Bugs, Bites, and Beyond

Another year gone by.

The cycles have cycled, the circles have circled, the mystery of it all has manifested in incomprehensible inter-woven instances of tumultuous troubles and celebratory circumstances.

And so – it is time to write.

One year ago, I was leaving Florida, having journeyed there to say Goodbye to my mother, who managed to wait until the last night of my trip before she allowed herself to pass over to the Other Side. Thankfully, I was able to be with my sister and Dad during those hours of finality, that dream-like dimension of time out of time. We sat together and apart, each of us witnessing in our own private and particular way – Her body in the bed awaiting transport to the place that would reduce it to ash, our own bodies still containing our aliveness and beating hearts, the largeness of loss, the triumph of transition, the web of connection that weaves us all together, all so palpable in the room.  These images and memories came with me as I journeyed back to my just-moved-in-but not-yet-inhabited-home in Philadelphia.

That new living arrangement, for those of you who may not recall all the details of domestic distress that have been marking my journey, was my 3rd move in 3 years, and held the hope of a happy, healthy (or at least healthy enough) home at last.  To put it briefly, that hope did not exactly come to fruition.  But putting it briefly is not quite satisfying for my writer sensibilities, and so I’ll elaborate just a bit.

I had just escaped from living on the 3rd floor of an old mansion, which involved co-habitating with a variety of creatures, large and small – including maggots, mice, cluster flies, and the infamous fierce fleas, along with some rather significant challenges in the area of climate control.  Relieved to be out of there, I looked forward to some ease and peace with this latest move.  Admittedly, the layout was frighteningly reminiscent of my prior situation – a flight of stairs, with no door at the top, opening to the two separate rooms that comprised my living space, with the owner of the house living beneath me on the first floor.  Spooky similarity aside, I believed it would have to be an improvement.  Sadly, believing did not necessarily make it so.  (One could argue that believing is truly what creates reality, and that perhaps on some level I was still believing that things would suck and that the Universe heard these below-the-surface beliefs and materially manifested them, thus giving me another opportunity to grow and heal by witnessing the results of my subconscious self-defeating thought patterns.   Or one could simply say that shit happens.)

Soon after moving in, the flies appeared.  By the dozens every day, with all windows closed, finding their way into my abode with skilled sneakiness.  Then one morning I took a sweatshirt off the shelf, put it over my head, and began to put my arm through the sleeve – when suddenly I felt my hand pushing out something in the unmistakable shape and texture of a mouse that went flying through the air in a sort of high-dive aerial dance exhibition accompanied by my shrieks and screams. Unable to find where it had landed, I convinced myself that this must have been a hallucination of some kind, possibly induced by post-fly stress. Several days later I was preparing to go to sleep, only to discover that the mouse, which had indeed been real and still alive, had chosen the middle of my bedroom floor as the spot to simply lie down and die.  Then the ants arrived, in swarms, taking over my kitchen counters, floor, and cabinets.  I placed 4 ant traps on the floor, and three mornings in a row, I awakened to find one of them missing.  Now ants may be determined, but no amount of physical fitness or steroidal support would have enabled even the most militant of ant armies to lift and carry these traps to where they were later found – under the stove.  Some other creature was apparently responsible.  The cats that belonged to my landlady seemed the only reasonable explanation.  But of course she insisted that her cats could not have done such a thing.  One other detail to mention here – When I moved in, she supplied a cat gate to place at the bottom of the steps leading to my space.  Months later, I observed that the cats simply jump right over it and come right on up the stairs.  When I pointed this out to her, she said “Oh yes.  The gate is just there as a visual deterrent”.  Hmmm.  I wanted to suggest that she put a metal bowl over her head as a visual deterrent to stop me from punching her in the face.  I later moved the gate to the top of the staircase, adding the new adventure of trying to not fall down a flight of stairs every time I stepped over it.

The next development in this saga – yes, seriously – I started being covered in flea bites.  And I do mean covered.  And I seem to be allergic to flea bites, so my body looked and felt a bit like I had been rolling around in fields of poison ivy.   (I imagine there is some shamanic explanation for the persistent presence of incessant infestations, but – despite earnest efforts – I have failed to communicate with flea spirits about the spiritual lessons they have come to teach me.)

The next step was bringing in exterminators who applied chemical interventions – a less than ideal situation if you’re trying to avoid chemicals.  These fleas were so diligently determined to hang out with me that it took repeated treatments to address the issue effectively.  Although my landlady mostly insisted that her cats had nothing to do with this problem, suggesting that I had brought the fleas with me, she did reluctantly admit that she had allowed the cats to live in the basement, where the laundry machines are, over the prior winter months. (Incidentally – she had chosen not to keep up their necessary preventive flea treatments, despite the fact they lived outside, interacted daily on our street with about 100 playmate feral cats, and were visibly scratching themselves quite intensively.) In an ideal world, she could have shared that information with me before I moved in, when I asked her directly whether she had any flea problem in the house.  I would have simply skipped doing laundry – cheerfully choosing to be soiled, stained, and stinky, rather than insanely itchy.

And then there was the repeat of frigid freezing winter mornings with no discernible heat, as my landlady controlled the thermostat for the house and did not choose to turn it up each day until she awakened.  Unfortunately for me, her awakening time was 3 hours after my own.  Not only did this lead to feeling frozen and flu-ish every morning – but then came the phone calls.  It seems that my being awake coincided with moving around, which apparently was quite distressing to her when she was wanting 3 more hours of silent slumber.   The calls would inevitably come – “What are you doing?  It sounds like activity”.  And then the request to not use any “machinery” for those 3 hours.  Now you may be wondering – Was I drilling holes in walls or using power tools of some kind? No.  I was running an exhaust window fan while making breakfast, as suggested by the pest control guy, to vent the cooking smells, in a futile attempt to make my space less attractive to the flies. (I manage to find the flies that want vegetables – If only they just wanted regular fly stuff, like hamburgers, potato salad, and brownies, I wouldn’t need to run a fan in my kitchen and the only noise I would be making would be the soft shuffle of my heavily stockinged frozen feet.)

And if this weren’t enough – the real icing on the proverbial cake was the sharing of a wall with a neighbor who was a hoarder with significant mental health issues.  He apparently had no running water or electricity in his “house” (I say “house” to mean the decrepit, rotting, excrement-filled, miraculously not-yet-caved-in structure that looks like it has been condemned but for reasons beyond comprehension, has been allowed to stand, presumably until it collapses.)  While I am generally willing to “live and let live”, minding my own affairs, this was a particular challenge, given that every day I breathed air that reeked of shit, and I am speaking literally here.  And the winter – oh the winter – when he would use his old and not exactly functional wood-burning stove for heat, there was the not-so-negligible nuisance of the smoke that would fill his abode and the fumes that would then fill mine.  No amount of calls to city agencies offered any relief or intervention – being told that “smells” are not considered a safety or sanitation issue.  (Gotta wonder – if a decaying house full of shit and smoke is neither a safety nor sanitation issue, I’d hate to see the domicile that is deemed a danger.)

I pause here to mention the many blessings that showed up at this time.  When I could no longer place my body on or near my floor due to the combination of fleas and poisons, and when I could no longer enter the basement to use the washer/dryer, nearby friends opened their homes to me.  I was given keys to three houses in the neighborhood – one for doing my morning movement routine, one for doing laundry, and one for any reason that might arise.  I was given a safe place to sleep when needed.  In the midst of chaos, the warmth and generosity of these angel/friend/neighbors provided a precious perception of being held in safety and love.

And I must pause yet again, to reflect on the dynamic of relating to my landlady.  Stepping back, I can see that she was also suffering, feeling challenged by my needs and actions, struggling with her own sensitivities and physical ailments, and frustrated when her home did not feel easy and peaceful.  I can see that she and I are essentially good people, with a plethora of personal patterns and preferences, trying our best to take care of ourselves while being considerate of each other – a rather daunting challenge for both of us.  I can see that these patterns – in myself and in others – become more deeply entrenched in the face of perceived threat, thus interfering with constructive problem-solving or negotiation.  I can see that it is my ongoing spiritual work to transform feelings of helpless anger into some kind of integrated empathy and empowerment.  I can see that this living situation offered an abundance of opportunities for personal growth.  And I can see that I would have to be out of my freakin’ mind if I ever again choose this particular experience for the sake of personal evolution.

In summary, things at this location did not turn out terrifically well.

Once again, I was in the position of needing to find a safe, healthy place to live.  And once again, the search was daunting and depressing.  And then – a new possibility opened up.  A unit became available at the Florida residence for people with MCS, where I had stayed for the past two years during family visits.  I was offered the chance to move there, and had to make the decision immediately, with the move to follow in a matter of weeks.  I took the offer.

Twenty-two years in a place is a long enough time to accumulate a fairly large amount of stuff.  And when moving, in a compact car, to another state, into a 10’x11’ furnished efficiency apartment, stuff simply has nowhere to go.  Much can be said about holding onto things and letting go of things and how that all gets sorted out, but that’s a large subject. So for now, I’ll just say that in a frantic frenzy – and with heroic selfless efforts of friends who once again showed up to make the impossible possible, offering gifts of time, money, energy, schlepping support, and organizational brilliance – I sold some things, gave away some things, threw out some things, and boxed up a big bunch of remaining things to be kept in my very large storage unit.  And I said goodbye to Philadelphia.

Twenty-two years in a place is a long time.  Thanks to the moving madness, with so much to do every day, processing the looming loss got put on a back burner. (I actually use my back burners just as much as my front burners, so this isn’t really an accurate metaphor, but it’ll do.)  I have loved many people in Philadelphia.  I have loved autumns and springs.  I have loved my co-op where I inevitably run into someone I know.  I have loved being connected to the theater, music, and dance communities that brought me much creative joy and satisfaction. As much as things have been tough in recent years, I have been repeatedly held and supported by local loving hands and hearts.  And so it was that I said Goodbye, with so much gratitude and grief.  And I set off for southeast Florida – heading toward my new home, a new chapter, a rare blank slate opportunity to re-create my life.

Something has ended and something has most definitely begun. And although things have not exactly gone as planned, and I still don’t know where I will ultimately land, somehow there is a space, inside me, that feels like Home.  It’s not about geography or structure.  It’s not about neighbors or even community.  It’s a deep knowing that I have a place on this planet, and that I am here for all kinds of reasons, most of which I cannot yet know.  And it’s a felt sense, at least in the moments when I am open to feeling and sensing, that I am being lovingly carried through it all.  And it’s an awareness that this Earth on which I stand, and the Source that sustains it, is now and will always be my shelter. And still, I would love to click my heels three times and find myself resting in a comfy bed, in a cozy room filled with familiar furnishings, surrounded by loving friends and family, happily proclaiming “There’s no place like home”.

5 thoughts on “Bugs, Bites, and Beyond”

  1. What an astonishing story! If you can review the experience of a mouse in your sleeve with humor and grace, you are indeed destined for greatness!

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