Ticks in the Hedgerows

By AMANDA M. FAIRBANKS

Image of person running into grove

Last May, having exhausted all possible local options, my husband and I got into our car and drove one hundred miles west. We left home early that morning in search of two specific things: better medical care and a definitive diagnosis.

During that first drive into Manhattan, we held hands. Almost ten years into our marriage, it’s something we rarely do anymore — and certainly not for prolonged periods of time. Looking back now, I was holding on for dear life. 

For months, my then thirty-nine-year-old brain had felt encased in a thick, soupy, impenetrable fog. It was almost as if I couldn’t see straight.

A chiropractor diagnosed me with adrenal fatigue.

A nurse practitioner diagnosed me with an underactive thyroid.

A rheumatologist, after a cursory review of the basic lab work the chiropractor and the nurse practitioner had ordered, suggested that I consult a psychiatrist.

A neurologist, who came recommended, couldn’t see me for three months.

Ten minutes into my first appointment with Dr. Katherine Falk, an integrative psychiatrist who practices out of her apartment on the Upper East Side, she reviewed the same labs I had shared with the aforementioned medical professionals. Dr. Falk cut right to the chase: “Given where you live, I think you might have Lyme disease.”

It’s entirely possible that one sentence saved my life.

As my husband circled the block, looking for a place to park, Dr. Falk went on to say that she didn’t treat Lyme and that I needed to find a skilled specialist who did — and fast. The first name on her list had a year-long waiting list. Another charged upwards of $2,000 for a single consult. During the two-hour drive home, I discovered that few of the recommended providers took insurance. I went in search of a new type of physician I never even knew existed: a Lyme-literate medical doctor.

In the meantime, Dr. Falk ordered more blood work than I’ve ever had drawn in my life. One test that checked for tick-borne diseases needed to be mailed overnight — nestled between two ice packs — to a lab in New Jersey. A second specialized lab sent a technician directly to my house to draw another dozen vials. The next morning, after fasting for twelve hours, a phlebotomist in nearby East Hampton, holding ten vials of freshly drawn blood in her hand, gently asked what was wrong with me.

“I wish I knew,” I said.

A few weeks after seeing Dr. Falk, a friend texted me that he had finagled a last-minute appointment with Dr. Benjamin Asher, an ear, nose and throat specialist who practices integrative medicine. Over the years, as the disease has become more prevalent, Lyme has become one of Dr. Asher’s sub-specialties.

In early June, I made a second pilgrimage into Manhattan. This time, my mother assumed the role of chaperone. She kept silent vigil, as fearful as I’d ever seen her, at the corner of the room. Unlike other trips into the city, we weren’t planning to grab lunch or see a show. I was in as bewildering and dark a place as I had ever been. 

My mother had escorted me into the city because I could no longer make sense of the Hampton Jitney schedule. I was unable to comprehend the time necessary to travel from Sag Harbor to 40th Street and Third Avenue; and most vexing to me at the time, how to get from midtown down to Dr. Asher’s office in Chelsea.

Though we now live year-round in Sag Harbor, located on the easternmost tip of Long Island, about two hours from Manhattan, I am a city slicker. For more than a decade, the city was home. My inability to comprehend familiar geography was a giant red flag, among so many.

“Your illness is trying to tell you something,” Dr. Asher said at our first appointment, as I laid face up on a massage table with my eyes closed. His hands gently manipulated my sore, swollen neck. “Are you listening?”

A river of tears started rolling down my cheeks until the collar of my shirt was soaking wet. At that moment, I could barely make sense of what he was trying to tell me. I wrote it down in my notebook, and filed it away for a later date.

***

“Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick,” Susan Sontag wrote in “Illness as Metaphor” in 1978. “Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”

It turns out that I had been residing in “that other place” for quite some time.

Dr. Asher was right. My illness was trying to tell me something. It was forcing me to pay attention. When I did — when I truly stopped and took stock of things — it felt like my life had finally caught up with me. 

In the span of seven years, I had given birth to two children, moved houses five separate times — from Manhattan to Sag Harbor, from Sag Harbor to Northern California, and back to New York again. Shortly after moving back East in August of 2018, I started a small co-working business in Sag Harbor alongside two close friends. A longtime journalist, last February, I handed in the first draft of The Lost Boys of Montauk, my first nonfiction book, to my editor at Simon & Schuster.

