By Angie Henle
I will never ask my boyfriend if he’d still love me if I was a worm. The answer better be no. The very act of asking is worm-like behavior. It’s parasitic. As a child, I saw a cutesy animation about a pink worm with big eyes munching through mounds of dirt, and I drew two conclusions. Firstly, I thought that worms were better than caterpillars because they don’t have weird spiky legs. Second, I learned that worms are altruistic servants, who use their bodies to replenish the soil, eating dead leaves and pooping out nutrients. I have since learned that that depiction is a bald-faced lie.
Worms are disgusting. They’re covered with dirt, they’re slimy, almost translucent, and they’re always naked. Worms are like hairless cats-like the inexpressibly insensitive twin Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp. They don’t follow the rules of nature; they don’t have lungs, or ears. That’s not trustworthy. Worms don’t have eyes. (Caterpillars have twelve.) They’re like deep sea creatures; they exist in a special kind of darkness. Worms don’t have teeth. They use a gizzard. They lack limbs; that’s a biblical punishment reserved for the ruler of hell.
More concerningly, worms are deceptive. They have this elaborate pretense of diligence: you’ve seen them on the sidewalk after it rains, inching along slowly, pitifully, supposedly trying to return to the dirt to keep working. But why’d they leave their lair in the first place? Especially when they know they dry up in the sun, in the light, like vampires. And like vampires, worms want to suck the life out of you.
The true nature of worms was revealed to me when my youngest brother, Sam, had the flu. My brother was five, which means I was nine. The green numbers on the stove clock in the kitchen said 5:30. My dad had just left the room to go get my mother. I don’t remember his reaction. I just remember that he reacted. My dad had seven brothers; nothing fazed him. So I crept up to the red plastic bowl that my family always used to hold popcorn and throw up. And covered in a brown liquid at the bottom of the bowl, was a worm. I realized, That came out of my brother. My mother is the strongest woman I know. She immediately researched intestinal worms, put the worm into a plastic bag and drove it and my brother to the hospital.
The irony is that Sam was fine. This is a common problem, although it occurs more frequently in third-world countries. You take medicine; excrete the pests from your intestines. No lasting damage. My mother’s only trauma was that the nurses thought she was a bad parent because she wouldn’t let him win at Uno. But I’ve never recovered.
When I started writing this, I thought maybe I could dare myself to just touch one. Two days later when I was walking, I suddenly spotted one wriggling toward my foot and I jumped and nearly caused a kid on a bike to go careening off the sidewalk into a bush. While researching for this piece, I had to dare myself to google facts about worms, scared an image would pop up, because every time I see one, all I can imagine is it sliding up my brother’s throat. So I’m not up to touching one just yet. But that’s probably wise. You shouldn’t pet parasites.