Thousands of years ago, Horace coined the phrase carpe diem. Emily Dickinson wrote “Forever is composed of nows,” centuries later. In 2012, Pitbull passionately crooned, “I just wanna feel this moment.” Soon after, #YOLO became the rallying cry of the millennial generation.
These wordsmiths of old and new — along with inspirational bumper stickers, t-shirt slogans and dying movie characters — all bear the same message: Live in the moment.
There are two types of people in this world: those who seize each day, usually after a near-death or equally life-changing experience, and those who merely pretend to do so. For most of my life, I fell into the latter category. And then about two months ago everything changed.
On Jan. 17, at 6:22 p.m., I received an email confirming my suspicions. My dorm room was crawling with cimex lectularius — bed bugs, for you non-Latin-speaking plebes. For those who haven’t had the privilege of their company, bed bugs are pinhead-sized, blood-sucking parasites that dine exclusively on human flesh. Following an attack, they inscribe their victim with itchy red sores. (According to experts, these markings roughly translate to “suck my ass” in Bedbuganese). For weeks, these microscopic monsters made me look like a walking advertisement for the pro-vaccine movement. Now, they were my ticket to freedom in the form of a single-occupant dorm room.
When I got the news, I was overwhelmed by pure euphoria. I felt like I was floating. This must be how Charlie felt when he found the last golden ticket. Or how a small-town country singer feels when told “You’re going to Hollywood.” My happiness was probably greater than their happinesses combined.
My new room was a glorified jail cell with potato-sack walls, but it was all mine.
My joyous reaction had nothing to do with either of my roommates. The appeal of living in a single comes down to something that is hard to come by on a college campus: privacy. As the beloved cliché goes, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I didn’t understand the value of privacy until I lost mine. Transitioning from having your own room to sharing one with strangers is a culture shock, to say the least. All habits that might weird out or inconvenience others have to go. No longer can the floor serve as a hybrid of laundry hamper, trash can and storage space. No more hoarding crap you vow will one day come in handy but never will. Every behavior is privy to the judgment of people you are trying to befriend or at least coexist with. You grow self-conscious about everything: singing, talking on the phone, binge-eating in bed. Tensions inevitably rise as roommates adjust to their living situations, step by uncomfortable step.
My new room was a glorified jail cell with potato-sack walls, but it was all mine. Finally, I had enough space to decorate my walls with the full extent of junk I’d brought to college. Having a closet all to myself was nothing short of liberating. Luxuries like watching movies without headphones, playing guitar and actually studying at my desk became part of my daily life.
While I quickly grew accustomed to my new room and the freedom that came with it, I never took it for granted. Each morning, I awoke to birds metaphorically chirping and angels smiling down on me from bed bug heaven. I was in a perpetually good mood, knowing that I could escape to my room when the outside world became too much. Like a heart transplant recipient, I had a new lease on college life.
Three months ago, covered head-to-toe in bites, I never could have imagined myself saying the following words: Thank you bed bugs, you pint-sized vampires, for teaching me a life lesson.
When I expressed how I felt to my mom, she warned me not to get too comfortable. Any day now, I’d be summoned back to my old dorm. (I preferred my dad’s advice: Shop around the black market for more bed bugs). Because of the mudslides and freeway closures, it took longer than anticipated for the bed bug treatment to commence. Thus, the duration of my stay was and still remains unclear. The fact that it might end at any time forces me to live moment to moment.
Despite my best efforts (including an email encouraging the residential staff to take their sweet time), I know my time here is almost up. Like bed bugs, the lesson I amassed from this experience will travel with me. To employ a third and final cliché: Life is fleeting. Though we tend to avoid contemplating death until old age, life is as transient as my stay in a one-person room. Three months ago, covered head-to-toe in bites, I never could have imagined myself saying the following words: Thank you bed bugs, you pint-sized vampires, for teaching me a life lesson. Though I can’t say I hope we meet again, it was an honor. See you around.
Harper Lambert wants Gauchos to realize that there’s a bright side to every situation, even bedbugs.