As I write, I’m praying no hitchhiking nymphs are harboring in the crevices of my new iBook G4—they would infiltrate the cracks in this wood desktop that’s not mine; invade the safe if temporary home I’ve come to, in flight from the insect vampires that are, when full-grown, called bedbugs.
We’ve all wished someone goodnight, chanting, “Don’t let the bedbugs bite.” But do you know what a bedbug actually looks like? Do you know that a bedbug is the size and shape of a large apple seed—with legs—and that each one, after piercing its victim’s skin with its needle-like beak, will suck blood from the warm host for up to ten minutes, or for however long it takes the merciless creature to become “engorged?” And that, while sucking, bedbugs inject a buggy anesthetic that prevents you from feeling their presence until several hours later when you’re scratching madly at quarter-sized, red, raised “wheels?”
And did you know bedbugs are taking over New York City?
I wept in the doorway of my Brooklyn room. Not because that had a more mythic quality than curling up in the fetal position, but because there was no place else to go. I had just spent the previous hour removing every piece of furniture from my room, carrying it down the two flights of rickety, ratty stairs—all the while cursing the building I’m now sure had bedbugs when I moved in—and placing each bookshelf and plywood desk unit I had lovingly built for myself, two years earlier, out by the trash cans. I felt embarrassed and self-conscious as pedestrians passed the developing curb-side living room. The neighbors must have watched me bring in and out a half dozen pieces of furniture over the past six months and wondered why. Was I some OCD second-hand furniture freak? Was I luring stray plywood into my lair only to take advantage of its vulnerable disconnectedness, then discarding it when I’d had my satisfaction? The truth I wished them all to know—and then again not to know—was that I’d been battling bedbugs. I'd been vigilant at times about removing what I believed were infested pieces, and just plain dumb (and broke) at other times when I sought free ways to refurbish my pirate-style apartment by bringing in “new” items from off the street.
In fact, there is no reason I should have felt guilty or dirty about having bedbugs—they can just as easily thrive in the most pristine Manhattan penthouse as in deepest Brooklyn. The discontinued use of DDT, a rise in international travel, and, especially, the lack of pervasive spraying in hotels over the past twenty years, has contributed to a global bedbug epidemic. (I’m also sure that the living room diaspora created by Craigslist has added greatly to the local spread of bedbugs in New York.)
Knowing too well the scavenging habits of my fellow Brooklynites I marked several of my discarded furniture pieces with what I thought to be clear, foreboding words: “WARNING: BEDBUGS”. I wrote the message in medium-sized print in not-so-obvious places, torn between my own illogical shame at having bedbugs and my sympathetic desire to prevent anyone else from getting them. I’m sure some fool who doesn’t know or believe bedbugs really even exist will furnish his apartment with the infested wood, but at least I will have done something to try to prevent the furthering of the crisis.
So ah, yes, I wept. In the doorway. Bereft of (nearly) all my earthly possessions and the sense of everything I’d built for myself since moving to New York four years ago. A significant “ex” was in that plywood—someone who’d taught me the very carpentry skills I used to transform the bed we'd slept in into that desk and those bookshelves the bedbugs forced me to give up. Now it was all gone, and I’d never before been so aware of how re-creating one thing into another might have secretly allowed me to hold onto a romanticized past.
And then my loft bed had to go. Again, something I had lovingly built for myself so I could have a larger, serious writing space underneath. Only one month later, the bedbug welts began to appear on my arms and ankles. The tragic irony is that, while I focused on creating my dream den, I unwittingly also created a bedbug haven out of all the cracks and crevices inherent in the construction of a wood loft bed and the screwed-together nature of my plywood desk/shelving units. Consequently, I have been driven from my creative work space; unable to even think about, let alone actually accomplish any writing whatsoever. That is, until now, where I sit at the desk of my dearest friend who has compassionately welcomed me into her home and onto her couch (provided I strip at the door, shower upon entry, and leave all my belongings in the outside hallway) lest I return to my infested mattress and to whatever form of denial that had allowed me to fall asleep there each night.
Eliminating my furniture, one of the primary sources of the bugs, delivered a crucial wake-up call—I had to make some serious changes in my life: finding a new studio apartment with no one perhaps but an affectionate cat, and also a new job which will allow me ample time and energy to write; these have become my top priorities. Forced to focus on the practical, I have learned it will be necessary to make a major transition, from habitually settling for third-rate apartments, jobs and relationships, to discerning, and going after, exactly what I really want and need. All because of the monstrous little parasites robbing me of my life force – literally and symbolically–for far too long.
After I find a place, the exterminator will come to my Brooklyn room one more time before I move for good, to kill any recently-hatched nymphs or veteran vampires that would hitchhike their way to my new home. And there, until I have enough money to buy new furniture, I will rest on an inflatable K-Mart mattress, like a Greek goddess on a gilded raft, riding the waves of transformation.
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