Moving on like a worm.
Cutting worms in half as a child was a crime of curiosity. I’d use the dulled edge of a play-sized metal trowel and divide their pink, squishy bodies right through the fatted part in the middle. There was nothing malicious or intentionally sadistic about the practice—watching while both ends continued to writhe about, I almost felt a sense of pride. Perhaps this was what God meant when he said, “Be fruitful and multiply.” He may have even been thankful—after all, I was doing his job for him. A garden of Eden, in which every day, after lunchtime, I fashioned Eve from the fleshy, segmented form of a tiny, invertebrate Adam.
I made the mistake one day of reading a little about worms. “Worms have nervous systems so they experience the sensation of physical pain. Cutting a worm in half often results in its death, though sometimes, half will go on to regenerate and survive. They do not, however, experience emotional pain.” I was assured by this last note, it stood out as I scanned the article in my quest for absolution. They do not fear or anticipate the arrival of pain—they merely respond to it, like being struck in the knee and curiously observing that odd patellar reflex.
Red wigglers, the long, crimson, ringed worms we see in abundance, strewn about the pavement like calling cards after a hard rain, will typically regrow their tails—a feature that allows the head segment to live on but becomes problematic for the tail. With two tail ends and nothing driving the car, they’re doomed to wriggle about for a short while, giving the illusion that all is well, but eventually, they will die without a brain or the ability to feed themselves. If a worm’s sex organs are lost in the separation, they don’t regrow, even if they’re able to regenerate everything else. Shiny and rosy, they’ll carry on their way with the appearance of total renewal—contented eunuchs, burying themselves in the earth to consume and excrete until they die.
The death of a romantic entanglement can leave you feeling a lot like a worm—rent violently from some piece of yourself. Like the blow from my little trowel, it’s often sudden, unexpected, and jarring, but unlike a worm, the pain permeates every level of your being. Symbolically neutered, we watch nauseating rituals of courtship with scorn and heartache in equal measure, many of us resolving to become spiritual and emotional castrati—singing pretty songs of freedom all the live long day to give the illusion of selectivity and upturned noses when in reality, we don’t remember how it even works anymore, and we’re too fearful to try.
Of course, we all hope to be the fortunate half—the piece that survives and is born anew, happy and healthy, but it doesn’t always work out that way. It’s easy enough to throw our two tails in a tight dress, hit the bar and the bag, and meet the same tragic end as the wrong half of a red wiggler—a ship without a helm, starving and brainless.
Indeed, we don’t always regenerate the way we’d like. Sometimes we find ourselves sleepless at 3 AM, plagued with images, as we open the refrigerator door for the umpteenth time, hoping that more than a head of rotting romaine lettuce and a sweaty rind of parmesan cheese will appear so we may gorge ourselves and slake the thirsty sadness, if only for a moment. Sometimes we get curious—we look at things we shouldn’t. We revisit that one computer folder we’re not supposed to and before we know it, we’re looking at a detective’s corkboard—a murder map of unsent letters, text message screenshots, and serene vacation photos. We stalk around the room, pacing as we drink the station coffee swill, and realize that the sun will rise to greet us, any minute now. We pause in front of the mirror, wild-eyed and disheveled, questioning whether or not we’ll ever be beautiful to anyone ever again. We think about the other half and feel that halving wound, somewhere deep within, and wonder when it will finally fade, but the truth is that sometimes we don’t want it to—it’s all we have left to remember them by after all, and we like the company that comes with being haunted.
Unlike worms, we are often cleaved in twain by far greater sins than curiosity and doomed to bear the heavy burden of memory long after any indication of our severance is gone. It seems the pain of our bisection lies in almost everything but the blow itself—it’s the ache of everyday tedium, returning phone calls at long last, changing sheets and clothes, and maybe even giving it a go with someone new. While a worm will instinctually begin the process of regeneration, we must make the weighty decision to do so by simple, God-given self-determination. To gather ourselves, heavy with what it means to begin again, and drag our leaden feet all the way to the threshold of acceptance. No biological instinct will intercede to help us step inside, close the door against the chill of what once was, and embrace the unknown salvation of renewal
No, we are not worms. An emotional wound will not trigger our cells to strive for repair, regrowing our tender hearts, our trust, and faith in all of what could be. Instead, the task of regeneration is ours—a mighty charge, and one we must valiantly choose to begin, again and again, each and every time.
From Der Naturen Bloeme - Jacob van Maerlant (c. 1350)