It’s time we ask ourselves who protects the ants?
This is a story about Chelsea Manning and how we’re so lucky she’s still here. That being said, we lost Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, and countless others this past week. Life can be so hard. We’ve got to protect each other.
If you or someone you know needs help then please call 1-800–273–8255. It’s the number for the National Suicide Hotline. They’re there to help.
This was first read at Friends Read Feelings at the SVA Theatre in Manhattan.
The Forelius Pusillus (for-lee-us pew-suh-lus) are a species of ants native to South America. To be exact, their home is in Brazil.
They carry a beige-ish translucent color that’s better described as a muted gold except near their joints which are much more of a brighter white. They’re different from the annoying Carpenter ants that I’m familiar with from growing up in the backwoods of Maine.
It’s 2015. I’m in a cab driving through Boston. It’s summer. Warmer than hell. I’m on my way to meet a girl. I think we’re dating but I’m not sure. If we are then it’s been a few months and I don’t mind it. She wants to touch my body. I won’t let her. Same old story. The cab driver has a strong jawline, coarse facial hair, and is wearing a cotton black t-shirt with a pocket on his left breast. I’m not sure if he’s queer but if so then I hope he’s a top.
It’s 2018. I’m relaxing on my couch with a beer in my left hand and my phone in the right. On the screen is a blue button with text that reads, “See new Tweets”. See is capitalized. Tweets is capitalized. New isn’t capitalized. I wonder who made that decision.
All together are the ants, the cab driver, and Twitter.
Have you ever thought about who protects the ants? The Forelius Pusillus are only 0.2 millimeters long. For the sake of comparison, I’m 1,028 millimeters long.
I really want to talk to the cab driver about my feelings but he doesn’t seem like the talking type. Also I feel like this sort of isn’t his job. Hmm. I’ll start small and see what happens.
“How’s your day going?”
“It’s fine”, he says.
He’s got an accent. I think it’s Russian but I’m not sure. I tell him that my day is going alright. He looks at me through his rear view mirror with one of those no-teeth smiles women give when they don’t want to talk but still want to seem friendly.
We go back to silence.
I load all of the new tweets. Ugh. The Boston Celtics lost. Roseanne is a racist. Lauren Duca is still talking about that one time she was on Tucker Carlson. Why is Lauren Duca still talking about that one time she was on Tucker Carlson? Will Lauren Duca ever stop talking about that one time that she was on Tucker Carlson? I really wanted to the Celtics to win. Shit.
Who protects the ants?
After a few moments in silence I take a deep breath and ask the cab driver if he grew up in Boston.
He didn’t. He grew up in the second largest city in Russia, Saint Petersburg, but left as soon as he could. He’d been in Boston for 13 years now and told me how much he loves it. The winters in Boston don’t even compare to those in Russia so he’s fine with the weather.
I tell him that I’ve been in Boston for about a year and a half. He looks at me like I’m the foreigner.
He’s right. I am.
I’m still looking at Twitter. There’s a new tweet from @ xychelsea.
May 27th 2018, 11:26pm. ‘im sorry’ Image description: A horizontal photograph of the bottom half of a woman on the top of a building looking downward. She’s wearing pink pyjamas with a few buttons open which means that you can see a little bit of her belly. Her toes are painted red and she appears to be at least five stories high. Below her is the charcoal pavement that is only interrupted by two cars: The first is large and black. The second is small and red.
Just like we crawl back into our apartments at the end of the day, it is typical for ants to do the same with their colony. A long day of physical labor demands a good night of rest. I like to think of them, a family, nestled together.
But the Forelius Pusillus are a different kind of species. Each night a few brave ants help their family members get inside and then they stay outside so that they can brush some more dirt around the entrance to hide the family from predators.
The heroic ants stand guard for as long as they can. Studies have shown that they rarely make it to the morning light.
I’ve been thinking about leaving Boston which means that I’m processing with everyone around me, including this cab driver.
I ask him if he ever thinks about going back home to Russia for a visit.
“Home?” he says.
I reply with, “Yeah. Do you still have family there?”
He says, “I do but I burned my boat. I can’t go back.”
I send Chelsea a DM as fast I can. In all caps it reads, CHELSEA PLEASE NO. I AM ███–████ IT IS OK I PROMISE I’M IN THE CITY PLEASE CAN WE JUST TALK!
Suicidal ants, roaming through the night.
I’ve burned a bridge but never a boat. I guess going back home is a privilege too.
Chelsea’s not responding. Has your misery ever been such a sight to see? I try not to blame her.
It’s hard to think of a time when I saw an ant and didn’t want to kill it.
My mind feels like a fool.
I don’t know. Maybe this cab driver does have it all figured out. Whatever part of his past that hurt him seems to be healed which is more than I can say for myself, you know. Maybe if I leave Boston I wouldn’t be running away from my problems. I’d be running towards a solution.
Yeah, that sounds nice.
I can’t think of a single thing that lasts forever so I guess I’m going to leave.
I’m going to get out of this cab, walk into that bar, and tell this woman that I don’t know if we’re dating but if we are then I think we should end it because even though you’re a perfectly fine human being who is funny and smart and when we kiss I like the way your breath smells and yeah I like that you like basement shows where punk bands play and it sounds bad but feels good I don’t know I just don’t think we should date because I’m not done running and I hope you’ll understand that even though I know I’m wrong and yeah I think it’s pretty clear that I’m still hurting but honestly who even knows why at this point.
I’m such a fucking joke.
At least the ants left their home with a little bit of dignity.
Anyway, how could she ever want to stay with me when there’s so much out there in the world to see? I should protect her from me.
Yeah. Maybe that sounds better. Even though it’s a lie. I’m protecting her.
I know I’m not supposed to talk about suicide because suicide contagion is a very real thing but while I was waiting to hear back from Chelsea on if she was okay a bug scattered across my floor and I tried to kill it just like I would an ant but I missed and I can’t stop thinking about how I could be trying to kill one living thing while at the same time trying to save another from dying and I still want that bug dead.
I hate bugs.
I ran into my bedroom and wrapped myself up in covers and sent Chelsea another DM. This time it was in lower case. It read, “chelsea period please comma are you ok”
“are you okay” — no question mark needed for that question.
I started to Google how successful suicide attempts were by jumping off a roof. A person needs to be at least 150 feet high if they intend to land on pavement to have 95–98% chance of dying. This is also known as 45,720 millimeters or, for context, 228,600 Forelius Pusillus’ long.
Did you know most people who attempt suicide don’t die unless they use a gun? In fact, only 10% of suicide attempts that don’t involve a gun result in death. By contrast, 90% of suicide attempts that do involve a gun result in death.
Ban guns. Also.
Have you ever noticed that people who attempt suicide by using a gun always shoot themselves in their head? Even though shooting yourself in the heart is statistically more effective it’s not their heart that they’re trying to kill.
It’s their mind.
I can’t keep things alive.
I left Boston. It helped my heart but it didn’t heal my mind.
Who protects the ants?
New message. From @ xychelsea.
I breathe a sigh of relief.
“this a friend, im on the phone with her”
I think about how she’s lucky, for once.
I guess everyone does need a friend.
I’ll protect the ants.
Robyn Kanner is a writer and designer based out of Brooklyn, NY. She’s not a mental health professional. Please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1–800–273–8255 if you need help.
For diving deeper on the ‘why’ of suicide I suggest reading Simon Critchley, David Foster Wallace (sorry), and Freud (sorry again) who are all very good at writing about suicide.