“Don’t freak out,” my roommate said to me.
As I pulled up in a cab from the airport after being home for Thanksgiving, I saw her rolling her suitcase down the sidewalk. I had shouted hello from the cab, only to be greeted with the words no roommate wants to hear.
“We might have bedbugs.”
I sat open-mouthed in the cab and stared at her, the meter still running. Bedbugs, parasites of the family Cimicidae that feast upon human blood, have been causing trouble in New York for a while now. Nobody really knows how or why they came to New York, but some have speculated that the amount of travelers the city receives on a daily basis has something to do with it. Sadly, New York seems to be prime real estate for bedbugs, which enjoy a dark crevice and a good fabric seam (clothes included). They will take up residence all over apartments, which are full of both these things. And they’ll bite, leaving small red welts on the bodies of their human prey.
While my roommate and our friend EJ were hanging out, EJ noticed one singular bedbug crawling on one of our futon’s throw pillows. He immediately killed it and my roommate bagged it for future evidence. Not taking the chance that there might be more, she threw clothes in a suitcase and got the hell out. That’s when I ran into her.
I was scared. Were we going to be another unfortunate pair of New York residents whose lives and bank accounts were turned upside down by horrifying creatures no bigger than my thumbnail? Would our Sweet Caroline (the name of our apartment) be no more?
I eventually got out of the cab and my roommate and I stood on the sidewalk, trying to make plans for where to stay that evening. We realized, though, that we had to call our super and tell him about the bug. To his credit, he calmly talked us down from our metaphorical ledge, telling us to go back into the apartment and bag everything up in the general futon area. My roommate, ever stable, made us a plan. Too stunned to formulate coherent thoughts beyond “ohmygodohmygod”, I listened. I clung to the hope that we did not have more than one bedbug.
Just in case we did, though, we would leave our bags in the lobby of our building and go upstairs, she said. We would then put the contents of our living room (and parts of our bedrooms) into plastic trash bags. Into the bags went sheets stripped from beds, pillows wrangled from their cases, the covers torn from the futon and table along with anything else we could fit. It was a pleasant surprise to not see any more of the wretched creatures, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Weary and subtly terrified, we cabbed it down to friends’ apartments (RB and LA are both actually from heaven) and resolved to skip work to deal with the problem the next morning.
LA plied me with drinks and cigarettes and conversation to rid me of my fears, and eventually I passed out at 2am, not thinking about the tiny beings that might be eating me alive if I were in my own bed.
At 8:30 am I rustled my bones and headed back to our apartment, my roommate arriving soon after. Still in the clothes I wore on the airplane, I began piling things in the laundry cart to wash—nay, scorch—in hot water in the washers downstairs. I knew, but had to be reassured that if we did have bedbugs, they cannot swim and certainly do not enjoy being boiled. Through my fog of sleep deprivation I hurled the sheets and pillowcases and futon covers and tablecloths into the washers, taking up three of the four machines we believed would be our salvation.
My roommate threw some pillows into the shower to drown them in hot water. We realized later, as we squeezed the pillows out and wound up with our own, personal wet t-shirt contest that perhaps this was not a good idea, and simply threw the pillows into the dryer to burn the bugs to death, if they were in fact there at all.
Around 11, after all had gone into wash that could, we paused our cleaning endeavor and went to our respective workplaces. The super would be by later that evening to check and see if we actually did have the creatures. Nearly passing out at work from being so tired, I slogged through the day still hoping we didn’t have an infestation.
Luckily, on the way home from work I found out we didn’t. My roommate texted me and I smiled, replying “YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSSSS!” Apparently the super came in with a flashlight and spray, the whole shebang, and went into every crevice and/or bedbug hiding place in our apartment. No bedbugs to be found. We instantly felt safer in our own home and breathed mental sighs of relief.
People have said to me recently, “New York is not a place to live,” and I disagree, even with events like these. If I was living in Kansas, I’d have to worry about tornadoes. In Los Angeles, earthquakes. We dealt with our bedbug scare, and are incredibly thankful it was just that. But we’re not going to pick up and leave because of it. I guess, somehow, what doesn’t bite you makes you makes you stronger.