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August 15, 2022

Bug To Death

By Jeffrey Carl Jefferis

The lives of individuals are defined by many things. The lives of most individuals are defined by several things. The lives of certain individuals are defined by one thing.

Such is my life. My life is singularly defined by one single thing. Wasps.

To thwart any confusion, I am neither white, nor Anglo-Saxon, nor Protestant. On that note, however, I must admit that I do appreciate and actively seek out situations in which faith alone, rather than good works or effort, is sufficient for ultimate reward. Nevertheless, my life has been and continues to be defined not by the creepy kind of wasps, but by wasps the insects.

I was not always aware of my bane. As far as I can tell, it just doesn't work that way. Only the unnatural gifts, not curses, bestowed upon certain individuals present themselves during early childhood, infancy even. The prodigies. Wolfgang Mozart. Pablo Picasso. Bobby Fischer. Personally, I do not believe that I was a peer to any prodigy. There was no light to my dark. No north to my south. No THC to my nicotine. Then again, I did note a few years back that my nephew appeared to have an oral fixation at an oddly young age. And somebody has to be the first recognized prodigy in dentistry. Timothy Sebastian Niedermayer. Trust me. Eat all the candy you want and remember that name.

But, as I was saying, the mechanics of affliction operate on a different timeline. One in wait. In the grand tradition of the legends of Greek mythology, religious folklore, and comic book villains, burden remains veiled, and so did mine. And it does so in order to enhance its destructive efficacy. My burden lingered, suppressed behind the façade that I was to have a happy and normal life merely to lure me into thinking that I could have what I could not, namely, a happy and normal life. It is quite brilliant, really. Adding psychological sting to a physical pummeling. Like the reverse of contracting food poisoning in a hospital cafeteria a half-hour before learning that your results tested positive for ocular herpes.

As a result, my early years progressed swimmingly. When I was five-years-old, I refrained from crying after being dropped off for my first day of kindergarten, at least in front of other people. This seemed to disappoint my mother.

When I was seven-years-old, my teacher proclaimed that my cursive writing was, and I quote, "Shockingly legible for a kid unable to multiply." I countered her backhanded compliment by writing, in perfect cursive mind you, over and over again during detention on the blackboard in her room the equation, "Two times two equals whore."

And then when I was nine-years-old, I learned both to juggle and to yo-yo in less than three months. When I displayed my newfound skills to my dad, he requested that I do both at the same time. After I confessed that I could not, he called me a communist.

The precious remaining few of my formative years were passed engulfed in the pleasures of normal self-discovery. I enjoyed my first taste of Chinese food, my first hearing of curse words, and my first erection sensitive to mattress grinding. I had suffered all the expected bumps and bruises, scratches and scrapes, twists and sprains common to all physically active youngsters. But, weirdly, I had never been stung or even contacted by a bee, a wasp, a mosquito, or the like. I attribute this to good fortune, heightened awareness, frantic fleeing, and a severe pollen allergy.

That was, of course, until my curse matured beyond its capacity for anonymity. Until its unholy corpse grew too large for its sarcophagus. Until my incubus grasped that I was on the verge of legitimate contentment. In other words . . .

When I was twelve-years-old, a wasp landed on the bottom of the palm of my right hand and ruined the lives of the fifty-nine people most dear to me at that time forever.

I was standing alone in a patch of grass. There was no other person within fifty feet of me in any direction. A variety of sounds and commotion buzzed in the air. But it did not bother me. It was not obnoxious or infuriating like the sound of motorcycle muffler. It was, instead, white noise that I had effectively disregarded for many minutes in my life. Thus, I was lost in my head and, for some reason, I can still recall with absolute certainly the question that I was pondering on that specific occasion. I guess traumatic events tend to seal even the minutest details surrounding it in permanency. I was wondering if I could effectively explain the nuance of florescent light as opposed to natural light to a blind person.