A month after handing in my manuscript, my thoughts and disposition went from gray to pitch black. March came in like a lion. It’s a sensation entirely familiar to anyone who has battled depression, as I have, from time to time. But this sensation felt altogether different from the postpartum depression I suffered following the birth of my daughter. This time, it felt like a wave had overtaken me and I couldn’t make it back up to the surface in time to catch my breath.

A lifelong athlete, my runs grew unbearably tiresome. Still, I kept going, I kept pushing, waiting for the familiar rush of endorphins to again flood my nervous system. But none of my old standbys worked their magic.

My symptoms were all from the neck up. My joints never ached. My knees never swelled up like balloons. 

My short-term memory started to crack. I would interview someone on a Tuesday and have no recollection of having spoken to them by Friday. I kept leaving my keys in odd places — the refrigerator, the pantry, the car. When reading books aloud to my seven-year-old son and four-year-old daughter, I started stumbling over the words. I could read the words; I knew the words; but I was having trouble pronouncing them.

Only a few weeks prior, I had been a functioning member of society. Maybe writing my first book had done me in? Like most journalists, I love interviewing people and chasing down a good, meaty story; writing 75,000 words, however, proved far more solitary and much more complicated than I had anticipated. The story had grown messy and convoluted. As the truth came to light, one of my primary sources, without whose cooperation the book wouldn’t have come into being, refused to return my calls. Another source threatened a lawsuit.

It was time to slow down. Maybe what I needed was just a few weeks of rest.

But even twelve hours of sleep left me feeling unbearably fatigued. Maybe what I had was a mood disorder? I made an appointment to see my old psychiatrist, who put me back on Lexapro. When my tried-and-true SSRI didn’t work, she took me off the Lexapro and tried new, different combinations (Wellbutrin, Prozac, Lithium). Two months later, with absolutely no change in my mood, she suggested, somewhat casually, that an underlying source of inflammation was to blame.

“When was the last time you had some blood drawn?” she asked.

Good question, doctor. It had been awhile.

I’ll never forget the night when my two business partners emailed me a series of simple requests. I was getting ready to put my children to sleep, and I went to my mother, tears streaming down my face. I showed her our Slack exchange and explained that I couldn’t make sense of what they were asking me to do.

The person who was a Type-A personality felt like someone I could no longer access. Who was this new, sick person who had taken up residence inside my body? And when would she leave?

I started spending as much time as possible in bed. While my husband worked, I relied on my mother and father (but mostly my mother) to keep our family afloat — whether through home-cooked meals, endless loads of laundry, or shuttling our children to and from school.

A simple outing, or the rare dinner party invitation that I didn’t immediately decline, meant days in bed recovering afterwards. Phone calls from friends went unreturned. The second draft of my manuscript sat untouched. Deadlines came and went. This essay would have been impossible to write.

Each day felt interminable. If I wasn’t in bed, I was on the couch. I learned the careful art of setting aside precisely enough energy for the after-school hours, when I pretended to act like some former version of myself. But my children saw right through my thinly veiled façade. My husband and mother exchanged worried glances. I was fooling no one.

***

One of the many complications with Lyme is the difficulty around diagnosis. The tests that do exist aren’t searching for the B. burgdorferi spirochete in your blood because the technology to do so hasn’t been invented yet. Instead, the tests detect the presence of antibodies your body has produced in response to Lyme-specific bacteria.

To further complicate matters, antibodies take several weeks to develop, making early detection all but impossible. And just as there is no biomarker that quickly and definitively tells patients they have Lyme disease, there is no test that can tell the same patient when they are no longer sick.

My initial test results followed a typically perplexing trajectory. One test from the Stony Brook Southampton Hospital Laboratory showed that I was positive for three Lyme-specific bands; a second test from the same lab, taken a month later, showed four positive bands. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when diagnosing Lyme, currently requires five positive bands from a specific pattern of antibodies.

Finally, the results from Medical Diagnostic Laboratories in New Jersey were back. 

“Lyme is positive,” Dr. Falk wrote in the subject line of an email.

My pulse quickened.

I scrolled through the seven-page document she had attached. This test showed that I was negative for several tick-borne co-infections: bartonella, babesia, ehrlichia, and rickettsia. But I had six positive IgG bands (93, 66, 58, 41, 39, 18). IgM antibodies indicate recent exposure; IgG antibodies suggest a longer-term infection. Clear as day, typed in bold caps at the bottom of the report: “IGG CDC POS.” 

