See, my wife may be the lightest sleeper on all Oahu. A car door slams two blocks away, she wakes up. A tree frog delivers an amphibian aria 18 stories down and she’s up, head moving to triangulate the source of the sound.
So, as a considerate and caring husband (by that I mean “intimidated”) I try not to do things to disturb her slumber. That’s why I was tiptoeing to the bathroom at 3 AM without turning on any lights. It started off well. I silently extricated myself from Max the Maltese who was sleeping on my leg. I made it across the floor without stumbling on the dog’s water dish, the pile of decorative pillows thrown from the bed, her purse, and various small pieces of furniture.
Reaching the little room that encloses Tom Crapper’s best invention I decided to leave the light off to maintain my stealthy profile. Hey, I know where everything is. Bad mistake.
No sooner had I closed the door than something large but strangely soft and very fast moving attacked me from above. It briefly tangled in my hair, and then proceeded to flap against my face before moving down my naked body striking here, there and, yes, there.
I admit this assault startled me and may have led to the release of some masculine grunts and imprecations. My wife said I screamed like a girl.
Whatever the true nature of the sounds they started Maxwell barking and my wife to start yelling “What’s wrong, what’s wrong?” Meanwhile, I continued my blind, desperate battle against the unknown assailant, banging against the glass shower door, falling over the commode, knocking perfume bottles off a decorative shelf and scrabbling for something to a) cover the privates and b) subdue the mystery beast which by now I assumed was the Smoke Monster from “Lost”.
By now most of the Hale Kaheka condominium association was probably wide awake and dialing 911. Flailing my arms, I managed to hit the light switch and came face to face with my enemy.
The creature I was fighting was a Hawaiian Black Witch Moth. This critter is sometimes known as “the bat moth” because it resembles a bat in size and shape and with up to a seven-inch wingspan. They are impressive bugs and actually fairly common. They are also harmless if you ignore the heart attack potential.
These moths are well known for their proclivity to enter buildings so an open window, even high in a condo, is an irresistible invitation.
There’s lots of folklore surrounding the Black Witch Moth whose Latin name is Ascalapha odorata which means “scares the odor right out of you.”
In Mexico they are known the butterfly of death. Some believe if a Black Witch Moth enters the home of someone who is ill, the person will die. I imagine sick people in Mexico never, ever open their windows.
In the Caribbean, the Black Witch Moth is known as the “Money Moth” and if it visits your home, you are likely to come into cash. In Jamaica, under the name duppy bat, the moth is seen as the embodiment of a lost soul or a soul not at rest.
In Texas, the presence of one of these guys over your doorway signifies that you will win the lottery. Maybe I could like this moth after all.
In Japan, they are known as “Mothra” and fight large radioactive lizards named Godzilla. Not really, I made that last one up.
In Hawaii, Black Witch mythology, though associated with death, has a happier note in that if a loved one has just died, the moth is an embodiment of the person’s soul returning to say goodbye.
Interestingly, in the novel Silence of the Lambs, evil “Buffalo Bill” stuffed cocoons of Black Witch Moths into the mouths of his victims as a symbol of transformation. The moth on the movie poster is a Death’s Head Hawk Moth, but the actual cocoon in the book was that of a Black Witch.
This moth is especially fond of rotten bananas, fermented fruit and stale beer which may account for its journey all the way up to my condo and there’s no fruit here if you know what I mean. But I digress.
When I realized my foe was a Black Witch Moth my next challenge was to capture it and release it. I’ve done this on several occasions by covering the moth with a cloth (a “moth cloth” snorf, snorf) and carry it to an open window. It’s not easy to do because these moths are fast and fly erratic patterns.
I opened the bathroom door to give me more working room, squinted against all the lights my wife had turned on and launched my counter-offensive. Apparently, watching one’s nude spouse chasing a large moth around a brightly lit room at 3 in the morning is funny. Certainly my wife and dog thought it was hilarious.
Eventually, I caught the insect and am happy to report it survived the ordeal in good shape and was last seen flitting towards the city lights. Sleep came hard after that.
The one tiny bit of karmic revenge, divine retribution or “bachi” as we call it in Hawaii occurred the following day when I took Max for his morning walk. He was sniffing around under a tree and a bird pooped on him. He was startled and let out a little yelp. “Now you know how I felt,” I mumbled as we walked on within the K Streets.