It all began with one ant. Or maybe there were two, the Adam and Eve of the insect world, venturing forth into the Garden of Eden that was our kitchen. There must have been two, because only rodent-like fertility or a miracle could have produced such a copious amount of offspring that soon called our kitchen home. Within days, hours even, there were ants frolicking upon every available surface. Everywhere you looked, there were ants doing various ant activities with hundreds of their closest friends or siblings. Nothing stopped them. Not ant traps, Tabasco sauce, or my father’s vain attempts to hermetically seal the doors and windows. Though we eradicated all edible substances from our kitchen and subsisted solely upon lint, the ants remained. It was ant paradise.
Until the day my father found an ant in his cereal.
I am quite sure that the circumstances surrounding this particular ant were somewhat extraordinary. There was still plenty of room in our kitchen for the ants to roam free without any need to begin annexing our cereal boxes. This ant was obviously either a sacrificial victim or some sort of small-scale Vasco De Gama exploring the unknown.
Perhaps when I attempted to explain this to my father, I made a slip. There is a chance that among the many words I was throwing out may have been the word “pet.” If so, it would have been a big mistake. My father has never understood the concept of “pet.” His theory is that you should not feed an animal unless you are planning on eating it at some point in the future. As a child, this made the issue of a dog or a cat somewhat controversial, not to mention the issue of several thousand ants. To him it was a matter of family honor. Since we were not going to eat them, the only other option was mass extermination.
When executing matters of family honor, physical contact is apparently essential. He would enter the kitchen with his forefinger extended and count aloud as he mashed, rapid-fire, each small body against the countertop. This gruesome experiment continued for several days, with no noticeable decrease in the ant population. The only change was that at the sound of his footsteps, I began to hear a thousand high-pitched voices shriek in terror.
Asleep, I had nightmares of an enormously distended and disembodied finger heading towards me. Dehydrated, I saw tiny, splayed ant carcasses dancing in front of my eyes. I knew they all hated me because my father was the Finger of Death.
It was all my fault. Together with the ant suffocated by corn flakes, I was already indirectly responsible for not only the deaths of hundreds, but also the imminent utter annihilation of the entire tribe.
It was a question of loyalties, really. Whether to side with the ants or my parents. My parents could fend for themselves. But what about the ants? They had proved exceptionally fertile thus far, but who could ascertain the toll my father’s guerrilla tactics would take on the ant libido? I tried to reason, first with the ants (stubborn creatures) and then with my father. He spoke of the Old Country, insectoid diseases and ancestral dignity. He stood firm.
So I did what any morally conscious person would have done: I left home. Conveniently, it was the start of a new semester, but I like to think that was only coincidence. I like to think I would have driven nineteen-plus hours through five states purely as a statement, speaking out against the treatment of our eight-legged friends.
I am happy to say that I now have a healthy relationship with the insect kingdom. I live with four friends, several species of spiders and a family of long, flattish, segmented things with many legs who seem to enjoy the element of surprise. We live in harmony.
And when I talk to my parents I tread gently around the subject of insect life. We find other areas of common ground, areas less likely to provoke familial strife. Relationships are tricky that way. You think you know someone and then discover they are agoraphobic or don’t speak English or have certain predilections for genocide. But you work through these issues. You take it one ant at a time. Just be sure to watch where you step.