The Grey Pen Goings

Navigation through a World that's Wild at Heart and Weird on Top.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Unbearable Itchiness of Being

I pointed them out to Tom, my flatmate. “I haven’t even noticed any mosquitoes,” I said, running my fingers over my newly-bumped biceps. “But those suckers got me pretty good.”

“Yeah,” Tom agreed. “Though maybe you’re just not used to European mosquitoes or something.” Tom’s an environmental scientist, so I believe him. Fucking European diseases—the bane of Native Americans past, the bane of native Americans present!

The next day I found I’ve been rocked several more times around my ankles. Ok. And the next day I’m bitten all over my calves and knees. Goddamn. But I still couldn’t grasp it…

Now, I’d like to think I’ve suffered through some diseases. In India when I saw six, I drank some unfiltered water and got dysentery. Unseemly pain continually passed through my system. And I’ve had my waves of flus and fevers, and when Coach Dixon had to pull pebbles out from the skin flaps of my scraped up knee, I didn’t flinch. So, yeah, I’d like to think I can put up with some pain.

But the bed bugs tested me. Oh yes.

Once I spent the night at a girl’s place (our first time together), and when I woke up at 5 A.M. she was gone. She was sleeping on the couch. Apparently she couldn’t take my snoring. Now regardless of how she should’ve/could’ve dealt with the problem, there was something absolutely defeating about my situation upon waking—I can’t control what I do in my sleep. If I snore, I snore. If I dream, I dream. If I kick, I kick. So be it.

This is what I wanted to say to the bed bugs—it isn’t fair. I am asleep, you cannot do things to me while I’m asleep, you can’t attack when I am defenseless. It is wrong. Naturally, it should be wrong.

They ate slowly into my sanity. I would wake up to find two new bites and would claw for hours at old bites or imagined new ones. I would twitch on the tram, thinking they had followed me on. I was helpless, and I was helplessly naïve to think maybe they would go away or that I could wash them away. Oh no.

The trouble originated in the mattress my landlady, Kveta, dug up from her basement supply to give to me. In retrospect, it must have been festering down there for several years at least. But they were there, waiting in that baby-shit-brown mattress, and once they were in the mattress it was only a short time till they were in the sheet, and from the sheet to the pillows, and from the pillows to the couch, and from all of these places to me…

Now I like Kveta, my landlady, a lot. She is very earnest and charming and a twinkling little old lady. But elderly incompetence is only endearing when it doesn’t affect your well-being: from being in Prague I’ve learned so much. “Ali, I think it is stress,” she tells me when I show her a few bites. “I have been to doctor and he says. I have same like you. I show you.” She shows me her horrifically scabbed shins. I don’t have such heinous scarring. I have fucking bed bugs. “I can give my medicine when you want.”

But we changed mattresses and we changed the sheets. For one night there was nothing. I thought I had them licked, those invisible bastards. But the next afternoon I spent five minutes napping on my couch, face pressed against the green cushion. Ten minutes later I pass by a mirror and—

I’m not sure what’s better, having an Orion’s Belt of zits across my cheek or an Orion’s Belt of bed bug bites. Either way, I decide as I trudge off through the first nasty tentacle of Prague’s winter, I have hit rock bottom.

Drastic measures are taken. After waking Kveta and showing her the excess of bites, she finally believes me. We throw out the couch. We throw out the rug. The next day we tossed the bed as well. “I think is allergy,” Kveta told me again. “But we will see. I have another flat, but you will be alone. I think is better, if you are not alone, yes? Do you understand?”

I don’t particularly want to live alone. I liked this room, I really did. For a little while later we would play the game of wait and see (which I’d already been playing for too, too long). And though the bugs may have been eradicated their itches stay with me, beyond the reach of an anti-histamine’s help, and I can’t help but realize that this, this, is the unbearable itchiness of being.


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