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When Vince, my exterminator, arrives in his unmarked Toyota van, I know everything will be okay. Vince has been my emotional rock since I purchased my own home a couple years ago. During our time together, we've developed an unlikely hybrid relationship of pest professional/client-therapist/patient.
"I wish I could say I'm happy to see you," I tell him. Vince isn't the type of tradesman one prides oneself on having an enduring relationship with.
I slip off my yellow dish gloves and shake his hand. This is not how I wanted to spend my Saturday. Vince laughs. He gets a kick out of my dramatic rendering of events.
"Okay, Mary, let's first look at the situation."
The "situation" this time is bed bugs. I first phoned Public Health after spotting a carcass near my mattress, then my trusted Vince, bypassing any fear-mongering websites.
It didn't help when Vince let out an, "Oh dear," on the phone. Bed bugs are the most serious thing our relationship has had to endure, and I hope we survive this test.
The first time I contacted Vince was after witnessing a pink rat tail snap behind my basement washing machine. He was the second number in the book, and the first to take my hysterical "Rat! Rat! My God I have a Rat!" call.
Vince strolled up the steps an hour later with a Bluetooth clipped to his ear.
"I can't go back inside," I said, standing outside the door waving him into the laundry room.
"Yes, you can." His brown eyes focused on mine. "Look how big you are. Really. You are strong," he told me.
He crouched behind the washer. "Okay, okay," he said, as he examined the evidence.
"What?" I shot back.
"The rat has only been in the house for 12 hours," he said.
"How can you tell?" Was Vince psychic too? Would he add that to the bill?
"The droppings are still fresh," he told me.
Vince went to his truck, returned with poisoned grain, and threw it into ducts and dark corners around the basement.
I kept close to him, already feeling a tad stronger.
"Don't worry," he said.
"This house feels dirty, like it's a fraud of my former house!" I hiccuped back a cry.
"It's one rat who snuck in for warmth. It's the time of year and he'll be gone soon. I promise," he said.
Vince removed his gloves. His voice took a lower register. It was calm, paternal. Exactly what I needed.
"I've gotten many calls for your neighbourhood already. Last year was a mild winter. " His Bluetooth beeped and he leaned away. "Yes, yes," he whispered. "I can be there in an hour." He hung up. "See? Another call and the season hasn't even begun."
Vince packed up his bag.
"You're not the only one to call me. Many people want to make sure I have an unmarked van, because everyone's embarrassed and worried," he said.
Vince was a miracle worker. He not only killed vermin, he was a life coach who helped me achieve another step in the heroic journey of running a house on my own. Rat survival: check.
I never saw the rat again, or smelled its decaying carcass.
Sadly, or thankfully (I'm still not sure which), that wasn't the end of us.
When a dead cockroach appeared in my pot drawer a few months later, I scooped it up and ignored it. But two the following week left me no alternative but to phone Vince. He arrived discreetly, and this time lay a gluey adhesive between cupboard brackets, near dishes and along door trim.
"What if I eat the poison by accident?" I asked him.
"Now why would you do that?" Vince laughed.
"Say your poison accidentally landed on my plate," I said.
"This is perfectly safe." Vince showed me his hands were bare while handling the adhesive. He had an answer for everything. Sigh. While Vince inspected my mattress with a flashlight, I said, "I am so tired of this old house."
The cachet of original birch floors and steel heating grates has evaporated along with my savings on a new furnace, roof, electrical – and exterminator services.
"It's not just in old houses," Vince explains. "I get calls from new buildings all the time. Construction workers leave their lunches and owners often move in finding all kinds of pests."
I look for a bright side on my bed bug issue.
"Will I need to get a new bed?" I ask. I hope he says yes, because a futon in my late 30s is pushing the limit, and I could finally justify the purchase.
"Your bed is looking good. You caught this very early," he says.
Vince then tells me to wash all my clothes, put them in plastic bags, vacuum, empty the closets, caulk between the quarter round and the floor.
"I'm going to call my mom to help me," I tell him.
"Why would you do that? There's no point exposing her to the bugs," he warns. Vince's wisdom again. "You can do this on your own," my suitor/therapist/dad says. He's right. I gather myself for the task ahead and summon my inner hero. And he quietly answers his Bluetooth, ready to help another damsel (or knight) in distress.
Mary B. Valencia lives in Toronto.