After Becca finished her tale, I contributed my own lice story from the week, as if we were participating in a lice-themed literary event. In fact, I had sealed my children’s stuffed animals in plastic bags in my outdoor shed after my daughter played with a friend who turned out to have a full-blown case of lice. A stuffed elephant, manatee, black bear, cat and penguin Pillow Pet, among other animals, were banished to the shed, leaving my daughters’ bunk beds naked without their menagerie of potential lice carriers.
“Oh, the Lice Ladies say you don’t have to go to those extremes,” Becca instructed. “Lice need a human host and rarely spread through stuffed animals.” After only one visit to the Lice Ladies, she was more informed about lice treatment than I was, as I was only following my neighbor’s directives.
Just days before, my neighbor Sarah returned home from five weeks of radiation treatment for cancer to find out that her daughter had a serious case of lice. “I almost fell apart,” Sarah told me on the phone. “I just didn’t know how much more I could take.” But rather than fall apart, she washed everything: linens, towels, bedspreads and sheets. She washed her daughter’s hair in an over-the-counter medication that was not pesticide-free. Like my mother, she got out the little black comb and went through her daughter’s hair, night after night, nit after nit.
It turns out that humans evolved with lice in a classic parasite and host relationship. Despite this close evolutionary history, even the prospect of lice threatens to disrupt the shaky balance of our days, like an unwelcome houseguest that may not leave. So as a precautionary measure for my household, I kept the Penguin Pillow Pet and her friends bagged up in the shed for a few days longer, because ordinary, lice-free life is dramatic enough.