(Continued from The Show – Episode 1 of 3)
I had a notebook beside my bed where I sometimes wrote (I was beginning to think I should be a poet). I would scoop bed bugs onto this, and crush them between two pages. My notebook was filled with spots of my blood, and after a time, with love, with writing about my blood.
I love Judge Mathis. He’s my second favorite court show judge (under Judge Milian, of People’s Court). He reminds me of my dad, but I also love that he seems genuinely to love people; talking to them, teasing them, baiting them. Watching him get someone to brag about committing a crime is a thing of rhetorical beauty.
A couple of years ago, my friend Ladan invited me to sit with her in the audience of Judge Mathis, which is taped in Chicago in the same studio that the Jerry Springer Show was taped for seventeen years.
The producers tell you don’t chew gum: it looks like you’re talking. Don’t look down. It looks like you’re sleeping. And they look at you, then decide where to place you in the audience. They don’t want what you’re wearing to be a distraction. They don’t want the audience to wonder about all the purple at center right.
It’s simple. Don’t draw attention to yourself. I was born for this.
I still don’t remember what Judge Mathis asked. I think it had to do with the way women ought to act, and how men should react in response. Or the other way around. He asked from the audience a show of hands from those who agreed with his, the country’s, proscribed gender roles. Sometimes, when you are not reacting, when you are not performing, you are the most on show.
There are multiple cameras facing the audience. I can’t imagine our responses made it to film.
The idiom “crazy as a bed bug” is said to derive from the craziness with which they move. I have had bed bugs twice. They move no differently than the vast majority of insects.
Another theory is that “crazy as a bed bug” derives from the feeling one has in the midst of infestation. Fleas or lice live on you. You can be reasonably sure they’re there. Bed bugs, however, sleep when you’re awake. They shouldn’t be on you in the daytime, and yet, sometimes, without warning, they are. They are terrible climbers, and so they shouldn’t be able to stay on you when you walk to the cafe, or out to get groceries. But you’re never sure.
When you slap at your arm because you feel something light dancing on the hairs, you are never certain anything at all is there.
The first time I lived with someone I was dating was also my first apartment. We decided to get a place together in part because she had been kicked out of her home multiple times by her mother and her boyfriend. There were many reasons. I was a few of them.
When she cheated on me, it was always with other black men.
We couldn’t tell the landlord because we were afraid of my eviction, and because we were afraid that we (or I) would be blamed and charged for the expensive extermination process.
It may not surprise you to know that all the anti-bed-bug suggestions found on the internet are terrible. But we were poor, and while we could not afford an extermination treatment plan, we could afford a box of diatomaceous earth.
Off-white and chalk-like, diatomaceous earth works by creating micro-abrasions on the carapace of the bed bugs, causing them to dry out.
Perhaps a few bugs died in exquisite agony as we all laid in beds covered very literally in dirt. In the shed skins of molting bed bugs. In our blood, and the tiny black dots of bed bug feces that dot the mattress and never go away.
Eventually, we left almost everything behind. But before that, I brought a girl I had recently started to date to see my room. I don’t know why exactly. I think to say: here I am. Are you sure?
Romantic love is absurd. Not because Romeo killed himself (spoilers) or because we find ourselves with people who are impossible to escape from or because it is a spectacle (with not one, but two holidays devoted to it: Valentine’s Day, and Sweetest Day). Neither is it because when love envelopes us, it makes us feel as if nothing else matters. Romantic love is preposterous, because I failed to describe it.
Because I have always failed to describe it, and everyone keeps failing to describe it, and because it’s an emotion that we presumably do not start our lives with, and because we depend upon others feeling it for us without ever being certain what, precisely, they are feeling. It makes us feel seen.
And so often, we are totally unsure of when we are first experiencing love, and even sometimes after many years, sometimes because of those years, we can be uncertain we are feeling it, even having felt it before, even now.