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Phobia. n.  A persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it.

Caterpillar. n.  (1) The wormlike larva of a butterfly or a moth. (2) Or, to my mind, anything that looks like a caterpillar, whether or not it’s going to turn into a butterfly or moth.

I have an irrational fear of caterpillars. I’m not sure where it came from. I’d like to say there was a specific event from my past that turned me against them (like, there was a chase involving a train and a tub full of caterpillars and I fell in and now it’s harder for me to do my work as an archaeologist – wait, I’m not an archaeologist – never mind), but there isn’t. The caterpillar incidents I’ve been through have all been upsetting because I don’t like caterpillars, not because I used to feel indifferent towards them but now can’t stand them. I’ve never been able to stand them.

Caterpillars do not, apparently, feel the same way about me.

Me (a little girl, taking a nap on the top bunk one sticky summer afternoon): I wake up to find a tiny green inchworm doing a little dance on my shoulder.

Me (a little girl, needing to get from the front yard to the farmhouse kitchen): The front porch is covered, COVERED in hundreds of writhing caterpillars bodies, string-thin, with dark fleshy underbellies and black-brown fuzz on top. There is no way to get into the house except crunching over them and hoping the ones clinging to the porch ceiling don’t drop into my hair.

Me (a little girl, walking through the woods on a family vacation): I find a hairless, sickly-green blimpy affair, clinging with three dozen crawling feet to the pink material of my coat.

Me (a little girl, visiting the fort on Mackinac Island): The walls are covered, COVERED just like the front porch at home, with the same model of caterpillar.

Me (a little girl, standing barefoot in the kitchen): I see a GIANT caterpillar, wreathed in puffs of yellow fuzz and long spikes, lazily scuttling over the hardwood. I run for help, but my mother is busy. When I return, it’s gone. For all I know, it’s still in that house.)

Me (a young teen, out weeding the strawberry patch with my uncle and cousins): My uncle finds a maggoty-looking one – white, bulbous, with a tiny red head on one end. “Look at this thing!” he says, holding it up between a thumb and forefinger. “It’s so fat you could -” It pops.

Me (a young teen, out in the barn doing chores with my best friend):

Best friend is holding a woolly bear – a furry, black-and-brown little thing curled up into a non-threatening ball in the palm of her hand: “You don’t like caterpillars?”

Me: “It’s a phobia. An irrational fear.”

Best friend: “Not even woolly bears? They’re so cute!”

Me: “Woolly bears are okay. I don’t mind woolly bears.”

Best friend tosses ball of caterpillar at my face: “So that like, freaks you out?”

Me: glaring as caterpillar bounces off my nose. “Yes. Yes, it does.”  

Me (a young teen, working the cash register at the family home-decor and kitchen store, having just come back from lunch break where I sat under a tree in the park and ate a Chicago Style hot dog): I run my hand over the back of my head and feel a big puffy leaf in my hair. I think it’s funny that such an oddly-shaped leaf came back to the store with me, but when I see what’s in my hand, it’s not a leaf. It’s a caterpillar.

Picture of Me

Should I stop sitting beneath trees?

I wish caterpillars had an irrational fear of me. I wish they were less common – like bear attacks or tornadoes or rampaging deer. I do like butterflies, though. So. As long as I don’t have to look at them in the early stages . . . we’re good.

*eyes the milkweed growing by the mailbox suspiciously*