A Worm Story
It’s clear to me now that I was not a normal child. Like my peers, I enjoyed watching TV and playing with toys but there was something oddly unique to me — I loved worms, and I cannot fully explain why. My fascination for these creatures can be connected to another past time of my younger self, and that was while digging large, bothersome holes. Walking across our front yard at night or with little attention was a dangerous undertaking. Planted like landmines on a battlefield, these invasive traps were set for the naive to fall and trip into.
My parents didn’t always approve of this menial self-inflicted project of mine to effectively dig away our front yard but I kept doing it anyway. It was to my absolute joy that I discovered the Earth to hold other treasures besides rock and clay. I equate myself to Columbus discovering the New World because underneath the soil — the soil us humans stomped upon each day — lived a grand society of creatures. Ants and larvae were common occurrences, but — by far — the most exciting to me were the worms.
They were just so unbelievably fascinating. The way that they slithered around the floor and onto my fingers, their slippery mucus-like skin, the fact that both sides of their bodies were nearly identical. These tiny critters blew me away.
It was a common occurrence while heading to a tennis club called BOH to stop at the same gas station; it was a perfect little halfway point to and from the club. I would normally stick inside the car, roll down the windows and call after my mother to get me a slushy or ice cream, but — in this specific circumstance — I decided to go with her. Slushy in hand, while standing beside my mother at the counter, I made a horrible realization. Worried — but afraid of jumping to conclusions — I asked my mother, anxious for a valid explanation, “Mom, why does the gas station have boxes full of worms?”
It was easy to pick up that she was trying to come up with a lie. “They’re for fishing little guy,” the well-meaning cashier was awarded an angry glance from my mother and a horrified shriek. I pleaded with my mother, “We have to save them! Mom, please!” My sobbing self, rolling on the floor, was granted only one package of worms; the rest would suffer slaughtering by fish. My emotions perked up as we entered the car. I had won two small victories: I had a slushy, and I had saved some worms.
We entered the club with conflicting emotions; she was constructing an explanation on why her son likened himself to a liberator while playing with worms, and I was about to become a messiah. All summer, like myself, my friends were always at the club. Within moments, I was able to round the lot of them up and lead them with little resistance. I didn’t want to bother them with the reason of my eagerness — they would see soon enough. Behind the farthest tennis court was a swamp; it smelled disgusting and always seemed to cull bile from my stomach (the childhood rumor was that this is where they dumped the horse poop). Besides the before-mentioned smell, the location was brimming with wildlife — frogs, birds and insects of every kind; this would be the best place for my worms to live. It also helped that even in a blistering hot summer, the soil here was always moist — perfect for digging. It would make a fine home.
“So … Chooch,” (my childhood nickname) “…what are you doing?” I had my back to them as I clawed at the dirt; my nails accumulating grime.
“I’m trying to rescue these worms. Do you guys want to help?” I answered innocently.
I had invited three of my closest friends to this party, and on each one of their faces was a resounding nope. Fine; if they didn’t want to help, then they didn’t have to. The hole was certainly deep enough for my worms but I thought that — just to be sure — I’d give them a little bit more room. I was so focused on my task that I didn’t realize the mutual agreement that had taken place directly behind me. It all happened so quickly — before I could comprehend why, I was pushed to the ground and a heavy force was applied to my chest. My friend Niko was a strong kid with a mass far above my own. I tried desperately to kick and wriggle my way out from under him but it was to no avail. My actions got exponentially more desperate once Johnny made his way toward my worms. Already my stomach was dropping; I knew what was about to happen and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Before any of my beautiful worms could reached sanctuary, they were plucked off the ground and brought toward the pond.
I was unable to do anything and nearly out of breath; the container thrown over the fence. For days — if not weeks — I regretted ever interfering in these worms lives. They would have had a quick death by a fish had it not been for my negligence. But now they were resigned to a state of purgatory, a torture worse than even Dante could imagine. Johnny’s throw had been a pitiful one — instead of dying hidden in the water, the package sprawled open on the tiny beachfront. It should be mentioned that these were very large night crawlers and therefore they were to be bait for corresponding sized fish. The meager frogs that emerged from the shallow were anything but the appropriate size. It was a horrible scene to watch, short of breathe and crying, I could hear their screams; their wails of pain shook my eardrums. I wasn’t watching mindless bugs being eaten alive — I saw people. They were crunched and mutilated, malevolent monsters were to blame, and I’m not talking about the frogs; it wasn’t their fault but my friends’.
I would receive little sympathy outside of my family; they understood my pain. Yet others would ask, “Why are you upset Chooch? You know that they were just worms right? They were going to die anyway, I don’t see the big deal is.” Their compassionless state of being couldn’t realize that I meant to change that — their destiny wasn’t set in stone; I was going to save them. I’m sorry to admit, but I think that this experience made me noticeably more cynical. No longer do I go out of my way over such trivial matters. Life is a wonderful gift but apparently some view another’s death as a small enjoyment — something to laugh and point at, only to move onto the next thing a few moments later.
more by FRANCISCO LEYVA
photograph by fotologic