I wasn’t the first six-year-old kid who couldn’t wait to get her chubby little hands on a worm, but I would argue that I was the most passionate in the field. Given the opportunity, a career of poking holes in mason jars and crouching near ladybugs would have been beyond satisfactory. My lawn, framed by dirt and bushes, made for the perfect hunting ground. Beyond that were trees with thick roots and a driveway dedicated to the interrogation and release of my captures. “You say you were in the planter at the time of the crime? Flimsy alibi at best.” It should have been enough for a happy life, but for me it wasn’t. I knew success was only possible with an animal without arms, legs, or eyes. One who rarely feels the sun on his back, and has never tasted spaghetti, a food modeled after his pure and holy shape.
I wanted a worm. No. I needed a worm.
I searched the garden for any beefy grubs I could find. Caterpillars? No. Ringworms? Definitely not. On the other side of the lawn, I spied a robin pluck a thick pink object from the ground and flee across the grass. “Wait!” I shouted, chasing it into the bushes. I began to push the limbs aside, snapping branches, sending leaves everywhere. My dad ran from the house to stop my rampage. He pulled me from the bush and noticed my tears. “What’s wrong?” he asked, taking a seat beside me. “I can’t find a worm,” I explained simply. He looked at me and smiled. “Stay here” he said, “I’ll be right back.”
He returned quickly with a shovel. It had a long, wooden handle and a bright red scoop. “Dig.” he said. “It’ll make you feel better.” After he went back inside I began to dig, pulling out rocks and ripping up weeds. It wasn’t long before I noticed it: a squirming pink body, covered in dirt. I set my shovel aside and lifted the delicate creature into my palm. It moved, writhing in my hands as I studied it, the worm’s surface as pink as my sore hands. It was perfect. I ran inside to find a bucket for my specimen. His temporary house was made of dirt (of course), rocks, and a few sticks. I also decided “it” was a “him” and that he liked to be called Willie.
I dug late into the night, searching for Willie’s friends, cousin, mother, and preacher. I pulled worms from the ground like a feverish robin. The community was growing. I found him a flat mate, a job, and told him he could use my guest room if he needed. It was the least I could do at that point, along with some bus fare. On my end, life was changing for the better. I became a compassionate dictator. Plucking worms from their socials or wine and cheese fundraisers to remind them of why they are here today. I spoke at graduations and toured to discuss my work. I was invited to religious ceremonies, weddings, and funerals of worms I hardly knew. I was an object of worship.
When my wealth outgrew my needs, I decided to invest in my worms and follow my campaign promise: to ensure total safety. I ran to my room to find a plastic barn, no bigger than a bread box, with a roof and four walls. It was meant for dolls but would make a perfect home for my growing worm metropolis. Each wiggler was safely moved from the bucket to the barn, where they would be safer, less exposed.
It’s then that I heard my dad call from the porch, “come on we’ll be late! The McFeeders are making hot dogs!” I turned toward the barn and peered in at the wiggling pink figures. “I’ll be back in a few hours,” I told them through the barn window.
The hot dogs were good, but I was eager to reunite with my people. It was then, fidgeting in my hot, sticky car seat that I remembered Willie. Where was he? It had been so long. He’d be glad to see me. Everyone would be.
Our car pulled into the driveway and I scanned the yard for the little barn. There, in the middle of the lawn, was the bright red box baking in the blazing sun. I crossed the lawn quickly, imagining the joy I’d be met with at my return. “She’s back!” they’d shout from their rooftop cafes. Flooding the streets, waving flags, praising my return. This is not what I saw.
I pried open the barn door and saw worms piled near the windows, gray and stiff. “Hello?” I called out, but none moved. A hot, stale smell hit me with a wave of catastrophe. Dirt caked the walls, dry and flakey. I felt the hot sun on my back and realized that I had left my people in a mid-July oven. My dad leaned over my shoulder to say, “Not all bugs are lucky, I guess.”