Technically, I should have been more focused at that moment. I was, after all, playing right field in the little league sectional championship game. My coach-ordered positioning in right field indicated that I had mastered the basic fundamentals of remaining balanced while standing and several additional yet minimal aspects of coordination, but that I had no actual skill or talent. A win guaranteed advancement to the regional finals, and then to the state finals, and then to futures complete with corner offices, lucrative 401ks, beautiful women, and slick, red sport cars for me and all my teammates.

It was the last half of the last inning, and there were two outs with two runners on base with my team winning by two runs. At that point in my life, I had no reason to sense impending disaster. But I did have the senses required in order to feel and see a wasp land on the bottom of the palm of my right hand as I was holding my glove in front of my face to chew on the leather straps. After chewing on such a strap long enough, it resembled flavorless, yet moist, taffy.

My first physical contact with a wasp. I reacted much in the same way government commissioned, contingency scenario psychologists theorize that a normal person would respond to initial physical contact with a Martian. I jumped and screamed and hopped and squealed. I feared that the wasp would crawl up my hand and into my glove where it would roam free to bite off my fingers. Consequently, I shook my right hand wildly, flinging my glove high into the air. While I was performing this dance of the fraidy cat, I was far too frightened to realize that a fly ball had been hit in my direction. The first such one all season. Maybe the second.

As my eleven forced-friends of summer and all of their parents and grandparents watched me seemingly throw my glove at the ball, I watched as the wasp ducked below my flailing hands and descended to land on my left ankle. At that point, it was not my imagination. The wasp hurried down my sock and into my shoe. My panic increased a hundredfold as I grabbed my left foot and bounced helplessly backwards as I tried to disrobe it.

The last thing I remember was feeling a sharp pain in my right foot as I had finally dislodged my left heel from its shoe. Wait, that's not true. The last thing I remember were the screams of anger and commands overshadowing my screams of pain as I saw the baseball, which had harshly struck my right foot, come to rest beside my face after I had fallen down. Actually, that's not true either. The last thing I remember was the assistant coach, Dan Atkins, who had been designated as the team trainer based solely on his classification as CPR warden in his office, removing the shoe and sock from my right foot to examine the injury. He exclaimed two statements, one factual, one opinionated.

"You lost us the fucking game, you little bastard!" And . . . "Fuck that is an ugly foot!"

In the months that followed, I fully believed that the wasp incident was just that, an incident. Sure, it was an incident that cost me many friendships and the ability to show my face in certain neighborhoods. Sure, I did lose the game and the wasp never actually stung me. But I was certainly not the only kid to ever suffer a nervous breakdown under the intensity of a vital sporting situation. Though I was likely one of the few kids ever perceived to have suffered a nervous breakdown while, in reality, only reacting cowardly to the presence of a small and relatively harmless insect.

But, that was that. It was over and done. My athletic career, after all, had been doomed the moment I was placed in right field. And no episode occurred thereafter to confirm that I was, in fact, jinxed. What I did not understand, however, was that my curse was calculating. That it would continue its psychological warfare and sparse out its torture in waves. In other words . . .

When I was seventeen-years-old, I was sitting on the porch next to my dad not realizing that the first lips destined to ever touch my lips would be halted from touching my lips by the first wasp to ever touch my lips.

One week earlier, I had backed into a date for the senior prom, literally. I was approaching fifth period French class, well on time, when I noticed a shadow. A shadow darting and jutting across the wall. Much in the same way prepubescent male teenagers, as was I, perceive the oncoming of unwanted public nudity, be it partial of full, I panicked more than the first person to ever witness the first person who ever ingested acid.

I could see the shadow, but I could not locate its maker, Surely a wasp. As a result, my only defense was retreat. I stumbled backwards for less than one second, then I tripped over a book bag on the floor, and began to fall for three seconds. I slammed into the back of a smaller figure who turned out to be Ashley Anderson, the prettiest girl in school. Unfortunately for my masturbation fantasies, Ashley was almost immediately pulled from my path of destruction by her boyfriend, Bradley. Fortunately for my masturbation fantasies, after Bradley berated me and feigned kicking me in the ribs as I lied on the floor, Ashley pitied me. She gave me her phone number and promised that her younger sister, Abby, would agree to go to prom with me.

