| It was the summer of our genocide, and we woke up early, armed with tennis racquets and baseball bats and started swinging. We were killers, and we climbed trees, shimmying up the bark with our feet, leaning in with our chests, attempting to kill tent worms. They were everywhere, and somehow, we got the idea in our heads that tent worms killed trees and therefore, deserved to die. We didn't understand the meaning of the word miracle, and we spent our summer marveling at things that did not deserve our attention. Like the seventeen-year old kid with the metal detector, turning up bottle caps and forks. Like the crawdads that nipped at the clay. Like little league baseball.
We were too busy destroying what we should have saved. The tent worms with their velvet bodies and the ghost fur on black backs. The way they crawled with twenty legs and wove a tent with webs I could not fathom resided inside of them- how a body so small could contain so much. We would spot their cities in the trees, white tents drifting in quiet breezes, and we made it our personal duty to destroy. Summer afternoons spent shirtless, drinking water from the hose, scratching our backs when the grass began to itch. We clung to limbs and swung our racquets, hoping to watch the worms spill out and drift through the stifling air as a testament to mankind.
"Take that, you worms!" we'd cry. "That's what you get for killing trees!"
What we didn't realize was that perhaps the trees were a small sacrifice for the thousands of worms that died that summer. They wept green ooze when we smashed them with our feet. We didn't know what mercy meant.
In summers past, we'd done the very same thing-decimatated. We collected ant hill dust in enormous Ziplock bags, filling them and then splitting the prize between us. The prize-sand-sat in my garage for a week before we got the bright idea to reunite the sands once more, and create an ant hill of epic proportions. So we did, and it stayed there, in the middle of a field near his backyard, until winter, when it froze, though we never saw an ant go anywhere near it.
When the tent worms were gone, and there was nothing left to kill, we tried closing our eyes and letting the sprinklers rain down on us. But even that did not suffice. Neither did green popsicles that tasted like lime. Neither did basketball at the park with a fully inflated ball. Neither did sleepovers with microwave popcorn. We had forged a killer instinct inside of us. We felt a civic duty.
And so did our fathers. Two weeks later, when some teenagers began robbing things out of our garages, our fathers came leaping out from shadows flinging baseballs, cussing and promising to cut off body parts if they ever caught him. Then, the summer began to drift away and our father's drank beers together and smiled at their good work, and asked us what we'd been doing all summer.
"Oh you know, not much," we shrugged. But that was not the truth. But how else to say it? How can you tell others about the atrocities you have committed?
Well Dad, this summer we wiped out every tent worm in the neighborhood. The sidewalks are stained with green from their guts.
No. This was not what we said. We said we had not done much. Then, with one week to go before school, we climbed the wrong tree, killed the holiest of tent worm cities, and became overrun with poison oak. We spent the last week together on his blue carpet, watching Short Circuit movies and drinking water in the air-conditioned house. Sometimes, when the itching became unbearable, we'd stare out at sprinklers and imagine a completely different summer we never lived. We'd try our best not to scratch, though the guilt had infected us, and we pushed our backs against the carpet like bears, trying to find salvation in the rug burn.