More than a Moth

Elizabeth Houseman

Sometimes, you cry for the very things you hate. This was the case when I—not older than ten, not younger than seven—watched my cat devour a moth. It seems like a pointless, unimportant moment, but it has always struck me with a demand to be explored. It begs to be understood. Why, with my inexplicable distaste for moths, did I cry when it met the inevitable end of its life?

It was one of those gray days where the sun never seems to rise but must set because it gets dark around dinnertime. My cat was the type that looked like someone took a black canvas and threw paint against it, resulting in brown and orange splotches. She was a sweetheart; she was a hunter. I stood barefoot in the safety of my house and watched her chase a moth, the worst type of insect, around the back porch.

I suppose the hatred could begin in its appearances. Perhaps it is because of the colors. There’s such a small palette that can paint a moth, and even as a young child I noticed that they were bland options. Brown, beige, gray, and sometimes a tired looking red. That’s all there is to them. Maybe I hated the moth for its utter lack of brilliant hues. This one in particular was the hairy type. It was a watered down gray, a sickly shade. Its soft wings and body could’ve been vibrant, but something had sucked all the color away.

Being such weak things, moths always seem on the verge of collapse mid-flight. I was terrified for the moth, and perhaps that is why I hated him. As my cat batted at him with her paw, I stood and watched. But a part of my childish mind understood how easily he could die, how easily he could snap a wing and be gone forever. Maybe I hated the moth for its mortality.

Perhaps it was the antennae, which protruded so grotesquely from the insect’s head that caused me to shrink away. Moths were always intruding into my home. The way they crawled along my wall, like a criminal sneaking into my bedroom at night. Maybe I hated the moth for its ugliness. Something so ugly and destructive can hardly expect to be loved by a little girl.

Whatever the reason, I have always despised the little winged beasts. It could be all of those factors combined. It could be something more. Maybe I will never understand why I hated the moth, or why I felt that way even when I realized it should be insignificant to me. I knew I could look away from the bland colors. Turning a blind eye at his sudden death would be easy. I knew the moth could not hurt me, yet I felt a sense of dread whenever I laid eyes on his kind. Maybe I should get over my irrational fear that lingers even today. But maybe I should trust my gut.

If I hated the bug so, why did I cry that day? I was inside, watching out the sliding glass door I so often placed my hands against during the winter. I liked to feel the cool air try to steal its way inside. My cat was on the back porch. One moment she was dormant, the next she was playing with a moth. I should’ve known, I should’ve worried for the creatures even though I hated it. She did this with all the mice too. Taunted them before she took their lives. In a split second, the moth went from ugly creature to midday snack.

Maybe it was the way it fluttered—so broken. So desperate.

I wept then. As tears poured down my face, my mother laughed (“It’s just a moth, Bethy!”) and I cried even harder. I wanted to go out and save it, this bug I hated so much. Too late, I was told. It was too late to save its life. Helplessness and dread sunk down into my stomach.

As if it would justify my standing by whilst the moth was murdered, I stepped outside and shouted at my cat through tears. The cold cement seemed to leech all heat from my body, making me feel worse. My mother made me come back inside and told me the cat didn’t know any better. But it should have, I thought. It should’ve known not to kill.

Why did I mourn the loss of something which vexed me every time I saw it? I didn’t understand then, and I didn’t for years after.

Maybe I cried because it was life, and life demands to be respected. I could’ve cried because my cat, so beloved, had become a killer before my young and innocent eyes. I knew she hunted, but rarely did she do it in front of my house. Perhaps it is because a moth is just a moth, but it is still life. Watching a simple act of nature had shown me that all things must die, and it’s possible that I wasn’t ready for that lesson then.

I’m still unsure as to why I hate moths, but in the least, I think I can understand why I cried at what seemed like an insignificant moment. It was just an insect, yet it wasn’t. Its death was a waste, and to me, it was much more than a moth.

Elizabeth Houseman is a reader, writer, Christian, and wife living in coldhearted Michigan. When she isn’t obsessively writing, she works as a freelance photographer and editor. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at @bethyhouseman.

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