Abby was not nearly as pretty as her older sister. But she did have two things going for her. Well, that is to say, she had two things going for me. She was a sophomore, which meant that she could not go to prom with any handsome or socially accepted boy her own age. And, furthermore, she possessed a miraculous gift. Again, she was not nearly as pretty as her older sister, but she was also in no way shaped like her older, gymnast sister. Instead, Abby had the largest breasts of any non-morbidly obese girl in school. Her breasts were, by all accounts, full-fledged knockers.

Important to this part of my life story is that two weeks earlier, reports started circulating about a sniper who was targeting the heads of random people while pumping gas at night. Though only two people had been shot, and each of those people had been shot just over two hundred miles from my hometown, the local news sensationalized the story inasmuch as the local news was both desperately local and desperately in search of news. They even went so far as to nickname the assassin "the Numskull Killer." People in the community debated at length whether the term 'numskull' was intended to describe the intellect of the sniper or the physical state of his victims after they had been shot in the head. Opinions varied and a consensus was never reached, as far as I know.

Whatever the case, and more relevant to the unfolding of the course of my life, my dad had no choice but to agree to allow me unfettered access to his car on prom night for the first time ever. On the other hand, he otherwise remained free to act psychotically and stupidly. After seeing the last fifteen seconds of the first story regarding the so-called "Numskull Killer" and his actions in the farthest point of the tri-state region, my dad, my father, rushed to the store and bought a bicycle helmet.

Therefore, two weeks thereafter, and a week after the securing the first date of my life, my dad was not sharing a beer with his son on the porch and lessons about how to properly treat a lady and the importance of prophylactics. Instead, he was handing me an aerodynamic bicycle helmet constructed with a potentially life-saving, foam polymer lining, and decorated with golden lightning bolts overlaying its hot pink foundation. He then explained to me, in extraordinary detail, the various downsides to being shot in the head by a sniper. I must admit, I did not expect that there could be a downside to being shot in the head worse than death, but my dad made several compelling points.

Later that evening, I pulled into the driveway and picked up the delightfully jiggly Abby Anderson. I had intended on walking to the doorway, but she was sitting on the curb in front of her house when I drove up twenty minutes early, and she insisted that we get in the car and leave before I had the opportunity to meet her parents and watch as her mom surely would have teared up while taking excessive amounts of photos. Despite the inauspicious start to the night, Abby had more than outdone herself. The amount of cleavage left exposed by her silver dress indicated clearly that she had been aware of her two strengths. My mouth drooled at the sight and my brain high-fived my penis at the thought of what could soon be.

On the drive to the hotel reception hall, and in between cleavage glances, I noticed that, of course, the car needed gas. I was unsure of my ability to stand erect, for fear that it might expose other parts of me that were also, well, you get it. But I definitely could not risk missing the prom and missing the opportunity to stand beside and, most importantly, behind my shorter date.

There was, on the other hand, one other inescapable problem, namely the potentially life-saving, foam polymer lined helmet decorated with golden lightning bolts overlaying its hot pink foundation that was hidden under a rag in the backseat. You see, before leaving my house less than an hour earlier that evening, my dad had threatened to follow me, to track every move I would make and every tenth of a mile I would drive, all in the prospect of ensuring that if I did dare to pump gas into the car, his car, that I would wear the helmet to protect myself. And I knew, beyond a doubt, that he was pathetic and crazy enough to do something so pathetically crazy.

Despite my stealthy removal of the helmet from the backseat, once standing beside my car holding the pump in the gas tank, I was fair game. I was a deer in the spotlight for everyone to see, including Abby. And that she did. The ghastly look on her face as she was unable to break her stare at me via the passenger's side view mirror was unavoidable.

