When I lifted my lids on the morning of April fourteenth, there was a change in the air. I couldn’t hear, see, smell, or even touch this feeling. I just knew it. Peering around my room suspiciously, I realized that nothing had changed. My bookshelf, desk, and dresser were all in the same place. Everything was the same yet everything was different. I just couldn’t pinpoint it. On the other hand, my seven-year-old Maine Coon cat, Daphne, could. She was biting, clawing, and hissing just to look out the window. Groaning like a bear coming out of hibernation, I staggered from my bed and pulled open the blinds. As soon as I got a glimpse of what was outside, I gasped. Why? Outside my window was a picture-perfect scene. The sun high in the brilliant blue sky illuminated Rockaway in a whole new light. It seemed as if a new Rockaway had swept in and brought with it new life. The next thing I noticed was the emerald-green grass. It beckoned me to come out as a lighthouse beckons lost sailors out at sea. A flash of scarlet and the birds’ singing made me realize that it was spring. A highlight of this picture-perfect scene was the ocean. Waves were crashing on the shore and seagulls glided through the air. Best of all was the breeze. Unlike the cold, harsh, icy wind that had dominated the peninsula for the past few months, this breeze was warm, inviting, and a prelude of the joys that would follow. It seemed like a perfect day. My thoughts were cut off by another thought—the praying mantis. Let me explain.
Last year I found an injured praying mantis on 145th Street while bike-riding. I couldn’t identify it right away but my brother, Michael, could. Peering through his glasses, he murmured, “It’s a praying mantis.” To make a long story short, in less than half an hour, the insect had acquired a ten-gallon tank, dirt substrate, sticks and twigs, and a bulging abdomen. I fed the mantis ten large crickets, which she eagerly accepted. What grabbed my attention was how she groomed herself meticulously. First, she would start with the leg farthest away from her and work her way down towards her front legs. She would move her tongue along the edges of her prickly-spiny limbs. This always brought out panic in my young sister, Renee.
“Mommy, the mantis is biting herself; make her stop, now!”
One day I noticed the praying mantis’s eyes just staring at me with intense curiosity. I opened the screened lid and lifted up the mantis. She was fascinated by my hair. Sometimes she would hold up one strand of my hair between her limbs and study it intently. Several times she climbed and perched herself upon my head, just to feel my hair. The first couple of times she crawled on my bare skin, I got goosebumps due to her prickly-spiny legs, but that sensation quickly faded because I had successfully tamed her. One of the things that made homework less tedious was having her crawl and roam around my desk as the gears turned in my head. The praying mantis had become the insect version of the dog I have always wanted.
Around December her color started to change—from a bright green to a dull, earthy color. She seldom ate crickets. She allowed them to walk around her without making any effort to grasp them. It slowly occurred to me that my precious mantis was slowly dying. So when I trudged home from school January third, I was astonished to see what I thought was a small banana hanging from the top of the cage. Upon closer inspection I realized it was an egg case!!! I was overjoyed for a mere five seconds, but soon my eyes filled with tears upon the realization that the praying mantis was dead. She was curled up like an autumn leaf. Gingerly, I picked up the egg sack and carried it to the back deck, having bittersweet feelings about this entire ordeal. I was filled with grief because my praying mantis was dead, but happy that somehow I had helped nature by creating a natural haven for her to lay her eggs. If I hadn’t found her that day she would have never had a chance to lay her eggs. Every day I look at the egg case to see if the eggs have hatched. They haven’t yet…
* * *
The last day of spring break, as I walked down the beach, I saw a little plant fighting for survival on a metal and concrete pier. It was growing in a crevice, struggling for water and glimpses of sunlight. At first, I thought it would die. Then, I remembered how my injured mantis had found a way to lay her eggs. Life had found a way for the mantis and life would find a way for the plant. Life will always find a way…