Bedbugged! is a weekly column by journalist and bed bug survivor Theresa Braine. For more, click here.
Having decided how I’d move, I set to. My plan was to run everything through the Packtite, seal it and either bring it to my parents’ house or stash it in storage. Nothing would touch my apartment once it was treated. Nothing would go directly to my new place. And nothing that was remotely questionable would go anywhere but sealed tightly, into storage, with insecticide strips.
Items such as electronics that could not be heat treated would also be stored, sealed, with a Hot Shot No Pest Strip. All clothing and textiles would go through the industrial-strength dryers at the Laundromat across the street, in which nothing would survive.
I felt confident doing this for a number of reasons. I was not bringing furniture, so I had no bulky items that would require professional assistance to disinfect. In addition, most of my stuff had already been treated during the first round of bedbug infestation, and had been packed away, sealed. The chances of bed bugs having crawled into those sealed bags, when they were stored far from my bedroom, were just about nil. I treated them anyway.
I also felt safe because the infestation had been localized this time. I was not finding bed bugs around the apartment, as I had the previous year. They were not near my living room, where most of my stuff was piled. The apartment had been treated, so I was not moving mid-infestation. In fact, I had waited for things to die down before making concrete plans.
So I dove into my work, running the Packtite while I sat next to it, doing my day job. I continued to go through files and suchlike, sorting and purging, and never broke out in any kind of itch. If I had seen a single sign of a bug while doing any of this, or gotten bitten, I would have called in the fumigators. But for my situation, it was pretty clear that that would have been overkill.
I dealt with the clothes first, packing them in duffel bags that went into the dryer. I borrowed my parents’ spare car and spent the next few weeks running among Laundromat, car and apartment.
If something could not go straight into my parents’ car and had to stay in my apartment for any length of time, I put it into a heavy plastic contractor bag inside another heavy contractor bag and removed it gingerly when the time came so that it didn’t touch the outside of the bag. At the end I threw away all those bags, sealed inside a clean plastic bag fresh from the box (which I also stored inside a giant Ziploc bag).
When I had a full carload I’d drive it out to my parents’ house on Long Island and dump it in my old bedroom.
In short, nothing touched my apartment directly once it had been treated. But I was paranoid the whole time, picturing bugs crawling in everything. With all the poison lying around, they were not. But every time the contractors worked on Arnold’s ex-apartment next door, I’d wake up the next morning with a bite or two.
I took to staying with my folks and returning for more stuff, just to spare myself those last bites. The bites are merely itchy, but at this point all I wanted to do was cut myself as much of a break as possible.
After one such sojourn I got a call from Lena.
“Someone just came by asking for you,” she said. “It was a guy with some eviction papers. He stuck them on your door.”
“Wow,” I said, dumfounded and laughing. My landlord was really going to do this. And he apparently had not surmised that my rent-paying delay and withholding threats were merely bluffs.
“Do you want me to take it down?” Lena asked.
“Hell no! I want to see it for myself!” I said.
The next day I returned to my soon-to-be-ex apartment, and there it was: a legal notice telling me to vacate the premises in 30 days. It almost made me want to stay. I snapped some photos and left the papers there a few days while I went back and forth.
Even though I had gotten rid of so many possessions, the cleansing and packing process seemed endless. I brought bag after treated bag of things to the Salvation Army. It hardly mattered that I went to great lengths to make sure it was clean; I had overheard Arnold before he left saying on the phone, “Oh, it’s ok if you don’t want it; I’ll just bring it to the Salvation Army.”
I ditched many things just to lighten my load, not because they were infested. It’s at this point in the process that many people simply walk out the door, leaving behind everything they own. I could see why, but I was too stubborn to do that. Many of my things reminded me of what makes a space “home.” Plus, I cannot stand throwing things out when they could be useful to someone else. Besides, I could not afford new stuff and did not want to start my new life in a space as decorated as a jail cell. It was enough to be fleeing like a refugee.
My sister came over to help me at one point. She could see that I was making progress, but she was nevertheless daunted. “You could have just spent the $2,000,” she said. I was inclined to agree, but there was no going back.
On Sunday, June 9, 2010, after what seemed like an eternity of Packtiting, driving and lugging, I vacuumed one last time. I sealed the vacuum bag in a garbage bag and threw it out with the rest of the trash. Then I Packtited the vacuum (although Tim Wong of M&M Enviro had almost burst out laughing at the thought, saying, “If you vacuumed up that Drionne dust, there’s nothing alive inside it”). I threw out all my bedding, just on principle. Even the comforter was fine, but I did not want the memories, or the blood spatters.
I made one last trip to the storage place. Then I drove out to Long Island with my last carload. Mom and Dad had ordered in Italian and had that and red wine waiting.
I was free at last.
Next week: Why I would have done it differently.
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.