An Unwanted Souvenir From My Favorite State

I’m so glad I didn’t take it with me.

Mandy Osterhaus Ream
Jun 9 · 4 min read
Photo by Jacob Morrison on Unsplash

I am wrapping up a week-long visit to my favorite place, to my home state, to my roots. Virginia. Virginia holds a special place in my heart and soul. So much so that in my early 40s, I decided it was time to get the tattoo I had wanted for years. I chose the Virginia state flower: the dogwood. I love Virginia.

Part of the great enjoyment of Virginia is the vivid colors in nature. Lush green trees line every road. The skies are dotted with bright white clouds against a dynamic blue. And it is fun, in theory, to enjoy all of these things outside, amidst the nature. High emphasis on “theory.”

There are some significant things about Virginia, my home state, that I prefer to leave behind after I’m done visiting; things we don’t have in my part of California.

During this trip home, I had the opportunity to visit my childhood home. I walked through the house overwhelmed with nostalgia. I meandered through the beautiful yard and admired various outbuildings, taking it all in. And while I stood there, small gnats suddenly appeared, swarming my eyes, diving into my nostrils. Some of them stuck to the layer of sweat growing over my skin as the humidity seemed to increase exponentially while we stood there. The humidity in the air caused me to sweat like I was exercising in a spin class while standing completely still.

That’s my favorite. Sweating while standing still.

I conveniently timed my trip to Virginia with the overtaking of the 17-year cicadas. The last time I encountered this plague was my freshman year of high school, still a Virginia resident, when we had to sweep large bunches of them off the front porch.

This week, not only did I have to manage cicada carnage on the windshield and front grill of my car, but I also dodged the flying creatures as they landed on me and anything else in their path.

At times the frenzied mating hum of these insects would crescendo to a deafening buzz. They are a wonder, these infrequent visitors.

One evening, when the temperature dropped to a balmy 81 degrees but was still holding onto 1000% humidity, I took a walk with my family. A walk that included marveling at the discoveries my nephew would announce every few feet. “This is poison ivy,” he said. “There’s a squirrel’s nest up there,” he observed. “Look! A blue Robin’s egg,” he declared.

When we returned to the house, he casually mentioned his regular tick checks after outdoor exploration. “Cute,” I thought. He can take over this responsibility from his parents now that he is getting older. Sure, ticks are a thing. I know this. And we were around the woods quite a bit. But I didn’t think much of it.

Then, this morning, getting ready to shower before my trip home to California, I noticed a red spot on my hip with a small black dot in the middle.

I wondered when I might have stabbed myself such that I would get a small scab there on my body. Yes, somewhere in the recesses of my mind it might have occurred to me this was something other than a scab. But, I didn’t consciously pursue that line of thinking. I moved ahead with scraping off the tiny, tiny scab; as big as if I had marked myself with the tip of a sharpie.

For some reason, when I put it on the bathroom vanity, I thought to push on it with my fingernail. And there, even with my aging eyes, I saw microscopic legs emerge. My stomach started to churn, my head getting light.

Photo by the grossed-out author.

So. Incredibly. Gross. Not to mention the real concern of Lyme disease.

I am not subtle in these situations. I am not stoic and quiet.

Crying out to my parents, my dad a personal tick expert himself, I flew down the stairs to assess my next steps; remembering stories of friends and celebrities, namely reality TV star, Yolanda Hadid, who battled Lyme for years.

My dad met my hysterics with calm. We assessed the minuscule creature and determined it was probably a dog tick rather than a deer tick. He encouraged me to watch the spot. My breathing returned to normal. my heart rate slowed.

Sure, I encountered ticks as a kid growing up in Virginia. Back then I was better at normalizing the whole experience. But 20+ years in California has softened me. I’m convinced people living amongst the ticks and gnats and humidity are stronger people, more resilient.

There are many things I carry back with me after my visits home to Virginia. Memories of the beautiful views. A bottle of wine from a local vineyard. A dogwood commemorative pen.

But an insect that embeds in the skin to feast on the host’s blood? I will gladly leave that in Virginia.

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Mandy Osterhaus Ream

Written by

Woman in middle age. Professor. Mom to one surfer and one kid with Down Syndrome. Fireman’s wife. Writing about all of it. mandyosterhausream.com

Tell Your Story

Everyone has a story to tell, probably many more than one. Tell Your Story is home for the best creative nonfiction and personal essays on Medium, stories from the heart that help us all understand a little bit more about ourselves and the world around us.

Mandy Osterhaus Ream

Written by

Woman in middle age. Professor. Mom to one surfer and one kid with Down Syndrome. Fireman’s wife. Writing about all of it. mandyosterhausream.com

Tell Your Story

Everyone has a story to tell, probably many more than one. Tell Your Story is home for the best creative nonfiction and personal essays on Medium, stories from the heart that help us all understand a little bit more about ourselves and the world around us.

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