Literally my Worst Nightmare

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What is your worst nightmare? The thing that makes your skin crawl and stomach flip over just thinking about the possibility that it might actually happen? I don’t know how many people can easily and accurately answer that question without having to stop and think… And last week I might have said that I’ve got too much anxiety to be able to sort out my top nightmare. I know what it is now though, because it happened on Tuesday.

My nightmare is being covered in bugs.

The first time this happened was before 7th grade, because we were still in the old house. Maybe it was 4th or 5th, I don’t know. But I woke up in the middle of the night because I felt weird, all tickly and itchy. I threw back the covers and realized I was COVERED IN ANTS. I don’t remember what happened next but I suspect I woke my parents up.

The second time was in the new house, probably while I was still somewhere in middle school. This was at the height of our ant problems, when thanks to the bug traps I woke up every morning and vacuumed thousands of dead ants off the bathroom floor before I could go in there. One night I was ready for bed, went into my room, pulled back the sheets, and it was COVERED IN ANTS. I slept on the couch.

And this week. The thing about this is, we hadn’t been in the apartment for a while because we’ve been visiting family. I’ve still been going to work but commuting two hours each way. It’s a whole complicated thing I’m not going to get into. But basically, I set out to retake the apartment and top on my list was cleaning the couch because I didn’t have any clean sheets for the bed and the couch was covered in dog and cat hair.

So I cleaned that up and slept on the couch, feeling slightly itchy but chalking that up to the couch still being slightly damp by the time I went to sleep. It was a restless sleep. The next day I still felt itchy, but figured it was because I’d washed my clothes with a different laundry soap than I was used to.

Around midday I started to get a bad feeling. I’d noticed a lot of little black bugs on the floor the evening before and not thought much of it, just sprayed ten with Lysol and wiped them up. But I itched everywhere. I finally mentioned the bugs to my partner, but held back on the itchiness part in case that wasn’t a big deal.

It was a big deal. Because our couch and possibly the entire apartment is COVERED IN FLEAS.

As soon as I’d gotten home and finished all the chores that required me going outside, I stripped and immediately saw I was covered in red welts. There was a ring of red around my ankles, near where the top of my socks had been. Red spots trailed sporadically up my legs, leading to thicker patches at my hips and back, where the waistband of my pants had been. There were bites on my stomach and arms.

That’s when the crying started. Also the slapping. I could see the little black bastards on me but could only hit them about one in five tries, and always there were more. I went into complete hysterics for a while until my partner talked me semi out of it.

The only silver lining to this story is that it was just me. While this meant I was terribly alone throughout the experience, it also means that there are no fleas on my partner or either of our pets. Someone must have tracked a single flea in once, or somethig, and while we were gone they just took over.

I threw out everything. All the dog and cat beds, any clothes that wouldn’t fit in the washing machine, the living room rug, and all the toys. Even the basket the toys were in. I put my dirty clothes back on, skin crawling the whole time, and walked to the 24 hour Safeway down the street for salt and orange oil spray. I dumped over a pound of salt all over the couch, set out flea traps of soapy water in shallow dishes all around it, and doused anywhere the salt wouldn’t stay with orange oil.

It’s unclear if there are fleas in the bedroom, which is carpeted. If so, we’re probably going to have to throw out the mattress. At my insistance, we are moving out in really July rather than renewing our lease as planned. The couch will be thrown out or sold on Craigslist if we can get any takers.  Petco, which wasn’t open during my cleaning frenzy, has a good selection of anti-flea sprays for furniture that should see us through okay, but at this point I can’t keep these things around anymore. I can barely stand being in my own skin right now. Even now that I’ve showered tons and am armed with antihistamines and anti-itchy cream, every itch makes me wonder if they’re still on me. I’ve had dreams of shaking out blankets and watching larvae fall out of them. Between the stress and the antihistamines I feel like I have the flu, and am going on my second day home sick from work – partly due to feeling sick and partly because I’m afraid my car might be infested. Even though I have the spray to deal with that now, the thought keeps setting off brief bouts of complete mental paralysis.

I feel like there is nowhere in the world I belong right now. This feeling of displacement isn’t new, since we’ve been out of the apartment for a while. We’re staying at my partner’s parents’ house because it’s more pet friendly – my parents would be okay with the dog but not the cat. To break up our little family of two people and two pets would make me feel even worse, so what belongings I have with me have colonized a corner of the living room. There is hardly a waking hour of the day that I don’t feel miserable about this, but I try to keep it wallpapered over with optimism and my weekly list of gratitudes. I have a sneaking suspicion though, that the bulk of my gratitudes this week will be simply these:

  • Only I had fleas.
  • I no longer have fleas.
  • Petco’s flea control section.
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