Last night I had the privilege of performing at a benefit that raised money for The International Justice Mission and Restore International. It was a great night, with good art, and good discussion. Unfortunately, I also had the privilege of inviting an unwelcome guest back to my house.
As I was undressing in my bedroom, late at night, I pulled my dress off and casually glanced down at my stomach. And there, just above my bellybutton, was a bug. I am terrified of ticks. So of course, my first thought was TICKOHMYGOSHTICKOHMYGOSHTIIIIIICK. I dropped my dress on the ground, and brushed at it with my hand. But I knew it was not going to flick off, because I knew it was a tick. And it was.
Now, what I thought I would do in this situation is very different than what I actually did, and that is a very good thing. My first experience with ticks was when I was 12 years old, and we had been hiking in the woods of New Jersey. Someone in the family found one crawling up their leg, and then my mom found one in her thigh. This experience severely traumatized me, and I have been worried about getting a tick ever since. (Understandable that I would be obsessed with this worry, seeing as I have also been convinced several times through the years that I have a tapeworm living in my intestines.)
Despite my fears, however, I have never actually had a tick. Until last night. What I thought I would do was to scream, and then panic, and then run downstairs and wake my mother up and make her take care of it. I can’t deny that for a moment, I did consider waking my mother up. But I didn’t scream. And I didn’t panic. And I decided, as I stood in my bedroom, that as a capable 23 year old woman, I could fix this problem all by myself.
The calmness with which I then proceeded to act is, in retrospect, very impressive. I picked up my clothes from the floor and checked them for more ticks. I checked the rest of my body for ticks. I checked my hair several times (because that would be the worst. At least with the tick on my stomach, I could keep an eye on him.) Then I went to my computer and looked up “how to remove a tick.” WebMD was very helpful. I read that you are supposed to grasp the tick as close to the mouth as possible and pull gently until it detaches itself, making sure it doesn’t leave anything in your skin. And then you’re supposed to save it for further identification. And I did all these precautionary things calmly (and quickly), with the little guy calmly sucking away at my stomach.
Finally, I went downstairs to the bathroom. I got out the tweezers, and stood in front of the mirror. In crisis situations, I like to give myself a pep talk. “You can do this,” I told myself. “You can DO. THIS.”
I have since looked at pictures of ticks online to try to identify the type, and what I have found out is a) it was a fairly large tick (about 1 centimeter) and b) it was not bloated at all yet. Both these things combined made it much easier to get him out of me. But in the heat of the moment, all I really knew was that when I grasped its neck with my tweezers, it immediately began scrabbling its legs against me, and I could totally feel its suckers inside my skin.
And this is where I would like to congratulate myself. I let go of the bug and looked up, saying out loud, “Oh my gosh. I can’t do this. I can’t DO this.” But did I put the tweezers down and go wake someone up for help? Did I dissolve into tears or scream in panic? NO. I did not. I steeled myself, grasped it again with the tweezers, and pulled, despite the wiggling legs and the terrifying sensation of a sucking bug sucking me. The more I pulled, the more it became about defeating the horrible thing, and less about the grossness of the situation. And that is what enabled me to keep pulling until it detached itself from my skin.
Because I am a woman, and women are strong enough to remove ticks from their stomachs without help. And even though those were not the thoughts going through my brain (it was more like, “get it out get it out get it out come on come on come on GET. IT. OUT.”) I am proud to say that I rose to the challenge, when the crisis came. And I wholeheartedly believe that most women (and men) would do the same.
Turns out that little tick was almost as persistent as I was. After I got him out, I set him down on the counter and stabbed him through with the tweezers. But then I got a cotton ball and cleaned the area of my skin he was sucking, and as I was putting some polysporin on, I looked down…and there was no tick on the counter.
That was the moment to panic.
After frantically searching, guess where I found him? Yes. On my shorts. Trying to suck some more of my blood. Needless to say, this time I completely mangled him and washed him down the sink. Identification be damned. That thing needed to be gone forever.
And that is how I discovered that the roots of my courage go down much deeper than I knew (at least in the bug department). And I also discovered that ticks are persistent. And incredibly disgusting. So next time you go into or near the woods, check yourself for ticks. And if you find one, don’t be afraid. You too can defeat it, and live to tell the story.
~ He Held Radical Light, Christian Wiman
~ An American Childhood, Annie Dillard