​​​Miriam E.Tucker

Cicadas and Turning 40
(The Washington Post, April 3, 2004)

The time I've been dreading is almost here. For me, 2004 is all about two frightful phenomena that I am powerless to prevent: This month, the 17-year cicadas will return. Then in June, I turn 40. Terrorist attack? Sure, I worry about that, too. But these other two fears are guaranteed to come true, regardless of my alert status. 

First, the cicadas. Anyone who was in the D.C. area during May and June of 1987 will remember that nightmare of Hitchcockian proportions: huge swarms of buzzing, beady-eyed, flying locust-like creepy critters that descended upon our region, ruining picnics and generally freaking out the entire population. Well, this year they're BA-ACK!
Yes, after spending the past 17 years underground, dining peacefully on tree roots and leaving us alone, millions of cicada nymphs will simultaneously tunnel to the earth's surface in mid-May and emerge en masse throughout much of the mid-Atlantic. They'll climb the nearest tree, latch on, shed their exoskeletons and harden into adults. Then they'll spend the next six weeks flying around, searching for mates and driving us crazy.
Of course, having spent so much time in sensory deprivation, these creatures are pretty dumb. In contrast to flies, which are at least smart enough to zip away when they see a human coming, cicadas fly around in seemingly haphazard, drunken loop-de-loops. If you happen to get in their way -- and it's impossible not to -- they'll simply bonk you in the head.
Indeed, as I remember, any time spent outdoors during the six-week siege of '87 became a horrific game of dodge-ball, especially for the more squeamish among us who had never signed up to play. Although supposedly harmless to humans, cicadas could certainly trigger heart attacks and traffic accidents. Not to mention massively gross us out. 

I was unhappy back then for other reasons, too. I was insecure about my job as a medical writer, constantly fearing I'd be fired. Plus, I was dating a jerk. He drove an ancient, beat-up car, full of rust holes through which cicadas could easily enter. He'd typically have to clear out several of them before we could get inside. I was always terrified that one would fly in while we were on the Beltway. But he'd just laugh at me, blissfully stoned and unfazed.
It's amazing to think how long ago that was. Last we saw them, Ronald Reagan was president, and the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall were still intact. Most people had never heard the terms "e-mail" or "Internet," let alone used them on a daily basis. Babies born that year are now applying to college. And of course Sept. 11 was just another day on the calendar.
I was but a nymph in 1987; now I'm a fully formed adult. I guess my biggest fear about turning 40 is that my flight path hasn't taken me where I thought it would by now, or where society says it should have. I haven't been married or had kids, nor have I written my first book, a long-held goal. I'm out of sync, starting to slow down just when I need to sprint. Soon I'll be one of those "Women Over 40" we hear so much about. 

But on the other hand, I'm successful in my career now and have family and friends I adore. I date a better caliber of men these days -- or at least ones with better cars. I travel quite a bit and engage in all sorts of interesting and productive activities here at home. Truly, I am making the most of my time above ground. I am comfortable in my own skin. And I sure don't feel 40. 

So, how to survive the upcoming weeks? I thought about hiding out from the cicadas in Europe, but that wouldn't prevent my turning 40. I could go to California and treat myself to plastic surgery, thereby defying Mother Nature on both counts. But alas, I can't afford it. 

No, the only option is to simply face my fears head-on. Just as I managed to coax myself back on an airplane after 9/11, I will steel my spine, grit my teeth and march forward, pushing through the cicada swarms like so many specks of dust. And as for the fear of 40? Forget about it! It's just a number.
Yes, I will cope as I always have, using wit, wisdom and sheer force of will -- plus a jar of wrinkle cream and a really big fly swatter, just in case.  ###