Catch and Release

by Ethan Seavey

My last night in the house on Euclid Avenue will go one of two ways:

A. When I climb through a window in my bedroom (which will no longer be my bedroom tomorrow) and onto the flat roof outside in order to smoke the very last bowl of cannabis in my home (which will no longer be my home tomorrow), a moth will seize the opportunity to fly into the room.

B. Scenario A won’t happen.

The chances of scenario A occurring can be described as somewhat unlikely but certainly possible. This possibility is mostly blamed on the size and age of the window. It is about thirty square feet in total. This is a blessing in the fact that I can fit through the window easily and even sit in the frame comfortably if it’s raining. But in August its great size becomes a problem. A greater surface area gives moths a greater chance of entering my room. Moths are rather persistent when they’re around, but they’re often exploring other lights. So, they’re rare but not uncommon. I saw one a few days ago, but I haven’t seen one since. When I do see moths, I see them in August. It is August. It is August 26. I leave for New York in late August, August 27, the 27th, August 27, I’ll fly from Chicago to New York on August 27, which is tomorrow, it’s already here.

The window frame is old and cranky. To open it I’ll stand with my back to the window and raise it by pulling both handles at once with a gentle force. It will get stuck a few feet up, and I’ll apply my right shoulder to hoist it up. At that point the window’s weight will require all of my strength to gain any momentum, and once that momentum is brought to nothing by gravity and friction, it’s never coming back; the hinges click; it stays in that position until you have to close it again. It certainly was not built with the intention of a human regularly climbing out of it, or even with the intention of regularly opening it up. This all goes to say that in order to climb out, I must also step up a few feet over a metal radiator, up and over the window frame, and onto the roof. I can injure myself at any point. I’ve learned that light can only help in situations like these. So, I have to leave the little lamp by my bed lit.

Some very common moth species are attracted to light. This is believed to be the case because they navigate at nighttime and they have evolved to use the stars and the moon to navigate; but now that there are as many windows with lights in Oak Park, Illinois as stars in the sky, the moths struggle to do anything but cling to the nearest light, their hardware broken.

Moths are attracted to light and I must leave my light on. That’s why the moth could be there later tonight, and that’s why I’m worried about it right now. If scenario A happens, I have to remove the moth. There is exposed wool in my room and I can see the bug plotting. As I see it, my last night in the house on Euclid Avenue would go one of four ways:

A.1 Catch and Release

In this scenario, I am the hero. I grab the glass on my bedside table and a playing card, and I scoop up the moth. Then I put the glass down on the windowsill. Next I open the window. Then I climb outside. Next I grab the glass. Then I close the window. Next I free the moth.

Finally I climb back inside a room free of moths.

It is a boring story but it has a happy ending.

A.2 Catch and Kill 

This scenario could arise in an infinite number of ways which all stem from my own incompetence as a rescuer. These events would take place after one or two bowls of cannabis [whatever I will be able to scrounge out of the bottom crevices of my high school lunchbox (which has been repurposed as a weed paraphernalia box)]. So, something as simple as catching a moth and releasing it suddenly becomes much harder. At any step along the way, I may fail in my quest and kill the very being I was trying to save.

In addition, this room in particular is unkind to the bug rescuer, whether they’re sober or not. In scenario 1 it was not relevant to consider the logistics of actually rescuing the moth because it was always known that the rescue would be successful. For this very reason I chose to delay the description of exactly where the moth will land (if it does land) when it enters my room (if it does enter my room), a description I will include here. It will land on the wall directly opposite the lamp, as they always seem to like it the most. Research is inconclusive whether the moth actually enjoys this wall because it offers a complete submersion in light, or if it is simply choosing to be as far from me as possible. By now it has recognized that I am a human and it will remember that humans are a threat to the casual moth and so it will conclude that I am a threat. It will choose one of the highest spots on the wall, about a foot from the ceiling. It will choose a spot right in between two of the many masks that are hanging on that wall. It will look like a wooden mask itself (brown and somewhat ovaline, light brown specks on its wings as eyes).  It will enjoy the bath of warm yellow light. And it will immobilize.

