There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them. — Andre Gide
I sensed that the status was definitely not quo, even before I noticed the reddish-brown spot that had appeared on my left sleeve. From its copper coloring and wide, many-legged stance, my best guess was that the Mini M&M–sized creature on my arm was a baby crab. After all, I’d spent the morning at the beach, helping David scout a location for his interview with Plum TV (a station for resort locales such as Aspen, the Hamptons, and Martha’s Vineyard).
As the logical portion of my brain sought to deduce how such a pest might have made its way onto my arm, the segment of gray matter that controls my motor functions was fast at work, forcing my throat to yelp, my right arm to swat wildly at the intruder, and then, when the slapping proved ineffective, I screamed for David to help “Get this thing off of me!”
For one who can envision a thousand dreadful outcomes for any given scenario, especially where bugs are concerned, it’s no simple thing to admit that I hadn’t seen this coming. As much as I may long to possess a super power such as teleportation, it seems the only super gift I’ve been given is ISP (insect sensory perception). Without my glasses, I can barely make out the words on my computer screen, yet my eyes have been known to pop open in the middle of the night and lock on to a wispy mosquito traipsing across the ceiling.
I rose to my feet and glared at the sleeve of my sweater as David used the heavy handle of a knife to crush the critter on the wooden block by the sink. The terrible truth of its identity became suddenly apparent. “Was that a tick?” I shrieked. David nodded.
“Everything okay?” David’s mother Ency had followed the ruckus into the kitchen.
“Yeah, I guess, if you call finding a tick on your arm to be okay,” I said, allowing the willies to send shivers through my body. Ency’s eyes met David’s for a mother-son roll at my expense; I could almost hear them thinking, It’s just a bug, Barb.
“Did it latch on?” Ency asked. I shuddered at the idea and shook my head. “Oh, then that’s nothing,” she said. “But if one does — “
“One won’t,” I snapped.
“Well, if one does,” Ency continued in a calm tone, “you can’t just pull it out. I tried that once, and pieces of it broke off and stayed in my body.” The mental image of this created a knot in my belly. Oblivious to my anguish, Ency continued. “The tick breathes through its sides, so you just need to cover it in Vaseline or soap and water, to suffocate it, and it will fall right off.”
“Okay, ew,” I said. “Now I know where they get all those horrific ideas for alien movies. I’ll never let it get to that point.” I stood, fidgeting and scratching at the itchiness manifesting itself all over my skin. “You don’t think there would be another one, do you?” I waited for David to shake his head at the improbability of a second tick before returning to my seat at the kitchen table, where my temporary office (my laptop and iPhone) was set up.
I let my hair down and compulsively ran my fingers along my scalp (a childhood spent on the East Coast had taught me that a fur-covered noggin is tick mecca). Allowing my left hand to continue its inspection, I used my right to publish the horrific experience on Twitter and Facebook, finger-pecking my eloquent reaction to the episode: “T to the muthafuckin’ ICK.”
I was in the midst of responding to comments and replies when my digits alighted upon something foreign, something hard and small on my neck — one of my skin’s most sacred and sensitive areas. This time, the logical part of my brain didn’t have a chance — I was all reptilian response.
After executing a combination maneuver of scream, grip, and fling, I left David to collect the armored parasite from the table and kill it with his makeshift hammer while I sprinted upstairs to wrest free of my clothing. For the next 20 minutes, my eyes wide with alarm, I scrutinized every millimeter of my clothing and body. When David eventually joined me, I was standing naked before the mirror in our room, running a comb through my frizzed-out hair for the 400th time. I must have looked like the bride of Frankenstein, only with bigger hair.
David reached for my sweater, which I’d tossed onto a chair. “Don’t touch that, it’s quarantined,” I said. The month of June had been unseasonably cold and wet on the island, which is why I’d been wearing the long, flowing tick magnet in the first place.
“I’m just going to check it out for you,” David said, figuring correctly that if he didn’t clear the garment, I would never wear it again. “You’re shaking, you know.” He sounded more annoyed than concerned. David, who was originally attracted to me in part because of my indomitable attitude, had been dismayed when he learned that something so small could transform me into an inept nincompoop.
“Need I remind you that I mostly grew up in a bug-free zone? Bugs don’t exist in San Diego — not the crazy, latch-on-and-suck-your-blood kind, at least, and if they do, they’re loners, not members of some swarmy squad.”
David gave me his “get over it” look. It’s impossible to explain something as illogical as my fear of paltry pests to my Spock-like husband. I like to think that, although he doesn’t quite understand, he makes an effort to be understanding. But when I said there was no way in hell I was returning to Tickville, David became a cliff, laughing off my excuses as though they were merely waves tickling his feet.