A parasite attaches itself to its host and is well-adapted to this mode of transport. It's true you prefer to let external forces etch an evolving course over the millennia of your life. You're like a burr, a tumbleweed, a hitchhiker that way. When you roll to a stop, you stand gaping. Two thousand miles. There are unfamiliar birds here, and this morning you'll enter your room to find a frog, covered in lint, vocal sac pulsing. What here is here? Your skin crawls.
Your skin crawls because of the ticks. The thought of them, really—more accurate to say your mind crawls with ticks. On the pie chart it's 25% ticks. On the Venn diagram, it's action / ticks / thought. On a bar graph only eating and sleeping outrank them. To say you haven't seen one yet is to admit how worried you are that they've gone undetected by you. Your newcomer's eyes. Perhaps they are burrowed mouth-deep right now in the peachy flesh of the children.
Your own skin: its formerly unconcerning constellations of freckles and moles, now seems a sleeper cell for disease-carrying bloodsuckers. Your skin: you doubt it. You doubt your own skin. All night, ticks phantom your pits, your scalp, your crotch. The ghost of their latching wakes you, a tingling so close to desire—the way milk lets down, or used to. It matters not whether the babies are near enough for nursing, or even babies anymore. You can imagine them.
The way you imagine that in this low, flat place, clouds are mountains. Such vertical poof and towering. Inside each cumulo a billion possibilities and in each possibility a million more. It's a real pyramid scheme. Near the bottom are the five species of ticks. All newcomers, like you. The climate increasingly perfect for you all.
You get a little thrill by never wearing a proper bathing suit to the public beach. You love to feign nonchalance, removing your tee, your shorts, wading casually into the lake in your skivs. It feels wonderful, better than if you were suited. The beach is full of beautiful people wearing their bodies on the outside. Since you've arrived, you've introduced to the sun your stretch marks, your distended navel, the separated abdominal muscles through which your intestines pulse wormily beneath your skin. You release them to the public eye and unsurprisingly, no one cares. The children are thrilled to find you would not trade them for a smooth tummy. You walk nakedly into the water, and do not tell them that you are also hoping to make any ticks upon you uncomfortable enough that they back out of your body and float away, or drown.
Every day you read one chapter of The Summer Book. You love it unabashedly. You love its dead mother and its grandmother who lies to the child, sometimes kindly. You savor it. Like all books, you are learning how to die by it. This is often how you feel twenty pages into a book. But still true.
All night you lie in the liminal space between sleep and waking, your body attuned to sensation, crawling, recalling. How just breathing in the same darkness lit you up from within, how a brush or a shift in the bed did things to you. Each hair rising from its follicle. How even inside those slick pink coils of your brain, you got sent. Bit. Spent. You move through your waking hours a paper doll, blood-sucked, half-wracked by this electric nighttime body possessed by the slightest tickle.
You learn that chestnut trees have a male variety and a variety that is both male and female. You are not clear on why or whether the pure male exists, and this goes for all species. Perhaps they're on their evolutionary decline. Chestnuts are great at carbon sequestration, a phrase you find particularly satisfying. Along with the word "unabashedly." You dream of the day you'll unabashedly enter the chestnut orchard, its grasses teeming with ticks.
The smaller child picks up on your angst. Can you promise him endless safety and security, as he demands? Promise and you can't. Promise and you can't. You check your bodies and check your bodies and check your bodies and are dismayed upon waking to find the dog, that vector, has slunk up onto the child's bed in the night.
Here it is impossible to get up high, to gain a view, to see beyond one's narrow path through the canopy, and this is why people love the great lake: because at its shore, finally, they can see all the way to the horizon. They can feel both tiny and infinite again, like a tick.
Every time you look at the map, the map is mostly water. It is a lake or the map is the sea. The water is water or is it the land. The land blinks like an eye in the sun; the water is water, you float like a mote. The land is a wad of used up plastic, a continent, a shelf adrift. Every time. You look. At the map, the map, the map.
Despite yourself you grow fond of this water. You imagine it frozen in wicked waves of deep January glacial blue. All the ticks suspended in ice like fossils.
