I've been trying to identify the culprit responsible for an angry red spot on my back that feels like it's on fire, but it's not as easy as you might think. I can't blame a biting bug that may or may not have entered the picture, and I can't blame my husband's habanero-cutting scissors without blaming myself for marrying a man with an insatiable appetite for habanero peppers. So let's cast a wide net and blame Covid-19. It's already carrying the blame for so many problems--a little more blame won't hurt.
But my back does, and here's why: pandemic teaching has been wiping out my energy and sanity to such an extent that when I realized I didn't have to be on campus today and I don't have any new grading coming in until tomorrow--AND I had to drive an hour north anyway for an appointment in Zanesville--I decided to leave the house early and do some hiking before my appointment. Through heavy fog I made my way to Black Hand Gorge, where a paved bike trail leads through rugged rock formations alongside the Licking River.
For two miles I walked without seeing another soul, and then I sat on a bench for a while and watched a kingfisher swoop and dive in the fog before I picked up my pack and headed back to the parking lot, where a couple of Amish women pulling children in wagons and a group of masked couples speaking an Asian language were just setting off on the trail. For two hours I felt the trail was all mine but of course it belongs to the world.
Then off to my appointment and the long drive home, during which time I kept feeling a tickle in the middle of my back, as of some multi-legged creature creeping around under my shirt. Not much I could do about it at the time, although I suppose I could have flagged down the state patrol car behind me and asked the nice young man to look inside my shirt and see if I had a tick on my back.
Probably a bad idea.
And when I got home I was so appalled by the mess on the front porch that I set right to work sweeping, knocking down spider webs, and washing windows, and then there was a kitchen to clean, and there I stood with a hand full of cleaning rags when the tickle started up on my back again.
In an ideal world, of course, I'd have a person on staff whose sole purpose would be to look for ticks on my back after I come in from the woods, but dream on! I just wanted the tickling to stop, so I grabbed the nearest long-handled object and stuck it down my shirt to try to rub whatever it was off my back.
It took only seconds to realize that this was a really bad idea, and the first clue was when I started tasting habanero peppers. I was rubbing my back with the kitchen scissors my husband uses whenever he makes a sandwich, because he believes no sandwich is complete until he grabs a whole habanero pepper from the freezer, cuts it into strips, and places them on the sandwich, which to my mind ruins a perfectly good sandwich but nobody's asking me.
Now I don't mind habaneros in small doses--maybe one habanero to a crock-pot of chili, and I have to wear gloves when I cut them up--but contact with whatever habanero oil remained on those scissors made my back burn and turn bright red.
I never found a bug on my back, but my attempt to find it made everything worse for a while. I wanted to yell some choice words at someone, but with no bug to stomp and no tick-remover to berate whom could I blame? It's simply not that satisfying to yell at a pair of scissors. So I'm blaming the virus that made my job so demanding that I have to flee for the woods for solace. It may not do any good to throw a pair of scissors toward an invisible virus, but just for a moment, it made my anger burn a little less hot.