Step One: Write a blog post about how you’re pretty sure you don’t have bed bugs. Blame the Jewish hypochondriac you briefly dated for your paranoia. Pretend the anxiety didn’t exist before you met him. Develop a sense of humor about the whole thing; if you can laugh about it that means it’s over, right? Accept that hives appear and disappear along your arms from wrist to shoulder every few days to every few weeks.
After all, you’re a transplant—an invasive species to Seattle. This is just nature’s way of trying to weed you out.
Step Two: Think you’ve put it all behind you until someone new sleeps in your bed. Low-key panic a couple days later when he tells you he has hives. Indulge all possible explanations and excuses—cat allergies, fleas, perfumes—while you cross your fingers and begin typing all the same familiar phrases into Google and spraying the perimeter of your bed with rubbing alcohol. When he tells you that the hives appear to be bug bites, strip your bed and examine your mattress seams before doing another load of laundry.
Laugh instead of cry when he tells you the first thing his sister asked him upon seeing his bites was, “Have you slept in a bed that isn’t yours recently?”
Allow him to laugh along with you.
Step Three: Fall asleep reading in bed and wake up to a bug the size and shape of an apple seed skittering across your deep purple bed sheets. Reach for the nearest tissue and pinch it between your fingers only for it to burst with rich red blood before disintegrating. Chide yourself, because as a self-taught amateur on bedbugs, you know better: you should have placed and sealed it, alive, in a Ziploc bag.
You also know it was probably your blood.
Step Four: Admit to your best friend that you’re about to schedule a free bed bug inspection with the caveat that it’s for your peace of mind. Admit the same thing to your boyfriend who destroys your peace of mind caveat by introducing the idea of corrupt inspectors who plant bed bug eggs inside of your apartment because they’re paid based on commission. Glower at him. Schedule the inspection anyway.
Step Five: Answer the door at 1 p.m. on Saturday after being up all night with the stomach flu. The man at the door wears a uniform and carries a flashlight. Invite him inside. Apologize for your aggressively affectionate cat who meow-screams at him as he shoves his arms in between your mattress and box spring. Ask questions like, “How common are bedbugs anyway?” Listen to him rant about Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, which led to the ban on DDT—the pesticide formerly used to treat bed bug infestations—and try not to feel embarrassed that your roommate and her mother can hear every word spoken in your 700 square foot apartment as she packs up boxes of her belongings in the kitchen.
Step Six: Feel relieved that bed bug inspector Aaron Jones gives you an all clear in the presence of your roommate, her mother, and your boyfriend. Take the inspector’s business card and put it in a safe place. Ignore the fact that you’ve done more thorough inspections yourself. When your fever breaks, open your most recent mail packages and dress your bed with a new duvet cover, pillowcases, and a throw blanket.
This is the blanket.
Step Seven: Go to bed at a time that would be shamefully early except for you’re still sick. Wake up an hour and a half later to find another bug the size of an apple seed on your upper arm. Pinch it between your thumb and forefinger and place it on your nightstand where it settles onto the side of your coaster, the one that reads “Good Things Come to Those Who Wait.” Carry both into the kitchen. Seal them in a Ziploc bag. Take a deep breath. Count out a good night of sleep. Email bed bug inspector Aaron Jones.
Step Eight: When your boyfriend invites you to sleep over at his place, tell him no, because as a self-taught amateur on bed bugs you know it’s not advisable to sleep anywhere but your probably infested bed . . .
But once you’ve told him as much and he’s reassured you that you’re not gross and sad and again offered you a not-infested bed to sleep in, tentatively accept his invitation: “You’ve gotta check this sucker out. Then you can decide if you want me anywhere near YOUR bed.”
Step Nine: Sleep fitfully. Have nightmares. Check the time and watch the minutes crawl like your skin.
Step Ten: Phone bed bug inspector Aaron Jones and get his voicemail. Call the 1-800 number and set up a second appointment ASAP: 8 a.m. tomorrow. Look up the number for a local business and ask for rates. When the man on the other end of the phone tells you it costs $163 for an inspection, you’re sure he can hear your voice break. You’re also sure he’s immune to the sound. You say thank you and hang up. You call your mom, who doesn’t answer because she’s at work. You call your best friend, who listens to you cry and fret for half an hour.
Step Eleven: Contact one last local business that’s headed by a woman and her trained dog. Leave your number with the receptionist. Email over a photo and a paragraph of backstory. Wait for the woman with the dog to call you back. When she does, listen for 16 minutes and 48 seconds as she attempts to educate you. Divine what parts of what articles you read on the Internet were true. Ask for her inspection rate—$225—and a ballpark range for treatment costs—anywhere from $500 to thousands. Imagine the dollar amount in your bank account dwindling to nothing. When she tells you she has availability for an inspection in three days, tell her you’ll have to think about it and call her back.