I’ll first notice the moth after a moment of entirely random duration. It won’t have moved by that time. I’ll grab the tall glass. I’ll climb atop the dresser and slowly stretch up towards the ceiling. I’ll hover a foot below the moth, gauging the moth’s position, and I’ll strike. This is the very first moment that scenario 2 could come to fruition. I could attempt to catch the moth under the glass and in my swift movement crush the moth under the lip, after which I would watch the moth quickly fall behind a dresser, and I’d feel briefly sad and I’d return to bed and I would never retrieve its body for proper disposal. I could accidentally kill it after successfully catching it, too. I could press the glass against the wall with an amount of force that is inadequate to support it; at which point, the glass could fall, stunning the moth, and sending it to the ground, where it is killed by the fall or the glass shards around its corpse. I could kill it when I put the card under the glass, should the moth choose to stick its head right where the card must go in order to save it.

If none of that happens, I might drop it while I make my way off the dresser, across the room, and towards the window. If not then, then, when I’ll climb over the radiator to get onto the roof. If not then, then when I’m closing the window behind me.

Chances of successful release at this stage are about 1 in 5. That’s because when the human (being a species not known for thinking things through) removes the card from the glass, the moth (being a moth) is drawn to the closest source of light which is, of course, the window I will have had just climbed through. So, when I open the window to climb back inside, the moth will likely climb back inside with me.

If this were to happen, I know myself well enough to know that I would become enraged, resulting in scenario A.3 or A.4, which you will learn about shortly. While the second half of this theoretical scene could play out exactly like A.3 or A.4, I have chosen to include it here in scenario A.2 in order to introduce the notion that these scenarios can, under some circumstances, still be considered unintentional or accidental. I am unsure if this notion holds any weight, though.

A.3 Do not Catch, but Release

In certain situations, I may suddenly abandon hope of catching it and decide to kill it instead. Fear flips the same switch as frustration. If the moth flies suddenly at my face, say, I will have the same reaction as if the moth flies right back through the window after being released.

In this case I may pick up a makeshift flyswatter (not much thought goes into this: a shoe, a book, a piece of paper, a small ceramic vase, a well-loved stuffed pig, or, in the direst of circumstances, my bare hand). I will then proceed to chase the moth in its flight. There is a rare chance that I’ll have left the window open as immediately beforehand I may have tried to release it. Then I could see the moth abandoning its love of light and flying out the open window. I can see myself closing the window quickly. I would be very pleased that I did not kill it. But I’ll linger on the scene which would have happened if the window weren’t open.

A.4 Kill the Moth

This scenario is the one which results in the intentional murder of the moth. It is the least ideal scenario. It may arise one of two ways: A) spontaneously (say, if the moth flies at me, and I reflexively swat it out of the air, sending it in a quick arc to the floor), or B) intentionally. Certainly the more interesting of the two, the one which will make me remember this moth, is if I wind up intentionally killing it.

Of course an intentional murder can be somewhat spontaneous, and it is this situation which I will find myself in. Because the catching of a moth is a spontaneous action, I will catch the moth before considering how I will release it; but releasing is a pre-meditated action, which requires careful planning. I pause in between Catch and Release, and I consider the logistics. I run through this exact list. I come to a conclusion: the moth will always be drawn to the light; I need the light to free the moth; it is unlikely I will succeed in freeing the moth. The release will be unsuccessful. It may fly right into my face, driving me to rage. It may fly right back to he window, driving me to frustration. But it is probably unlikely that this moth will ever leave me alone until I turn the light off (which I cannot do), and it is likely that I will have to kill it outside.

And, so, a pre-meditated murder becomes the product of a spontaneous one. In order to avoid the hassle of fear or frustration, I’ll kill it in advance. I’ll transfer the moth to a plastic bag. Then I’ll drop a book on it.

Should this version of scenario 4 happen, my last morning in the house on Euclid Avenue will result in the guilty re-discovery of the brutalism I will have committed the night before.