We’ve been picking ticks for a few weeks, and it is alarming enough to be the first topic of conversation with new people.
They are worse than they’ve ever been!
They are impossible to defeat!
You know my neighbor, he got bit by a tick and couldn’t go to work for weeks!
I’ve been asking questions, remembering the ticks we would pick from our dogs in Western Pennsylvania. But somehow, the fear of Lyme’s Disease and near death experience isn’t coming to mind. Even the South, where every other infestation seems to be in abundance, doesn’t have a leg up on these ticks of New England, who are ever traveling north– killing baby moose calves and giving everyone’s friends hearing loss or fevers or paralysis.
We are sympathetic and nervous. We are diligent about checking our entire family each night, while counting the days until we can leave for safer, tickless areas. We find them crawling up our arms as we drive across Massachusetts, and we feel violated. Invaded. Afraid. We can’t fight them alone, and yet everyone is responsible to fight them alone together. People petting our dogs quickly turn them to their backs to check their bellies for ticks. The communal awareness of this infestation is refreshing, but it is a community based on fear.
“It’s like some sort of German warfare shit up here,” Kevin said to me at our intermission. “We are helpless here.”
Kevin was bitten recently with no symptoms. But he is worried, I can tell, because he keeps touching the same spot on his leg where I presume he’d been bit. And he keeps telling me about his neighbor who woke up a year later, paralyzed.
A community based on fear is still a community, it seems. Since November, a lot of us have been swung to tables with people we didn’t expect to be sitting next to. The fear that got us there is quickly giving way to speaking, and the speaking to remembering what we were never taught: we have so much in common. I have been lately trying to embrace the fear, not as an inhibitor, but as a motivator. The one emotion that calls most urgently:
Listen up! Pay attention! We have something very important to learn right now.
It’s fear that keeps me picking over my pups for the hundredth time and, still, finding another tick. It’s Kevin’s fear that keeps me from reassuring him, and instead stupidly tells him about my other friend who lost her hearing in one ear.
“Completely?” he asked.
“Yeah!” I said.
“Did she get it back, yet?” he pushed.
“Not yet,” I said.
I wished later that I hadn’t said it. What was the point? He resolutely changed the subject to maps and jobs and politics. Which is when he, too, came around to it.
“You know,” he said, “since 9/11, it’s all messed up here. Everyone’s afraid of everything, now. No one can live their lives. I hate it! I really do! Everyone is just afraid and acting on fear.”
“Maybe so,” I said.
“But really, I hate it. I hate how we all just hate each other. I hate how we all treat other. I hate it more than anything.”
“I hate that, and these stupid, goddamn ticks.”