Bedbugged! is a weekly column by journalist and bed bug survivor Theresa Braine. For more, click here.
Watching Arnold’s mover friends shake and bump his furniture around the hallway outside my apartment was disconcerting. Waking up on Easter with two bites was even more so.
“I’ll hold off paying rent until I see if I get any more bites,” I told Rocco, the landlord.
Needless to say, that didn’t go over well. However, it was a legitimate reason for handing over my rent check late. Moreover, Rocco had not minded when my brother, who lived in this apartment before me, paid at the end of the month. And Rocco had said when I moved in, “I know the economy’s bad, so if you need a bit of extra time, just let me know ahead.”
Those days were long gone, of course, and now I was searching for another apartment.
In mid-April, as promised, Arnold actually left. But not before apologizing to me for his outburst and then, a bit sheepishly, all but admitting that a pile of clothing left by a female friend in his safekeeping might very well have been the culprit. Now, I had heard about these clothes, piled high in his bedroom by a window, for months. They had been part of the slovenliness that caused the screaming matches between him and Rocco.
With Arnold gone, Rocco’s contractors came on the scene, drilling and ripping and clunking around. Every time they spent the day working on Arnold’s place—they gutted it and redid the entire thing—I would wake up the next morning with a bite or two.
Now I was searching furiously for a new place, mainly on Craigslist though consulting some brokers. I narrowed my search to a neighborhood or two. Then I prayed that something would work out.
Rocco would periodically call me about the rent. Nasty conversations would ensue. At the end of April I visited one of my brothers outside the city and disconnected for the weekend. I noticed Rocco calling my cell phone at one point, but didn’t answer. My phone spent most of its time hidden away at the bottom of my bag.
Arriving home that Monday, I checked messages. There were two from Rocco, one saying, “If I don’t hear back from you by Sunday night, I’m going to start eviction proceedings!”
The next day I was working at home, interviewing someone for a story I was writing, when Rocco banged on my door.
“I can’t talk to you, I’m on the phone,” I called out. Rocco went to talk to the contractors in Arnold’s old place. A few minutes later I hung up and opened the door as Rocco was going down the stairs.
“Oh, what, you don’t answer your messages?” he yelled.
“I disconnected for the weekend,” I said.
“I know how you writers are; you are always checking e-mail and messages. You were just not picking up!” he screamed, getting red in the face.
“You’re worse than Arnold!” he yelled. He waved his arm in the air accusingly and bellowed, “Your brother lived here 10 years, and there was never any trouble."
“There was no bed-bug epidemic when he lived here,” I tried to say, but Rocco was on a rant.
“I’m going to talk to a lawyer! You’d better find another place to live! And I’m raising the rent! You can’t afford to live here anymore!”
Then came the piece de resistance: “This is all your fault. I have two exterminators who say they found eggs in your room.”
This was beyond ludicrous, of course. For one thing, neither exterminator had been certified personally by the proper authorities, and they had each in their way made things worse: TC by spreading the things through the apartment, and Bobby by using so much pesticide dust that it had kept me from living in my own home for a week, without stopping the bites. I had been present when the two exterminators came, and we had found no eggs. Not that either of them would have known what these eggs looked like.
I didn’t bother telling Rocco that most people thought I should have stopped paying rent entirely in February. I shut the door and got back to packing and doing my work.
Our conversation didn’t really change things, since I was leaving anyway. There was no way I was going to tell him that. And I knew I’d pay the rent at some point. I did not want to compound my hassles by stopping payment, even though legally (I had checked on that much) it would take him six months to get me out of there if he started eviction proceedings immediately.
“Make sure you save all those phone messages,” a friend cautioned. “That constitutes harassment.”
I had already erased them. I was out of there anyway.
A couple of weeks later, in a casual conversation, an acquaintance mentioned that she was moving out of her apartment and that her two roommates would probably be looking for a third. I jumped on it. She set up a meeting. I visited the place, fell in love with the neighborhood and the apartment, and felt comfortable with the two women.
I chose not to tell them about the bed bugs going in. If they had asked, I would have answered honestly and offered to fumigate my belongings on the way in and show them the certificate. But my place had been treated, and I was largely bite-free. And I was planning to treat every single possession thoroughly as if it had bed bugs in it. I kept my mouth shut, since they were not in danger and I did not want to scare them off.
In addition, the exiting roommate knew about my predicament. Doing her due diligence, she gave me a private talking-to, impressing upon me how thorough and sure I had to be that I didn't bring any live critters. She did not need to tell me that, of course.
"If I wanted to still have bed bugs, I would stay in my apartment," I said.
The two roommates asked me to move in, and I accepted.
I was saved.
Next: My escape: the logistics of moving without taking bedbugs with you.