So I saw my first bed bug in New York City this weekend and, thank god, it was not in my apartment. It was in a pretty bad place, though. On a bus, the M9, on the sleeve of the windbreaker of a man sitting right next to me and my kid and my kid’s friend. We were with my kid’s friend’s mom, too, heading to their house to have lunch after karate class. (The kids are in the class, not us adults. Still, though, I’ve been watching. So don’t fuck with me.)
There is no doubt that it was a bed bug. It looked just like the pictures: like a small, flat, reddish-brown ladybug, with the striated abdomen. It was a foot and a half away from me. I looked at it for a good minute before getting the attention of my kid’s friend’s mom, who saw me staring at something, but was too far away to know what it was. “It’s a bed bug,” I said, mouthing the words, so no one could else hear.
Her eyes widened. “Eww!”
I agreed. “Eww.”
“Should we get up and move?” she whispered.
This was a good idea, I thought. “Let’s go guys,” I said to my kid and his friend. “We’re getting off soon.” I helped them up, and very carefully herded them past the man, who was sitting there with two kids of his own. I made sure to push them as far away from the disgusting vermin in our presence, and shuffled them quickly down the aisle.
Standing up toward the front of the bus, I felt kind of bad, looking back at the man and his kids. Had it been obvious what we were doing? That I suddenly decided to move as far away from them as possible? He surely hadn’t seen the insect on his arm. Should have I told him it was there? I thought about the horror of what they must be going through at home. And what a bummer it would be to be stigmatized. They didn’t look much different from us, these people. Their clothes were clean, other than the one horrible, blood-sucking parasite clearly visible on the man’s nylon coat. And then I thought of an even worse possibility: that it hadn’t even come on the bus with him. Maybe his apartment is not infested. What if this single specimen that had just hopped on to him recently, moments before I spotted it, perhaps? Maybe it was the bus that was infested. Maybe the things are dropping down from the ceiling onto passengers. Like six-legged, sharp-penised life-ruining rain.
“I am totally freaking out,” I told my kid’s friend’s mom. “My skin is crawling.”
“Me too,” she said. “Should we get off at the next stop?”
We did. And after a not-possibly-thorough-enough search of our clothes and the kids’ clothes, walked the next five blocks to her place.