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Bedbugged! is a weekly column by journalist and bed bug survivor Theresa Braine. For more, click here.
The next couple of months were a blur of waffling on when and how to move as I madly treated and then sequestered, donated or threw out my stuff. My idea was that the decision would become clear once my living room was emptied of plastic bags.
Or did I need to pick a date and work back so as to have a deadline?
I tore through my things, amazed that there was still so much left; amazed, too, at how much time I was spending obsessing over it. Many people simply ditch their things and walk out the door. I could not afford to start over to that degree, nor did I want to. I had lots of things—memorabilia from Mexico, for example—that reminded me of happier times. I had other things, like shoes, that I needed to function.
I started with Mexico and the boxes of photos from my first long trips, when I had taken immersion Spanish classes before moving there. The decent shots were already digitized, so into the shredder most of the boxed ones went. Then I opened a file box and found the ‘90s. I gleefully shredded the entire era.
I also found some comic relief, such as the receipt for my college class ring, a few decades old. I wasn’t sure I still had the ring.
As I neared the bottom of one giant Ziploc bag full of treated stuff, among the pieces of leaves from some long-dead plant, a minute shape stood out. It was plain, even from where I sat looking down from at least four feet above.
I picked up a piece of index card, slid the thing onto the white shard and brought it up to my eye. There it was, that horizontal-ridged back. No legs, but they could have fallen off, or it could have been a skin. It was completely dessicated—it had been through the Packtite—but it was nonetheless a reminder that I shouldn’t get too cocky.
That, of course, made me itch all over. I was also paranoid that I had missed some bugs that were now cruising around the apartment. I had inspected everything so carefully and seen only that single very dead bug, but one never knew....
Also disconcerting were the times I suddenly realized I had a welt. That itchy bump on my right calf—was it a bed bug bite? If so, was it the one from the previous week, the one that emerged as two bites when my scratching took the top off each?
Or was it from the night before, with the effects surfacing now? Sometimes my bites would appear a few hours after I got up in the morning, though plenty of times I woke up with new welts right out of the starting gate.
Worse, had I gotten bitten just now, when I took laundry to the washing machine in the kitchen, unbagged? (The apartment had a washing machine, though I’d done most of my bed bug laundry at the laundromat across the street.) It could have been—the laundry had come from the bed, but I’d rolled it up and nothing had fallen off, and I had shoved it right into the machine; nothing had touched my leg the whole time. Such is the plight of the bed bug sufferer.
Lena and Ron, my afflicted downstairs neighbors, were godsends during this time. I could not have faced that second infestation round alone. Although I was not happy that the bugs had spread, this was definitely a case of misery loves company.
We shared storage space and booze to help one another cope. They actually seemed to deal a lot better than I did, having people over, the plastic bags sequestered in their bedroom. I dared not put anything in my bedroom, let alone have people over. In fact, no one I knew wanted to visit. I had no furniture, anyway.
I started surfing Craigslist and realtors online to get a sense of what was out there. I explored various neighborhoods. I thought about taking a friend’s proffered apartment for May and June while she was away on a fellowship.
I also had not quite let go of the idea of staying in my place, caulking every single crack and crevice, shellacking the bed frame to seal it, ripping out the built-in stuff my brother had installed. But I knew there would always be the specter of returning bed bugs, not because of the pests themselves, but because of how they were being handled.
I wrestled, writing in my journal: “Do I pick an end date and work toward it, or do I make a date after I’m done sorting, i.e. am “sorted out”? And has that moment come now?”
I spent March 2010 doing the should-I-stay-or-should-I-go dance in my head, getting funny looks from the increasing number of people who saw moving as a no-brainer, and watching yet another evolution in Rocco’s thinking on the bed bug matter.
As Arnold’s move-out date became murky, Rocco started changing his story. He had at first told Ron privately that Arnold’s apartment was the source. He'd told me that “everything would be different” once Arnold was gone. Now, on one of his visits, Bobby, the exterminator, said, “Arnold has a lot of bugs, but he doesn’t have many bed bed bugs. His problem is more roaches.”
This was the same Bobby who had kissed my hand when we first met and allegedly wanted to date me. Throughout February he had assured me of his continued presence in my life to fight off the evil pests: “I’m not going to disappear, Theresa. I’m not like that.”
Now, come March, it was a different matter. The new attitude opened the door to shifting some blame back to me, which had been Rocco’s initial strategy upon learning that the bugs had spread throughout the building. Soon, the tension would reach enough of a fever pitch to make the decision for me.
Next Week: Moving—the tipping point