I Used to Be A Tomboy
The tomboy in me ceased to exist around age eleven or twelve. The only proof I have of that now is my memory.
When I was a little girl, I would pull cicada shells from tree trunks and place them on my shirt. I’d pick up caterpillars and let them crawl up my arm. I’d fry ants with a magnifying glass, poke roly poly’s to make them ball up, and pull the legs off granddaddy long legs to watch them wiggle. I’ve caught lizards, I’ve caught fireflies, I’ve baited my own fish hooks.
What Happened To Her?
What had happened was...
I was in middle school, walking to the library with the rest of my classmates. I had on a favorite pair of hard bottomed, wedge heeled, camel colored, leather shoes when I stepped on something. I don’t know if it made a sound amongst the dozens of footsteps along the pavement, but my memory hears the feeling. It reverberates with the memory of stepping on something that popped. When I looked at the bottom of my shoe, I had stepped on a caterpillar.
Though I had removed my shoe and wiped the grossness off on the pavement, it still felt like it was underfoot when I started walking again. My leg felt weak as the feeling of what just happened flinched up my leg.
My heart flooded with new uncontrollable emotions with my classmates laughter and “ewwwws”. I couldn’t help it. I don’t know if I cried out of embarrassment, anger or dread for walking in those shoes for the remainder of the day.
What I Knew For Sure
I never wanted that feeling under my foot again. I never wanted to touch, or see another caterpillar, or squish anything under my feet.
That year had the most earthworms and caterpillars I have ever seen in my life. It made walking to and from school very difficult for me. One morning after a very heavy rain, the streets were filled with earthworms. Literally, a worm for every tip toe.
I couldn't tip toe all the way to school. So I marched in the grass where I couldn’t feel what was happening under my feet. I drew unwanted attention to my anxiety.
I couldn’t help it.
One day after school, after it had seemingly rained caterpillars, I walked along side my friends. I was carefully watching my steps for caterpillars when one of the boys caught wind of my handicap.
My side of the conversation:
“I’m not playing.”
“No, I’m serious.”
“Leave me alone. It’s not funny.”
And I ran the rest of the way home.
Like Forrest Gump.
My caterpillar phobia worsened that day and never went away.
Have you seen the cats vs. cucumbers video?
That’s me out on a walk if I see a caterpillar.
Like these, except...
These are not caterpillars.
They are some not living thing that blows off trees in late Spring.
But they still freak me out.
I don't do cicadas, lizards, roly poly's, granddaddy long legs or fishing anymore. I can however, still catch fireflies.
In moments of Mama Bear crisis intervention, I can kill a giant flying cockroach.
But without some kind of therapy, I'll hop like a scaredy cat when a caterpillar appears too close to my feet.
My name is Kenya Gallion Johnson. I am 45 years old and my kryptonite is a caterpillar.