It has been said that 90 percent of the things we’re afraid of will never happen. This is comforting until you realize this means that 10 percent of the things we fear actually will happen.
And this 10 percent isn’t restricted to the more typical fears, such as being in a car accident. Nope, the completely irrational fears are fair game, too.
Take mine, for example. I have a very specific form of mottephobia, or fear of moths. This is due to coming across the movie “The Silence of the Lambs” on the shelf at our local video rental store when I was a child. To refresh your memory, the cover features a close-up of Jodie Foster’s face with a terrifying-looking moth where her mouth should be.
Ever since then, whenever I see a moth, I get a little panicky and I automatically close my mouth, rolling my lips inwards. My body seems to be under the impression that if the moth can’t see my mouth, it won’t try to land on it or fly into it.
Over the years, my family has tried to convince me that moths are far more interested in cozying up to the nearest light source than in attacking my face. But that’s why it’s called an irrational fear – it’s not supposed to make sense.
You can therefore understand my consternation when I walked into my bedroom a few days ago and discovered an enormous black moth that resembled Darth Vader’s helmet clinging to the wall above my bed.
I enlisted Mom’s assistance in exterminating the unwanted insect, but by the time we returned to my room, it was nowhere to be found. Mom assured me that it had likely flown out of my room and would turn up elsewhere in the house.
She was, shall we say, slightly incorrect.
The next night, after I had turned off my lights and was nearly asleep, I heard a sound like the flapping of wings. I quickly turned on my bedside light and scanned the ceiling. Nothing.
I turned off the light and tried to fall asleep, telling myself it was only my imagination. And then, I heard banging coming from the large Japanese lantern above my bed. I turned it on to see what could be causing this noise, only to discover I had angered the lurking Moth Vader.
It flew out of the lantern, banked in the middle of the room, and then flew directly at me. More specifically, it dive-bombed my mouth.
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to scream with your mouth closed. It doesn’t really work.
I shot out of bed, and the moth came to rest on the wall above my bed, settling in just high enough that it would be hard to reach with the fly swatter that I keep behind the dresser for such emergencies.
This was one of the rare occasions I was glad that my eyesight is not the greatest. Without my glasses, I was spared the high-resolution version of this winged terror as I tremulously tried to mash it into the wall with my well-used – and somewhat mangled – fly swatter.
I succeeded in crushing it enough that it left a ghastly black smudge on my wall, but not enough to kill it. It crumpled to the floor and scuttled off under my bed to lick its wounds. Like their less threatening cousin the butterfly, some moths do have tongues.
I quickly came to the dreadful realization that the moth had retreated so far under my bed that I couldn’t have another whack at it unless I crawled under the bed with it. This would give Mothra another chance to barnstorm my face, with the added bonus of triggering my mild claustrophobia.
There was absolutely no way I was getting back into bed until this issue was resolved, so I did what any self-respecting adult would do: I walked up the stairs from my apartment to see if my mommy and daddy were still awake.
I don’t think I have ever been so happy to see Mom washing dishes. With grateful tears in my eyes and the occasional horrified shudder, I brought her up to speed on my eventful evening. She listened sympathetically and kindly agreed to never refer to my peculiar mottephobia as an irrational fear again.
Armed with the heavy-duty fly swatter from the kitchen, Mom crawled under the bed and vanquished Mothra on my behalf. It took two napkins to dispose of its remains.
After thanking Mom profusely, I snuggled back into bed and stared at the ceiling in wide-eyed terror until the sun came up and I finally drifted off to sleep.
There’s something about surviving one of your worst fears that makes you a little braver. I’m still terrified of moths, but I feel more confident that I can handle the worst case scenario if, God forbid, it needs to happen again in order to fulfill my 10 percent quota. Granted, my response may still involve requesting parental backup, but I will do so in a stronger, less quivery voice.
There is definitely something to be said for confronting your fears head-on. Just keep your mouth closed.
– Teresa Santoski
Originally published Oct. 2, 2014.