Fleeing the Bed Bugs
The signs weren’t obvious at first. (Or were they?) The track of little bumps across Bob’s forehead as if an ant brigade had visited in the night. Another bite here, and then there, across his forearm. His legs. His chest. Oh my God, what was happening? Had they arrived while we were sleeping? Was it spider bites? Mosquito’s munching? Or something far worse…bugs that lived in the bed. Punaises de lit as they would be called in French.
But it couldn’t be. No. Those things didn’t live in the “civilized” world…not in the West. Had we heard of an outbreak a few months earlier in New York? In Philly? (A distant memory, yes.) But not in France. Who would imagine that such creatures could outlast the chicness of the place, the sophistication.
It was our first night in a new apartment in Montpellier, France, after we had had to depart our home there of three weeks’ paradise for another vacationing family of much more organized ability–they having reserved that location far in advance unlike us who had merely stumbled upon it last minute.
The new apartment, owned by the same proprietor as our previous place, seemed solid and satisfactory, even if it was a bit of a stepchild–smaller, less airy, more beige. We weren’t expecting insects or infestations in any case. And since only Bob had gotten the red bumps–not me who had slept on the same mattress–surely they weren’t bed bugs.
We took a wait-and-see approach because, well, it was probably nothing (and, really, who wanted to move again to another apartment???).
Morning 1. Some bites, that’s strange.
Morning 2. Are there more bites? That’s weird. I think there are.
Morning 3. Oh shit. I found some bug carcasses on the floor that matched the photos on the Internet. Not just near our bed, but near Avery’s sleeping pad on the floor. An examination of her skin revealed two suspicious bites on her precious back and bottom.
“Not to my baby you don’t.” And with that it was decided–we were leaving.
As with every great escape, there were things taken and things lost. Our clothes came with us after being boiled at the laundromat for a life’s savings worth of Euros. Bob’s bug-bitten body came too, though it would irritate him for days with it’s itchiness.
Left behind? The congenial friendship we had made with the landlord, now broken after we strong-armed her into returning our money. A bottle of perfume I had bought for the nanny as a going away gift–forgotten in the chaos. Scores of just-purchased pantry items and food leftovers deposited in the trash since we’d be moving to a hotel without a fridge or a kitchen.
On our amazing trip overseas, it was the inevitable nadir to the zenith. Not that it was such a surprise, in a general sense anyway. There is always one day (or one week) where it all falls apart when you’re traveling, where the twinkling lights fall off of the trees like rotten berries.
But we survived. I sprayed some anti-itch cream on Bob’s war-torn body and he attempted to stop going to town with his scratching. We found an adorable little hotel outside of Montpelier in Carnon-Plage…on the beach, with a cool breeze that whirled through our room from the balcony through our open front door. We strolled by the sailboats outside our door, took afternoon dips in the sparkling pool, and walked the fishing pier at dusk.
And then, magic. On the fishing pier, Robert sidled up alongside a father with a basket just emptied into the sea and asked “où est le poisson?” (where is the fish?). Within moments, Robert had his own try holding the fishing line, and Bob and I stared on from our nearby perch in quiet wonder as our son spoke and didn’t speak and stood and pulled up a lawn chair alongside this French family for twenty minutes as if they were cousins.
If the punaises de lit hadn’t visited us, we’d still have been staying in a good-enough apartment in the city center rather than at the beach watching our son make himself at home–in French in France–while as it turns out, fireworks popped in the distance.
Sometimes, bed bugs are merely the price of admission.