Bedbugs sure is evil, they don’t mean me no good. Yeah, bedbug sure is evil, they don’t mean me no good. Thinks he’s a woodpecker and I’m a chunk of wood.” — Bessie Smith (“Mean Old Bedbug Blues”)

Bedbugs are small and sneaky. Bedbugs do nasty things. Bedbugs are also becoming more common, a trend likely to expand and worsen this spring. But none of this is new, not really. The story of the bedbugs in our lives begins no less than 4,000 years ago. It is a kind of parable about the difference between what we want and what we make. We wanted a realm inside our houses, where we would always be happy and might live forever.

Instead, we made the bedbug, a modern chimera we seem unlikely to ever really escape.

It began innocently. Once we were like the birds. The rain fell on our naked shoulders. The sun beat down on our heads. There was no inside or outside. We built our nests of sticks and mud. Then we moved out of the trees. On the ground, the world was more dangerous. Leopards crouched in the darkness between resting spots, venomous snakes hid under leaves. We sought safety, shade and cover and found them all in caves.

Caves changed the world. In moving into caves, we invented the more constant conditions of the “indoors.” No matter that this particular indoors lacked an actual door, it was still the rough seed of what would come. It was the beginning of our efforts to make the place we lived “better” than everywhere else.

It was when we began to try to find even more favorable conditions for ourselves, to engender them even, that we began the process of making bedbugs from the sticks and mud of natural selection.

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