Every year for a while when I was a kid… Is probably the worst sentence I’ve written in a long time. How do you say something happened regularly for a limited time during a specific and short period of life? It happened all the time sometimes for a little while.
Anyway! My mom would all the time sometimes for a little while go to Ocean City, Maryland with one of her friends. I suppose it was her “girl time,” time to be free of children and step away from being Mommy. My sister and I would ask to go each summer because we were annoying, and it was a part of the ocean we didn’t see regularly. Most of our summers were spent in a tiny cabin-hut on the Chesapeake Bay, two and a half hours from the boardwalk. The bay was beloved but Ocean City had salt water taffy and really long bathroom lines.
One summer, she agreed to take us along. One of the most exciting aspects of the trip was that we’d be staying in a hotel. We had never stayed in a hotel before. We talked about how exciting it was going to be listening to the waves and the gulls and getting to use tiny shampoos. It wasn’t until we were packed and on the way in the White Knuckle Express, which was the name of the giant brown and tan van she drove, that she and her friend decided not to pay for a hotel room.
WHAT?! What about flopping down on an itchy 80’s splash-style comforter and listening to the people laugh as they rode the Ferris wheel on the boardwalk? The adults had spoken. There wasn’t much we could do as kids who only made 25¢ per chore. We likely didn’t even have enough saved to buy our own tiny shampoos.
After spending the day going up and down the beach, buying new bathing suits and tacky tourist trinkets, we drove into a small campground that backed to a bay. I don’t want to give the exact location because my memory has been tainted by time, and it wasn’t an altogether terrible place, so I’ll just say the name of the campground sounded a lot like Beagle’s Rest. The spot they chose was surrounded by heavy green bushes, blocking the view of the water just beyond. It was private and quiet and lovely. We meandered down to the dock, anticipating a little evening water play, only to find “No Swimming!” signs tacked all along the weathered wood. “No Swimming!” Because the water was teeming with crabs.
Instead of retiring to the roasting van, we spent some time outside at the picnic table by our spot. I don’t know if it was their cigarette smoke or luck, but my mom and her friend sat ten feet away from my sister and I as we danced against the fluttering of a thousand mosquitoes for at least an hour. They were undisturbed, and we were dinner. We eventually gave up the fight and ran to the safety of the muggy van. There were two slide windows in the back we used for cross ventilation, but otherwise we were shut in without relief.
As the night went on, and the bites we had been swatting against began to develop, the heat and the scratchy fabric made sleeping impossible. If you’ve ever experienced a mosquito bite on your foot that rubs against the sheet while you’re sleeping and wakes you up, that was the feeling all over our bodies.
I spent the next day in the hot van alone as my mom, her friend, and my sister, enjoyed the boardwalk. I was in too much pain and irritation to move. Each of my legs had fifty or more bites. We counted. My arms were also covered but it was my legs that made moving so painful. By the end of that evening, the bites had started to swell to the size of poker chips. I was having a severe allergic reaction to the amount of toxins in my system from the bites. I had to go to the doctor for oral and topical medications to treat them.
After that I was terrified of mosquitoes. Each bite would swell up like someone was stuffing golf balls under my skin and take months to disappear entirely. It’s been more than twenty years since that experience, and I’ve never encountered swarms of mosquitoes like that again. Until now.
Just a few weeks ago, as Brian and I were getting ready to pull out of the driveway, he realized we had forgotten to grab a few waters. He shut the truck off, left his door open for some air flow, and then I opened mine. Before he could make it to the front door I was panicking, yelling “GARRFH! GET BACK TO THE TRUCK! GET BACK TO THE TRUCK, HURRY! BWAAAH!” while yanking at my seat belt and half falling out the open door as I tried frantically to escape the black horde of mosquitoes that had started flowing in through Brian’s door. I know you’re probably rolling your eyes, thinking there were probably three or four mosquitoes, but you would be wrong. Dozens and dozens and dozens filled the truck. I ran, dragging my hands up and down my legs and arms to swipe any attackers from my skin, which must have looked perfectly normal.
I escaped. That time.
Now I’ve started carrying three citronella candles with me each time I venture outside. If I leave the protective citronella cloud, I’ll use the hose to spray the air around and above me, and just to be safe I’ll spray Brian now and then as well…because I care.
Big Bad World