Nearly Helpless

I call one of my sons and say, “Listen, I have something to tell you.”

He says, “As long as it isn’t about bedbugs.

Expertly, with parental precision, I slickly shift from the bedbug scene in my head to one of the many issues among a plethora of plagues (POP). I talk about the “Emergency Call to Action” email I received about stopping hate, hatred of gays, hatred of Muslims, hatred of anything that is not sliced, white-bread, Bible-thumping, heterosexual America—this climate of shameful rhetoric, leading to violence, even in New York City, the location I love, and the place I see when I think of tolerance.

It’s just that I want my children to be vigilant, aware of the growing problem of bedbugs. I had this great story, really, the result of responses from readers who provided tips on eradicating the vampires if and when they invade my apartment. One very helpful person, and, by the way, new friend, told me to pull my bed away from the wall and put the legs of the bed in disposable cups with Diatomaceous Earth (DE) in each cup. My bed is not legged I told her. My mattress is supported by an upholstered box spring. It’s such a good look.

Anyway, she suggested I put the upholstered piece on wooden blocks and set them in containers of DE. Suddenly, I pictured a large, sandbox-like structure. I could set my bed in a moat-like container, carefully add DE, and I’d be secure from the march and attack of blood-sucking warriors.

But this seemed like a bad idea. So, I went to a furniture store and looked at books with images of legged platform beds, explaining to the saleswoman, someone I know, that I’m freaking out about the run-up to invasion and occupation.

She said:

Oh, I had them. I had them and they were f**king horrible. I woke up covered with itchy places. I went to the emergency room and was told I had scabies. I bought prescription ointment that cost $80.00. Of course, it didn’t work. So one night, I just felt like I was on fire. Jumped up, threw off the sheet, and they were ALL over the bed. I collected them with tweezers and put them in a baggy to take to the apartment manager the next morning. And I told him I was moving out and wanted them gone. An exterminator came and froze them. I moved back a month later and they were STILL there so I left everything and got a new place. I just left.

I was making noises, like gasps and groans, throughout the jeremiad. This is the story I wanted to tell my son. But it seems I’ve exhausted the subject of bedbugs with my children.

It’s just that with all the other debacles, you know, the POP, such as home foreclosures, joblessness, poverty, the debt, the healthcare crisis, environmental disasters, endless wars of terror, more troop deaths, increased troop suicide, civilian war casualties, images of maimed children, torture, spying on Americans, erosion of liberties, corporate personhood, corruption, greed, voting machines that can be hacked, candidates for public office who have not an iota of integrity, incumbents who are Wall Street-owned, and a government controlled by the Military Industrial Complex, I guess the only area where I think I have any control at all is my power over an insect.

I can use suggestions from people who’ve battled the bugs, and I can research methods of eradication. I can defeat these pests. I can.

But it seems I can do little to stop the horror perpetuated in my name, imperialism, Zionism, and the advance of fascism in my country.

MISSY BEATTIE lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Her email address is

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: