I hate the outdoors. Maybe not all of them: Colorado is beautiful. But when I think “outdoors,” I think of the humid, under-titty-sweat-inducing wilderness of Virginia. And I think ticks. Omnipresent, under-titty, bacteria-ridden ticks, ready to spew their disease-laden cargo into my bloodstream, like an eight-legged Telly from Kids.
I pre-date cell phones, and my parents only caved on getting me a Nintendo after years of wearing them down (a technique I now bring to my romantic conquests, and why I can’t perform sexually without saying the 30-life code from Contra aloud), so the biggest dopamine rush I could get during several years of my youth was smashing action figures together in mock combat around various outdoor locations. While it might not be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles canon, let me tell you, the Battle of Walney Pond, which Raphael ultimately won by dropping Shredder into a discarded Pringles can, deserved to be commemorated by the bards.
During this entire childhood run of actually enjoying the outdoors, I had somehow never been bitten by a tick. Not once. Given my mom is a hypochondriac and trained me to expect a septic, Lyme Disease-ridden death if ever a tick were to bite my succulent, husky pants-wearing backside, I was more than ecstatic about being bite-free. The streak continued well into my teenage years, when I still went to the woods after school, but exclusively to consume weed, Marlboros, and stolen Icehouse beers while debating the merits of Megadeth’s Rust in Peace versus Slayer’s South of Heaven. Mom never warned me about those things, somehow.
Despite countless hours spent trudging through the thickest underbrush imaginable (a technique I now bring to my romantic conquests) so I could peacefully smoke pesticide-drenched stems and out of a soda can bowl, I had somehow remained tick-free.
It started off as any other Saturday in my 16th year: I told my parents I was going to the local nerd lair, Game Parlor, to play Magic: the Gathering with my friends. What they didn’t know is that my Magic deck boxes were actually filled with weed and menthol Doral 100s I’d lifted from my dad, and I was planning on getting blazingly high in the woods behind aforementioned Game Parlor, only afterward going inside to buy their overpriced snacks and nod off to the dulcet tones of geeks professing their love for Gillian Anderson.
Everything went according to plan: I entered the woods with some buddies, smoked up, passed out for a bit in Game Parlor, grabbed Taco Bell on the way home, and went to sleep again for the night, savoring that kind of 12-hour coma you entered every weekend as a kid and are now barred from because your headspace is an ever-encroaching wasteland of suffocating responsibilities and shattered dreams. I probably woke up around 11 A.M. to take one of those 270-second pisses that my once-adorably petite prostate allowed, and then went to the kitchen to scour up some breakfast.
Except… damn, did my side hurt. Really hurt. Had I gashed it hopping over a fence? Wounded it on a protruding tree branch? Been struck by a friend because I was 16, and why not punch and get punched while high? A quick inspection that consisted of looking down my shirt revealed nothing, so I figured I would nap it off after shoving some food in my face, and promptly did exactly that. (As I type these words, for the first time, I realize I spent my teenage years living as a cat.)
Having logged 13 hours of sleep, finally I could be bothered to take off my shirt and figure out what the hell was going on. I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, and disrobed. There, lodged between my sixth and seventh rib, I was greeted by the sight of a tick the size of Andre the Giant’s thumbnail. It was situated more toward my back than my chest, which is why I had missed it upon my first inspection. That, and the majority of it was buried in my flesh.
Sleeping deeply is fantastic, and I’d literally kill to be able to do it now, even for a single night. But this is one of those rare scenarios where a restful 12 hours wasn’t particularly conducive to my health. For as I slumbered, a tick that I had picked up while I was far too high to notice its initial presence, had burrowed. And burrowed. And burrowed. By the time it was detected and ultimately pulled (by my dad, as my mom was crying hysterically and preparing for my all-but-assured demise), we have to be talking over 18 hours of going to town on my flesh. The bite was deep enough that there was a bruise surrounding it, the diameter of which was, without exaggeration, that of a Pringles can (callback!).
The incident marked the end for me and outdoor activities of any sort, at least in wooded areas. During the remainder of my teen years, if I was getting high, it was going to be in an area free of tall grass or other shrubbery, watchful parents be damned.
Which is the way I intend to keep it. So, the next time a date or a friend wants you to go experience the “great” outdoors with them, you tell them my story. And, as you spend your afternoon now eating takeout while watching Netflix, thank me and the sacrifice I made. Because not all heroes wear capes: Some sport combat boots, Metallica t-shirts, and a teenaged sneer.