Step Twelve: Feel sorry for yourself. Cry it out. Strongly contemplate calling your landlord while pacing around your apartment. Walk into your soon-to-be-ex roommate’s half-empty room and sigh. Give in and call your landlord. While the phone rings, think about how he told you to call about urgent matters when you opted to email the last time: when your apartment grew so cold you could see your breath and you brewed and drank a dozen pots of tea each day to keep warm. When he answers, tell him as calmly as possible what you believe is happening to you.
Step Thirteen: Forty-five minutes later, hear a knock at your front door. Invite your landlord inside with an apologetic smile. Lead him into your bedroom where you introduce him to the antagonist and the stage of your nightmares. Watch as he dons a pair of latex gloves before pulling back the sheets to your bed. Try and tell yourself you’re not dirty.
Step Fourteen: Try to believe it when your landlord tells you you’re not dirty. That you’re actually “relatively tidy.” That you probably picked up a bug on public transportation: homeless people, he says, they sleep in infested beds in shelters, then they take the buses, fall asleep, and shed ‘em. You set down your backpack and you bring one or two home. It escalates from there. He tells you that it’s happened to tenants of his before—not in this building, but in others he owns. He has the equipment to handle it.
But first, he has a lady with a dog to call.
Step Fifteen: Ask your landlord, “Is the woman with the dog named Susan, by chance?” She is. You talked to Susan on the phone an hour ago. Her cell phone number’s stored in your phone. There’s an email with half a dozen informational attachments from her sitting in your inbox. He calls her, and you listen to their conversation. They talk like old pals, and you think to yourself that Seattle is a small town.
Step Sixteen: With some reluctance, inform your roommate via text.
Step Seventeen: Order in Chinese at your boyfriend’s place. When he hands you your fortune cookie, crack it open and read the slip of paper. Laugh for the first time in years.
Could the something special be the termination of thousands of bed bugs?
Step Eighteen: Complete each item on the Preparation List for Canine Inspection your landlord taped to your door. (The same notice posted on each of your surrounding neighbors’ doors.) When there’s a knock on your door, answer it. When your next door neighbor—the sweet one who signs packages for you when you’re not home—asks if you know anything about this bed bug inspection business, tell her: It’s not you, it’s me.
Your landlord is pretty sure it’s just you.
You’re also pretty sure it’s just you. That this is what you get—a small town girl moving to a big city.
Step Nineteen: Come home post-inspection to find your bed sheets piled on top of your bed, as well as two protective encasements: one for your box spring, and one for your mattress. Your landlord texts you to say that it’s official: you have bed bugs. They’re in your box spring, as well as your couch (your first major adult purchase) in the living room. Eat leftover mac and cheese while sitting in your desk chair with your knees drawn up. Stare at your disheveled bed. Decide you can’t sleep there.
Step Twenty: Answer in vague terms when co-workers ask you about your weekend plans.
Step Twenty-one: Before treatment, remove anything in your room and living room that will melt, combust, or spoil at 140 degrees Fahrenheit: candles, chocolate, deodorant, lipstick, aerosol cans, batteries, etc. Find a place to stay with your cat between nine and five on Saturday.
Step Twenty-two: While standing in a crowded elementary school lunchroom at your first democratic caucus, think about how hot 140 degrees is. Text your best friend—an avid Bernie Sanders supporter—and make the joke that while you’re Feeling the Bern, the bedbugs are feeling the burn. See? You still have a sense of humor.
Step Twenty-three: Return home. Check the thermostat. It’s 80 degrees inside even though every window in the apartment is open. As you’re preparing to redress your bed, discover the corpses of two bed bugs. Take it as a good sign. Finish making your bed. Reassemble your room. Take a deep breath.
Step Twenty-four: Forget to exhale. Get hung up on the part of your landlord’s text that says, “Nothing is 100 percent” even though he also said the heating went fine, that you caught it early on. Put off going to bed until midnight, one o’clock. Wake up itching. Throw back your bed covers. Turn on the light. Grab your laptop and visit Bedbugger.com and read through bed bug message boards. Feel emotionally supported.
But most of all, feel tired.
Think about how well you used to sleep.
Step Twenty-five: Reread your favorite article on bed bugs (the one also cited in that blog post you wrote—the one from Step One). Click the link at the bottom of the page and read a related article: Bedbugs: Is No One Safe? One Woman’s Story. Marvel at the last paragraph:
I wouldn’t recommend bed bugs to my worst enemy, but I might recommend them to my best friend. I feel brave as hell right now and you can’t buy that. I’m prepared for pretty much anything and since I only own seven things now, I can make a break whenever. That’s kind of a luxury. When the bed bug epidemic gets as bad in Los Angeles as it is in New York, you’ll be seeing me walking down the street in my suit made of alcohol swabs, wielding a rifle and screaming, “THOUGHT YOU KNEW!”
Step Twenty-six: Exhale.
Step Twenty-seven: Become brave the same way you fall asleep: pretend to be.