Thomas Wictor

I feared all the wrong things

I feared all the wrong things

All my worst fears came true. Since childhood I feared pain, isolation, humiliation, incurable illness, predation, failure, suffering, loneliness, not fitting in…

And earwigs.

More about the earwigs in a minute.

In retrospect I feared all the wrong things, since everything I feared eventually came to pass. Tim and I have had this discussion many times. His greatest fear was nausea. In 2001, as he drove to the post office, he was suddenly struck with such severe nausea that he had to pull over and throw up. We tried everything, thinking that it was stress. The only thing that slightly relieved it was lying on the floor on his back.

Eventually, his doctors discovered that the sphincter at the top of his stomach had simply ceased functioning, and he had worst-case-scenario gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). He was nauseated all day, every day. To remedy his plight, he had to have fundoplication surgery. Luckily, the surgeon was one of the pioneers in the field, Dr. Namir Katkhouda. A very nice man, he did something unforgivable: He came out after the procedure and showed us photos of Tim’s insides, taken with a laparoscopic camera.

When I say unforgivable, I mean that in a completely baseless way. How could Dr. Katkhouda have known how neurotic I am?

Mom was fascinated, but I almost died on the spot. I can’t deal with guts, especially those inside people I know. When I had an endoscopy, there was the interior of my stomach right on a big screen, next to my face.

“Look at your viscera!” the surgeon said jovially.

Drugged out of my mind, I still wanted to scream. He burned all these non-malignant polyps out of my stomach, and I belched clouds of smoke that tasted like Arby’s roast beef. It was cooked me I was tasting. Only the heavy medication prevented me from moving gratefully to the peaceful land of Catatonia.

However, from this experience I can tell you that if you ever have to resort to cannibalism to survive, cooked human flesh tastes just like roast beef. So don’t worry.

An interesting side note: Tim had his surgery a few days after 9/11, and every single member of his surgical team was either an Arab or a Muslim immigrant. We met them all, from the head nurse to the anesthesiologist. There was no weirdness whatsoever on the part of anybody—patient, patient’s family, or hospital staff. It made me really proud to be an American. Again. We natural-born and voluntary citizens proved for the nine-billionth time that we’re not the cartoon characters depicted in most of the world’s popular culture.

Tim’s surgery gradually cured him, but he was continually, severely nauseated for a year and a half. His greatest fear not only came true, it was like a parody of a fear coming true. It’s been the same for me.

The Great Earwig Invasion

I’m not sure why I fear and loathe earwigs.


Though they’re harmless, they creep me the hell out. I believe that the genesis of my phobia is the movie The Tingler.


It’s a genuinely disturbing film that gets inside you the way so many William Castle productions do. As an example of Castle’s genius, click here and scroll down to the black-and-white photo. Try to get that image out of your skull. Never happen. It’s in there for good.

I saw The Tingler when I was nine, and it scared me nearly senseless. The result was months of nightmares and a terror of earwigs, which I didn’t know I had until I encountered my first such insect as a high schooler.

In 2005 I still lived with Tim in the alluvial shanty. One night, as we sat in the fireplace room, I saw a goddamn earwig come sauntering out from under the TV. Tim caught it and let it go outside. After a few minutes, another appeared. I knew I had to conquer my phobia, so I caught this one and put it outside. It was the first time I ever touched one: It was soft. As I carried it to the back door, it wriggled and squirmed in my hand. The sensation made me as sick as I felt when Dr. Katkhouda showed me Tim’s guts.

Five minutes later, two goddamn earwigs came out from under the TV, one for Tim and one for me. Then three came out. Then five. Then ten. Then a dozen. Then a score. Then thirty.

We caught earwigs for hours, releasing the little bastards in the back garden. The next night we caught over a hundred; the night after that, two hundred. We couldn’t keep up with them, and they went from sauntering to sprinting in all directions, like they were on crank. By the fourth night the entire carpet was covered with frenzied, running earwigs. They were going up the sides of the furniture, up our legs, and up our necks into our hair. We got a flashlight and went behind the TV, amongst the mess of cables, but we couldn’t find any kind of earwig door.

Finally, we unloaded the giant bookshelf next to the fireplace, moved it, and saw that the crack between the bricks and the wood was pouring out earwigs by the thousands. It was like a tear in the fabric of reality that opened into some dimension packed solid with earwigs, belly to back and nose to tail. Earwigs instead of space. Earwigs all the way up, down, and to the sides, forever. A torrent of earwigs flowed into the room with no sign of letting up.

Tim ran into the laundry room and came back with a caulk gun, which he used to seal up the hole into the earwig dimension. It was brown caulk that looked like Tootsie Roll.


Before I could stop my brain, it imagined a Tootsie Roll made of puréed, compacted earwigs. This obscenity shanked my consciousness as I stood over Tim; he didn’t know how close he came to wearing my dinner as a hat.

The Great Earwig Invasion was over. It left a question.

What would my life have been like if I’d feared happiness, success, health, wealth, and a perfect relationship with the perfect woman?

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