The itch next door

On the underside of my son’s wrist was a raised red rash, like a worm buried in the flesh. He kept pressing his arm to his side so he couldn’t run normally or carry his cars or—hell’s coming!—play Wii freely.

The weekend doctor prescribed anitbiotics for an infection. Then the worm jumped onto his abdomen, streaking up his ribs and mottling his chest and belly. A scratch formed, fingernail wide, down his whole buttcheek. 5 days later, with the antibiotics doing nothing, the other doctor—the dismissive dick we’ve grown accustomed to—diagnosed it as “some kind of chemical from a plant, like poison ivy, poison oak etc.”

But how, Dr. Dick? It’s been a month since we hiked through the deep forests of the Alleghenies; a month since the boy ran free range like a chicken in five wooded acres at his Nona’s; and his swim camp in a heavily chlorinated pool at a heavily fertilized park? Nope. Something in the house?  We scoured the basement, pitched the splitting wicker baskets that held his toys, and racked our brains for where it came from. It’s hard to find an IT when you aren’t sure what IT is.

When we got home from Dr. D, our car scraped the wild brush growing over our driveway from the rear of our neighbor’s house. Because she lives on the corner she doesn’t have a backyard. Instead the six-foot swath between the back of her house and our driveway is an unsuburban thicket of weeds, pricklies, and dwarf trees. I hadn’t trimmed and weeded the shit because it was on her property and she said apologetically that it was being taken care of. Walking to our side door, my wife veered to the thicket and bent over to dark green plant. “That’s poison ivy,” she said with all the authority of a dozen summer youth camps. Growing alongside a narrow patch of our driveway, like a handful of hastas, was a waxy green plant with the tell tale three-points. “Sticks out like a thumb,” she said, holding her thumb over it. I didn’t need to Google it. I remembered the week prior when the boy fetched a baseball out of that area. Dr. Dick was spot-on.

He prescribed a cream to apply twice a day for ten days. It’s been four and the rash is almost gone. The thicket is almost gone, too. I busted out my four-cycle Ryobi weed wacker for the first time this season (incidentally the first gas-powered tool I have ever owned) and, covered head to toe in jeans and long sleeves in last week’s heat index, clear cut my neighbor’s back yard. Had to respool the whip a half dozen times, filled up three bags, bought a half gallon of poison ivy weed killer. I haven’t sprayed yet because we’re watching my brother’s dog this weekend and because of the kids and our nascent garden we try to limit the pesticides and herbicides. It’s not my yard, though, is it?

It’s not about yards. It’s my kids’ skin. My wife wants to warn our neighbor, who has a dog. I told her its not going to change anything. I’m gonna poison the poison. Gonna build me a fence. That’s the argument for landscaping—to keep the unwanted at bay.


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  1. #1 by Ariana Reason on 11/14/2012 - 3:39 AM

    in our town we have lots of poison ivy plants, the itch and rashes that you get from it is just annoying..

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  2. #2 by Leslie Shaline on 03/24/2013 - 7:41 PM

    Every year, more than 10 million unlucky Americans suffer the itching, swelling and blistering that poison ivy leaves in its wake. This seemingly harmless plant’s oil can travel through the air, be transferred through clothing and can even attack days after you’ve been outside. It’s a tricky little plant that causes pain to nearly everyone in its path..

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