As I was folding laundry Sunday and trying to read the subtitles of the Danish police procedural, “Forbrydelsen” (which I’d highly recommend, although you’ll need an international DVD player on which to view it) I spied a small, brown creature scuttling along our bed skirt. I reflexively nabbed it between my thumb and pointer.
Now I wish I hadn’t, because ever since I’ve been worrying that it might have been a bedbug.
I developed an all-consuming fear of these insects several years ago when their infestations invaded the news and, apparently, my neighborhood. A friend who lived nearby and who is even more meticulous than I am, discovered to her horror that the red welts covering her, her husband's and her daughter’s bodies were bedbug bites. She spent the subsequent year trying to evict the pests from her house. After exterminators repeatedly doused her home in chemicals, and after dumping the contents of at least two bedrooms, she was victorious, at great fiscal and psychological cost. I felt vicariously traumatized just hearing about her travails.
Since then, “vacations” have become instruments of torture for me, partly because we have three young children and partly because no mattress seems safe—not even, now, my own. I've found it disturbing, to say the least, to read that bedbugs are found in every type of dwelling; that adults can live for up to a year without eating; that the most effective pesticide for erradicating them is the toxic and now-banned DDT.
On Sunday, just as I pinched the suspicious invader, my husband walked in the door with our squawking 2-year-old. He dumped her on the floor alongside several bags full of Target goods.
“Look at this,” I cried, shoving the bug in his face.
“What is it?” Jeff asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, “but you’d better find out.”
My husband rolled his eyes. He is used to my neuroses, but that doesn’t mean he enjoys them. Nevertheless, he humored me by scanning the Internet, comparing the critter we had laid to rest on a napkin to the magnified pictures of bedbugs on WebMD and other sites. I hovered next to him, cringing at each new image of the bloodsuckers and the welts they leave all over their victims’ bodies. I rejoiced that our specimen didn’t exactly resemble the monsters we were viewing online. But then I fretted that we couldn’t entirely eliminate him from the bedbug category, since I had accidentally squished him a little bit in my alacrity.
“I don’t know,” my husband said, shaking his head, clearly wanting to discharge the whole business. He wouldn’t have trouble sleeping. But I knew I would. I had already started itching and went upstairs to pull off our mattress cover. Luckily, I didn't find any more possible chinches. I tried to tell myself that it had just been an aberration, that it was an innocuous bug, that we were vermin free.
But on my way out to walk the dog yesterday evening, I flicked on the light to brighten our dusky foyer. For the first time in probably two years, I gazed up at the hanging, half-globe fixture. I noticed a dark patch encircling the bulb. I couldn’t help myself. I stood atop a chair and peered into chandelier basket. The corpses of approximately 47 stink bugs nestled cozily inside.
‘At least they don’t bite,’ I tried to console myself, as I grabbed the dog’s leash and fled outside.