I’ve fallen for a dog named Duncan. He is the new love of my life. He has long black hair, and is the size of a large boot. He’s not a smiley dog – he’s quite serious, but can you expect anything else from a working dog? He makes good money, too. And he seems to have a strange habit of not walking upstairs, but being carried, while caressed, sweet nothings (in the form of the word “seek”) being whispered in his ear. I think I can handle that.
But – I get ahead of myself. Let us begin at the beginning.
My daughter woke up one day last week with a number of suspicious red dots on her legs. She complained that they itched. When, after three days, they seemed to increase in number, we took her to the doctor. Here’s where it gets exciting – ready? The doctor said that it didn’t look like spider-bites (spiders, I learned a couple of days later, are wonderful critters to have in your house); it didn’t look like scabies; and – here’s the clincher – it’s possible they could be bed bug bites.
My daughter, who is five, was a little freaked out and didn’t want to go to sleep. I told her that I had searched her bed (which I had), found the bug (which I hadn’t) and “gotten it,” (blatant lie), and tucked her in. Then I ran out of her room as fast as I could and made the mistake of calling my mother, who lives in New York city, where people don’t leave the house unless they’re sealed tight in a Ziploc bag, for fear of encountering a bed bug. Many no longer sleep in hotels, even at the Waldorf Astoria, where one woman had recently stayed with her daughter, who was bitten by bed bugs, returned home with them, and had a psychiatric breakdown. Others don’t go to the movies, where Hollywood groupie bed-bugs, munching on those munching on popcorn, don’t miss a flick. So I did what any concerned mother would do. I Googled “bed bugs.” Five hours and seven thousand magnified Google Images later, the horror increasing in an inverse relationship to the knowledge, I dropped off to sleep, wrapped snug in seran wrap.
The next morning, I took action. I learned that I had few options. Bed bugs are extremely difficult to detect, unless you really have a plague. Step one: determine whether or not you have a problem. After all, itchy red dots, as my aunt the dermatologist has always told me, could be “itchy red dot” syndrome, which appears and disappears mysteriously. If you do have bed bugs, you move on to step two – get rid of them. Step two is not so simple. There are three options. Option one: fumigate. Men in space suits engulf your house in a circus tent, the way they do for termites, and blow the heads off the little buggers. Since our house is an attached townhouse, we had to nix option one. Option two: poison them with fatal fumes. This involves taking apart every piece of furniture you own and painting every crevice with toxic chemicals. This also includes washing everything you own, and then storing each item in a sealed plastic bag. In addition, option two involves inadvertently poisoning your children. I wasn’t so sold on option two. This left option three, in which you remove anything plastic and electronic from your house, and then slowly heat your house, over the course of six hours, to a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Yes, that’s right, fried bed bugs for supper. Invite the cousins. Extra points if they don’t set your house on fire. And yes, option three will make a significant dent in your child’s nest egg.
You can see why one would want to be really sure that those red dots are caused by a bed bug. Cue Duncan. Duncan is a dog who works. Like his colleagues who sniff out drugs and bombs, he has been trained from puppyhood to associate treats, praise, and significant Christmas bonuses with the sweet, over-ripe scent of bed bugs, a scent barely detectable to the human olfactory system. Duncan and his owner Kevin showed up at my door. The kids were so excited; they thought I’d bought them a puppy for Chanukah. Kevin, in his button down shirt and khakis, looked like he was an informal business consultant, rather than someone hired to lift mattresses, crawl around the floor with a flashlight and magnifying glass, and follow a dog’s nose. He reassured me that dogs were great at this job, and, that if Duncan couldn’t find the bugs, it was safe to assume that they didn’t exist.
Duncan did not find bed bugs. He and Kevin searched hard and long. I hugged Kevin. I hugged Duncan. I paid them lots of money. And, later that night, as I lay in bed, the whirlwind settling, I marveled at how quickly and completely I was disquieted, and how quickly and completely appeased. I still don’t know what caused the red dots, which have since disappeared, and, unless they return, I have no desire to find out. I prefer to keep closed the fragile curtain which creates the illusion of separating me from the abyss. Despite myself, I prefer to put my trust in creatures that can smell what I cannot, and in the reassuring, soft-spoken explanations of those with authority.
Because this 24-hour long scare reminded me that the dark night and its unseen, malicious parasites cannot be prevented from penetrating my fortress. My home and those within it are not sealed safe. I cannot protect my loved ones from the unseen that will strikes when least expected. I can shine my flashlight strong, but the hidden will remain hidden, until it chooses to reveal itself. And even then, when I am staring it in the face, I will not always see it.
And yet, to keep going, we need to seal some things in Ziploc bags, and hide them from ourselves. When we go to sleep at night, overwhelmed by the myriad of possibilities the night will bring, we must fool ourselves into thinking that we’ve caught the bugs and that we are safe. That the dawn and its pink fresh clouds will come. That somewhere out there, there’s a dog named Duncan and he’s got our backs. So that we can live, and love.