I Looked, And Behold, A Pale…Wasp?

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And so it has begun. The day of reckoning is upon us. The end is nigh. Okay, okay, I’m being dramatic–I’m only moving out of my apartment. But it does feel rather apocalyptic. For one thing, the temperature has soared to a sweltering 95 degrees (with 100% humidity, naturally) as I’ve begun packing up my attic abode. Gotta love a mid-July move. You might be wondering, “You live in an attic in Chicago–don’t you have air conditioning?” Great question! My apartment is technically equipped with central air, but I am woefully at the mercy of my landlords (the system is for the entire house), whom I’ve long suspected are members of an alien race hailing from a planet much nearer the sun, granting them the power to withstand heinous temperatures. That or they hate me and want me to die before they have to return my damage deposit. (Just kidding! You guys have been great! Don’t look too closely at the drywall, though. Or the front door for that matter–I went through a bit of a knife throwing phase and my aim left something to be desired. And maybe avoid glancing down at the carpet–I can’t fathom why I chose to start a collection of rusted scrap-metal, either!)

The second sign of the impending apocalypse is the arrival of the wasps. For the past two weeks they have sent daily envoys from their nest in the eaves and I’m beginning to get the feeling they don’t come in peace. This burning desire to lay siege to my apartment is truly perplexing because no sooner have they entered than they begin their desperate quest for escape. They drift menacingly by as I’m relaxing on the couch, shattering my foolhardy belief that having four walls and a roof might afford me some magnitude of protection from the perils of the outdoors. If they’re lucky, I spot them in time to escort them from the premises via my handy bug-catching jar (every home needs one), but an unfortunate few succumb to the inevitable heatstroke that results from more than an hour spent in my apartment, and their needle-thin corpses pile in the corners of my window sills, forming tiny mass graves. I’ve kept a running count of the wasps–seven dead and twelve live ones. Will I make it to twenty before I move out? Stay tuned!

So, between the stifling heat and the invading hordes of wasps, I’ve found myself wondering aloud as I pack, “What circle of hell is this?” My first inclination was the sixth circle–being entombed in flames– because it feels as though I’m roasting alive. But I’m also knee-deep in a pool of my own sweat, so it’s more like boiling, really, which I suppose would make this the seventh circle–a river of boiling blood and fire. I may be a godless heretic, but I’m no murderer, so I can’t imagine what I’ve done to deserve this torture. I hear boiling meat retains its nutrients better than roasting, though, so at least that’s good news for the wasps when they come to feast on my molten flesh.

The one bright spot in this ghastly inferno (other than eternal hell-fire) is that the constant, looming threat of heat exhaustion and anaphylaxis leaves little room to feel the gut-wrenching emotions that this undertaking would otherwise engender. It wasn’t until I sat back after four solid hours of dismantling the home I’ve spent the past eight years creating with such love, care, and devotion, that I began to sense the first inklings of heartache. The all-consuming nature of such a monumental task can only draw focus for so long, but eventually the boxes are stacked, the packing tape is set down (after untangling it from my hands and every other available surface–seriously, fuck packing tape) and there’s nothing left to mask the gnawing realization that the time has come bid farewell to a chapter of my life–a chapter that has spanned the better part of a decade and seen me through such innumerable triumphs and tribulations that the notion that its trappings could be stripped bare in a matter of days is incomprehensible. I know the things that I’m packing away are just that–things–but the amassing of material possessions is a means of creating personal history, a living museum where each item is imbued with a certain set of memories, recollected upon sight, touch, or smell. (Or taste, I guess–I don’t know what weird shit you’re into.) The ransacking of that museum feels a bit like having the pieces of your brain and your heart torn apart and rearranged in a heedless jumble, like an ill fitting jig-saw puzzle, then being told, “Carry on–this is par for the course.” I suppose that’s the nature of moving on–it’s impossible to build anew without some small measure of destruction.

Once I’d met my quota of necessary destruction for the day, I headed to the sailing center in search of respite from the heat and the heartache. I went for a restorative paddle, drifting lazily beneath the balm of cerulean skies and hare’s tail wisps of cirrus clouds, relishing the lap of cool water as my board bucked beneath the muddled chop of Lake Michigan waves. After, as I wandered home along the lakefront toward Chicago with its skyscrapers standing tall like giants, gaunt faces of steel and stone, I knew another pang of sorrow–not just for the home I would be leaving, but for the city, too. I recalled countless nights at the beach spent lying on the bed of a catamaran, hair still damp and smelling of seaweed, a bottle of beer in hand, slick with condensation in the summer heat. Off in the distance the traffic would hum, the El trains grinding along their rails, but the water’s edge invoked a hushed reverence–a sense that these were hallowed grounds. I’d pass hours watching planes take off from O’Hare, arcing out over the water in trails of blinking light–the only bright stars you’ll see in a city where it is never truly night. So much of my life has transpired along this small stretch of shore–how can I possibly leave it? But I know I have my reasons. Drowned as they are by fear and uncertainty, I’m sure they still exist. I need only to summon the faith that they’ll resurface once more when this period of upheaval has passed. Besides, what’s the alternative–languishing in a blistering apartment, trapped with a swarm of stinging insects? Better purgatory than hell, I suppose.

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