At long last, I had a diagnosis. More tears. On the one hand, I knew what was wrong with me. On the other hand, as I had recently discovered, there was no standard protocol, and certainly no silver bullet, for what worked in terms of treatment.

Lyme is fairly straightforward when you’ve just pulled a blacklegged tick off your body or a trademark bull’s-eye rash appears on your skin. Two to three weeks of doxycycline generally does the trick.

But things grow far more complicated in terms of treatment when you’ve had it for some time. My infection likely began with a weird rash I had on my ankle the August before last.

We had just moved back to the East End, and were in the middle of unpacking our boxes, when I woke up with a raised, oval-shaped, red rash, unlike anything I had ever seen before. The evening prior, we had attended a fundraiser for my daughter’s nursery school. Our family had stood on a bluff in Springs, covered in thick patches of sea grass, overlooking the Long Island Sound. It was a warm, pastel-skied evening and I wore a summer dress and bare legs, never in a million years thinking that knee-high rubber boots would have been a safer choice. 

A doctor at a nearby urgent care said that the rash looked suspicious and prescribed two weeks of doxycycline, just in case. Another physician said it was likely an allergic reaction from the overgrowth of algae at a nearby bay beach, where I had recently been swimming every afternoon with my children. He suggested that I skip the unnecessary round of antibiotics altogether.

Reader: I didn’t take the antibiotics. If only I could rewind the tape.

A Los Angeles native, I grew up with a healthy fear of earthquakes and wildfires. Despite my many years on the East Coast, the idea that a solitary tick bite could upend my health was an altogether foreign concept.

The rash that circled my ankle eventually disappeared (and I completely forgot about it), until a Lyme-literate medical doctor, when reviewing my medical history, asked if I had had any tick bites or mysterious rashes in recent memory. (A Lyme-literate medical doctor, or LLMD, is familiar with the vast range of symptoms that may indicate infection at various stages of Lyme disease, as well as potential coinfections and other complexities.)

Over the intervening ten months, an invisible infection had started to rage — one that my immune system valiantly tried to conquer until I couldn’t ignore the symptoms any longer.

***

In our new home on the eastern end of Long Island, Lyme disease is inescapable. A  local dermatologist friend recently described the Hamptons as akin to living in malarial regions of Africa before the advent of quinine and mosquito nets. Behind the manicured hedgerows, lurked something far more sinister.

In moving from Northern California to Sag Harbor, where we had just poured our life savings into a house located in a top-tier public school district, had we unknowingly put our family’s health in jeopardy? Or, is this simply the new normal, as our climate changes at warp speed?

This past fall, three thousand miles from here, Mill Valley, California (where we last called home) experienced weeklong power outages as a precautionary measure for preventing wildfires. During a visit the year prior, a nearby fire had rendered the air quality so poor that people were going about their lives (going grocery shopping, or to pilates class) wearing surgical masks. Walking through Mill Valley’s familiar downtown felt post-apocalyptic.

Whenever the power went out, our friends posted pictures on Instagram (when they could get Wi-Fi) of candlelit dinners. A hot shower was no longer a luxury to be taken for granted. And seemingly every time I checked Facebook, friends in Northern and Southern California had marked themselves safe from the latest wildfire (the Kincade Fire; the Getty Fire) that rages, unextinguished, just a bit too close to home.

“The West Coast has earthquakes, the heartland has tornadoes, the South has hurricanes, and in New England, our natural disaster is Lyme disease,” Kevin Esvelt, an evolutionary biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in an interview on Patient Zero, a seven-part podcast about Lyme disease. But unlike brush fires and earthquakes, Lyme disease is a more stealth (practically microscopic) predator. Keep in mind, I never even pulled a tick off my body.

The South Fork of Long Island is an undeniable hot spot. Last summer, I couldn’t walk into a child’s birthday party, casually mention my recent Lyme diagnosis, and not encounter another parent or caregiver similarly afflicted. We’re everywhere. On Instagram, #lymedisease and #lymewarrior have a combined number of more than 500,000 posts.

According to The New York Times, in the summer of 1982, there were 200 reported cases of Lyme. In 1987, a story quoted Dr. Bernard Berger of Southampton: ”I absolutely believe we’re approaching an epidemic. There are certain areas like Montauk, Shelter Island and North Haven where it’s not unusual to have at least one member of the family contract Lyme disease.” By 1989, the number of nationwide cases had swelled to 4,600.

