Yes, she said, there was.
“Do you need help?” I asked. Not that I wanted to help. I don’t kill insects — I get other people to do that for me, namely my husband. If I can get the bug to crawl onto a piece of paper, I take it outside and set it free, but if it flies and stings? No can do. If I try to kill a hornet, wasp or yellow jacket, I am so scared I scream (quite loudly, and yes, that is a genetic trait I inherited from my maternal line), and I often miss.
But this woman was probably two decades older than I was, and no one was helping her even though there were people around. I confess, though, that wasn’t the only reason I considered stepping up: stinging insects love to find me. I have been stung multiple times in my life while not even knowing that the bug was there until I felt the sharp prick. So if anyone was going to get stung in this library, it was going to be me.
I had only my computer and a mouse, no paper. “Do you have something to hit it with?” I asked.
She handed me a thin newspaper insert. It wasn’t going to do the trick. “This isn’t enough,” I said. She found a magazine and handed that to me, too.
Before I began my reign of terror, I had to remind myself that I was not allowed to scream. This was going to be hard because instinctually, I scream. It’s not a plan; it’s not something I want to do, but it happens, and it isn’t pretty.
I took a deep breath, and I swatted at the wasp (and OK, I yelped a little, but I did not do an all-out scream, though I’m pretty sure I was sweating at this point). Once, twice, three, four tries, and after each thwap the wasp just zipped to some other part of the window and went on with its day. How many lives did this wasp have, and how mad was I making it by trying to kill it?
The fifth time, I was patient and stood back to assess first instead of just whacking furiously. The fifth time, I made sure the wasp was on a flat surface. The fifth time, I got the job done. (I felt badly for it, too — the wasp hadn’t been doing anything wrong, but I didn’t 100 percent regret it, either.)
I know it’s small and pretty insignificant — killing a wasp — but I thought about how if my husband had been there, I would have asked him to (made him) do it. I thought about all the tiny things I learned how to do after my first marriage fell apart: eat out by myself, show up solo at dances and dance weekends, set up a tent and camp on my own, change my air filters, negotiate a mortgage, and the list goes on and on and and on of the small things that still add up. But maybe, most importantly, I learned how to ask for help, something I didn’t do all that well in my first marriage.
Maybe it’s OK that I ask my husband to kill wasps for me, but it’s also OK being reminded that I can do it if I need to, that I can step up and be a little stronger than I think I am.
Shuly Cawood lives in Johnson City and is the author of “The Going and Goodbye: a memoir and 52 Things I Wish I Could Have Told Myself When I Was 17.”