Mantis: a Memoir

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He handed me a flashlight. It was one of those oversized yellow things with the enormous battery that allegedly lasts for 5000 hours but is unfailingly dead as soon as you really need it. He had taken the battery, electronics, and light bulb out, so as to create a little compartment inside.

“I didn’t have any other containers, so I had to improvise,” he said.

I tried to unscrew the top of the flashlight. My adolescent fingers strained eagerly.

“Let me help you with that,” he smiled. He took the flashlight in his powerful hands and loosened it before handing it back to me.

“Go on, look inside.”

I twisted the cap off and let it fall to the floor of my garage. I peered inside. Last time, it was a meadow vole.  A few months ago, it was a baby snapping turtle. In the past he had brought home garter snakes, baby chipmunks, injured birds, and small large-mouthed bass that he had caught in local ponds. What next?

A triangular head swiveled almost 180 degrees to stare me in the face. Two long antennae trembled furiously, searching the air for any sign of threat. Four spindly legs stretched out, clinging to the sheer yellow plastic, and two more were held upright, coiled against its abdomen. It stared at me, swaying eerily, meeting my starry-eyes with its unblinking, alien stare.

I looked up at my dad, unaware that this four-inch insect would become a central and omnipotent figure in my young life.

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My dad gave me my first mantis when I was 13. He was driving down some rural road in Western Massachusetts when something hit his windshield. He stopped the car, went to inspect, and wound up catching the mantis (unharmed) in a flashlight container. We named her Preya the Chinese Mantis. I wrote this memoir for my Sociology class earlier this year. These were just the first few paragraphs– if you’re interested in reading more, feel free to email me at acantrell (at) wesleyan (dot) edu and I’d be happy to send it to you.

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