For as long as I can remember, I have been afraid of worms. I’m sure I’ve written about this many times in my life, but after my experience this morning I’m compelled to write about it again.
My fear of worms transcends your run of the mill fear. I’m not afraid of worms in the way I’m afraid of monsters, death, or the dentist. This fear, when confronted, has tangible and immediate physical effect.
When I see a worm, I get a pit in my stomach and my legs go numb in the thighs. It doesn’t last very long - just a quick second or two. It gives me just enough time to look like a frozen idiot before I idiotically leap to the side.
This doesn’t happen when I see a photograph of a worm or a video of a worm. And my body is smart enough to know that colorful gummy worms pose no threat. But when I see the real thing on a sidewalk, my brain and body just go crazy nutso.
At 37, I’m still clueless as to the origins of this fear. I have no terrifying worm stories from my childhood. There have been no worm-related injuries or deaths in my life. I can only guess it’s some evolutionary response back from prehistoric times, when worms were 50-feet long and ate people.
I know that I am faster than a worm, and I know that I could probably best most worms in hand to hand combat. I know that worms do not squirt poison, and I know that worms will not attack, even when provoked. I know that if you stripped me naked and coated my body head to toe in squiggly worms I would emerge from the experience without a nick. I am the first to admit that this is a completely irrational fear. Perhaps what’s most scary about it is that I have no rational control over my response.
This morning was pretty rough. I walk to the train every morning. The very last part of my walk involves traversing this long and narrow sidewalk:
This sidewalk is part of an incline up to the train platform – so once you start walking on it, there’s little escape other than pressing forward to the train, or turning around and walking back to street level.
I’m not sure if you can tell from the photo, but this morning this sidewalk was absolutely striped and dotted with dead and living worms. It was tortuous. I’m sure I looked like a fool as I hopped and skipped along. I was like an over-excited tightrope walker, tip-toeing from side to side, trying my best to keep my eyes focused straight ahead. “Don’t look down… don’t look down…”
But of course even looking straight ahead, I could see them basking all over the sidewalk. Most of them lying still, but enough of them moving slightly to induce downright panic.
It’s the way they move… the way their bodies seem to create and delete their own mass at will… that really makes me squirm. They seem to defy science and logic in the way they slide their terrible bodies across the sidewalk.
Though to look at how I skip and prance up the sidewalk with my half-numb legs, you’d probably come to the same conclusion about me.
I do not think I will ever get over this fear. It seems too sewn into my mental fabric. I’ve been able to make it this far without having to have any serious confrontations. When fishing, I’ve used hot dogs, bread, and minnows as bait. And somehow I was spared any science unit that required the dissection or handling of worms.
At some point I’m sure one of my kids will bring a worm into the house. Or maybe I’ll have to rescue one of them from a worm on the playground. I can only hope the other parents are far enough away to not see the embarrassing gymnastics my body goes through in my heroic act, and close enough to call 911 when I collapse to the ground.