“Through the 1980’s and 1990’s, the cases mounted, with more than 120,000 cases of Lyme disease reported to the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” wrote Andrew C. Revkin in a New York Times story that ran in 1999. “Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey have the highest per capita rates of Lyme disease in the country, but even within those states, hot spots are tightly focused in counties where deer, mice, people, and ticks coexist most intimately.”

Jeffrey W. Hammond, a public information officer with the New York State Department of Health, shared with me provisional data from 2018, sorted by county. Statewide, there were 6,567 cases of Lyme disease in New York State. Dutchess County, with 693 cases, topped the list. Orange County, with 552 cases, came in second. (Duchess and Orange Counties border the Hudson River, to the east and the west, respectively.) Suffolk County (on Long Island, where I live) came in third, at 476.

And it’s not merely an epidemic confined to only the Northeast. Hours after being diagnosed, an Ivy League-educated chiropractor friend in Northern California, who treats not an insignificant amount of Lyme disease among her patients, recommended that I get on the waiting list of an Idaho-based chiropractor who claims to cure Lyme using only magnets and supplements. After calling, I discovered a six-month-long waiting list; the cost was $3,000 (a real bargain in the world of untested and unscientific Lyme treatments, I soon discovered).

Another Massachusetts-based chiropractor claims to cure Lyme using laser therapy. As I scrolled through powerful online testimonials, fueled by my desperation to feel well again and the terrifying stories I heard about people who had taken antibiotics and still felt sick, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was actually some truth behind these snake oil salesmen.

Here on the South Fork, a mother with three young sons swore by a strict diet (no gluten, no sugar, no dairy), daily coffee enemas, and thrice-weekly sessions in the far-infrared sauna she had recently purchased (retail price: $5,000). A friend of my husband’s had undergone more than a year of IV antibiotics, while my therapist had great results after her physician husband administered biweekly shots of intramuscular penicillin. Meanwhile, a local painter achieved what he describes as “total remission” following the near-daily use of a something called a Rife machine, a device that delivers electromagnetic frequency into various parts of the body. Proponents claim that it treats various conditions (cancer, autism, AIDS). In the early 1990s, the American Cancer Society reported that Rife machines, which cost thousands of dollars, were being sold in a “pyramid-like multilevel marketing scheme.”

The alternative treatment options, none of which insurance covers, didn’t stop there. The Medical Medium recommended a daily, sixteen-ounce glass of freshly-squeezed celery juice, taken on an empty stomach. Posters in the Reddit community devoted to Lyme and other tick-borne diseases that I compulsively started reading, kept mentioning Disulfiram (a drug commonly prescribed to treat alcoholism) or pulsing a cocktail of three separate antibiotics to kill off persistent bacteria. Meanwhile, others had eschewed antibiotics entirely and instead wrote glowingly about herbal approaches: the Buhner protocol, the Cowden Support Program, and Dr. Zhang’s protocol.

The permutations were maddeningly endless.

Secondhand, I heard that another Lyme sufferer, after completing a long course of antibiotic therapy, only felt true relief after she hired a young gentleman to accompany her on a cross-country road trip. Some alchemy of the stranger’s company and the open road finally brought her back to life. 

Meanwhile, both online and in real life, I kept coming into contact with individuals who had taken antibiotics — often multiple rounds — and still felt sick. This separate category of “chronic Lyme” or “post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome” (which many physicians deny the existence of altogether) struck the fear of God in me.

At my first appointment with Dr. Asher, I asked him how long it would take to start feeling like myself again. He said that it was impossible to quantify, but that given the duration of my infection, I was probably looking at somewhere between three to six months of treatment — and possibly upwards of a year.

Diagnosis in hand, I did what most journalists would do: I became an expert. My Amazon cart soon overflowed with more books about Lyme disease and chronic illness than I could possibly read. Healing Lyme. Bitten. The Alchemy of Illness. Why Can’t I Get Better? How Can I get Better?

Six weeks into treatment, feeling worse than ever before, Dr. Asher rightly advised me to power down my laptop and stop reading horror stories on the internet. Healing from neurological Lyme disease, he explained, was as much a psychological battle as a physical one. He calls it recovering from the “Lyme trauma vortex.”

