Last summer I was working in Belgrade and had to go to Oxford for a few days before returning to Serbia for excavations in a mountain village.* For most of the summer I was with archaeologists constantly—eating, working, reposing, sleeping. Privacy only existed when you peed and some of my roommates were crushing snorers. So when I had these research visits to Belgrade and Oxford I clambered for my own room.
In Belgrade I took a private room in Mr. Walker Hostel. My room was only large enough to fit a twin bed and my suitcase, but did I mention that it was MY room. No one else would sleep in there. No one would snore in there. It was 8×4 feet of personal space for four days.
A dream come true—except one minor gripe: every morning I woke with so many mosquito bites. I slept completely covered by the sheet, but still, so many mosquito bites, in little lines, three in a row, like “breakfast, lunch, and dinner” (bed bug symptoms).
I checked out and left most of my belongings in the bone lab at the University of Belgrade, just packing a zippy little carry on for the UK. To keep your attention, let’s just imagine my journey as a swift arrow traveling across a map from Belgrade to London and neglect details about a layover, frantic/sweaty dash across Dusseldorf International, missed flight, tears at the service desk, arrival in the English-speaking-world, and nevertheless confusion finding the right bus despite being in the English-speaking-world.
Oxford! I am oh-so enamored with Oxford and maintain an indelible image of it as a spired haven of enchanted knowledge. The bestest ivory tower! Basically I believe it’s Hogwarts and refuse to hear or know otherwise.
For my three nights there I splurged not just for a private in a hostel—but for a single room in a Bed & Breakfast! I checked in and fawned over everything: the king sized bed that would swallow me in unnecessary accent pillows, the wardrobe with removeable hangers, the private bathroom with a little soap square, just for me. I slid open the desk drawer and leafed through the B&B guide with exaggerated interest.
It was actually a modest room, but compared to Mr. Walker Hostel and excavation bunkhouses—it was extravagant and integrated well into my spellbound perception of Oxford.
I slept contently. I didn’t have to worry about mosquito bites here. The next morning I sat at the bureau, checking email before my 9 am meeting at the radiocarbon laboratory.
I sat still, enjoying one of those precious moments of serenity—the ephemeral calm between when one worry subsides and a new worry arises. I sat still, as if movement would fracture my peace.
And it did.
I glanced myself in the mirror and was immediately discontent. Too many mosquito bites on my face and neck. Mosquito bites on your face and neck look like zits, which somehow adds so much embarrassment to blemishment. I would have to work an anecdote about all my mosquito bites (NOT ZITS) into every conversation I have here.
Wait, were they mosquito bites? I had a terrible flash thought: bed bugs.
I google-imaged bed bug bites. My bites were identical.
I began the five stages of grief.
Denial: No. I don’t have bed bugs. Not me. They’re mosquito bites. It’s fine.
I speedily scoured the internet for bed bugs info.
Anger: But they look exactly like bed bug bites. How could this happen to me? Bed bugs happen to friends who take upholstered furniture from New York City curbs or first year graduate students who stay in the cheapest hotel near the conference venue. Not to me! Not now! Damn you, Mr. Walker Hostel!
I paced the room.
Bargaining: Okay, I’ll deal with it when I get back to Belgrade. I’m sure it’s fine for now.
I looked in the mirror, hoping my reflection would agree.
Depression: No, they will be in my suitcase in Belgrade and infest the entire university building. And then I’ll take them with me to the excavation and infest the entire village. And right now I’m infesting this room and this B&B and all of Oxford and all of England! I cannot cope! All is lost!
I withered to the ground in shambles.
Acceptance: I have bedbugs.
I could remain on the ground and quit life (okay!) or painfully and responsibly rectify the situation (ugh.). I remained on the floor stubbornly committed to defeat for a slow motion minute, then sighed and devised a plan.
To be continued…
*I know I’m obnoxious with my Harvard funded globetrotting, but Gilbert** is worse. He always needs to go to obscure conferences about stone tools in the Caucuses, but manages to pull off bonuses like a 24-hour layover in Munich during Oktoberfest.
**I only included this footnote because Gilbert complained that he hasn’t been in my blog recently.