In my recliner, absorbed in an essay by one of my friends in the most recent issue of the Gettysburg Review, I felt a jolt of pain. Maybe I brushed my hand or the literary magazine across my ribcage. It felt like a bruise. I pushed on the area. How did I get a bruise there? Maybe some internal organ is about to explode, was my next rational conclusion. I pulled up my shirt to find a gigantic squirming tick, head plugged into my abdomen, legs writhing in blood-high ecstasy.
“Ahhhhh!” I yelled, with my normal composure in such situations. And then without moving from the spot, called out for my husband in a tone suggesting a gunman at the door.
Once, years ago, when we were still dating and he lived three hours away in another state, I’d called him up at 2 a.m. because I was freaked out by a sight in my kitchen. Something pink, like a tiny internal organ or newborn miniature alien, was making slow but unmistakable progress across my stove. Unlike previous boyfriends, W didn’t seem annoyed at me for waking him up nor did he tell me to take care of the creepy intruder myself. Patiently he walked me through the disposal of the unidentifiable creeper. Obviously, this is why I married him.
W walked out of the bathroom with a Q-tip in his ear. “What?” He said. “I couldn’t hear anything but…”
“Tick! Tick! Tick! Do something! Get it off me!”
He turned and for a second I thought he was going to abandon me to the invader burrowing into my stomach and filling me with poisons. But W was rushing to get the tweezers. We didn’t have any of those cool plastic doohickeys designed for tick removal. After the last tick on my dog I had planned to get one, but hadn’t so far.
“My God, it’s huge.” W said.
“Get it off! Get it off!” I replied.
He grasped the creature in the tweezers and pulled hard. My flesh stretched out in a triangle, the madly squirming tick at its apex. First only a tick leg yielded.
“Ahhhh! It’s still in me!” I said, mastering the obvious.
He tried again. I tensed my abs, thinking that might hold my flesh onto my body and maybe release the tick. Now I was really, really sorry I hadn’t managed to get myself in better shape yet. The tick itself was elongating and the legs seemed more annoyed than desperate. They seemed to suggest that body was willing to go, if need be, but the happy head was staying put. W stumbled back one step as something released.
The bug and one small drop of blood hung from the tip of the tweezers. We bagged it and I imagined the head still in my body and toxins pouring into my bloodstream. “What do I do?” I asked him. We were supposed to leave in less than an hour to teach a weekend canoe class three hours away (near where W used to live). W said to call the doctor.
The nurse practitioner, looking at the bug under one of those doctor’s light up magnifying glasses, insisted that the head was out. The little black dot inside the swollen site was probably just an antenna, she said.
Back in the car with my prescription for one dose of antibiotic I said to W, “I’m really glad you were there.”
“You would have been fine,” he said. “You’d have done the same exact thing.”
I thought about it for a moment. He was right. I would’ve gotten the tweezers and pulled at the monster until it popped out and then I would’ve figured out that I needed to call the doctor.
“I’m still glad you were there,” I said.
Maybe it’s good for me to sometimes deal with crises on my own, but I’m glad when I don’t have to.