The Lifespan of a Cricket – a personal essay by Barbara Alfaro

The Lifespan of a Cricket

It’s three a.m. The cricket has been quiet for a while but I still can’t sleep. I want to go outside and stare at the moon and the stars. Of course, I won’t. The neighbors might think me a burglar and yard dogs would bark.

Calling for a mate, the cricket who lives in back of the washing machine chirps cheerily and loudly much of the night and he keeps me awake much of the night. I say “he” because female crickets do not chirp. After a week of fractured sleep, I realize the cricket has no intention of leaving the house the same way he came in. I google “How long does a cricket live?” I am somewhat relieved to learn the lifespan of a cricket is ninety days. The question Google cannot answer is can I last ninety sleepless nights listening to him? I muse that perhaps he is an old cricket – still horny but old, say two and half months or so. Suppose, however, this particular cricket is very young. I decide to expedite his demise and google “How to kill a cricket.” Poison is the answer. However, in researching the various cricket-killing poisons it is clear they will also kill my little dog Darby, a blessed creature who truly appreciates a good night’s sleep as well as morning, afternoon, and early evening naps.

I’m the kind of person who apologizes to a bug before I squash it. When not squashing bugs, if they’re big enough, and slow enough, I paper cup them and put them out in the yard where they belong. I feel terrible when I use ant traps. I’m not certain, but I think the ants are expecting nookie when they enter the teeny traps. An assignation at cheap motel gone terribly wrong. It’s interesting how romance minded insects are. I really didn’t like the thought of offing Jiminy Cricket. I speak with some authority on the matter having once played the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio.

I recall with a tinge of sadness that the only time I heard my parents argue was when I was a child and this one truly terrible argument was caused by an infestation of crickets in our home. Even late in life, my mother and father were always sweethearts, holding hands, exchanging soft smiles. We lived in a little house appropriately enough in Little Neck, New York. It is one of those suburban communities where, except for the different colors of the houses, the houses all look the same, the same window boxes with geraniums nestling in them, the same flagstone walks curling toward front doors, and oddly, usually the same number of children in each family. I was awakened one night by the sounds of my parents yelling at one another and the noise of the vacuum cleaner. My father was vacuuming what seemed hundreds of crickets while my mother wrangled any insect stragglers with a broom. I was shocked to hear something I had never heard, my parents saying mean things to one another. It didn’t last long. Perhaps they were shocked too. Even as a child I understood clearly it was all because of those damn crickets. And here am I, undone by one.

Sleeplessness engenders morbid thoughts and something only God knows and Google doesn’t have a clue about is how long I will live. I remember second grade catechism class in Catholic grammar school. Seven year old boys dressed like miniature businessmen and little girls wearing blue jumpers and white blouses with Peter Pan collars taking flight into theology. The nuns described purgatory and hell with such gusto and glee you’d think they’d just returned from a bus tour to both locals – with pockets full of complimentary tickets for their students. My classmates and I were often told our sins caused the death of Our Lord. I couldn’t fathom what sins I had actually committed. Well, yes, I did knot all my brother’s socks and ties but he decapitated my doll for heaven’s sake! Surely, some sort of retaliation was in order. Her name was Suzy and she was my favorite. I was shocked to see that her wooden head had been fastened to her rubber body with a thick rubberband. I can still see Suzy’s head beside her little body on my pillow. The rubberband was between them. What irks me even now, all these decades later is that I did nothing to provoke this act of barbarism on the part of my brother. Brothers do this sort of thing. There is no explanation other than that.

It would have been kinder if the good sisters had been more forthright and told their little charges something like “Oh, nothing you’ve done now you sillies, but just wait, just you wait till you’re older, you’ll be sinning like crazy then!” Thankfully, today the emphasis is on love, not fear. But that doesn’t help an aging scaredy-cat like me.

I’m having difficulty enduring a single, noisy cricket. How am I going survive all that fire and smoke in the hereafter? It’s difficult for me to conceive of a deity who isn’t as kind as I am. If, as I was taught, I am made in the image of God and I cannot stand to see suffering, why would God be okay with it? I understand the need for justice especially when I think of people who are deliberately evil but what about the likes of me – those burdened by wrong or just plain stupid choices? Someone (probably Thomas Merton) once said that the memory of our sins is punishment enough. Saint Augustine prayed that God would “banish such memories” from him. It would have been grand if the saint’s misogyny had also been banished. Augustine believed women were not made in the image of God. This honor was reserved for yet another exclusive men only club.

I can’t help wondering just how long a stretch is awaiting me in those flames. And, will the length of punishment time be shortened for “good behavior” – not squawking too much, being considerate of fellow firemates, that sort of thing. Can one even measure time in eternity? That’s a question Einstein might answer. Somewhere along the road of history, priests invented the concept of purgatory because Christians found the idea of hell so scary. I hope the entranceway to the former is clearly marked “Purgatory, NOT Hell!” or something to that effect so I know heaven is in the offing. The thief on the cross beside our Lord served no time at all. “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Years ago, I participated in a spiritual retreat at the Washington Retreat House hosted by the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement. A lot had happened between second grade and middle age that needed some serious atoning. The Franciscans are known for their spirit of hospitality and the memory of those gentle days of warmth, quiet, and prayer comforts me even now.

Understandably, my fear of death is intensified by the pandemic. Epicurus, the Dale Carnegie of antiquity (both men seemed overly fond of maxims), taught there is no reason to be afraid of death because you feel with your senses and as your senses end when you die you won’t feel pain. You will no longer be. Not exactly cheering but logical. This thinking only works if one doesn’t believe in an afterlife. That’s not a view I accept. If I could overcome my fear of dying, contentment would be easy for me. I am a childless widow without an ounce of ambition. I have all that is needed – a longing for God, a home, dear friends, and silly as it sounds to some, my pet pal. I don’t know how anyone living alone can go through what we are all experiencing now without a cat or dog to care for and nestle beside. Or even a canary. Doctors call not being able to touch or embrace another person “skin hunger.” Snuggling with my dog certainly isn’t the same as being held by or holding another person but it is warm, if somewhat furry affection and that’s no small thing.

I’m remembering the Franciscan nun who told me in her soft Irish brogue, “Ah, I don’t believe any of that hell business. I think when you die, it’s just like takin’ yer coat off, only the coat is all yer sinfulness, and then, there you are – in bliss.” I’m sleepy but not too tired to hope she was right.

.

Barbara Alfaro is the recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award in Playwriting. Her memoir Mirror Talk won the IndieReader Discovery Award for Best Memoir. Barbara’s poems have appeared in or are forthcoming in Poet Lore, Boston Literary Review, Trouvaille Review, The Blue Mountain Review, and Voices de la Luna. 

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Sarah

poet, tutor, runner, cat lady

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