At that time of the day, that time of the month, that time of the year, it was the mix of light and dark that is dusk. And for me, that would mean that it was the worst of both worlds. The sun was still generating enough light and heat in my small corner of the gas station to prevent flying insects from calling it a day. In other words, a wasp landed directly on the dimple in the middle of my upper lip. In reaction, I puckered my lips and crossed my eyes to examine the creature. Though my breathing deepened and quickened, I was determined not to panic as I had five years earlier.

Eventually, I raised my eyes to see if Abby had noticed the latest addition to my ridiculous costume. She had. But, by that point, she had been motivated to forfeit the distorted image in the passenger's side view mirror and had leaned out of the passenger's window itself in order to get a complete and perfect visual. Despite my circumstances, I slightly sighed at the sight of her breasts pressed together against the bottom of the window frame on the door.

I turned my head back toward the gas tank. Stupidly, I worried that I would feel embarrassed if Abby caught me gawking at her. Turning my head, however, would crush my attempt to avoid panic. I was starting to get a headache as my eyes struggled to remain in the unnatural position necessary to see the wasp on my lip. Its wings seemed to be the size of helicopter seeds. Beyond the wasp, however, across the street and up the wooded hillside, I noticed a glare. The twinkle of glass in the shade reflecting light as if to signal one's location without making a sound. Perhaps, then, it occurred to me, the flicker of the last remnants of the day's sunlight on the scope of a sniper rifle. My helmet had not acted as the deterrent so wished by my dad.

I stepped backward violently, much in the same as I had seconds before scoring the date with Abby. And I tripped over the elevated curb supporting the gas tanks, much as I had over the book bag seconds before scoring the date with Abby.

As I fell, I was concerned first with not being shot, and second with not being stung, but there was no third. There should have been a third, but there was no third. Every muscle in my body tensed and contracted, including those in my hands and wrists. Consequently, the retreat of my body weight pulled my arm holding the nozzle from the gas tank of my dad's car with the lever still being tightly squeezed by my hand. Regular, unleaded gas showered into the air, soaking the roof of the car. As I continued to fall, my right arm gradually started to fall to my side, causing the gas to spray along the length of the car until it doused Abby's head entirely. When I eventually came to rest on the concrete, the nozzle was still gushing gas off to my side. I could hear Abby screaming, complaining about her eyes burning, before she began vomiting. Nevertheless, my eyes and concern remain fixed on the wasp. The wasp that leisurely floated above the chaos seemingly just to look down at me with a sense of stupefied curiosity. The wasp that then flew out of sight.

Several hours later, I was sitting at the car wash with my dad. Fire trucks had been called and had soon after arrived. The gas station was closed and taped off. Abby had been rushed to the hospital. And my dad's car had been towed to the car wash, just as a precaution.

It was at that point that my dad revealed to me that it was he who was sitting across the street and up the wooded hillside. He applauded the fact that I had obeyed his orders in wearing the helmet. And he applauded my ability to score such a bosomy date. While he was doing so, I was realizing that the reflection of light I saw in the brush at dusk was not caused by the lense of a sniper's scope, but by the lense of the monocular purchased by my dad at an amateur spy store.

And, that was that. It was over and done. My fantasy prom, after all, had been doomed two weeks before it had begun by a numskull who had been numb-skulled by another numskull. And no third episode occurred to confirm that I was, in fact, jinxed. What I did not understand, however, was that my curse was deliberate in its calculations. That it would continue its psychological warfare and sparse out its torture in waves, waves that would crash to shore every five years. In other words . . .

When I was twenty-two-years-old, which I believe was only a matter of days ago, but perhaps years, as I am in no position to judge, a fortunate future and a lucrative career worth a fortune was swiped from under my nose by a wasp that landed on my . . . Actually, come to think of it, a wasp did not land on me. Not on any part of my body. Not that I know of, anyway.

The last thing I remember was seeing the bridge abutment approaching the front of my car at a dazzling eighty-four-miles-per-hour. And, honestly, I feel lucky that this image was the last thing I saw. Otherwise, I would have many more questions.