Try not to dwell on the image: your desire entwined like legs in a DNA-shaped twist of parasitic relation.
You sit down at the computer and realize you have forgotten what you'd thought to sit down and write. Fruit flies swarm your head like a rotting peach. Moths flutter helplessly at the screen. Outside are the ticks, like secrets on their bent stems, reaching for you as you think and think. It's called "questing."
You ask the child to run down and pull up the sign by the mailbox: No Trespassing. The sign, when he returns with it, is metal and labeled as cancer-causing. You aren't sure what to do with this information. Is it off-gassing now? Cancerous how? You cut and re-organize its letters to read: n'est-ce pas? Though you will have to locate -ce. Nest pas, then. Nest in the negative. You hammer the sign into the ecotone: the three-foot-or-so transitional zone between the open space of the meadow and the chestnut orchard. Ecotones are the preferred habitat of many ticks. The sign is for them, maybe. No nest for you.
"Is it an exhibit?" asks the grandmother. The little piles of rocks. Shells. Treasures from ventures into the forest. Beach sculptures of found materials. Fairy homes. There's a knapweed exhibit in the field. A dry gulch exhibit in the driveway. Whatever you are looking for is what you see, she says, and it's true, mostly.
Ticks are like raisins. They dry out and fall to the bottom of your bag. They are covered in sand. They climb tall grasses and wave their arms like concertgoers. They wear sunglasses, even inside. Their dance moves are synchronized as a boy band. Together, they can weaken a moose—blood for everyone. They move in when they sense an imbalance. They fill, as we say in capitalism, a niche. They are at their zenith. They are at their zenith now.
You think of all the things you've mistaken for ticks: crumbs, lint, other bugs, dimples, smears of chocolate, lentils, panthers, oboes, ciphers, masculinity, as well as a boneless chicken breast, lustiness, the 25th amendment, and yachts. And anonymity. Ticks are the burnt remains of forests. They are black holes. Vantablack™. They suckle the light of the world. You are not like them. Are you?
95% humidity today. You believe that at 100% the air is actually just 'water,' but you're told you are mistaken. The children have been working on growing gills anyway. They feel them on their necks and behind their ears. They duck their heads underwater and inhale, just a little—not enough to break the surface tension on the tiny dome of water that has entered each nostril. It's a gentle, small inhale. The kind that teaches the body it is time to evolve.
In the basement you have a bucketmachine that fills with liquid humidity. Once or twice a day you empty it by pouring the contents of the bucket into the weeds out the back door. You feel this is proof that 100% humidity is in fact 'water,' but you've already dumped it. No proof. A woman always needs proof, buckets and buckets of proof. This you know for sure.
What is the word for an invasive species that lives parasitically on another invasive species? 'Fair?' You emerge from the YMCA to a weird sky, purple, swirled like cream, and darkest in the direction of home. The national weather service emergency alert system blares and you ignore the bleats of the children, those sheep, your lambs—your thoughts range over their delusional terrain, determined to beat whatever nature has in store for you as if in competition, as if in the movies, as if you are the underdog, when really, like any invasive species, you are winning, and losing, and winning and therefore losing.
Night has fallen and the light in the small room is yellow. You stand in front of the mirror and see something small crawling on your bare shoulder. Flick it into the sink and rinse it down the drain, bang the door on your way out. You will deal with this later. You have dealt with it "now." You will "deal." With "it." In "time."
Think of a time you loved yourself. You are breathing the breath of those with whom you think you share nothing in common. Humidity on your face like a lace of fruit flies. It rained and you left the car windows open all night. Again. How does it end? Forever and ever. You are strangely calm, outside in the post-storm quiet, alone with your private hungers now. Anonymous, and questing.
I moved to the midwest & a few things happened. 1. The vet suggested tick medicine year-round for the dog, because winter's freeze is less consistent, so ticks can be active when they used to lie dormant. 2. I read [a book] (nonfiction) in which a moose in winter was weakened by the sheer number of ticks on it; it did not survive. 3. I started, not for the first time, to feel some uncomfortable parallels between the parasitic disease-bringing bloodsucker and my kind.