The longest night I ever knew was the one I spent blistered with sun poisoning in a flee-ridden bed in the mountains of San Lucas, Guatemala. I guess until that moment, I was one of those people who always thought I was stronger than I knew, that when put to the test, I would be unflinching, resilient, able to put my mind in a place outside myself and deal with whatever circumstance I faced. This usually happened when I daydreamed I was one of the few female spies during WWII who refused to give away the secret code that held together the axis of the Allied army, whose case was so top secret and vital that when it was released to the public thirty years later, she was an international sensation.
Now, I know, without a doubt, I should never be a spy. If pressed, I WILL GIVE AWAY THE CODE.
I had been at the beach that day, sprawled out on the almost-equator, enjoying some time away from trying to teach Math, in Spanish, at a home for girls, a job I had been doing fairly unsuccessfully all summer long. The bed I was given had an unfortunate case of bed bugs, or fleas, and I woke up each morning with new bites on my arms and legs. I changed my sheets, I tried burning the bugs out with a hair dryer, I slept in leggings and a sweatshirt, all to no avail. I tried to take it all in stride, telling myself I would not be spoiled or vain about the situation, that the bites were just temporary and at the end of the summer I would burn all my clothes and fly home in a souvenir t-shirt I’d buy from the airport.
At the beach though, I made the mistake of thinking that the sun was the same strength everywhere, and if I didn’t need sunscreen in Buffalo, New York, I wouldn’t need it on the beaches of Guatemala. That is why I spent the night covered in blisters, suffering hot and cold flashes, vomiting, unable to move or turn over for pain, gulping desperately at the water my students brought to me while they laughed and called me a lobster in Spanish. Around midnight, the bed bugs woke up, and I now know there is no torture like tiny bites on blistered skin. I would have given away any secret if pressed. I spent the night crying silently, wishing I never studied Spanish and never wanted to travel, planning elaborately the clean, bug free, sanctuary of a bedroom I would have one day when I bought my own house. I realize this makes me vain and shallow and so very American, but even Winston Churchill had a floral duvet in his wartime bunker.
When we moved into our new house, I was so excited to have a bedroom that felt like its own retreat. We had been living for the past two years in a college dorm, and our bedroom served as our pantry, Andrew’s office, and the only path to the bathroom. I wanted a bedroom that felt like a sanctuary—a room that was peaceful, quiet, nice-smelling, and bright. I wanted a guest room and office space that felt equally as calm and peaceful, and I wanted to do it all on a budget.
The rooms we started with were exactly the opposite: thick, red, shag carpets and dark wood paneling. The windows were hidden behind velvet curtains and ceiling fans layered in dust. The “dark” room was the first one we started on, minutes after signing the closing papers. We ripped up that red shag and found glorious, beautiful hardwood underneath, that just needed to be re-finished and stained. We decided white was the only color for that room, and Andrew’s dad had to do five coats to finally cover up the dark, wooden walls. We painted the guest room an Olympus White, a pale blue that looks completely different throughout the day.
In our bedroom, we bought a bed frame from overstock and refinished two sets of drawers that belonged to Andrew’s grandparents. We bought some paintings from Salvation Army, and the final touch was a string of bunting from my older sister. We furnished the guest room and office with an Ethan Allen desk ($60 at Goodwill!), a bookshelf and bedding from Ikea, and a cedar trunk. We bought white, light filtering blinds that make both rooms feel bright and airy, but provide enough privacy at night.
The guest room- office is not quite complete. I am still trying to sort out the best way of organizing my research and to do lists, and we’d love to have more storage space for guests to put their things. Speaking of which—we are taking reservations for 2017! Come visit!
Our bedroom is now my favorite room in the house. I love the small size and the simplicity of it. The textured walls and bright colors make it feel like a cottage bedroom. With both windows open and the fan on, there is an amazing cross breeze. It’s right outside our vegetable garden, so I can wake up and check on my zucchini and tomatoes and butternut squash while drinking my morning cup of tea in my bed. It truly feels like a retreat—a place where I have no responsibilities, where I am free from whatever other demands the day holds for me.
If we ever are unfortunate enough to get bed bugs in there, I will be sorry to see it go. Because we will burn it.