The worst part about being in a coma is, well, wait, I should stop that statement right there. There are far too many horrors about being in a coma to pick the worst, and the top of the list certainly doesn't include what I am have in mind. Nevertheless, one of the crappy parts about being in a coma is not being able to clear my throat. I remember that my severe pollen allergy had been flaring up that morning, and I cannot ignore the annoyance being caused by the large nugget of mucus in my trachea.

"What mucus is to sweat, milk is to water." Mom used to say that all the time when I was a kid. Her ridiculous way of trying to remind me not to drink milk when I had a cold. She, and dad, continue to visit regularly. And they continue to talk to me and wonder whether I can hear them. I appreciate it. I really do. I just hope they continue to refrain from discussing the details of the crash within earshot of me. I positively do not want to know if my curse injured, fatally or otherwise, any other drivers or pedestrians.

I am sure the wasp did not sting me. I have no actual proof. I just know. It never actually touched any part of my body, before the crash anyway. And, in my experience, the wasp seems to have a knack for fleeing just before the moment of danger.

I had been driving down the interstate, sober and well dressed. At the time, I was a bit nervous, but in a predictable fashion. I was going to my first real job interview. My college career had been uneventful, in a variety of ways. Well, in every way, to be honest, and to my disappointment. The unwanted uneventfulness, however, did allow me the free time and restful evenings to excel in my grades. I received a degree in engineering and was being recruited by the top firm in the city. There may have been no fun in my life, but at least now I would have money, if still no fun.

I was fifteen miles from my exit when I spotted the wasp in the rear view mirror on the rear windshield. I looked several times and, to confirm my fears, I actually turned my head despite my accelerated rate of speed. I had to know. And after turning my head I did know. The wasp was on the inside of the windshield.

Based on my experiences, I reminded myself, even demanded of myself, that I stay calm. I deliberately controlled my breathing. I did not alter my driving. I did not adjust my body in the seat. But, ironically I guess, I disobeyed my own cardinal rule of wasp avoidance and it shattered me. In attempting to not become unnerved, I had taken my eyes of the wasp. And when I next checked the rear view mirror in the normal course of my driving, the wasp was gone. It was nowhere to be seen, at least not in the mirror.

But, because I had no sunroof and all the windows were closed, I realized instantly that the wasp was still in the car. And I freaking freaked out. There is no other way to describe it. I freaking freaked out beyond recognition of sanity. It was the ingenious combination of psychological torture and threat of physical pain re-created. To be threatened yet unaware of where the threat was hiding. My entire body spasmed. My head was turning and bobbing almost too quickly for my eyes to see anything, let alone a wasp that could very well be on the floor under my seat. My foot crushed the gas pedal. My hands yanked the steering wheel frantically in coordination with the movement of my head. It was at the moment when I reached down to undo my seatbelt that I felt a moment of clarity. That is when I finally looked forward, and saw the bridge abutment.

Lying here now, I sometimes wonder about the wasps in my life. And more and more I wonder about the wasp, and I mean 'the' with a hard 'e.' Thee. I am far from an entomologist, but I have to think that the lifespan of the average wasp is well less than ten years. Maybe not even a single year. At the same time, I am convinced that it has been the same wasp that has plagued me, time and time and time again. The same wasp that has never stung me physically, but has stung my existence. After all, it is a demon, in my mind. And why should the demonic version of the wasp not possess the same eternal qualities of other demonic creatures.

And whenever it is that I think about the future of my life, which seems to be unavoidable, of course I hope to wake up, or revive, or whatever the correct terminology might be. And I would hope for that to happen soon, today, right now, or tomorrow. But, at the same time, subconsciously I suspect that if I had to choose, I would prefer to wake up, revive, or whatever the correct terminology might be, the day after my twenty-seventh birthday.

Article © Jeffrey Carl Jefferis. All rights reserved.
Published on 2011-06-06
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