I am mosquito bait. Put me in a 3000-square-foot house, add 20 other human beings, introduce one mosquito. The mosquito will locate me, bite me, and nobody else in the house will have seen nor heard the mosquito. In fact, those 20 individuals will think I’m crazy. “There are no mosquitoes in here!” they’ll proclaim. “Then how’d I get these bites?” I’ll ask, pointing to my shins, my arms, my neck.
They’ll squint, they’ll tilt their heads to the side. They’re assessing my sanity.
“Maybe you already had them when you came indoors,” one will say.
“Could you have gotten them yesterday, and only noticed them just now?” another will wonder.
“Maybe they’re hives,” another will say.
I’m accustomed to this reaction, and have learned not to engage in further discussion. There’s no use in saying I SAW the mosquito, tried in vain to kill it. Conversely, there’s no point in meekly holding my hand out and showing that I DID kill it…after it had bitten me four times. (It’s a bit distasteful, apparently, to offer the broken bits of a smashed mosquito as evidence. And I’ve learned that nobody wants to see the smear of blood on my leg after I’ve slapped a mosquito in the process of biting me.)
It’s not just mosquitoes, either. Black flies and deer flies single me out. When Leigh and I take a walk together – something we do at least once a day – she is part companion, part protector. We’ll be ambling along, chatting and enjoying the sunshine, and I’ll suddenly begin contorting. I wave my arms, I duck, I dodge, I slap at my own head like an imbecile. “Just stand still and I’ll get it,” she’ll say. My choice, at that point, is a painful deer fly bite or a smack from Leigh. I tend to choose the latter. She’s fast, she has excellent aim, and usually after one slap the fly is dead.
The problem, of course, is that it’s not just one fly. This happens over and over and over. I can get bitten five or six times over the course of a couple of miles, or I can get slapped an equal number of times. It’s a weird kind of trade-off, requiring an “I’m doing this for your own good” benevolence on Leigh’s part, and an “I’ll take this kind of pain instead of that kind of pain” acquiescence from me. Since I’d rather endure the 2-second sting of a slap over the 5-day maddening itch of a bite, it is, I suppose, an easy decision.
There are all sorts of theories as to why some people are magnets for biting insects and others are not. Some have to do with carbon dioxide, or lactic acid, or cholesterol. Some believe that movement and body heat attract mosquitoes, although I am just as much a magnet – in fact, much MORE of a magnet – when I am sitting still. Last summer, for instance, I went to a nice restaurant with four friends. We had a choice – dine outside or indoors. It was a balmy evening, summer had barely begun. I wasn’t yet, in other words, in full mosquito-alert mode. When the others unanimously voted for the outdoor seating, I agreed.
Before we were even served, I noticed a couple of mosquitoes. “Oh, I’m going to get bit,” I said.
“What are you talking about? There aren’t any mosquitoes,” one companion said.
“Don’t worry – mosquitoes LOVE me,” another said. “I guarantee they’ll bite me and not you.”
This was very noble of companion number 2, and I agreed to stay outside. I recalled taking long walks with Leigh’s dog, Fan, when I’d be mercifully spared of mosquito or deer fly pestering because all of the biters would go for the dog. I’d walk her up and down our road feeling both unusually free and terribly guilty. Fan was being sacrificed, essentially, for my comfort. Those were some of the best walks of my life.
I also recalled, however, a party I’d attended. It was an outdoor affair and roughly 50 guests were there. I didn’t notice any mosquitoes and was happily socializing. At one point, Leigh and I strolled across the wide lawn to look at the nearby lake. Again, there were no mosquitoes, and I had a wonderful time.
When I arrived at home, however, my ankles began itching. All up and down my legs were tiny red bumps. The itch was wicked, but I could tell they weren’t mosquito bites because of the clustered arrangement and the size. “What the heck bit me?” I asked Leigh.
“Oh,” she said, looking grave. “They look like chigger bites.”
I appreciated Leigh’s solemnity. Since for her, I’m the equivalent of Fan – the sacrificial companion – she virtually never gets bit. She does, however, have to live with me and my tendency to be driven to desperation when I’m covered with bites. She treads, in other words, lightly.
I had never heard of chiggers, but I was momentarily halted from my scratching frenzy by the prospect of a new word and a new insect. I immediately looked them up and learned that chiggers apparently like grasses and areas near lakes. Bingo – lakes, grasses… and me. Not one other person I subsequently asked – including Leigh, who had been standing right next to me in the grass next to the lake – had received a single bite.
Back at the restaurant, it soon became apparent that Noble Companion had nothing to worry about. The mosquitoes came for me and me alone. While everyone else enjoyed their bruschetta and pasta, I spent the evening on high alert, taking a mouthful of food then sitting back in my chair, waiting, watching. I employed an oft-used method of attack – er, to be accurate, counter-attack – allowing the mosquito to land on me and begin to pierce my skin, then slapping it. This tactic slightly raises the likelihood of killing the mosquito, as it takes a split second longer for it to dart away. I ended up with half-a-dozen bites and slightly fewer kills. My dinner companions – including Mr. Noble – received exactly no bites.
Sometimes I pretend that I’m some kind of rare delicacy to these insects, the most savored of desserts or after-dinner liqueurs. To mosquitoes, I’m Drambuie, I’m flan, I’m the sweetest apricot mousse. But when I’m lying in a darkened room, in the middle of the night, and one determined mosquito is planning its attack on whatever centimeter of exposed skin it can alight upon, I’m not thinking about my good blood. I’m strategizing with the stealth and steadiness of a professional assassin. I’m trying to save my own skin.