It's not about the moths.

When I lost my husband and my house I thought, at least I won’t have to deal with the moths anymore. Pantry moths. A funny name, since they did not seem to have any interest in our pantry. In fact they were in the TV room, far off the kitchen. Nevertheless I did what the Internet told me and I threw away anything that wasn’t in a can or jar. I cleaned out the pantry on my hands and knees. I went through the drawers in the kitchen, and jettisoned rice and couscous and kettle chips. I wiped down the drawers with bleach. 

The moths laughed. 

These were fat brown moths. They hid in our rattan kitchen blinds and in our silk curtains and a lot of the time they didn’t bother to hide at all, they just sat there on the white walls, clear as day. I didn’t want to kill them at first. Isn’t that hysterical? I’m a vegan (well, a fish, cheese and chocolate eating vegan - don’t ask - it’s complicated). I don’t kill bugs, I trap them under water glasses and release them outside. Ha! 

That lasted a few days. 

Then I got the taste for it. I wetted paper towels and - smack! - a silent murder. The perfect crime. I told myself they didn’t feel a thing. I didn’t either. I could kill a moth and then kill another moth right next to it. Every night, I’d do a patrol. Ten, twenty of them. Every morning, another patrol, another twenty. I ran out of paper towels. 

My husband was already moving out, in his head. That’s the thing about marriages. They don’t end suddenly. The relationship falters, a little bit at a time, right there in plain sight. 

He didn’t seem bothered by the moths. Or maybe he didn’t let himself get bothered by the moths. Me? 

Some nights I felt crazy. Moths are wily, so just when you think you’ve got them all, you’ll see one, right there, on the eyeball of a portrait hanging on a wall, in the fold of a shower curtain, on the leaf of a plant.

When we had to sell the house, it was awful. We’d been there sixteen years. We’d raised our daughter there. I won’t get into that here. Just trust me. It was a thing. But the one bright side - the one silver lining - was that I could escape those moths. 

This would be a fresh start. 

I moved into an apartment in a shiny glass skyscraper with amazing views in downtown Portland. Industrial chic. Concrete ceilings, floor to ceiling windows. You can picture it, right? Can you see me there? Do I look cool? It was much smaller than the house, so I brought the bare minimum from my old life. My next phase, I thought, would be minimalist. I was going to be one of those women who wore black with a statement necklace, a woman with good art, and no clutter. You know the type. You’ve seen her in movies. 

We had a huge yard sale at the old house and I made fifty Goodwill runs and a dump run and I filled two dumpsters - I let go of a lot. My childhood stuffed animals. My baby teeth. My mother’s photographs. Piles of clothes. Hundreds of books. My sticker collection from fourth grade. It’s funny what we keep when we have room, isn’t? I donated a quarter of our furniture to an organization that sets up housing for refugees, or at least said they did. 

It was horrible and incredibly liberating.

I moved downtown. I hung the art. 

A few months later, there was a moth. 

I swear to God.

It was in the guest room. Just chilling on a wall, like it has always been there, not a care in the world. 

I killed it. I didn’t even hesitate.

A moth, smacked against a wall, leaves a stain like someone has just spit out cowboy coffee. 

There were others. Every day, a few more. I’d wake up to them. 

Had they followed me?

Had I brought them with me?

I must have. 

But I had no stored food. My pantry had a can of corn and some jarred pears. My husband had been the one who cooked. 

I was stymied. 

It seemed centered on the guest room. I washed all the bedding. I bought traps. I bought fly swatters. 

The moths seemed to spread from there. Soon they were in the hallway, the guest bathroom, the living room, my bedroom, my bathroom. 

The concrete ceilings? That once seemed so chic? Moth heaven. I had to stand on a chair and extend my fly swatter handles to be able to smack them. Sometimes they’d drop dead to the carpet, sometimes they’d stick up there, another carcass in my growing collection; sometimes I’d miss and they’d flutter, panicked, bouncing off my body as I swatted and squirmed and tried not to fall off the chair.

It’s still happening. 

I kill fifty moths a day.

Today two moths came at me in the shower. Me, naked, wet, batting at them with my hands. 

I can’t leave my apartment. Not overnight. Imagine what I’d come back to? If I didn’t kill them. If I didn't smack them against the wall, pinch them in toilet paper, what would happen? They’d multiply. They’d take over my whole apartment. 

These moths? They’re watching me. 

I was invited to spend two weeks at a writing retreat. I said no. Who would kill the moths? If I wasn’t here, and came back, after two weeks?! Moths would cover every surface, every last thing that’s mine. 

Just between us, they’re getting harder to kill. Like they’re evolving, like they know me. I guess I killed the dumb ones before they could breed. Now, when I pick up a fly swatter, they all scatter.

Finally, I did what people do in this situation. Every Reddit thread exhausted, every effort explored, I called a professional. My building has a pest control guy (another silver lining!). He was here today. He also was puzzled, and could not find the source of the moths, their secret nursery, their origin story. The pantry was clean, he said. He couldn’t find any evidence in the apartment of larvae or webbing. Maybe it was coming from a neighbor’s place? He set a few traps and will come by tomorrow with poison. He said it was best if the dog were out of the house until the poison dried. So the corgi is going to my husband’s apartment, where he’ll be safe. 


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