Here’s a fun riddle!
Q: What’s tiny, parasitic, and ruins lives in a matter of weeks?
Your Ex! Bed bugs!
Generally, I am a pretty average person with few interesting and unique qualities. This crippling blandness allows me to seamlessly blend into the background of most situations. (In fact, I am behind you right now, reading a smut magazine and sipping a Coolatta, the drink of champions.) Unfortunately, I have a few irrational fears that draw both confusion and derision. One is the Build-A-Bear Workshop, which, like Voldermort, makes me uncomfortable to type. Another is being trapped in an elevator filled with front butts.
My latest and most paralyzing fear is bed bugs.
When people ask me what bed bugs are, I explain to them, after briskly slapping them in the face for their ignorance, that bed bugs are blood-sucking creatures that live anywhere, typically in mattresses, on clothing, or in fibers. In the past, people thought that bed bug infestation was the cause of unsanitary living conditions, though today that is not usually the case. Like most biting insects, their bites leave raised marks on your skin. Unlike other insect bites, bed bug bite marks are highly recognizable and bring an unjust yet unshakable stigma to those that have them. You are affected. You are blighted. You are a walking testament to the evils of this cruel, unyielding world. All of a sudden your life collapses. Assuming the worst, people who have never seen your apartment secretly volunteer you for the show Hoarders. Friends bail on plans with excuses such as “My dog has to go outside and take a shit, and I need to be there for this momentous occasion.”
My only personal experience with bed bugs happened across the Atlantic Ocean. I was a bright eyed backpacker then, testing my limits, putting myself outside my comfort zone, and —I thought— rolling with the punches with great aplomb. So of course I was pissed when my travel mate chided me for not “going with the flow” because I insisted on researching each and every hostel and booking them weeks in advance. After succumbing to this hippie passive aggressive peer pressure, I forced myself to have a Devil May Care attitude and ended up checking into what I now suspect was the most decrepit hostel in Serbia. It was as if the hostel outfitted each bed exclusively with twin bedsheets similar to the ones from the 1980s that my mother can’t bear to throw away even though they’ve worn away to a fine, spiderweb like consistency and have no elastic left whatsoever. I remember my fitted sheet not fitting at all, curling up at the bottom corners of the mattress. I shrugged it off, and in the morning I woke up to my legs covered in what I thought were bites from approximately ten thousand mosquitoes. I walked around Belgrade drawing looks of shock and horror that I assumed were from the particularly hideous pair of Old Navy cargo shorts I donned that day.
But when I arrived arriving at my next hostel, a far cleaner hostel in Croatia (that I, ahem, booked weeks in advance), I saw a sign taped to the front door that both enlightened and frightened me. Although antithetical to its goal, the sign was formatted like a Wanted poster. On it were pictures of bites that looked suspiciously similar to mine and handwritten text scrawled at the bottom that read. Peering closer at the sign, I read:
Do you have these bites that look like this? They are BED BUG BITES. You and your bites are not welcome here!! THANK YOU!!
I backed away from the hostel, rushed to the nearest internet cafe, Googled like a madwoman, and looked at my legs with dismay. And then, like any other self-respecting global citizen, I changed into pants, went back to the hostel, and nonchalantly checked in. Girl’s gotta get her beauty sleep, am I right?
Fast forward a few years, and these pests are now infiltrating my beloved city in record numbers, leaving New Yorkers on high alert. While my apartment has been lucky enough to have escaped the bedbug infestation wreaking havoc on New York City, this constant and ever present threat has drastically changed my life in many ways:
- After reading about how bed bugs are infesting movie theaters, I flat out refused to go to the movies for the better part of a year. Eventually, I reconciled my fear of the movies and my desire to see Step It Up 2: The Streets by researching every movie theater on Bedbugregistry.com and finding two movie theaters with no bed bug reports. (I’d tell you which ones they are… but I don’t want you bringing your bed bugs to my theater.)
- Every time I get a bug bite, I needlessly clarify the origin of the bites. This naturally arouses more suspicion from people, which is why, I assume, that people avoid me. All the time.
- I check my mattress and sheets relentlessly for evidence of bed bugs. Whenever I think I see something, I become momentarily hysterical and surrender myself to the impending bed bug infestation by lying on my mattress similar to how I imagine Jesus did on the cross. 100% of the time this has happened, it eventually comes to my attention that the bed bug is actually lint.
- Out of fear of getting a bed bug on the subway, I no longer envelop fellow subway passengers in big bear hugs, even when I really think they need it/when I want to smell their strange, yet beautiful scent.
People, namely my psychiatrist, think I’m being histrionic whenever I caution them about the sinister danger of bed bugs. As a truth-teller, soothsayer, chronic malapropist, and concerned New Yorker, I leave you with this post and this Venn Diagram to decide. Good luck, World. You need it.