E S S A Y Don’t sweat the small things. That’s what the gurus say.
But sometimes small things – like the carpet-eating moths that have bunked up in my Santa Fe house – cause oceans of sweat.
After moving away from the too expensive and stressful Bay Area; buying, and remodeling this delightful house; meticulously arranging my precious wool rugs from Oaxaca, Turkey, and Iran; and neatly stacking my consignment shop sweaters, I relaxed – until I saw them.
Tiny wheat-colored moths strolling across my favorite wall hangings. I researched: They have bacchanals on wool and silk. One female can lay 150 eggs, which hatch into larvae, which gorge themselves, chewing fist-sized holes in beautiful textiles. Then they pupate, starting their revels over again.
This week I’ve been vacuuming like a woman possessed, inspecting sweaters, scarves, gloves, and socks; taking clothes to the drycleaners, freezing rugs, baking others in the sun, placing sticky traps laced with pheromones to lure the males; and ordering pyrethrin sprays from Amazon to repel the little bastards. I called a rug company in Ithaca, NY, four times – they have moth experts. A fifth time I called just for moral support: What if just one female or one wriggling larva survives all my assaults?
Before breakfast this morning, I was on my knees. Not praying, but looking under my sofa — because that’s where the experts say they lurk. I was thinking: how ridiculous is this? Then I thought of my father.
After being blacklisted by Joseph McCarthy and losing his job, he started a pest control business. It was hard work, crawling around bakeries and other commercial establishments looking for cockroaches and rodent droppings. He was a smart man, and had loved his white-collar job at the Food and Drug Administration. He became an angry man. To his dying day, he said he felt like a man without a country. And though he didn’t say it, I knew he felt demeaned by the dirty work, down on his knees.
I had an epiphany on the living room floor: maybe my moth obsession had something to do with feeling my father’s pain. I remembered him coming home from work, face lined, green coveralls dirt- and poison-soiled. As a little girl, I thought if I was really good, I could make him be happy. I didn’t have that power. And today, no matter how conscientious, I may still miss one damn moth, and there’s not a thing I can do about that. We humans imagine we can control things – from tiny moths to aging and illness — only to find that we control almost nothing.
I’m alive and healthy. I have great friends. I have poetry. And the New Mexico sky is astonishingly beautiful. So I’ll remember what the gurus say. I’ll do my best, and stop sweating the rest.
Joanne Brown is a strategic communications consultant, writer, and poet. Her corporate work can be found at joannebrown.com, and her poetry has been featured in Persimmon Tree and Evening Street Review.