On Bedbugs, Incest, and the Apocalypse

Innocently enough I listened to my exterminator tell me an experiential horror story, an account of the resurgence of bedbugs and how I wanted to keep them away. “They multiply quickly, are hard to detect, and it is expensive and difficult to exterminate them. Have you ever dealt with head lice?” “Yes,” I replied remembering my daughter’s kindergarten experience and the Girl Scout overnight canceled because of their proliferation. “Bedbugs are 100 times worse,” she replied.

The idea of bedbugs became planted in my mind for the first time, and I thought about what she said a few weeks later when I perceived myself bitten. Using the logic that I had been taught growing up whenever I wondered if something bad had ever happened to me, here is what I should have concluded: If I had never been prompted by her to know the signs of bedbugs, then I wouldn’t consider looking for them in my house. The only reason they’ll be a problem here is if I go looking for them. Of course, I’ll find what I’m looking for. I will leave it well enough alone. Mysterious bite marks?  Just my overactive imagination.

My idea that there are/were bedbugs was planted in my mind, and that caused me to look for them. I should never have spent time with my buglady. Her influence changed me and made me start seeing bedbugs everywhere. We all know that’s the way the brain works. Right?

Just like that incest stuff. My brother used this logic when I told him I was experiencing child sexual abuse flashbacks, saying, “I don’t want you thinking things like that just because some psychiatrist is planting those ideas in your mind.”

But the bite marks were visible, both from bedbugs and perpetrators. They matched the evidence from others who had discovered them and wouldn’t go away. Who in their right mind would want to confirm something that pervasive, that painful, and that expensive to address.

Next time someone tells you you’ve just gone looking for something because someone else told you about it, tell them that  you heard someone found money in the wall so you decided to look in your own walls, but so far you’ve  found nada and the holes in the wall have been easily patched and you’ve moved on. When something bad is real, and most of our “ideas” or “thoughts” find unwelcomed confirmation, it won’t go away until it’s addressed.

For the longest time I thought I matched some of the symptoms when I’d take a psychology course or hear mental health and child safety lectures, but I convinced myself that I’m not going to become one of those students who is convinced she has experienced the symptoms of every illness described, so I dismissed the thoughts over and over. Though I can never know what could have happened if I had paid attention to my relationship and sexuality symptoms earlier, I do know that I’m paying a heavy price now and can’t make them go away.  What really happened, even if the memory is locked away in another part of the brain, happened. The energy and resourcefulness that I used to keep the memories hidden is now increasingly released to clear out the insidious, ever-multiplying, free-loading, damned bugs.

I wish we hadn’t had bedbugs. I hope they’re really gone and that we never bring them back into the house again. But forever I will know how well they hide, how broadly they thrive, and how useless denial is to change reality.

et cetera