The men also particularly loathed bedbugs, and sometimes, on long, tedious winter evenings the whole ward would be turned upside down in an effort to get rid of them. And although, apart from the unpleasant smell, everything in the ward was as clean as it could be on the surface, underneath, as one might put it, was a different story.
- Dostoyevski, House of the Dead
The first spraying failed. I uncovered more angry red swellings after showering this morning. I then spent the morning throwing out my bed frame, which was packed chock-full of insects and larvae.
If a sane person spends her life in an insane asylum, she might begin to perceive peculiar behavior as perfectly normal. Her social reality has been altered. Similarly, when you have spent weeks living with bedbugs, you begin to think in very different terms. Throwing out everything is a dreadful option, so you begin to seek solutions that might seem peculiar.
Honestly, I am predisposed to such solutions. When it comes to untested homeopathic remedies my motto continues to be 'it couldn't hurt,' despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. When I broke my ankle, it took three days of ice-packs and agony to persuade me to get an X-ray. Five years later, my right ankle is still visibly larger than the left. When I attempted a 20,000 foot peak in Peru, I refused Diamox for altitude sickness in favor of the coca tea Peruvians have used for centuries, resulting in 15 hours of vomiting, a complete failure to summit the mountain, and an inability to stand. In Africa, Malaria medication was out-of-the-question when a simple homemade mosquito repellent could do just as well (many mosquito bites, fortunately no malaria). And why would I waste money on that expensive prescription skin cream when my mysterious arm rash could be cured in a hot bath of diluted hydrogen peroxide? (Imagine a homemade sunburn).
So I spent the morning trying various internet solutions including the old standard 'vacuum everything,' the predictable 'examine all wood for cracks,' and the preposterous 'send this page to fifteen people and be free of bedbugs forever.' When I ran out of dumb ideas of my own, I fielded calls from my mother who must have googled 'crackpot bedbug schemes' before we spoke.
"Put all your books in the microwave for two minutes," she said at 11:20. She called back at noon with new advice: "Put them in the freezer instead. It turns out the microwave destroys the books and might start a fire." At 2:00, she called again: "Maybe you should bake your books. According to this site, the freezer just preserves the bugs."
I am desperate for some way to easily clean my things, but I am much more willing to test something stupid on myself than my books. So I went with the more conventional solution of eyeballing every page of every book that has been in my room for signs of insect life. This took quite some time.
Our nerves are on edge. While it's true that bedbugs generally fall into the category of 'pests,' it is underreported that they are also life-changing experiences. It is said that the three most stressful times in life surround divorces, moves, and new children. Bedbugs are surely a close fourth.
If I forget to take out the garbage one morning, I come home to find an angry Katherine. If I Jihad or Katherine move my things, I become irrationally angry. We lurk about the apartment during the day waiting to explode at one another. We are all angry at the creatures, but it is very hard to take out fury on an insect so we target snide remarks and well-timed sighs at one another instead. The emotionally traumatizing effects of these creatures are probably foreign to anyone who has not had them, but bystanders beware: bedbug victims are emotional landmines. Do not misstep near us.
Our apartment is a wasteland. My room is a hollowed out shell. The painting and the pictures that used to be on the wall are now lightly soaked in some combination of Cykick and Gentrol: pesticides that apparently have no major harmful side effects, but are also illegal to sell to consumers in New York, which makes you wonder.
I had my carpet cleaned, so my bedroom floor is now just bare wood. The floor has a bit of a slope, so without the carpet my desk chair starts to gently roll downhill. In my room downhill is away from my desk but towards the kitchen. I am usually hungry anyway, so I consider this serendipitous.
My clothes remain sealed in garbage bags, and my files and books are quarantined in the hallway. We have noticed bugs creeping into the hallway, so this quarantine is not, perhaps, as safe as it could be. Katherine threw out her mattress and I have sealed mine in airtight plastic. I have locked away all bedding but for one sheet and a pillow. Katherine used her feminine charms to persuade me to give her the pillow, so I sleep on my laundry bag.
Duct tape, apparently, is not a bad sealant where bed bugs are concerned. I have laid either silicone gel or duct tape across all the cracks in the flooring in my room. It looks like a kindergarten class decorated during arts and crafts time.
If you were to step out of my room into the hallway you would see a collection of some 30 plastic garbage bags haphazardly scattered to create an aesthetic I might call 'swamp of filth.' If you didn't know the bags were filled with office supplies, you might think that the social misfits living in this fetid throughway had created a knee deep pile of compost through laziness, indifference, or sheer contempt for each other and their surroundings. The good news is we need not fear your judgment nor anyone else's because no one in his right mind would set foot in our apartment.
Of course, family is an exception. A few days ago my sister, Willa, stopped by in one of her rare New York visits.
"I love what you probably did with your room," she said when I gave her the tour. "It looks like this really might have looked great when your stuff was still here. Did you nuke your books like mom said to do?"
"I really nested here," I said with a tinge of self-pity. Then: "I didn't like the idea of trashing my books so I went through them page by page."
Willa poured herself a glass of water, "That probably took a while."
"Less time than reading them... but not much."
"Mom sent me the links and her solutions were absurd."
"Completely absurd," I agreed.
"Who believes those posts, do you think?" Willa opened the freezer to get herself some ice.
"I can't imagine," I said.
Willa looked in the freezer then back at me.
"Ah... yes. That's our VCR," I explained. "The ice should be underneath."