By Noelle Barrera
- On the first day, we were surprised when the moths started raining down from the sky. We were standing on sidewalks, drinking coffee in dimly-lit rooms, walking with friends on the streets when they started dropping down from trees — with vivid punctured red-green bodies, dead moths the size of dogs, the velvet expanse of their eye-spot wings like some unearthly promise we’d been given from the clouds.
In this year our fingers still trembled when we turned on the news, but we all knew not to look up anymore, that something about the ever-present smoke in the air was transforming the insects in our city. Sometimes when I walked to school with you, I would make little peepholes with my fingers and see caramel-colored swarms of gigantic bees swarming through the sky, their fur turned into spikes sharp enough to leave blisters. Their hives formed around skyscrapers in round clusters like miniature suns, choking out the light in the windows and trapping billionaires in their offices. Entomologists were terrified, physicists predicted the dissolution of all things and the rise of entropy, and I had just kissed a girl for the first time.
Dizzy with my pre-breakfast headache and the words on all of the screens of all of the worlds that were becoming possible, I walked outside with the rest of our class to the video station. We read the subtitles that warned us of the giant fuzzy caterpillars emerging from the ground. We put on the government-issued masks and gloves that were meant to protect us from their venomous breath-spray. I gave myself five minutes to close my eyes and imagine two girls kissing by the chain-link metal fences outside the community garden, our blue overalls and the dirt on our hands and the way that I had impulsively cut off a single sunflower at the stem to put in her pocket when she left. New worlds were becoming possible.
That was the week when my grandmother gave me melatonin pills every night to help me sleep, when the ghosts of the fallen started visiting us in our dreams. The people who the caterpillars grabbed and devoured with their thousand radiated tiny mouths would come back and find us when we slept — we knew it was them because they were dressed in their Sunday best, headless and with a hundred tiny sprouts growing from where their heads used to be. The sprouts that grew were always of the plant that they loved when they were alive — Monica had tomato, Ezekiel had bean sprouts, Kai had amaranth. That was the year where I kept the sunflower I had been too shy to give, and framed it on my desk next to last year’s college admission letter. Everything was changing.
- On the second week of the great reckoning, we started collecting the dark that had fallen from the night in our coffee cups, and trying to throw it back, but every time it would just fall back down into our hands. NASA had sent out a broadcast confirming our worst suspicions — all of the dark wouldn’t go back, and every night the sky would just get lighter and lighter blue until the whole world was blank. While Neil Degrasse Tyson ranted on television each day about the demise of objectivity and reason (although that had been thrown outside the societal window along with the tarantula-ants), this was the week where I didn’t listen. All of our friends cuddled in a sprawling pile on my apartment floor and solemnly watched all of the “Fast and the Furious” movies, and Alex figured out how to make pancakes shaped exactly like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, abs and all. Anyone who mentioned the periwinkle sky outside the window at 1 AM, or the praying mantis who had torn apart the Australian prime minister, or anything non-Vin Diesel related was lovingly slapped in the face and kicked out of the room.
There were theories about why this was all happening. Maybe the end of the world was, after all, easier to imagine than the end of capitalism. A growing sect on Twitter decided that the Tarantula Wars were the logical outcome of society’s gluttony and cruelty towards insects, that the Fire Ant Plague was just the Earth detoxing naturally, and that the paint-like slivers of dark and star falling from the sky would make a healthy and nutrient-rich smoothie (reader, I blocked them all.) When we walked home from school or the video center or our mandatory shifts at the community garden — keeping the plants clean and insect-free with liberal swathes of aerosol and pesticide — we saw sects of every religion, claiming that this was it, that our bodies didn’t have to be testaments to emptiness anymore. That this was our bus stop, our final destination. That, at last, we were finally made for something.
These were the hours when I tried to write everything that I could down, when I traced my grandmother’s face while she slept in front of her evening telenovelas and counted every wrinkle (257), when I went back to my own apartment and looked at my face as if it, like the night sky, was in danger of being erased entirely, sent to another universe where only birds exist. I wanted to step down from my life and become my own historiographer, my own judge, jury, and executioner if it came down to that (and I definitely wanted to be remembered as someone who enjoyed Oxford commas.) But I also knew that I had forgotten too much of my own life already, and could never be trusted to be an expert on anyone else’s; that deep down I felt more connected to others than ever, that everything worth happening takes place in community, but also that I felt horribly yet secretly alone.
At night I drew halfhearted watercolor sketches of people who I loved and cities that only existed in my head while watching The Great British Baking Show alone in my living room, the volume turned up loud enough to drown out the sirens of the city guard coming to shoot the people who had violated the new curfew rules, or had tried to break into the community garden to take vegetables home. The dark from the sky stayed in its watertight mason jar, along with the tarantula-ant I had rescued from the Tarantula Wars and surreptitiously was keeping as a pet. I stayed in my couch, unless I wandered to the kitchen to feverishly eat some grapes, hands filled with a trembling like water, or to my bed to text/worry about friends or sink into a dreamless sleep. Everything seemed so much — our violence, our complicity, this time that my hands shook too much to be able to hold onto. I just wanted to sleep.
- It was the 46th day, and in our isolation we received a surprise — an army of little black dachshunds came into our neighborhood, with decorated orange vests and sunflowers where their heads should be. I held your hand tightly as we opened the gate and greeted the dogs, who tackled us with frenzied greetings and slobber. From the second, humanoid mouths on their necks, they spoke to us in gentle tones in languages we didn’t know yet. We loved them instantly. Over time, as we grew to take in and love the dogs, we slowly began to understand the words that they said, the strange sigils on their vests. They told us that one day, the color would come back to the sky. That the bees would go back to their hives. That they loved us too, and that we were all trying our best. That we were at an unprecedented juncture point in history, and that it was up to the collective what we decided to make of this — if we would choose to stand together in radical solidarity, or if we would choose to die screaming in the mouths of the giant caterpillars. Typical things that dogs would say if they could talk.
- I kept holding your hand as we walked the dogs down the street in the light blue night, and we listened to a Mitski song together, ironically called “Pink in the Night.” I wondered if I was in love with you, and realized that the answer was yes, but also that I was in love with everything that night — Mitski, but also the cobblestones on the street and the dogs with their weird neck-mouths and pumpkin pie and rainy mornings and the entire world. But that was too much to say at one time, so I just pressed the dried-up sunflower into your hand and ran away.
Noelle Barrera is a student studying anthropology and digital poetics at Trinity University, in her hometown of San Antonio. She has never written anything that didn’t involve themes of longing and giant insects, and doesn’t intend to start now; her free time is currently spent quarantine-stress-baking and thinking about Anne Carson. Check out more of her writing and/or unsolicited opinions at her Twitter, @roseopossum.