Dispatch From the Clay People

We are covered in dust. Our hair is matted and gray. Our feet and ankles stained permanently white, cracked and dry. When we walk through the neighborhood, hand in hand, my son and I send up clouds of white powder into the new autumn breeze. His thick blond hair stands on end, wild like a mad scientist. Perhaps our neighbors think we’re practicing for Halloween: Charlie Brown’s Pigpen and Friends.

Halloween gives me a good segue, because it all started with a black cat. Two years ago, we adopted a long-haired black cat from friends who had rescued him from Hurricane Alex in 2005. He was five at the time, and now seven years old, named Alex after his eponymous storm. Alex did not get along well with the other cat in our friends’ household, which I understand now is an understatement of monumental proportions. He regularly attacked his sister cat at the litter box, causing fear as well as manifest physical problems for her. Our friends needed to find a home with no other pets. My father had just died, and two years earlier, we had lost our beloved cat, Izzie. So Alex became ours, and until recently, all was well.

Then Alex escaped. He was gone for most of a day and returned like Odysseus, victorious and filthy. We thought little of it, kept him inside from then on and guarded the doors more carefully. Then he began to itch. Again, I thought little of it at first. I let it go far too long. Our old cat, Izzie, had itchy skin, an atopic dermatitis. But then Alex started hiding, sleeping in corners and behind open doors. I should call the vet, I thought, more than once. And didn’t. By the time I saw the first flea, Alex had been scratching for weeks. You can send my Pet Owner of the Year Award to my home address.

So, Alex had fleas. Which means so did we. Thanks to Facebook, we had a wealth of advice to choose from, but a good friend who had tried the traditional exterminator route with no success recommended a combination of diatomaceous earth and live nematodes to kill the living adult fleas, as well as the larvae and eggs around the house. Neither the earth (food grade) nor the nematodes are dangerous or poisonous for us, thankfully. My son is two and getting his molars, his fingers almost constantly dug into the back of his mouth. I didn’t want to risk poisoning his little body, but honestly, it was the jerky exterminator who really blew that plan. “I’ll just give this invoice to the husband,” he said to me. Oh, please do. All of those big numbers just make my pretty little head swim.

So diatomaceous earth and nematodes it was. It is. We are still in the process of ridding our home and lives of the tiny menace that is a flea infestation. They are tiny but many, and it is far past time to get rid of them. Sprinkling what feels and smells like chalk dust around my house, I yelled gleefully, “Die! Die! Die!” I had no idea how the dust would permeate everything, however: our clothes, our hair, our carpets. We even doused Alex, the black cat, who for a while looked almost completely white with it, our ghost cat. Even after a thorough vacuum, and maybe because of it, we’re coughing up the dust, blowing it from our noses, cleaning it from the air conditioning filter. The package of earth estimates three weeks for complete elimination of the beasts. It’s now been less than one.

A friend of mine calls us the “clay people.” We laugh. But inwardly, I just really hope this works. I hope the inconvenience and dry skin and nappy hair will be worth it, and the fleas will be gone for good. When I asked the universe to be more grounded, I wasn’t expecting this.


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