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I lied. I didn’t know it, but it turns out that I am afraid of ants. At least I was.
Not the ants outside – not the ones running from one anthill to the next, who clearly have such heavy demands they have no time to rest.
I can and do ignore those. I can even admire their untiring devotion to their labours.
But those very same ants that seem to get everything done outside became terrifying monsters once they came inside my house.
I dealt with them by calling on my husband. “Could you...,” or “here’s another,” or “you missed one.”
But sometimes I was on my own. Then, I would sweep them up with a broom and onto the dustpan. I planned to throw them outside where they belonged, but sometimes they managed to crawl up the dustpan. I would nervously drop the dustpan. Yep, just an ant.
I found that I could dispense with the dustpan and just sweep the ants into the bristles of the broom and then shake the broom outside and deposit them outdoors.
Later, when I was sweeping up ants again, I did wonder if these were the very ones I had so gallantly released back into their own backyard.
But killing them. Stamping on them, squishing them up in a paper towel or napkin? Yuck.
Really, a little bitty ant.
Their constant intrusion on my activities meant that I couldn’t get anything done. They seemed to favour the kitchen, though they occasionally visited other rooms as well. And it was just so distracting watching them walk across my floor, up a wall, down a cupboard. Where were they going?
Occasionally, I would find one near some sticky residue at the sink, and sometimes I could sweep it into the sink and wash it down the drain. After doing that, I had to apologize. Something about all God’s creatures. Or maybe it’s Bambi that damaged me for life. Apologize, wash my hands because I had just killed a creature, and get back to making supper.
But if there was more than one? Between apologizing after I’d killed them and washing my hands, I felt that I was surrendering to some other force.
I came face to face with my fear when I realized that the ants in my kitchen seem bigger, way bigger, than the ants that were outside romping on the patio. These ants were really huge.
And then I had the encounter that changed my life.
I was cutting up cucumbers on the counter when I looked up to find I was eyeball to eyeball with an ant. An enormous ant. It was the biggest I had ever seen. I could see his eyelashes. I couldn’t ignore him.
After I got rid of him, apologized, washed my hands, I reflected about what I was doing.
I thought about how I felt. And though I laugh at the idea that I was afraid of an ant, I think it’s true.
It’s some psychological thing, I think. I remember reading about it in university. I was supposed to be transposing my professor’s lectures for him and instead I picked up a book from his shelf that talked about how people react differently to insects when they’re inside your home than when they’re outdoors.
Those fluttering moths, those buzzing flies, and don’t get me started on bees; when they are outside, they are just part of nature. But somehow when they are inside their presence is more insidious. Well, I’m not sure exactly what the book said, but that’s what I remember.
And there I was spending an enormous amount of my energy worrying about killing ants and completing the ritual of apology and hand-washing. Interesting, eh?
And that’s when I concluded that for whatever reason, psychological or otherwise, I was afraid of killing them. I hadn’t considered the idea that I was just scared of ants, because it was so ridiculous, right? An ant? Ha.
But then I thought about it some more, and decided that actually I was.
Thinking about that ant on the cupboard I had asked myself the question: What was he staring at?
I felt like we were in a contest to see who would blink first. The truth is, he never moved. He never blinked.
I don’t know if I had been traumatized by a movie I’d seen as a kid in which gi-normous ants take revenge on a guy, a mad scientist or something, and swarm and completely devour him. Hmmm. Whatever the silliness (really, would apologizing have saved his life?), it occurred to me that I had given ants power over me in my own home.
I started to look at the situation logically. Did I really think these ants were going to organize an army against me? They couldn’t even convey the simple information that I was one of the good guys who swept them back outside to their world.
And that’s when I decided there’d be no more Ms. Nice Guy. No more namby-pamby.
Now, I no longer wait for my husband to rescue me. I don’t sweep them up in the broom. (Well, only sometimes.) I dispose of them. No apology.
April Laufer lives in Toronto.