When I was a child, my father would read me books like “Green Eggs and Ham” or “The Giving Tree”, kiss me goodnight and then say, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” These bed mites were something I equated to Pandora’s box. Unseen and mythical, a lesson not to unlock what is clearly meant to remain closed, or to wash sheets and skin regularly or else invisible parasites will ravage the flesh.
Dear Bed Bugs,
It was around the time of January or Winter’s midsection, when I sat in my girlfriend’s apartment in Boulder, Colorado and saw you for the first time. Her and I sat beside each other, reading from Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, when you jumped out like a singular surprise party, but it was neither of our birthdays and there was absolutely no cake nor presents.
Her fast fingers caught you and shuddered at the thought of what you were. You had a red tinge, as though we were engaged in some form of flirtatious banter and your entire body was blushing. She grabbed a clear ziplock bag and placed you in it. Then, we went online, hoping we were wrong about your category.
We had a hunch. About a week earlier, her neighbor called Ron or Greg asked if she had noticed any bugs in her place. As she shook her head, I took in the sight of his arms, like the beginning stages of connect the dots: tiny red spots on white, white arms.
It seems there was an infiltration of bed bugs in her building, causing her to take an immediate detour from solo studio living to cohabitation with me in my tiny 500 square foot apartment.
We threw away her mattress, checked all her books, gathered sheets and clothes into a sealed plastic bag, left outside until we could wash everything under hot, hot water.
At that time, there were few products on the market to free us, so we researched all the ways to escape their infiltration. They were like my third girlfriend: unbearably resilient and could go without eating for days (though bed bugs could starve for up to 300).
Bed Bug, a derivative of Cimex lectularius, playing hide-n-go seek with humans’ blood, living inside mattresses or nooks of beds. Unwanted intruders insistent on being bedmates with their food. Often nocturnal, extremely sly.
Let’s take a detour from the trauma of their existence and talk about their sex lives, which is far more interesting, and a distraction from the fact that they use their mouths to saw through skin, in addition to their historical lineage dating back to ancient Greece as early as 400 BC!
How they mate is through traumatic insemination, which, oddly, is what I referenced my brief experimentation with sexuality, upon becoming a heterosexual.
The male punctures the female’s abdomen with his syringe-like penis and ejaculates inside her. After doing insignificant research, I saw no courting rituals, hand-holding, Netflix-watching while eating a home-cooked dinner, noteworthy listening skills insisting that kissing and above-the-shirt touching is enough. It seems male bed bugs just barge right in and their marathon sperm inseminates upon reaching their ovaries.
Good news is, the women get a break every so often because there are gay bed bugs too, as the males will impale other males’ abdomens as well.
But during the time of their invasion, it was difficult to see them as sexual beings. Every part of me itched at all times, mostly phantom itches, derived from the fear of my blood being stolen.
We later moved into a larger apartment, but I never forgot about them: silent predators of skin.
Bed bugs, noun, a bloodsucking bug which is a parasite of birds and mammals. But let’s take a detour from that restriction of speech and use them as an adjective.
- My twenties were bed-bugged, a series of days where I felt myself getting sucked dry of life, energy, imagination, and desire.
Or how about as a verb?
- X bed-bugged my heart, deflating it of pumped blood, leaving me lifeless and forever weary of ever being loved again.
Future band names:
- Bed Bugs & Boneless LIVE at the Mercury Lounge
- Bed Bug Boner LIVE and acoustic showing at The Bottom Line
And my as-yet-unpublished memoir:
- New Jersey & Bed Bugs, or Lifetime of Trauma off Exit 128
When I think about all the detours in my life, it is difficult not to think about bed bugs. Sometimes I wonder if maybe we should be using them as an alternative to the reality television show “Hoarders”, where strangers infiltrate/shame humans who have a difficult time letting things go. Maybe we just need to set off a smattering of these persistent parasitic insects through the vents. Then, people will be forced to let go of things in order to cleanse their home.
A detour from avoidance.
A detour from the cost of an over-priced house cleaning.
A reason to replace bed mattress, with stains of thirteen ex-lovers, and your brief stint as a bed-wetter and all those embarrassing yet ironically artful menstruation stains.
I want to believe that the pests which exist, flapping their wings or mouths beside us can have purpose beyond skin rashes, psychological stress and the inevitable fear of the world ending.
Of course, there are always those exceptions, the nuisances that just have no redeeming quality, which have no detour to bypass: mosquitoes, gentrification and of course, Donald J. Trump.