I used to be really scared of bugs. One time when I was a little kid a black spider crawled across back. My brother made me aware of it and I started freaking out, like really going nuts, one of those freak outs where every muscle in your body contracts at the same time and you start hitting yourself, knowing that if you have to make hand contact with this bug, to get it off of you, it had better be hard enough to kill it. I remember freaking out too much, to the extent that I didn’t get to see where the spider went, if it went anywhere at all. Maybe it ran for cover, or maybe it found a nice little fold in my t-shirt to camp out in, to sleep and plot and lay thousands of tiny eggs.
One day that same summer I was riding my bike around town when all of the sudden the wind whipped my shirt against my skin in such a way that I could feel that there was something latched onto the back. It was a cicada. I think they’re all over the place, but there are a ton of them every summer on Long Island. They crawl out of the ground by the thousands starting some time in July. They leave behind these thick, deep holes, like the size of a quarter, and the holes are everywhere, each one a reminder that something big and giant and disgusting had emerged from the depths of the earth.
Most everyone pronounces it “si-CAY-duh” (you like that bullshit pronunciation guide?) but for whatever reason, my maternal grandfather always called them “si-CAH-duhs,” and so that always kind of stuck with me, not that this really has anything to do with the story, this story that’s been sidetracked for the better part of a paragraph now by pronunciation. But getting back to it, there was a cicada stuck to my back.
After they crawl out of the ground, the cicadas then go through a transformation. I’ve read online that they live something like sixteen years underground before they make the journey to the surface. OK, I never looked that up online, but growing up on Long Island, that’s what various people have told me. They come up looking like these bloated coffee colored beetles. They can’t fly, they can only crawl, really slowly. But then they have this metamorphosis. They break out of their chocolate shells, leaving them behind for everybody to step on. For every crunch that you hear under your feet, you know that there have to be hundreds of these bugs in every tree, just completely dominating the environment.
These bugs are the worst. They’re even bigger out of the shell than they were inside, something that doesn’t make sense to me, but it’s true. They’re loud. They make this sound, like one of those backyard sprinklers that goes around in a circle and then “ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch” doubles back to start the circle all over again. And since they all come out at once, it’s like one day it’s a regular summer day, and then the next day you walk outside and the noise is deafening, a wall of sound, and you can see these giant bugs flying around everywhere.
I’m not exaggerating; they are giant. Seriously, they’re like three inches long. They have black backs covered by translucent, segmented wings. Their bellies are white and they still have the remnants of those little legs from their previous incarnations. At that top of their heads they have two useless eyes. I say useless because they’re actually all blind.
They’re blind but they’re constantly flying around. So it’s not uncommon to be walking along when out of nowhere you’ll get smacked in the face by one of these giant dumb bugs. They don’t bite or anything, but like I said, they’re loud, really loud, and if they get caught up with you they’re too stupid to figure out how to get away from you. So it might fly into you, get scared, start making all of that noise, and then keep flying into you over and over again, because it can’t see and it doesn’t even have a purpose on the surface world anyway.
They really have no purpose. I guess birds eat them, but can’t birds just eat bird seed? They come up, transform into these giant flying nuisances, and then they die like three days later. By mid-July, the streets will be littered with these things. But the worst part it, you won’t even know which ones are dead and which ones are alive. Because they’re so mindless, they’re just hanging out in the middle of the street, waiting for you to walk over it, or maybe just unknowingly step on one of the wings, and they’ll start freaking out making that loud crazy noise.
So back to me on the bike. Once I noticed it was there, I started freaking out too, almost as dumb as the cicada. My hands went in the air, I flailed around, lost control of the bike, fell over, cut my hands falling, and somehow during the struggle, the cicada got caught underneath my shirt. And now we were both really freaking out. I think I tore the shirt off of my body and left it in the street. It was really traumatic.
Every summer my phobia grew worse and worse, spiders and cicadas turned into ants, roaches, earwigs, I was scared of everything. I couldn’t leave the house. I’d see a bug in the bathroom and I’d refuse to go in there for months. Finally, my parents, seeing how this was crippling my development as a person, they brought me to a hypnotist to get this all sorted out.
“I want you to relax and take a deep breath,” was the last thing that I remember the hypnotist saying to me. The next thing I knew, I was outside, the anxiety was gone. I heard the cicadas and remembered that I should feel afraid of them, but I wasn’t. I saw a cicada on the ground. I picked it up by wings and gave it a big hug. I couldn’t believe I was cured.
How did that hypnotist do it? And that’s when I started freaking out. Because seriously, how could he do it? What other kind of mental powers did he possess? What else did he do to me while I was in my hypnotic trance? And that’s when I developed a new phobia, a phobia probably equal to my old bug phobia, but this time I was afraid of hypnotists. I think it’s called hypnophobia, although Microsoft Word seems to think that, with its red squiggly underlining, that hypnophobia isn’t a real word. But it is real. Because I’m very afraid of hypnotists. Sometimes I’ll think about what they could do if they all joined forces. I can’t even leave the house.
My parents, realizing that this phobia would be just as damaging as my old bug phobia, they tried to find some help, but all of the doctors and professionals kept saying the same thing, “Take him to a hypnotist. Hypnotize him until he’s not scared.” But how can a hypnotist cure hypnophobia? It’s not possible. Even if I could stop peeing my pants long enough to step foot into his office, he’d start off telling me, “OK Rob, I want you to relax, take a deep breath …” and I wouldn’t be able to, my hands would be in the air, flailing around, and before I could realize what’s happening, I’d be rolling around on the floor and maybe the hypnotist would get trapped under my shirt and I’d have to start punching my chest and ripping my shirt off and running away. And I’d still probably have to pay for the appointment, so at this point I’m starting to think that maybe this hypnophobia is incurable, like I’ve run out of options here, like I’m just going to have to learn to live with all of this crippling fear and anxiety.