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Seek and Destroy This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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I crawl into bed after midnight with no energy. My hands are dry from being washed fifty times, my neck aches, and I'm cold from my wet, freshly shampooed hair. I spent the last twenty minutes using half a bottle of shampoo and my fingernails to rub my scalp raw. Each time I rinsed my hair, my paranoia would rise up again. I repeated the lather and rinse cycle over and over. After today, I feared there was no way I could avoid having lice.

When the hot water ran out, I performed one last rinse and prayed it was enough. Now, as I close my eyes, I can still see what I stared at all day: nits. They are there on imaginary hair waiting to be pulled off with my fingernails. I cannot even escape these parasites in sleep. They invade my dreams.

Fifteen hours earlier I sat waiting for the kids to arrive at camp. Every staff member had an assigned area, whether luggage check, nametag making, or cabin groupings. Some staff were getting ready to paint nails or play soccer with the kids. Meanwhile, those of us on lice check prayed. While we ought to have been praying that these kids find Jesus while they're here, we instead sent petitions to God that we would not find lice.

The children arrived in white Salvation Army vans without sleeping bags or shampoo. They came in groups of four or five to get their heads checked for lice. Every boy and girl, every greasy or clean head, was thoroughly inspected.

Because my job was to treat any lice that were found, I sat waiting, hoping that with some crazy luck no kids would have them. That small hope died when a dark-haired girl walked uncertainly through the curtains. Her name was Amber, she was nine, and the veil of dark hair falling to her shoulders concealed hundreds of nits that would take the rest of the day to pull out. I sat across from her, looked into her eyes, and said, “I'm afraid that you have lice.”

Tears welled up in her eyes “Will I have to go home?” she asked in a way that implied that going home would be equivalent to returning to earth after seeing heaven.

Her tears tugged at my heart. “Don't worry. We won't send you home. We can treat you for lice right here. Then you can continue with camp like everyone else.”

Amber's eyes brightened and she smiled with all the joy of a child on Christmas morning. She didn't care that she had lice as long as she got to stay.

We went into the bathroom where I applied the special lice-killing shampoo to her hair. The smell burned my nose, but we had to let it soak in for ten minutes. While we waited, Amber told me she had moved from Las Vegas to live with her dad. The two of them were currently staying in a homeless shelter. She had been sent to camp by the shelter. We kept talking while I rinsed her hair.

As her hair began to dry, I moved into the next phase of lice treatment: nit removal. Each egg is attached with glue to a strand of hair. The glue is so strong that combs are ineffective and gloves hinder efficiency. The only tools I used were my fingernails. Over and over, I pinched the nits between my fingers and pulled. It hurt Amber's head, but it had to be done. Pausing for a moment, I found dozens of nits stuck under my nails.

After the first hour, paranoia set in. My head started itching and it never stopped. I couldn't scratch it without risking spreading the lice to ­myself. More kids and staff members filled the bathroom, so we were crammed together. Too many of them had lice, and my head was in dire need of a scratch. I looked down at my shirt and saw a bug crawling on it. Who's to say there wasn't one crawling in my hair? My stomach heaved as I stepped outside; there were simply too many lice in that room.

Some of the bugs in Amber's hair hadn't died. I groaned inwardly, knowing what that meant. We would have to use mayonnaise to finish off the lice. When the gallon jar was opened, the overpowering stench of mayonnaise filled the stuffy bathroom. However, the smell was nothing compared to the feeling of putting my hand into the cold, gooey condiment and pulling out a massive glob. I fought my gag reflex and Amber cringed while I coated every inch of her hair in mayo. We wrapped it up with plastic wrap and covered the whole mess with a beanie.

For the next six hours we waited for the bugs to suffocate. Then I shampooed Amber's hair again and got back to work combing out the remaining nits. By 10 p.m. she couldn't keep her head up. By 11 my eyes were drooping as I finally reached the nape of her neck. I silently prayed for strength for both of us. At last, Amber was ready for a final check and I was free to go.

I wanted nothing more than to collapse onto my bed, but my itchiness demanded that I get my nit-covered clothes into a drier and myself into the shower. As I attacked my head with shampoo, I remembered all the crawling bugs, some older and brown, some young and white. But that wasn't all that filled my thoughts. I pictured little Amber and her bright smile, trusting attitude, and energetic excitement. How could I not love her after she told me I was her best friend?

Even now, with my sore back, dripping hair, and chapped hands, I find myself smiling. Tomorrow morning Amber will be at breakfast with her new cabin mates learning camp songs because I took the time to care for her. Even more encouraging will be seeing her in chapel services. Maybe she will even commit her life to Christ during this week at camp. Sure it wasn't fun, but Amber was worth it.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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RealisticWoman said...
Dec. 12, 2011 at 6:05 pm:
When I had the knowledge that there were lice in my hair, I felt so unclean! I just thought about it all the time. But when my mom successfully claimed all the lice and squashed them, especially the females, I had a sense of relief so good. But I also eyed my pillows and sheets...
 
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otherpoet said...
Dec. 10, 2011 at 11:52 pm:
i had lice when i was little, hated it! i would always feel dirty. this story was very well written!
 
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