I first started to feel the itch while on the phone with my mother a couple of weeks ago. I was lying on my bed, listening to Mom relate how she had been reading an article about bed bugs. Disgusting, aren’t they? And they’re not just plaguing hotels in Manhattan, evidently. We talked on about bed bugs, bed bugs, blah blah blah, followed by some grocery store gossip, and the latest from the mouths of my babes. But it was insects that dominated our conversation that morning before Mom said she had to go. Something about StepDad and a spastic scratch?
As I gathered up my son from the bed, I supposed it wouldn’t hurt if I just gave the ol’ mattress a once-over. But why would I do that? Hah! I hadn’t been bitten, had I? I would know if I had been recently. I checked under my arms.
Then I logged on to check the latest headlines. The annual mass descent of college students on Boston had begun. Ah, yes, welcome, September. I expected to read about U-Haul debacles, maybe an MIT fraternity party gone awry. But the first image I saw was of a mattress that had been set out on a sidewalk, courteously marked with bold black marker – BED BUGS.
Well, I thought, it’s a good thing I don’t live anywhere near Commonwealth Avenue! Or Allston-Brighton. “College Ghetto,” they call it. I’m sure it’s a veritable petri dish of bed bugdom over there, all those students in and out of apartments, washing their bedsheets as often as the U.S. Postal Service changes its logo. Thank heavens that Green Line can’t touch me! Well, I suppose the Green Line does intersect my Red Line. But surely bed bugs aren’t smart enough to transfer MBTA lines. They don’t even know the difference between Inbound and Outbound! Alewife and Braintree! My scalp was starting to tingle.
A few days later I went down to Providence to visit my friend Stephanie. What a tonic to my soul to see her; it was like a mini-vacation from the din of bitter, bed-buggy Boston. I hadn’t even drained my coffee, though, before she started. “Do you know what I’m obsessed with?” A rhetorical question indeed. “Bed bugs.”
Stephanie, who always has her wits about her, was betraying every ounce of them. “I can’t stop thinking about the bugs. My daughter goes to preschool and they sleep on cots!” She said “cots” as if they were rainy trenches in ‘Nam. She went on. “So bed bugs take breakfast, lunch, and dinner bites. They call them the ‘hitchhiker bug.’ You can’t get rid of them.” I could tell she had read the entire Wikipedia entry; she was summarizing, but she had it all memorized. “I had a nightmare about them last night,” she said, “so maybe that means my obsession with them is over.”
I assured her that all would be well, that no harm would befall her, that if she merely slapped some lamb’s blood on her doorpost, this pestilence might pass her by.
Then, like a bed bug, Stephanie’s obsession jumped over to my head.
From 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. the next day, do you know where your columnist was? She was lying in bed, scratching her obsession about bed bugs. I considered the pillows. Whence did they all come? I considered our mattress and thought about how much could we hold IKEA accountable. And what about the sheets, the bedspread, the duvet cover. Should we have washed them in boiling water? Itch. Scratch. Itchy. Scratchity Scratch Scratch. I finally fell back asleep and dreamt that Jillian Michaels was threatening that if I stepped off the treadmill right now, the only place to land was on a bed full of bugs. It was enough to make me the biggest loser, in more ways than one.
I had to talk about it. Yet, I couldn’t talk about it. Every time I mentioned it, someone had a story about how bed bugs had taken over their old apartment or infested their work cubicles. Or they offered more information leading to the capture of bed bugs.
But I didn’t want facts! I wanted lies! Lies! Untruths about bed bugs, all around, please! Bed bug crisis!! I can’t hear you!!! My husband suggested I write an article about bed bugs so that I could interview inspectional services and know for sure, for my own peace of mind, that there was no risk in our house of The Bugs That Shall Not Be Named. I asked him if he wanted a spoonful of DDT now or later.
I woke up this morning with a bite on my stomach. My daughter reached for the remote control. I noticed two bite marks on her arm. But were they bite marks? Or were they just pinched skin that just happen to be pink and raised and, in my case, itchy?
Hey, why are all those birds congregating around our home? Is that a pounding heart under the floorboards I hear? Why are the women in the yellow wallpaper starting to charge at me? Excuse me, do you mind if I just take off my skin right now? It’s just that it’s so itchy. ...