BY KATE WALTER | “Do the test so you can stop obsessing,” said my shrink, Dr. R.
I’d told Dr. R. I was afraid that my convertible couch, which doubled as my bed in my West Village studio, might be infested. My panic started last fall when I woke up one morning scratching my ankles. Never mind that I was still spending weekends at the shore and sitting outside at night wearing flip-flops. Any sane person would have suspected mosquito bites, not bedbugs. Plus, what I had looked nothing like what I saw on the many Web sites devoted to this new urban pest epidemic.
That should have reassured me, but the day I found a bite on my index finger, I freaked out. I recalled the note my annoying neighbor had placed under my door a while back indicating the person who had moved downstairs from me had bedbugs in her previous apartment. I’d dismissed this warning and filed it away with her other crazy letters, but what if she was right? Now I stripped the sheets, pillowcases and mattress cover from my bed, tossed all this into the laundry. I pulled up the mattress and frantically searched under it for bugs. I found nothing.
So then why did I keep waking up so early, like at 5 a.m.? Right before dawn was when the critters started feeding. Was it job-related anxiety? After all, this did start when I returned to teaching in the fall. I also wondered if it was fear of bringing a new woman into my bed after my partner of 26 years left me. I analyzed whether I was projecting my anxiety about a new love affair onto a fear of bedbugs. Or was it the real deal? Every time I saw a tiny dark fleck on my sheet, I was afraid it might be fecal matter from those bloodsuckers.
The first time I went into a panic, I was lobbying for another apartment in my building and had dreams of being offered an amazing space with direct views of the Empire State Building. I had to get out of this tiny studio. I was officially too old to be sleeping on a pullout couch. On my birthday last year, I became eligible for Social Security.
Of course, my shrink wanted to know why the possibility of a new home scared me. I indicated it must be related to my distorted thinking that I don’t deserve a bigger place where I could have a real bed. The only way I could take this in was to counterbalance with something negative: bedbugs. I grew up with twin beds in a small room shared with my sister. When I left home, I splurged and got a waterbed. (It was the ’70s.) After I moved to Manhattan, I slept in loft beds, futons and now a convertible couch.
“You think you only deserve tidbits of happiness,” my therapist analyzed. This was also her theory as to why I spent three decades with my former partner, whom my shrink felt never returned my devotion. “Getting what you want scares you,” Dr. R. said.
When I was not offered that apartment, my fears calmed down for a few weeks until I saw the tan speck on my sheet. I picked it up and put it into an envelope.
“So what does it look like?” my therapist asked, referring to the speck.
“Well, it looks like a piece of granola,” I said, feeling silly. “But it also looks like the picture of a bedbug I saw on the Internet.”
“Bedbugs don’t look like granola,” Dr. R. said. “What’s going on in your love life now?”
I told Dr. R. about the fabulous first date I’d just had with an attorney. We walked on the High Line at sunset, followed by dinner at an Italian restaurant where we drank a bottle of wine. The conversation flowed easily. She was attractive and I sensed chemistry. Even better, she e-mailed me later that she had fun and wanted to get together again. I really liked her but I could never invite her to my apartment to sit on my couch if I thought it was infested.
The only people who knew about my fear were my therapist and my best friend. Since my friend’s ex owned a mold-removal business, I asked her to speak with him. That was how I learned about the test. He said to put sticky glue mousetraps under the four posts of my convertible couch before I went to bed. If I had bugs, they would be on the traps in the morning. It was time to discover the truth.
It was super-hard to get the glue traps under the posts of my heavy couch. This was a two-person job, but I refused to call anyone in my building who could assist me move furniture. This needed to be a stealth operation. I pulled the couch up with my right arm and slipped the traps under with my left hand.
I thought I’d be unable to sleep that night, but I slept soundly. At least, I’d have an answer when I woke up. I got up at 7 a.m. and peeked at the edges of the traps — they were all clean, thank God. But I could not be positive until I pulled them out completely. This task was much harder than inserting them because now the traps were stuck to the wooden posts. I managed to free the back two first because they were not wedged in as deeply. All clear — yes!
But the front ones were impossible because I’d stuck them under more securely. I yanked and pulled with my left hand, holding up the couch with my right hand, like Superwoman. The traps came flying off in pieces, the glue side landing down on my floor. I saw blood on the last trap I removed. It was mine, I realized with relief, as I saw a big gash on my index finger. I was cut and bleeding and glue was stuck to a section of my wooden floor, but I didn’t care. My couch had passed the exterminator’s exam.
The next day I woke up happy and planned to go to yoga but my shoulder and wrist were sprained from lifting the heavy couch. No way could I do downward dog without injuring myself again. I had to skip class, which I needed after all that stress. I found the envelope with the suspicious speck and examined it again. It looked like a piece of granola.
A month later, I was offered a sunny one-bedroom near quiet neighbors.
I was thrilled about this upgrade after 12 years on a waiting list for a bigger place. When I signed the lease, there was another form, indicating my new apartment had no history of bedbugs.
So I moved and finally, at age 62, I had my own one-bedroom and was looking to buy a bed. On our third date, I invited the sexy attorney over. As we sat on my couch drinking wine and chatting, surrounded by unpacked boxes, I felt like it was worth the long wait and envisioned how I’d be decorating my brand-new space, transforming it into a real home.