I. Can’t. Stop. Thinking about it. Every time I almost push it out of my mind, that tiny pin prick of an insect bite begins to pulse, the itch radiating away from the center, until all I can think about it scrubbing it with my fingernails for ten measly seconds of relief.
I. Hate. Chiggers.
Growing up in Kansas, I considered bug bites a rite of passage. Childhood summers were spent peddling bicycles and turning cartwheels in grass on legs lumpy with mosquito bites. I’ve been stung by wasps, bees, and have even been unfortunate enough to step on an ant hill barefooted. But the chiggers and all of the mythology surrounding them were always the most itchy and obnoxious and disgusting. I remember dousing bites with alcohol, fingernail polish, calamine lotion, and a bunch of other weird stuff that someone always swore worked.
Chiggers are also very rude about where they choose to attack on one’s person.
I can’t even describe the joy I felt when I discovered most of these creatures didn’t live in Southern California. Some say the air was too dry; some say it was the smog. I didn’t care. I was just happy to spend summer evenings riding the rides at Disneyland without smelling like Off! and still scratching under my socks.
Then I moved back to Kansas.
I had forgotten about the chiggers.
When I returned to the Midwest, I took a position handling communications for a university alumni and fundraising office. I had written a sweet little piece about one of the parks on campus for the alumni magazine. The park, named for the family who donated the land, escaped being turned into a parking lot because the donors were wise enough to stipulate conditions of use in the trust.
Pleased with the story, one of the descendants decided to pay a visit. Would I join her for a walk in the park?
Preferring a stroll through a woodsy, grassy park with some charming WPA architecture over sitting in my office, I readily agreed.
Later that night, I realized how much trouble I was in.
Chiggers are sneaky.
You don’t feel them crawling on you. You don’t feel them bite. The bites don’t inflame immediately. It’s not until after, when it’s much too late, that you realize what has happened.
“Oh, my God,” I said to my then-fiance-now-husband. “Look at me! LOOK. AT. ME.”
My then-fiance-now-husband stared at me in horror.
“Where did you go?” he asked, and prodded my leg. “Were you hiking through a farm field?”
“I was at the park! On campus!” I was standing in front of a full-length mirror, feeling sick. “Why on earth doesn’t the university treat the grass?”
I was looking at the most gruesome collection of chigger bites I had ever seen. The started at my toes and covered my entire body to my shirt collar.
Once I reached 300, I couldn’t remember which ones I had already counted. I didn’t have a few chigger bites. I had ALL the chigger bites. All the chiggers in all the land had come after me that afternoon.
I still remember lying in bed, shivering from the itching, wishing a nice coma would settle over me so I couldn’t feel them anymore. I broke out into a cold sweat. I started to cry.
By morning, those 300-plus chigger bites were completely inflamed. I was in trouble.
“You need to see a doctor,” my then-fiance-now-husband said.
The receptionist was not impressed when I called. “You want to come in to see a doctor because of some chigger bites? ” She said. “Honey, you’re in Kansas. You’re gonna get a lot of those.”
“You don’t understand,” I said, trying not to hold back a sob. “I have A LOT of them. And they. Are. BAD.”
She begrudgingly scheduled an appointment for me, and the doctor begrudgingly saw me, opening the folder with the appointment note paper clipped to it.
“So we’re seeing you for a…chigger bite?” he looked at me suspiciously.
“No,” I said, grinding my teeth in both annoyance and severe pain. Sweat was tracing my jaw line. I wanted to run outside and rub against a tree. “I’m here because I have HUNDREDS of chigger bites.”
“Let’s have a look,” he said, and I pulled back the gown.
His horror was deeply gratifying.
HA! I wanted to scream while jabbing my chigger-bitten finger in his chest. I. Told. You. So.
“My God,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Not words you want to hear from your doctor. But at least he was appreciating my situation.
“Where did you go? Were you at a lake? Or a farm?”
“I was on campus,” I said. “I was at work. This happened to me at work!”
Twenty minutes later, I was sent home with a prescription for steroids and instructions to stay home for a couple of days, and he no doubt went to his office to write my mutant chigger attack up for a medical journal.
I called work.
“You are not coming to work because of chigger bites?” my boss said dubiously.
“This is not a normal attack,” I said. “Do you want to talk to my doctor?”
The chigger that got me Tuesday when I mowed the grass was testing the waters. He thinks he won. He’ll brag to his friends. They’ll laugh their little buglaughs, sitting around at their little bug party drinking little bug drinks with little ladybug-print umbrellas in them.
But what he doesn’t know is that the SECOND I suspect chiggers might be around, I backstroke through enough DEET to take down a herd of elephants. I will stick their little heads on pikes if given the chance.
Look out, mutant chiggers. I’m on to you.