"Ticked Off" by Jamie Kahn


I’m a frequent reader. I have been since I was a little kid. Often, I like to read outside enveloped in the comfort of a warm yet cloudy day, or under the shade of a nice tree. In my teenage summers I often used to ride my bike to an open patch of land in the middle of my neighborhood and read on a beach towel. It was carefree and picturesque.


One day, however, just like any other, I was reading and noticed a tick on my beach towel. I flicked it away, startled, and returned my attention to the book I was reading. Before I knew it, the same thing happened again, and then three times. I felt a shuttering sensation all over my skin as I shot up and began to collect my things. As I picked up my towel, I shook it out for good measure and noticed three more ticks clinging for dear life to the opposite side of my towel. I eventually got them off and let the towel sit alone in my bike basket as a peddled home, frantic and convinced that there must be a tick hiding somewhere on my body. I ran my hands through my hair and gave my arms and legs an unconvincing once-over.


My mind began to race at barreling speeds even as I knew it wasn’t as serious as I feared. I wondered what would happen if I got Lyme disease, or perhaps was poisoned somehow. I pictured myself dropping dead right there in the middle of the road on a calm Sunday, tires of my powder blue bike still turning as it lay on its side adjacent to me. My breathing quickened as I rushed home to have my mom check me more thoroughly for ticks.


As I rushed in the door and spouted my experience, she told me to put the towel outside. I did so, holding it between two fingers as if it were made of toxic waste. She checked me for ticks, combing through my hair and lifting the straps of my tank top briefly. Once she said I was totally fine, I made her do it once more just in case.


There I was, a teenager, sighing in my parents’ kitchen with the relief that I could indeed go on living, as if that weren’t the case ten minutes before. It just makes you think how fragile people can be. We can take down bears and survive in the wild and powerlift our bodyweight and then some at the gym if we want to do those things. We can also be destroyed by ticks or mosquitoes or lightning or getting the wrong kind of sick. We can also be destroyed, even if just for seconds at a time, by how frequently we encounter the possibility of those little things challenging us in our daily lives. But maybe that’s amazing. Maybe there’s something to be said for a species that stares death in the face just about every day, freaks out for a second, and keeps on living until the next time it happens.


Maybe that is amazing. Because one day we’ll all see a beach towel full of ticks or a storm coming or a tidal wave or a cough that isn’t quite right, and we’ll confront it the same way we confronted each one before it. Knowing the worst of the possibilities, and bracing for impact. And until that impact hits, I’ll still be reading outside, but I’ll probably bring a lot more bug spray just in case.