Memory Monday: Ants in Purgatory

Awww… she’s a cute li’l bugger

When I was a small sadistic little monster bent on meaningless destruction child I used to pass the time by murdering ants who were just minding their own damn business. My older brother taught me a neat trick where you could figure out the other exit of an ant colony by firing a smoke-bomb into it and watching it erupt from the other side. But most of the time I just slapped ‘em dead with an old flip-flop one after the other, like a game of whack-a-mole.

On one bright summer day while my father and older brothers (ages 13 and 11 respectively,  because farm kids and who cares about child labor laws anyway) were putting shingles on the roof of the newly constructed garage, I was sitting on the concrete patio below,  happily engaged in the wholesale slaughter of innocents. Suddenly, my 11-year-old brother slid feet-first off the roof like it was a goddamn slippy-slide.

He landed on the balls of his feet and fell forward onto his hands and knees. If he had now how to tuck and roll he might have gotten away completely unscathed. As it was, his knees and wrists absorbed most of the shock, and were bruised and swollen for days. By some miracle, he didn’t seem to break any bones.

Probably. Who’s to say. We never had insurance when I was growing up so he never got any x-rays that I’m aware of. The summer before my other brother had fallen off his bike and hurt his leg, and my Dad was all like, “It’s a Charlie Horse, walk it off”. And then the Charlie Horse lasted for a week and my Mom finally took him to the doctor and it turns out his leg had been broken the whole time. So I don’t know, the brother that fell off the roof probably did have stress fractures.

Anyway, I didn’t know how to interpret the whole event. I began to suspect that my brother falling off the roof was some kind of karmic retribution for killing the ants. Later that summer, when I had escaped to the county library for the free air conditioning, I came across a book in the reference section about animals and folk beliefs from around the world. In the book, it said that ants were sometimes considered to be the souls of unbaptized infants, or the souls of purgatory shrunken under the weight of their own sins working their way into heaven…

And ever since that summer I have never gone out of my way to kill an ant.

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