Like many chronic illnesses, Lyme diagnoses can be difficult to determine. The treatment that follows is often harsh and unpredictable. And what works for one patient doesn’t necessarily work for another.

With the help of Louise Reiner, a skilled therapist forty years my senior, I learned for the first time in my life how to mother myself. If it provided some measure of relief —  and we could afford it — I tried it. I went floating in a sensory-deprivation tank for ninety-minutes at a stretch. I went for regular acupuncture and body work. I recommitted to my meditation and yoga practice as if my life depended on it.

My career, for a period of some months, was on hold. My husband is an academic. His job thankfully affords a greater degree of flexibility than most, though as our family’s primary breadwinner, it was essential that he continue to work. My mother, my father, and our beloved babysitter banded together; they picked up the extra slack.     

About a month into taking doxycycline (eventually prescribed at such a high dose that the I had to wear gloves when driving to protect my hands from the intensity of the summer sun), on a morning when I thought I was feeling well enough, I cracked open my laptop. My manuscript had sat untouched since February.   

Three months after handing in the first draft to my editor, she sent along her feedback. The second draft didn’t merely require the addition of a few semi-colons and the rearrangement of a few paragraphs. A structural overhaul was in order.

I printed out her comments and kept toggling between her edits and my manuscript. Not only was I unable to decipher her suggestions, I couldn’t identify with the person who had written these hundreds of pages in the first place. I ran downstairs to our office, where my husband was working, with tears in my eyes.

“What’s going on?” my husband asked me.

“I can’t make sense of my book,” I said. 

“You’re still really sick,” he reassured me. “You’re going to have to put that away until you feel better.”

I glanced over at the calendar, which hung on the wall directly opposite. If I were to stay on the schedule we had agreed upon when I first signed the contract, the second draft would need to be completed by summer’s end. It was already July.

I felt like an abysmal failure. It would mean that the book’s publication would be delayed by another year. My editor subsequently removed it from the summer 2020 lineup. The uncertain future — the book, my health — hung in the balance.   

I put my laptop away, this time for good. My identity as a writer, as a wife, as a mother, all shifted to the distant periphery. I kept repeating the same sentence (sometimes out loud and sometimes in my head): I will be well again.

***

“If people were bitten during the summer, they will most likely start feeling the effects in the fall,” Tapp Francke, a holistic nutritionist who runs STANDWellness in nearby Water Mill, explained to me. Now symptom-free, after having battled chronic Lyme disease for several years, Ms. Francke is well-versed, both personally and professionally, in all things tick-related.

“The tick’s happy place is this cool, damp time,” she said, of the late fall, when I interviewed her. “You should be taking as many precautions now as you were during the summer.” Ms. Franke believes that part of healing from Lyme is not just about killing off the infection, but strengthening the immune system so that the spirochete is less likely to wreak havoc. Still, no matter the season, she remains hypervigilant, with both herself and her children, checking for ticks all the way through the first frost — and even slightly beyond.

I now view the natural world through an altered lens. Foraging for mushrooms or hiking in the nearby woods seems a fool’s errand.

But where, exactly, is safe?

In late September, my family went to Atlantic Avenue Beach in Amagansett for a swim. The ocean was still unseasonably warm. Another family had brought along a photographer to take some pictures. At the photographer’s urging, the mother, the father, and the two children, all attired in their Sunday best, headed straight for the sea grass. No one wore rubber boots or trousers tucked into long white socks. Public caution signs weren’t posted.

“Should I go over there and say something?” I asked my husband, unable to look away, as the two young children started somersaulting up and down the sandy bluff. All I could see were the invisible family of blacklegged ticks looking for their next blood meal.

As for me, after three months of doxycycline, and six months into an herbal protocol, I can feel myself coming back to myself.

Healing isn’t a linear process, as I’ve come to discover, but I am feeling better and stronger. I’ll never be sure if it was the antibiotics, the supplements, the affirmations, or the eventual strength of my own immune system (or all of it combined) that worked.

As someone who had never suffered from an illness that a week or two of antibiotics didn’t cure, I have a newfound appreciation — genuine, hard-won gratitude — for my health.

Now, whenever Theo and Violet come home with the assortment of viruses that plague school-aged children, I pay close attention to how my own immune system responds. It’s nothing revolutionary, but instead of ignoring a scratchy throat and plowing ahead by drinking more caffeine, I see it as a reminder to slow down. I eat better. I take hot baths. I go to bed even earlier than I normally do.

