Monday, April 8, 2013

Thirteen Ways of Looking At A Louse

A boy and a girl go to the doctor for their annual wellness exams.
A boy and a girl are well.
A mother mentions the boy's dandruff.
The mother leaves the doctor with the boy, the girl, a Web MD print off about lice, and panic.

The drugstore has shelves and shelves of shampoos, conditioner, serums, and dyes.
The drugstore has a colorful display of combs and brushes and hair elastics and headbands.
The mother cannot find the lice treatment and must ask the pharmacist.
They are located on the bottom shelf near the foot creams.
There are only five products, most made from poison.

It is the last day of spring break.
The mother and her son and daughter spend all morning and much of the afternoon
in the upstairs bathroom.
She is dousing and combing.
And combing.
And combing.
Her phone buzzes with advice.  Neighbor's bring plastic bags of treatments and metal combs.
Still, she can't see the lice.

The father comes home early to go to a LEGO festival.
(The doctor gave permission.)
The family finds reprieve from the panic in tiny, plastic bricks
pushed together to look like a life-sized Darth Vader.
The boys sees his best friend and the mother runs behind him,
whispering, "No hugs! No hugs!"
Four hours later, the mother is still itching.

The mother has had two people check her scalp.
She pulled off every bed linen, stuffed every stuffed animal in the washing machine.
Washed everything in hot water, heavy load.
All towels and washcloths.
Heavy load.
There are no sheets or pillows on her bed at midnight.
She doesn't sleep well, especially when the boy crawls into bed next to her
and shares her pillow.
Heavy load.

The bathroom windowsill is full.
One box of RID, opened.
Two applicator bottles, 8 ounces.
Two bottles of Cetaphil, one generic.
Five metal combs, one with a magnifying glass.
Two plastic combs, useless.
One bottle of isopropyl alcohol, 90%.
One spray bottle of bathroom cleanser.
One box of RID, unopened.
One box of Nit Rid, organic with eucalyptus.

One mother and one father bribe one son.
One Y-Wing Fighter, 458 piece LEGO set equals one buzz cut.
The boy weeps while the mother cuts off his thick, silky hair.
"My beautiful hair," he says.
The mother stifles her own tears, feeling like Delilah. 

Cetaphil is a dermatologist recommended, gentle cleanser and moisturizer brand.
Two children sit patiently after having poison scrubbed into their heads,
Then combed relentlessly for two days,
Then given haircuts - ridiculously short in the boy's case.
Now their heads are covered in Cetaphil lotion.
They will have their hair blown dry with this lotion coating their hair.
E How claims Cetaphil and heat smother lice and make nits easy to remove.
The mother looks up from the hair dryer and notices:
One bottle of lotion, one bottle of cleanser.
E How claims Cetaphil CLEANSER kills lice.
She wipes the lotion off her hands, puts towels on their pillows, and decides not to tell the kids.

A boy with a buzz cut is vainer than imagined.
He will tell everyone that he has lice -
the neighbors, his parents' friends who walk by with babies in strollers.
He plans to tell his entire class at share time tomorrow.
But he won't look in the mirror.

The girl reads three graphic novels while getting her hair combed.
She will stop to text her best friend.
Spring has sprung outside the window.
She never complains.

The mother can't tell if the kids have lice.
She thinks she has scraped their heads dry and all she combs is dandruff.
And now eczema from the poison she poured on their heads.
She is doubting her sanity.
She has bought heavy strength reading glasses to see bugs she doesn't want to see.
The glasses make her seasick.  The bugs just make her sick.

The family has vermin.
The lice and a pet rat, acquired on Thursday.
The girl sneezed and sneezed and sneezed after handling the rat the first night.
Two Claritins did the trick.
After her brother's bath and before bed, she is combed through.
Her hair looks healthy and vermin-free.
She picks up the rat and plays, giggling.
(The mother protested, but the girl sulked and the mother is a pushover.)
After the rat settles back in her cage, after the boy follows the dad to his bed for books,
while the mother is cleaning up the bathroom for the tenth time this weekend,
and checking the laundry,
the girl shows the mother her arms.
She is covered in welts.
The family has vermin.

This is the moment the mother has anticipated.
This is the moment the family returns the children to school.
This is the moment the mother walks the children directly to the nurse's office.
This is the moment the mother watches and waits as the school nurse combs long toothpicks
through her children's hair.
This is the moment her son is declared nit-free and she walks him to class where his teacher says,
"Nice haircut!"
This is the moment, the long moment because the daughter has long hair, that the daughter is also  declared nit-free and given a note to go to class a few minutes late.
This is the moment the mother walks out of the school, smiling, side by side another parent who she doesn't know and who doesn't know her story.
"Have a good one."
"You do the same."

With apologies to Wallace Stevens.

Interesting fact: Wallace Stevens was 44 (my age) when he published his first poetry collection.