this information. Or else. Or else what? Would you really want to risk whatever the answer to this question may be?
In another form of experimental science, I spent many summer nights in my childhood smacking lightning bugs with a baseball bat and then spreading their glowing torsos across my driveway with my sneaker. The faint light would last for up to thirty seconds when you hit the lightning bug at just the right time.
That took practice.
Once the lightning bug butts had stopped shining their brilliant light, I collected samples and placed them on slides for a microscope. My parents had bought me a science kit that included a microscope and other fun lab equipment. Hours would go by as I gathered bug guts and wings to magnify.
As a scientist, I was careful, meticulous. I catalogued every specimen, just like my father had taught me. “Real scientists catalogue,” he said. “Don’t be sloppy with your work. If you get sloppy, you’re at risk of being sued.” So I was careful. Just as soon as a glob of dragonfly brain was smeared across the slide, it was properly labeled and stored.
My mom let me set up my lab on the kitchen table. I would carefully study each sample and sketch them in my notebook along with all of my other findings. Because I had labeled them so professionally before, I was able to keep very accurate notes. The smell of the sample (sharp cheddar), the texture (bumpy), buoyancy (sometimes), and yes, even the taste of the sample (bitter apple), were all included. Whenever I came across a particularly interesting slide, I’d show my mother.
“What’s this I’m looking at?” She’d ask, trying to encourage my quest for education.
“It’s an ant’s vagina.”
“How do you know it’s the genital region of the ant?”
“Because I labeled it.”
“It looks red.”
“Well, she was in heat. Which would explain the extreme buoyancy.”
“Of course,” my mother agreed.
My father, while proud that I was showing an interest in something scientific rather than artistic, was not as patient. He only looked at a few slides before becoming bored, complaining that the insides of a bug are just the insides of a bug. And sometimes that’s true: The insides of a bug are just the insides of a bug. Maybe it was the truth in my father’s opinion that made me lose interest in my own personal pursuit of scientific discovery. Maybe it was the fact that I felt my beginner’s microscope was inadequate in it’s magnifying capabilities. How was I supposed to make significant scientific advances with a microscope that was stamped with a “Playskool” sticker?
I guess in the end, I did alright, anyway.
Now when I want to kill bugs, I use Raid.
I’ve discovered it’s much more efficient.