Saturday, April 28, 2007

La Garrapata

“Una Gar-ra-pa-ta?!” She drew out the word when she repeated it, squeezing her lips into a crooked line and pulling her face to the side in disgust.

And that’s how I knew that I had indeed correctly remembered the Spanish word for ‘tick.’

I was at the Aquarium with my friend Georgina. Isaac was begging us to hurry up and get to the otters; her boy was slowly sidling backwards toward another exhibit and out of sight.

That morning at the breakfast table, Isaac scratched the back of his neck. “Mama, boo-boo,” he’d started. I almost didn’t look up from my waffles, assuming he was referring again to the small scrape of mysterious origin we’d discovered by his right ear the day before. But I put down my fork. “A boo-boo, honey?”

On lifting his hair, I saw what looked at first like an odd mole that had been picked at and irritated. “It’s a bug,” Mike pronounced. “It’s a tick.”

My reaction was immediate – complete repulsion – which I then tried to cover as quickly as possible with a smile. “Daddy will fix it,” is what came out. I patted his leg while Mike went for the tweezers.

I tried to be light and nonchalant when I told Isaac not to scratch it, please, Daddy’s coming. There was a whimper just behind my frozen grin. That this creature, this blood-sucking, disease-carrying creature would find its way onto the perfect body of my baby, into the tiny divot in the small of his fragile neck, at the wispy blonde hairs, at that vulnerable spot, was clearly unnerving to me.

Mike came back with the metal pinchers I knew he needed, but I was not reassured by the sight of them. “You can’t leave any of it in there,” I told Mike, voice quavering. He stopped; looked at me; lowered the tweezers a half inch in the air. “I know,” he replied carefully, and I could feel in his tone what he was holding back, that he was summoning all the patience he could find in that instant not to tell me to go to hell. It was a stupid thing to tell a boy scout after all.

Isaac cried out when the tweezers tweezed. I was jiggling nervously in my seat, restraining his hands from going to the back of his neck.

“I got it all,” Mike said after the painful few seconds were up.

It was fortunate, I now realize, that Isaac was strapped into his highchair at the time, making the pinchy but successful extraction slightly easier.

Lyme disease is pretty rare in our county, though it exists, and as if the bugs observe county lines. To have it tested, we had to send it three counties away and pay $29, which makes me think no one is really keeping track of how prevalent the disease is. How many other neurotic people out there are keeping the blasted bug and mailing it away with a check? Right.

The tick lived on top of my bookcase over the weekend in a plastic Rubbermaid container I normally fill with raspberries, or peas, trail mix, or some other treat I’ve carefully selected for Isaac’s snack. Every time I thought of it up there, I shivered. I figured it’d be dead by the morning, but it was very much alive, alive and well the whole time until we sent it on its way on Monday. There was a nano-second, each time before I rounded the corner in the hallway to where the bookcase is, that I imagined finding the vile bug had busted out of its plastic prison to sit lounging on one of the shelves catching up on its reading – Kafka maybe.

If anything had a chance of killing it, maybe it was the postage meter, but I was beginning to feel doubtful that even that could do in the predator. It seemed to need nothing – not air, not food…Well, no. I guess it had already filled up, hadn’t it.

The results came back negative for Lyme disease and the other day Isaac, just awake from a nap, felt the back of his neck and smiled. “Mama, boo-boo ‘mall,” he said.

I’m not sure what to take away from this experience – how about that Isaac associates his father with saving the day, or that I’m still rather far from any Buddhist agenda when ticks (or snails) are involved, or maybe that unexpected villains can enter the picture of your life in unexpected ways and grab hold of what is most precious.

The cost of having the tick you pulled off your son tested for Lyme disease? - $29. A new Rubbermaid container? - $1.35. Knowing what’s on your bookcase won’t move until you pick it up? – Yeah, you got it - priceless.

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