1989: Death By Scabies

Lots of kids get cut or bruised from playing or falling off a merry-go-round. But I got scabies in the third grade.

“Jenny didn’t I tell you that your goddamn Mother was back from California. You know how Daddy’s nose is…I could smell her from this hotel room. She can’t hide from me. Anyway, she had a fight with her n****r-loving sister, and she’s coming to stay with us for a few days.”

My mom is here? When is she coming over? I hope that she will like me. And maybe she and Daddy will make up and then she can live with us.

 As she enters the doorway, her eyes focus solely on my Father. She moves in a demure but elegant way.

“Thomas…”

Before she can continue, Dad interjects, “Deborah, you are the only one that has ever said my name right in my entire life! Thomas. Perfect.”

She replies, “Thomas, I know. You always told me that.”

“Deborah, you can’t hide your true feelings from me. I see your eyes…you are crying a little bit because you missed me.”

As I wait for them to forgive each other and be reunited for all eternity, she changes the subject.

“You would not believe what my sister did to me? She’s psycho. She had a fit because I left a damp towel on the closet floor. Excuse me, Di, but I just traveled across the country, to see you, my only sister, and you’re worried about a friggen towel. Get a life.”

Get a life. This is a new expression. Apparently one she picked up from living in California.

 “Well Debbie, you know your sister is nuts. It happens with twins. There’s always one that’s fucking nuts. I watched a program about twins on 20/20…” Before he finishes, Dad moves on to more pressing matters, “So, how long are you going to stay? Jenny and I are happy to have you here and we have plenty of room.”

I see her look of disappointment as she glances around the hotel room. Two double beds, a small TV, and a postage-stamp size bathroom. But we are grateful to see her. We don’t care how many goopy towels she leaves lying around.

Forcefully, Mom cuts him short, “Tommy, I’m not going to stay long. I already bought my ticket to go back to California. I’m going to try and work it out with my boyfriend. We have a beautiful apartment out there and I just love San Diego…Don’t try to change my mind either, Tommy boy. It won’t work. Oh and one more thing, I’m going to sleep with Jenny Penny tonight.”

Debbie and Tommy. This is the way things always progress. They always start as Deborah and Thomas. I wonder what occurred between them to cause this. A once lived and now lost perfect world? But my mom wants to have a sleepover in my bed. Finally! She’s noticed me!

 That night is glorious. I dream that my mom, the most beautiful creature I ever laid eyes on, hugs me tight and never lets go; but, by morning, she’s all business and back to the airport.

The next day, still recovering from my mom-high, the phone rings in our hotel room. It is my Aunt Diane. “Tommy, Tommy…”

I can hear her voice through the phone. She sounds irate.

“Di, she left for the airport already.”

“I don’t give a damn about her. That no good whore gave us all a disease.”

“What Diane, slow down. What disease?”

“Bumps, horrible little itchy red bumps on our ankles and legs. It’s fucking bugs, Tommy. I can’t even believe my sister stooped to this level. Fucking bugs! Both Bo and I got them from her, and we gave her ungrateful ass a place to stay.”

Dad manages a reply, “Diane, that’s fucking horrible!”

“Yeah, well we went to the doctor and I’m only calling you now so that you can get checked out. This is serious, Tommy! And the slut knew that she had them too.”

“She slept in Jenny’s bed the other night.”

The next day, Daddy notices the red bumps on his ankles and legs just as Aunt Diane had furiously explained. I got them too. Everywhere. Red, itching, burning, scabs.

These bugs bore under our skin, and lay their eggs there. Highly contagious, too.

“Jenny, this is why I won’t sleep with your Mother, anymore. Once I found out that she was sleeping with everyone, I lost interest. I don’t ever want you to be a whore like that when you grow up. A woman has to learn to respect her body.”

I wince at his calling my mother names. Why does everyone call my mother bad names? Even her own sister…

He shakes his head in disgust “Horrible woman!”

After a dramatic finale, Daddy’s scabies clear up in a week or so. But, I’m not that lucky. So far I’ve missed three weeks of school.

At first, I continue at school. Covered with long sleeve tops and pants. Segregated from my friends, especially during playtime. I hate being isolated, but being sick means that dad feels bad for me

“Jenny it’s horrible that you have a no-good mother, so daddy wants to get you anything you want today.” Reluctantly, I point to a pink Barbie Corvette. I’ve been eyeing it in Kay Bee toys for months. Dad doesn’t hesitate. He counts out a twenty, a ten, and five-dollar bill for the cashier.

Even though I get to play with my new bubble-gummy corvette at school, other things are not going so well. The bumps are getting worse. One day while we are lined up in the cafeteria, I accidentally bump into Chloe, who Daddy said “looks like a horse.” She yelled in a high-pitched tone while leaping out of line, “Ewwww! Get away from me! My mom said you have a disease all over your body. So gross!”

That was my last day at school until things got cleared up.

I know something is wrong when Dad worriedly says, “Come on, Jenny, we have to get you to a doctor. This is bullshit, you are not getting any better.”

We never go to doctors. Only twice when I was four or five. And I giggled uncontrollably when the pediatrician, a man, touched my chest with his cold heart scope.

The doctor warns, “Honey, this is going to hurt a little, but I have to scrape off a sample of your skin.” He takes my left hand in his rubber-gloved hand. The metal knife looks so scary that I blank out.

Cringe. I hate pain. But these bumps are never going to go away, are they?

 The doctor takes a couple samples, then announces, “I’ll be back after running some tests.” When he returns, he asks to speak to my father outside the examining room. The door is open. They are talking softly, but I can still hear their conversation. Super-girl hearing!

“I have bad news for you, Sir. Your daughter has a nasty case of scabies and they have basically taken over her body. Her system is growing weaker and she is unable to fight them on her own. If this continues, she will die, as these bugs are a parasite, and will continue to use her body.”

You can hear a pin drop. Die?

 The doctor continues, “We have one option. Currently, we don’t have a medicine approved here in the United States that can cure your daughter at this stage. What I am about to do—I could lose my medical license for. There is cream that comes from Mexico. I’m almost certain it will cure her. But you have to promise me never to mention this to anyone.”

With tears in his eyes, my father swears that he will never tell a living soul.

After we cover my body with the white cream, and, just as the good doctor promised, I am cured.

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