Anne and I had been dating only a few months when she suggested we spend the Thanksgiving weekend together camping in The Everglades. I agreed, happy to get to know a place so dear to Anne’s heart. Not only had she been their Poet-In-Residence, she was also an Everglades volunteer. Anne is connected to The Everglades in a deeply meaningful way, although I’m not sure Anne would agree that ‘connected’ is the right word. Finding the right word is important to Anne—this woman who hums to alligators.
Although eager to spend this holiday weekend with Anne, I felt a little anxious. I was still pretty shy around her, and I didn’t want to screw things up by making any camping faux pas. Aside from that, I had never before camped in an alligator’s backyard, and wasn’t thrilled about the incursion of pythons to the area.
I remember we had gotten a late start that day. Neither of us had eaten lunch, so we stopped for dinner at a Chinese restaurant along the way. I don’t recall if my gut sent any red flags up at the thought of General Tso’s Chicken, but as a longtime sufferer of IBS, I should have nixed the suggestion of any foods containing MSG. Coupling nerves together with Chinese food can be a disaster for me.
By the time we finished dinner, the sun was making its way below the western horizon, and my gut was urging me to use the restroom even before leaving the restaurant. But a few miles down the highway, General Tso’s Revenge hit again. I had no choice but to ask Anne to stop somewhere so I could use a restroom. It embarrassed me to ask, but Anne is kind and so she pulled into a McDonald’s at the next exit.
The drive took longer than I had expected, over two hours, so when I saw the sign for The Everglades, I voiced a silent hooray because my stomach was cramping again.
“How far is the campsite?”
“Just a few miles,” Anne said.
A few miles? Oh, no. I squeezed my butt cheeks together and gave silent thanks to the inventor of Kegel exercises. By now the sun had set, and the road was dark. Nothing was visible out the windows except trees and bushes. It mortified me to tell Anne I needed a bathroom again, but it would have been much worse if I had an accident.
“Anne, if it’s much further, I’m afraid I won’t make it. I need a bathroom.”
“I’m sorry. I think it’s the Chinese food.” I’m certain Anne is mentally scolding herself for inviting me along.
“There are no bathrooms around here. I’ll have to pull over.”
As soon as the car stopped, I darted behind the closest bush and pulled my pants down. That’s when they swarmed me. The mosquitoes. What the hell? My butt became a target, a feast for the bloodsuckers. I pulled my pants back up, ran to the car, jumped in, and slammed the door. Anne asked if I was okay.
“Mosquitoes attacked me.”
“Oh, dear, did they bite you?”
Bite me? They fucking tried to eat me alive!
“Kinda. Ha ha.”
When we reached the campsite, I had to leave the safety of the car to help Anne erect the tent. Mosquitoes swarmed my head, my neck, my ears, and my arms. They even bit between my fingers. I slapped myself so much I may have left bruises.
Anne saw my torment. “Get back in the car,” she said. “I can finish this myself.”
Once Anne had the tent up and our gear stashed, I crawled inside.
“Stupid me, I never gave a thought to mosquitoes,” I said. “I didn’t bring any bug repellant. Did you bring any with you?”
She unzipped her backpack. “I brought some natural repellent that doesn’t contain deet.”
Of course it doesn’t contain deet. Why would you use deet? God forbid you bring something that actually repels mosquitoes.
“That’s okay, Anne,” I lied. “I don’t use deet either.”
“I wish there was something I could do for you.”
Kill me now!
Anne touched my shoulder. “I’m concerned about you. Will you be alright?”
No, I’m not gonna be alright. I’m in agony. I feel like I’m lying in the sand and a thousand ants are eating me alive. Every inch of my body is on fire. “Yeah, I’ll be fine. I’m sure the itching will stop soon.”
“I can’t believe how tolerant you are,” Anne said. “Not everyone would be so calm after having so many mosquito bites.”
Damn right they wouldn’t. In fact, if you were anyone else, if you were Pat, or Jane, or Pamela, I’d be screaming at the top of my lungs to get me the fuck out of here.
“Don’t worry, Anne, it’s not a big deal.”
Anne retrieved an itch crème in her bag, natural of course, and I slathered it on, all the while mentally screaming every four-letter word I knew. I laid down on top of my sleeping bag, knowing sleep would be impossible if the itching didn’t stop. I squeezed my eyes shut and gritted my teeth, not wanting to make a fool of myself by thrashing and moaning next to Anne, who I could tell was already asleep.
I liked Anne a lot, and this was our first weekend away. I didn’t want to ruin her plans by making a big stink over mosquito bites. I also didn’t want her to think I’m a sissy who whines over every little thing on a camping trip. It’s not like I’ve never camped before. I loved camping in Upstate New York, and we had plenty of mosquitoes there, but nothing, I mean nothing, like the Everglades’ mosquitoes. They’re like a Red Cross Blood Drive.
I must have passed out eventually because I woke up alone in the tent, the yellow, pink, and orange of sunrise peeking through the trees. Anne was sitting outside, brewing coffee around a camp stove. I spoke to her through the tent’s mesh window. “Is it safe for me to come out?”
Anne smiled. “I think so.”
Just as I was about to unzip the tent, I peered at Anne’s face.
“Look out. You have a couple of mosquitoes perched on your forehead.”
Anne brushed her hand across her face and the mosquitoes flew off.
“They didn’t bite you?”
“No, mosquitoes don’t seem to bother me.”
Goody goody for you. In the meantime, I’m trapped inside this freaking tent until the sun comes up.
The sun came up, and I learned how to avoid mosquitoes by remaining inside the tent from dusk until dawn, not frantically waving my arms around whenever one flew near me, and I avoided walking through canopies and grassy areas as much as possible. I refrained from whining about my mosquito bites and ended up having a good time. I’m glad I didn’t dwell on the Everglades pythons, or the alligators on The Anhinga Trail. They stayed in the water and off the boardwalk.
During the ride home, still focused on my bites, I googled information about mosquitoes and once home, wrote a poem about them:
WET SEASON IN THE EVERGLADES
They are everywhere,
beneath leafy canopies, in tall grass
and dense bushes, they lie in wait.
Hear the fertile one humming?
Drawn by my breath, the heat of my body,
whining, droning, keening.
Thirsty. I swat at her wingbeats buzzing my ear.
She seeks my neck, craves my blood.
Her straw-like mouth probes, sips, tastes.
I swat. Miss. Itch.
She strikes again, intent to breed, to
reproduce one hundred or more
of those fucking, sucking,
I slap hard, flatten her,
leave a trail of blood
on my sweaty skin.
If you’re wondering whether Anne ever took me back to The Everglades, the answer is yes. But we slept in the volunteer’s quarters rather than pitching a tent. Oh, and I remembered to bring plenty of mosquito repellent with me—no deet, of course.