“Southern Voices” is a reader-submitted platform for stories from the heart. Today’s submission comes from Melissa Carro. If you have a story to tell, see our guidelines for submission here.

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Thanks to them, I’ll never forget that day.

As I sat on Alumni Lawn in May 1985, listening to Chancellor Joe B. Wyatt tell me how far my Vanderbilt diploma would take me, the only place I really wanted to be taken was home. You see, my gown was a sea of clinging, bulging-eyed monsters. That cicada invasion began my phobia. Years later, I am steadfast in my obsessive fear of those bugs.

They reappeared in the Nashville summer of 2004, terrorizing one of my young daughters and becoming a thing of wonder for another. She collected them on her daycare playground, and I worried this was perhaps how Lizzie Borden or Jeffrey Dahmer got their start.

As if a year-long shutdown and turmoil over COVID-19 weren’t enough stress, a few months ago I started hearing about an imminent cicada invasion in Tennessee. My oldest daughter, living in Indiana, reports they are already littering the sidewalks there. Hmmm… no desire to visit her any time soon.

For some inexplicable reason, my husband has always been fascinated by the cicadas and also by my reaction to them—poking his finger in my ear and mimicking their song. This would clearly be grounds for divorce were the broods not so far apart. It’s a fascinating part of nature, people say, as cicadas have one of the longest lifespans of any insect. Supposedly they are symbolic of hope, immortality, and longevity. I have even heard that cicadas are quite tasty when deep-fried. I cover my head and roll my eyes at any positive spin on these demonic creatures, or I did until recently when my friend referenced the way cicadas mark time for us.

That got me thinking.

Indeed, the evil cicada does mark time. Our lives travel along through firsts in jobs, children, even marriages—punctuated by cicada broods that make us stop and assess how far we’ve traveled in the years that the nymphs lingered underground. When the trees have cycled through 13 or 17 seasons, the cicada nymphs realize it’s time to emerge. Perhaps we need to credit the cicadas with a wisdom that humans don’t possess. How many of us count our seasons? Don’t we instead muddle through the stages of our lives with nary a backward glance? Who of us has not watched our child walk across the graduation stage and wonder when she gave up sippy cups?

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When last the cicadas tormented me, I was a young mother trying to stay one step ahead of my children. Backpack progress reports and homework grades seemed so critical then, but now I struggle to recall teachers’ names or, far more importantly, the precious tenor of those little voices calling “Mommmmyyy” in the middle of the night.

Children Running

The last time the cicadas were here, so were many friends who no longer are. I took their presence for granted as together we enjoyed the naïve certitude of growing old. The last time I ran from cicadas, I was dodging them in the driveway of my childhood home. My parents, like those dear friends, shocked me with their mortality. How many of my life’s seasons have I lived without pausing to grasp the transience of life. Our friendships, our work, our daily vicissitudes—all of these are as ephemeral as the evening breeze.

Perhaps I’m the one who’s been underground.

The next time the cicadas come around, God willing, I’ll be an old woman. Some days my knees feel I’m already there. There is so much I still want to accomplish. How will I pass the time between broods; how will I embrace the humid summers and crisp autumns and springs that foretell possibility? While those little bastards are plotting their revenge on me, underground, what will I have to show for myself? For the years?

And so, even as the ubiquitous cicadas drive me indoors, perhaps it’s not just those ruby eyes that terrify me. Maybe what’s really frightening is the passage of time they represent and the inherent challenge they screech at us from the trees: How will you mark your years?

A native Nashvillian, Melissa Carro has over 25 years of marketing communications experience. She received her Bachelor of Arts, with Honors, from Vanderbilt University, where she currently works. Melissa writes a blog, In the Middle, about life in the sandwich generation. Her first novel, Mt. Moriah’s Wake, comes out in July.

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