I have a certain admiration for insects, arachnids and the like. I marvel at the iridescence of a beetle’s shell, the intricacy of a spider’s web, the whimsy of a ladybug. Even worms capture my attention—the way their bodies ripple as they move, how they disappear into the ground. It’s all really quite amazing.

But what I just can’t wrap my head around is those little creatures that actually embed a part of their body under your skin and inside your flesh—and stay there for a while. And they do stuff while they’re in there. Stuff you can’t see and, most of the time, can’t even feel. Things like sucking the lifeblood out of you. They’re attached, not going anywhere, happy as can be.

Having been born and bred in a cooler climate, thoughts of sub-dermal bloodsuckers aren’t in the repertoire of what I usually concern myself with. But every once in a while, they come to such prominence in my life that they not only threaten to consume my blood, but also my sanity. Thankfully, that’s only for as long as it takes to get rid of them.

The Texas 2018 Incident was one of those marked moments in my life. It was March, and Mr. Jones, Dog and I were in southeast Texas. We’d heard rumours of alligators at a wildlife refuge in the area—a great novelty for us. So we packed up what we figured we needed for the day, and off we went exploring.

Nature at its finest


At the heart of the refuge was a beautiful boardwalk with lots of space to stop and look for alligators in the water. And sure enough, there they were. They ranged from young’uns trying to remain hidden from potential predators to seasoned pros slicing their powerful bodies through the waterways any which way they pleased.

Mr. Jones bonded quickly with a few other photographers who were eager to snap photos of their cold-blooded models, while I made sure Dog didn’t become too interested in what was down below. We spent a lovely while at that spot, and then moved on for a walk through the trees and bushes along a grassy path.

Since I get cold easily, I’d brought along a zip-down hoodie. It swung from side to side in the crook of my arm, as I tugged on Dog’s leash to get him out of the bushes he both lifted his leg on and stuck his face into. He loves interacting with nature like that.

It was wonderful to be immersed in this setting, far from the roar of vehicles and bustle of crowds. Life felt simpler and more cohesive here. Everything fit together as it should.

But alas, as the afternoon began to make way for evening, it was time to return to our vehicle and get on the highway toward the outskirts of the urban jungle where we were spending the night.

Nature turns on me


The next morning began in a lazy fashion. We were still carrying the tranquillity from the preserve we’d visited the day before.

I sat with Dog on the floor and stroked his fur, talking to him of alligators and gilded bushes. He observed me very attentively, soaking in every word, ears pricked.

Those ears… that one ear… the left… it had something… a black dot on his pink flesh… that’s not supposed to…

Now, I wish I could say that I calmly took hold of Dog’s ear to inspect it, and rationally come up with a plan to address my findings.

That, however, is not what happened.

Instead, the air was filled with a sudden blood-curdling scream, “TICK!!!! IT’S A TICK!!!! THERE’S A TICK!!!!! GET IT!!!! GET IT OUT!!! IT’S A TICK!!! A TICK!!!”

I know. What happened to all those words about the serenity of nature and my appreciation of all of God’s creatures? That is apparently a very circumstantial sentiment.

Mr. Jones to the rescue. He calmly inspected Dog’s ear and rationally addressed his findings by taking a pair of tweezers and extricating the offending arachnid. He made it look so easy. My knight with shining tweezers.

Dog’s body was inspected for further critters and declared clear and free. Phew!

The next step was doing what we should have done before making our way down south: going to the pet store to get some flea and tick treatment.

I grabbed my zip-down hoodie off the floor beside the bed—I’m not exactly a neat freak—and we loaded Dog into the car. Mr. Jones took his place behind the wheel while I occupied the passenger seat.

Still pondering my lack of self-control around such a tiny bug, I shifted my gaze from the road to my hand, where I thought I’d seen something moving out of the corner of my eye.

And there it was, no word of a lie: an eight-legged, slow-moving, light-footed tick that I couldn’t feel at all. It was wandering the back of my hand that was resting on my hoodie.

The reaction I had to the tick in Dog’s ear—multiply that by a thousand. That was my completely rational response. Or, something like rational. Or something completely the opposite…

In the midst of my complete freak-out, I did what came instinctually, which was to vigorously brush the bloodsucker off me. Mr. Jones, remaining true to his character, glanced over at me and continued driving.

A few seconds later, a switch flipped somewhere inside me, and Mr. Jones’s contagious calm took its effect.

I looked back at my hand and noticed that there was no tick, just a few faint shadow spots cast by the dried raindrops on the side window.

I’d been so focused on ticks that the power of suggestion had overwhelmed my mind. I’d lost control of my faculties and had imagined a tick on my hand. Did I ever feel silly.

Vindicated


As we pulled into a parking stall near the pet store, Mr. Jones reached down to give his leg below his shorts a scratch. His closed hand came back up, and as he opened it, something dropped BETWEEN HIS LEGS and onto the seat.

All of a sudden, I realized that I hadn’t gone completely mad, imagining a tick on me—there really had been one touring around on my hand.

All of a sudden, I realized that I hadn’t gone completely mad, imagining a tick on me—there really had been one touring around on my hand. It must have crawled out from the hoodie I was holding. Which meant that… it’d been there all night long on the floor beside the bed… and in the middle of the night, it could have…

Can’t think about it…

All my flailing about in the car had given the little beast a new potential host.

Recognizing what had landed near that oh-so-sensitive spot, Mr. Jones requested I pass him a Kleenex and he made short order of the intruder. No meal for it today—or ever again.

The only outstanding issue at that moment was Mr. Jones’s annoyance that I’d foisted the beast onto him instead of in another direction, or better yet, out the window. Reasons for my actions—not excuses, because nothing could justify jeopardizing him in this way—might have included that it was simply a rash reaction without any thought.

But instead, I reminded Mr. Jones of an instance several years before, when a Malaysian monkey had suddenly attached itself to his shirt. He’d instinctively held up his arm, with a bag of chips at the peak, and the monkey had began to climb to the top.

At that moment, Mr. Jones’s immediate response was to throw the unopened bag of chips for Yours Truly to catch. I quickly hid the bag under a rain poncho I was carrying. The monkey eyed me up and down, but when it couldn’t see its prize, it quickly jumped down and back into the trees. So you see, I told Mr. Jones, in the department of flinging hungry life forms at each other, we were now even.

The drama now behind us, we were free to turn our attention to making sure Dog didn’t become a snack again.

The legacy


Now, a year since the Texas 2018 Incident, I can happily assert that Dog has been tick-free, and crises involving uninvited creatures have been at a minimum.

It does still strike me, though, how quickly something as small as seeing a tick on skin can turn me from a rational human being into an incoherent screaming lunatic, on the verge of spontaneous combustion.

None of the coping skills I’ve developed over the years make an appearance. The emotional intelligence strategies I’ve practiced to the point of being automatic flee instantly. My ability to put the situation in perspective evaporates.

Some sort of over-the-top knee-jerk reaction comes blasting in like a tornado, sucking up my cognitive functioning into its whirlwind and leaving a mound of debris in its wake.

A three-millimetre tick has that much power over me.

A humbling thought.   

And maybe that’s how it’s meant to be.

Whenever I’m tempted to think I have it all together and am the master of my ‘self,’ all I need to do is remember my reaction to those tiny feasters of blood and eat my own proper dose of humble pie.

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