In recent months, this illness has continued to shape shift. Lately, it has morphed into my greatest teacher: That without our health, we have nothing at all.

***

And yet, the trauma — and the psychological and emotional residue of the illness — lives now in me and is something I’ve unconsciously passed along to my children.

“Is this the water with your herbs?” my daughter, Violet, still asks me, when reaching for a sip from my water bottle.

“Does this mean you don’t have Lyme anymore?” my son, Theo, wants to know, eying the array of supplements that line our kitchen countertop like plastic soldiers readying for a battle of unknown duration. 

“Good question,” I say, choking back a fistful of supplements, followed by bitter-tasting tinctures, three times a day, willing it to be true. The herbal protocol I’ve followed for the past six months helps boost my immune system, reduce inflammation, and repair the intestinal damage that three months of antibiotics wrought.

Well into the fall, my husband and I continued performing nightly tick checks on both children. Each freckle and mole — their unique constellations and configurations — have become seared into our memory banks. As spring turns to summer, the evening ritual will start soon again.

Last September, shortly before school started, just after their nightly bath, I combed over every square inch of my son’s tanned skin. “Stay here for just a minute,” I said, trying to minimize the look of panic that spread across my face. I raced downstairs to grab my tweezers.

“Do I have a tick? Do I have Lyme?” my son asked, without skipping a beat.   

With one swift movement, I pulled the tick out of his skin and deposited it into a Ziploc bag, as Dr. Asher had instructed me to do. The tick was practically microscopic. It was no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence.

I reached for my phone and filled out an order form at www.tickreport.com, paid the $50 fee, and the next morning, mailed the tick to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, which runs the Laboratory of Medical Zoology.

“We’ve been sending a lot of ticks off to this lab,” confirmed the clerk at the UPS store in Sag Harbor, as he handed me my receipt. “Good luck.”

Less than forty-eight hours later, an email arrived, indicating that the test results were complete. I clicked on the link.

Species: Amblyomma americanum (Lone Star tick)

Sex: Unknown

Stage: Nymph

Feeding State: Partially Fed

Lyme, Anaplasma phagocytophilium, Borrelia lonestari, Rickettsia rickettsii, Ricksettsia philipii, Rickettskia parkeri, Franciella tularenis, Ehrlichia chaffeensis, Ehrlichia ewingii: Negative.

I breathed an audible sigh of relief.

That is, until a few days later, when a friend, whose husband has a severe meat allergy, casually explained that lone star ticks, while negative for Lyme, can transmit a sugar molecule called alpha-gal. Once a lone star tick bites its host, “in some people, this triggers an immune system reaction that later produces mild to severe allergic reactions when they eat red meat,” the Mayo Clinic reports. Signs and symptoms of an alpha-gal allergic reaction include: hives, swelling, abdominal pain, and anaphylactic shock.

A story in The East Hampton Star, a local newspaper where I formerly worked, explained that over the past twenty years, the number of lone star ticks has exploded. Though previously concentrated in Montauk, at the easternmost tip of Long Island, lone star ticks have spread across much of the North and South Forks — with experts uncertain whether the proliferation of deer, white-footed mice, or changes in the climate are to blame.

I’m historically not a paranoid person. Prior to this illness, I played things pretty fast and loose. I’m learning that trauma can make us hypersensitive to threats that previously wouldn’t have registered as something worth worrying about.

For a period of some months, when we went out to eat and my son ordered a cheeseburger, I watched him like a hawk.

Nowadays, I don’t go about my life in a state of extreme alert, exactly. Come summertime, you won’t find me covered in a thick layer of Permethrin. I will still wear open-toed Birkenstock sandals, though rubber boots are probably a safer bet. But you certainly won’t find me traipsing through the sea grass.

So far, so good.

All is well. All is well. All is well.

Amanda M. Fairbanks is a journalist who has worked in the editorial department of The New York Times, as a higher education reporter for The Huffington Post, and as a staff writer at The East Hampton Star. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Newsweek, The Atlantic, and The San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications. Fairbanks is currently writing her first nonfiction book, to be published by Gallery Books in 2021— The Lost Boys of Montauk: A True Story of The Wind Blown, Four Men Who Vanished at Sea, and the Survivors They Left Behind.

Photo by Unsplash user Annie Spratt.

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