Mosquito Reclamation

October 26, 2022

Graphic by Amani Ahmad

I feel the most human when I have mosquito bites.

I moved to Austin for the first time in August of 2021. Mosquitoes devoured my body. My ankles, and even sometimes my elbows, endured so much swelling. Swelling then scabbing. Swelling then scabbing. I would go to parties and stare at the legs of others mid-conversation to see if they were victims too, and then I would go back to my bedroom and see the fresh pink bumps on me.

I. I must have good blood.

II. The mosquitoes are introducing themselves, and they are welcoming me into their home.

III. The mosquitoes are not bored of me yet.

When I moved to Texas, I was independent and on my own. I knew no one, especially as an out-of-state transfer. That’s one of the reasons why I chose to move states, really, to make this experience my own and to start from the ground up. It was scary. It was intimidating. It was fun. It was mine.

I was experiencing the newness of college along with the rebirth of myself. I was taking risks and trying new things. I was forced to leave my zone of familiarity. I was exploring a city I was a stranger to. Simply meeting people from all over the country was so fresh and new and rejuvenating. I went to a music festival with someone I had met two weeks prior. I was forcing myself to create the version of who I wanted to be. I always felt so sheltered, so I forced myself to shatter it all in a thrilling way, or else I’d feel confined forever.

Mosquito bites forced me to look after my body; to be one with her. They required me to touch, to feel, and to be in tune  —  in tune being: scratching, making ‘x’ indents with my fingernails over the crime scene on my calves, and rubbing in bug spray and Benadryl cream. It was to the point where I bought floral-scented bug spray and would then frantically try to mask the scent of fruity chemicals with perfume.

The mosquito bites in Texas were in my life throughout the newness of it all. I was meeting some of my best friends. I was outside more. I was learning more. I was driving more. I was going to more concerts. I found myself having an easier time talking to people without stutters and hesitations. I was trying out different ways to do my eyeliner and I started experimenting with wearing outfits out of my norm. I’d thrift an ugly t-shirt and wear a pair of shorts a size too big. I wasn’t necessarily abandoning my old self, but I was finally waking up who she wanted to be. I stopped feeling like I was wasting away  —  there was this radiation of optimism and excitement within me. I was doing all of these things while rubbing Benadryl into my veins the entire time. With life comes compromises, I suppose. If I want to continue to enjoy this exhilaration, I can endure a mosquito bite. Or two. Or four.

But as the year progressed, it got colder, and I got older, and the mosquitoes froze to death. As my bug bites healed, I didn’t have to focus on my ankles anymore, translating to: I caught myself drowning in a routine and losing grasp of myself, succumbing to the slump of repetition. I’d wake up tired, thinking to myself: maybe I should’ve gone to bed 30 minutes earlier. I’d then go to class and then go to my meetings and then cook my simple meals and then go to bed a little too late and then wake up in the morning a little tired and then do it all over again. The weekends stopped feeling like fresh air and a break; it all felt like this never-ending loop. I was losing myself, the one I had when I first arrived in Austin. She’d look up when walking on the sidewalk. She’d try new restaurants and new smoothie flavors every week. She’d pick the most atrocious colors for an outfit and didn’t care if they clashed. She’d pick a different route on the walk home just to change the scenery. She’d squeal.

I physically felt my uniqueness, starkness, security, and comfort with myself evaporating as the sun started beaming through the April clouds. I felt like I was losing the vivaciousness of living in newness. I wasn’t exploring anymore because I presumed I had seen it all before. The fact that nothing felt new made me feel like I didn’t have to be new, either. I wasn’t me, and I certainly wasn’t who I loved. I was in this weird middle ground of old self and new, reverting back to shyness and hesitancy. I started looking down and stopped changing my route when walking home. I put on a coat, but I still seemed to have that overbearing, tense chill, the one where your muscles don’t want to move (and they surely don’t thaw out).

I wasn’t exhilarated anymore. I was tired. So I went home for the summer in a slump, justifying it by telling everyone that I needed to go home to rejuvenate and find my equilibrium again. The whole time I was thinking about how I could’ve studied a little harder for that test and how I should’ve started that essay a few days earlier. Maybe things would’ve felt brighter and better if I did this a little differently and that a little differently  —  all hypotheticals out of my control.

I drove back to California, and it almost felt like the previous year was a dream. I was mourning the people I was no longer friends with and reminiscing about the lovers I had broken things off with. Everyone I had met during my first nine months in Austin had a ripple effect on who I was now. The girl in my apartment complex introduced me to her friend who then introduced me to my now-roommate. The person at the tailgate asked for my number and then showed me the sandwich place. The boy sitting in the row behind me at a football game introduced me to many of my current friends. The person that is friends with the band showed me the best way to view the city skyline. All of these characters, major and minor, showed me how to be more spontaneous, how to be a better listener, how to be more generous, and how to forgive.

And in the moment, it was so life-changing.

Graphic by Amani Ahmad

Many of the people I had met during my first year in Austin deserve their own ode: to all the characters I started my new life with but was not ending the chapter with. It wasn’t that we ended the chapter without one another out of spite, but it was because sometimes you have to grow, and you have to sorrowfully realize that there are times when we unknowingly confine the growth of another. When all of these people gracefully fizzled out of my life, my legs were dry from the cold. My legs were no longer swollen with pink dots; now they were just turning into scabs.

I realized that the first time I had driven this route in August (I-10 through El Paso, then Phoenix, then Palm Springs), I was wide-eyed and had so many caterpillars in my tummy. Now, it was May, and I was retracing my steps, and the caterpillars still seemed to be hibernating in their cocoons. (Do you think I should check on them soon?) I went home emotionally turbulent, and I arrived in California with a murky sight of myself. At home, I received lectures about self-love, vitamins, and sleep.

Then, I blink. It’s August again. The thought of going back to Austin puts a pit in my chest. Who was I going to end up being this year? I loved the city, but I was hesitant to admit that I did not love the person I was when I was in Austin anymore. Is it going to be another year in a slump? Will there be more awkward eye contact in elevators? Will I memorize the cracks in the sidewalk this time around? I couldn’t fathom how it was ever going to feel new again.

So I overpack my car and drive.

I get back to Texas again. I forgot how hot it was. Hot in a hug kind of way, enveloping me. I see my friends again. I smell the piss-scented asphalt again. I stare at the Capitol Building and UT Tower again. I see the stray black cats again. It’s nice to be back, but I still feel hazy, searching for something to ground me and be tangible. I need to find a way to make this experience feel brighter and more lively with the juvenile wide-eyed lens I had the year before.

Graphic by Amani Ahmad

And then I go to my bathroom, and there’s a fucking mosquito bite.

So now I have to scratch again, and I indent an ‘x’ with my fingernails. I scour for the bug spray in my boxes. I rub the Benadryl cream  —  a whiff so sour but also so familiar. It brings me back to last August. The little scars of white circles on my ankles from the year before wave back at me. Now I am in this August. It’s only exciting if you make it exciting. Creating and healing this version of self, becoming a recognizable figure in the universes of others: that is exciting.

So now I reside back in the body that I must love, care for, and look after all over again. A body that is so tender and soulful. And with a sigh of relief, I realize that, for what it’s worth, the mosquitoes are still not bored of me yet. ■

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