By K. Lerner.
In the summer of 1979, our town was hit with an infestation of gypsy moth caterpillars. In the last days of school, the teacher spoke to us about it, about how the trees were in real trouble. The caterpillars were eating all the leaves so the trees couldn’t make food for themselves. I understood that because our first grade class had learned about photosynthesis that year. Mrs. Morse told us that if we ever saw a gypsy moth caterpillar that we should kill it. So, I was on the lookout from that day forward. I knew about these things now, and I would be equal to the task. I could. I would.
Walking home from my friend’s house, which I could do by myself, I passed a tree that was dripping with caterpillars. Individually, they were kind of pretty, with iridescent greens in flecks and…maybe some purple? I remember purple. They were even a little fuzzy. Pretty adorable for a monster, I thought. But, the tree… it seemed more caterpillars than leaves. They were like an army, an alien force – but I didn’t hesitate.
I picked up a long broken stick from the ground and started whacking at the branches, doing battle like it was my sword. Some caterpillars were damaged by my strikes, and infinitely more fell to the ground in clumps where I stomped them with my white sneakers. Over and over again I brought my feet down – one and then the other, and then the other. They were green on the inside, too. Not the iridescent kind like their outsides. My white shoes were covered in them. And the tree was still covered with living, eating caterpillars.
I was a murderer. And it hadn’t been enough. I ran the rest of the way home.
K. LERNER lives in Parsippany, New Jersey.