Friday, June 3, 2011

Love your (revolting small brown eight-legged) enemies

I have resolved to try harder to follow the words of Matthew in the New Testament: Love your enemies.

And by my enemies, I of course mean ticks.

Wood ticks: The large brown disgusting ones. Deer ticks: The ineffably tiny ones, so often compared in size to “the period at the end of this sentence,” so much less revolting to look at, in my opinion, and yet even more dangerous as carriers of Lyme disease.

New England in general and Carlisle in particular are replete with ticks. I absolutely despise them, and yet I know it’s a repulsion I need to try to overcome. I can’t be a responsible mother, dog owner, or citizen of the countryside if I can’t get over my natural impulse whenever I see one, which is to yell for Rick.

This has become particularly clear to me over the past week. Despite Carlisle’s reputation, at least within its own geographical boundaries, of being the Lyme disease capital of the world, there are years when I’ve gone the entire warm-weather season without seeing a single tick.

This year apparently will not be one of them. I found one on Holly’s bed as she was waking up earlier this week, and another one making its way across the dog’s snout. Then this morning as Holly was drying off after her shower, I found one of the tiny ones embedded in her hip.

But the find that leaves me with the worst feelings was yesterday afternoon. I had just checked in at the doctor’s office for some routine lab work when I felt something brushing across my bare arm. I looked and saw a large brown tick. I was so startled that without thinking I brushed it off of me – and then couldn’t find it. Not on the floor, not on the chair where I’d been sitting. Somehow I’d released a tick into the doctor’s waiting room. The guilt I felt about my part in so nonchalantly foisting off a tick onto the next unfortunate person to stand in the wrong place in that waiting room was overwhelming; I felt like a character in a Dostoyevsky novel. I wanted to find it and dispose of it properly, but I couldn’t. And yet I knew it would make its way some other poor unsuspecting patient.

When I’m by myself and see ticks, I can usually force myself to deal with it as needed: using tweezers, or my bare fingers, whatever works. But if Rick is around, I still can’t resist the impulse to call for reinforcements – an instinct so embarrassing to me that I pretend to him that there’s some other reason I called him, as if I just wanted advice and not someone else to do the dirty work. “It’s so tiny; I just wanted a second opinion on whether it’s really a tick and not a scab before I start tweezing at her skin,” I told him when I found the tick after Holly’s shower. Of course, he then found the tweezers and got to work on it, just as I knew he would.

Research tells me it was either Machiavelli or The Godfather who said “Keep your friends close, your enemies even closer.” At first blush, this phrase seems inapplicable when it comes to ticks. Keeping them as far away as possible seems like better advice. But no, I remind myself, the point is that ticks are going to show up whether you want them to or not, and “keeping them even closer” means not only being able to bear them but being really comfortable with them. Grab those tweezers; get your hands dirty; be fearless.

I try to imagine a form of hypnosis that might make it easier for me to approach a tick without hyperventilating. Notice how small they are instead of how gross they are, I tell myself. One thousandth your size at the most. You are the dominant creature here. You are in charge.

Maybe. But it doesn’t feel that way when I’m looking at one, whether it’s on my child’s pale flesh, in the dog’s fur or scurrying across my arm. Absolutely disgusting. And yet absolutely necessary for me to be able to confront comfortably. I’m working on it. And eventually I’ll get there.

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