Bedbugged! is a weekly column by journalist and bed bug survivor Theresa Braine. For more, click here.
Having fled an overzealous application of pesticide dust, and been advised by people who knew better (my landlord, Rocco, had not hired those people) to not go back home until I vacuumed it up wearing a dust mask, I lived at my sister’s and then my parents’ places for a week or so with little more than the clothes on my back, my laptop and my cell phone.
Returning to my beleaguered apartment, I contemplated what to do next as I waited for the eggs to hatch in the triple-sealed, taped Ziplocs bag I had collected the fleeing bed bugs in a week earlier.
I’d been living among plastic bags since June, nearly nine months. I had no furniture other than a coffee table and a cruddy vinyl, faux-papasan bowl chair in my living room, and the poison-soaked bed in my bedroom. Everything else—living room shelves plus bedroom desk, closet and dresser—were built in by my brother, from whom I inherited the apartment. The rest of the space was crammed with the aforementioned plastic bags and my Packtite, which, big enough to hold a small suitcase and then some, took up a considerable amount of room.
I had started an internship that was part of the class I’d been taking in the week leading up to Bobby’s bed bug extermination. The chances of my bringing critters to the office were almost nil—I had sequestered all “outside” items in the ubiquitous sealed plastic bags, used shoes and clothes that I wore only in the house and kept everything away from my bedroom, which is where the bugs were relegated this time. But I was still neurotic about it, so for good measure I “baked” things in the Packtite at the slightest tinge of uncertainty.
As all this went down, the thought I had avoided during the second extermination became insistent, aided by a chorus of friends and relatives asking, “Why don’t you simply move?”
There were several reasons for not picking up and leaving, the primary one being that there is no such thing when your home has bed bugs. Everything needs to be disinfected before it goes anywhere, even the things you're throwing away (though many people don’t go that far and inadvertently spread bed bugs by throwing them in the trash). The moving, if it takes place, is to avoid the bugs’ coming back. But of course, with New York City infested, there was no guarantee that I wouldn’t move to another bed bugged location. Besides, I’m a huge fan of standing my ground and fighting, and thanks to a collapsing economy, combined with the bed bugs, I was broke.
If I could get a job or enough freelance work, my thinking originally went, I could stash my stuff in storage while I earn money to move. Then I can simply walk out of here.
It was increasingly clear, however, that I wasn’t going to have the organization, infrastructure or mental space and energy to earn the money to move until I had moved. Friends and family, meanwhile, were on the verge of an intervention.
“You DO know you have to move, right?” asked my cousin point-blank. She wasn’t the only one.
“Yes, I do, I just ... I need money to move,” I said.
“You’ve stopped paying rent, right?” my sister-in-law queried.
“Well, no, because the landlord is doing something,” I said, wanting to work with Rocco if at all possible. But even I was beginning to wonder whether I was in love with my cool apartment, or suffering from Stockholm syndrome.
During this time I strategized madly about what to do with my stuff, peppering my sister with e-mails about which things to put into which boxes.
I felt badly because of my brother’s longstanding relationship with Rocco and his father, who had passed the building on to his son. Then my brother gave his blessing. “You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do,” he said.
Next week: When in doubt, sort and purge.
Theresa Braine is a NYC-based journalist and bed bug survivor whose work has appeared in the NY Daily News, People, Newsday and other outlets. Bedbugged! is her weekly column about life in the bed bug trenches and how to climb out with your sanity intact.