Minute, our abnormally tiny orange cat, had a flea. Or at least, it looked like it could probably be a flea.
Bear froze. “What is that?” He pointed at her furry forehead. I froze.
“Oh, god. It’s a bug.”
I moved stealthily toward the unsuspecting cat, who was eyeing the chicken on the table. I kept my voice soothing: “It’s okay, Minute…It’s okay…”
She looked at me like she already knew that.
We didn’t catch the flea, but I had suspicious bites on my ankles in the morning.
“Oh, god. We’re infested.”
I took Minute to the vet. The vet said she didn’t see any evidence of fleas. We got into this conversation about living in New York, and she was young and cool and I wished that we could become friends but had no idea how to make that happen so I played it cool and pretended I had to get going so that she wouldn’t be the first one to say she should stop talking and get back to work.
Anyway, it turns out that we can never be friends, because she’s the one who gave me the pesticide that is going to kill me.
And Bear. And possibly our future children. Who, even if they escape a devastatingly young death, will probably have severe deformities.
I didn’t know. She told me to hold the bottle about two feet over the floor, and spray everywhere. And then she gave Minute a pill, and put some of that neon gunk on her back.
“What were you thinking?” cried Bear, later that evening, when I casually mentioned that I had saved us from the fleas. “Did you check the bottle? Do you have any idea what is IN that stuff?”
(lots of scary-sounding chemicals, I’m guessing? source)
I had no idea at all. “The vet said…” I said. “She said to spray it!”
“You just poisoned us,” he said, dramatically. Usually he is gentle and calm, but occasionally he is very dramatic (which I always secretly enjoy and then pretend not to).
He seized the bottle and carried it off to his desk, where he set about googling each ingredient individually.
It turned out that we were definitely going to die.
But that was only the beginning.
Our shampoo is killing us.
It’s all killing us.
I had no idea that my entire home is made out of toxic chemicals that have already invaded my every pore and capillary. And the pores and capillaries of the ones I love!
I know now, because we spent the night looking them up.
One website after another. I was running to the shower to pull out body wash and conditioner containers. Oh no. There’s the word “solfate” again. And the ever-ominous “fragrances,” which is sometimes disguised as “parfum.” It used to sound sweet, pretty, if I ever noticed it at all. Now I know it is a thin veil drawn over the grimacing face of death.
I was sounding out words longer than my arm. “Metoxefrom-agisterol-phlemagulated-vaxitronium.” Breath. “Wait– chloride! Don’t forget chloride! Wait– Oh, never mind. This one just means ‘cinnamon.’”
(but do we really know what’s in cinnamon?? source)
And then there are the preservatives in my English muffins. I found myself pleading aloud, “Can I just keep the English muffins?”
And Bear was saying, “We can probably find an alternative—something with less ingredients. Something that will go bad quickly.”
“But I like that they last! That way I don’t have to throw them out and waste them!”
“But isn’t there some rule, about how it’s supposed to go bad or it’s bad for you?”
“Maybe! But they taste good!” Weak. I know. Very weak.
We read about how, if we ever want to have children, I should never have sprayed that pesticide. Bear kept giving me this look that said, “Yup. You did it.” And then we’d both laugh. And then our laughter would begin to have a tinny, nervous quality. And then we’d fall grimly silent and return to the internet.
I didn’t even mention the Entenmanns. A mixed box of donuts that I’d gotten on a joyful whim the day before. The coffee cake ones are the best, and then cider, and then it’s a draw between glazed and chocolate covered. Some of my happiest moments involve those donuts. They dunk perfectly. They are exactly the right size. I like to break off half of one and half of another and alternate dunking them for optimal flavor. An explosion of refined carbohydrates and about thirty types of highly processed sugars that my preservative-addled brain interprets as sheer bliss. I didn’t even want to check the label. I was too embarrassed to even suggest that I should ever consider eating them again, even for a second, even for a bite.
(but…they’re so lovely…source)
Bear was saying something about an air filter. We were on this site that rates all of your household products in terms of how toxic they are and how much cancer they are giving you. We were suddenly ordering a lot of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, with little satisfied smiles. We were feeling like our eyes had been opened and our future children might be born without debilitating disabilities and we were quietly rebelling against a crushingly ignorant mainstream culture. We went to sleep, paranoid and thankful.
In the middle of the night, I woke up, disoriented and hungry. I stumbled into the kitchen. Like an uneducated zombie, I reached for the Entenmanns box. I fumbled it open. I poured myself a glass of milk. (I am very coordinated, for a zombie.) I broke off half of a coffee cake donut, and half of a cider donut, and I dunked them alternatingly, and I—yes—I’m going to say it—I ate them. I ate every bite of them. And, god, they were delicious. I’m sorry, future children. I was even standing near the couch as I ate them. The one with the toxic flame retardant in its foam cushions.
The next morning Bear said, “You know, I think that got a little crazy last night. We can’t freak out too much about this stuff.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I really like our couch.”
We agreed that neither one of us wanted to be paranoid. It’s a bad way to go through life.
When I came home that evening, he was washing all of our pots with Dr. Bronner’s. He brought it with him into the shower after. I think I’ll give it a try today, actually.
It’s amazing how many weird, potentially horrifying chemicals we are regularly exposed to. I’m not convinced that the companies manufacturing them are looking out for our best interests. I’m pretty sure there’s a lot about our world we don’t understand and are too busy to investigate and too apathetic to be passionate about and too tired to deal with and too generally trusting to question.
I’m also pretty sure that Minute the weirdly small orange cat does not have fleas. And that I sprayed that damn pesticide everywhere for nothing. Bear has some suspicious bites on his legs, though. Is it bedbugs? Oh god. Please no. What will we do if it’s bedbugs?
(Minute, picture taken by my friend Lucy)
* * *
Have you ever read about your shampoo on the internet? How careful do you think people should be about this stuff?
Unroast: Today I love the way I look in orange. Yeah, I totally thought that because of writing about Minute. But hey– whatever gets you there.