It was Friday, May 26 when Ariel Esposito-Bernard was vacuuming her son’s bedroom carpet and spotted the first bug.
“Horrified, I scooped it into a baggie and stared at it, praying fervently that God turn it into a grasshopper, a spider, a centipede … really anything except what it was; a bed bug,” the Queens, New York mom later shared on Facebook.
What would follow in the next few days was as frustrating as it was heartbreaking. Esposito-Bernard says she spent hours at the laundry mat, costing her hundreds of dollars. Night after night, the family was forced to throw away “every single thing that could not be boiled or washed and dried on high heat.” (Their curtains even melted in the process.)
But all their work was useless, and through somber words she shared, “it’s all gone.”
Just days after finding the first bug, Esposito-Bernard, her husband Chris, and their sons, 4-year-old Hunter and 19-month-old Sawyer, had lost everything.
“I would like to say I was unaffected as I tossed my records, books, kids toys, furniture, shoes, cards, the kids library, rugs, beds, cribs, bookshelves etc in the trash, because in the end, it is just stuff,” Esposito-Bernard admits, “but I was. I sobbed over my son’s trains as I tried to boil them and melted the entire pot. Chuggingtons mixed with Thomas all melted together, salted with my tears. I sobbed as I tossed the books I spent hours reading the boys.”
In an interview with Babble, Esposito-Bernard explains that she called an exterminator right away, but that “suddenly the week turned into a whirlwind of hell.”
The most disturbing part, she says, is that bed bugs aren’t just hard to find; they’re nearly impossible to get rid of.
“You don’t know where the bugs and eggs are,” she continues. “They are smaller than a grain of rice. They were in between the pages of books, and everything else that we began to inspect. They hide in all the cracks and crevices of the house, and since they don’t just come out to chill, they are nearly impossible to clean, or kill.”
Between the bed bugs themselves and the pesticides that destroyed everything else during the extermination process, the Esposito-Bernard family had said goodbye to nearly everything they owned.
“Eventually we realized we could save nothing,” she says quietly. “We spent hours trying to save my sons’ books, because they were important to us. The memories of reading the books to him; my husband reading to my son before he was born.”
“We were tossing memories,” she relents.
“The photo books, my husband made a huge one for our anniversary, all of the furniture, the kids toys, everything,” Esposito-Bernard continues. “One of the only things I saved was a handwritten book from my brother, which I sealed into a plastic bag with a note that says don’t open until 2019,” she says chuckling. “I want to make sure that all the eggs are dead.”
It’s clear that the mom-of-two has kept her humor through it all. While she may have lost nearly all of her possessions, she did jokingly point out that there are still some things that remain — “a humongous stock pile of melted trains,” for example.
In some ways it’s cathartic, to hear someone in the middle of what many people would consider to be devastating, finding something to smile about.
“It was hard,” she confesses, “My brain kept saying that this is all our stuff; this is everything that we have accumulated. Living in New York, there isn’t room for extra [things], so everything that we have, is very important to us. But, it has also been a cleansing time,” she says, reflecting on what she has learned through the process.
“I have oscillated between losing it and reminding myself it’s just stuff,” Esposito-Bernard shared on Facebook. “My family is healthy and intact. It is a season. It. Is. A. Season. It wasn’t the books or those specific toys we played with that made [them] feel loved. It wasn’t the exact crib we laid the boys in that made them feel safe. It was us. It was our time, our attention and our love that made our home. We will start over. We will build a new home.”
And as she quips to Babble, “at least we won’t have to hire movers when we move into it!”
But jokes aside, the experience has been life-changing for the Esposito-Bernard family, in more ways than one.
“I wrote, what I wrote,” she says of her Facebook post, “because I was trying to make the point that sometimes you have a lot, sometimes you have a little, but none of that is wrapped up in material goods. Right now, we have nothing, but our family is safe and healthy, and everyone that we have ever touched has come around, all at the same time, to stand together with us. And it’s reminding me that we have a lot. It has been breathtaking and incredible, and is a good example of what I want to teach my boys, that life is really about.”
I know a little something about what that’s like myself. After my husband left me and our kids five years ago, I lost nearly everything too, and was even thrust into poverty for a period of time. But in the process, I learned more about myself — and of life — than I ever could have imagined.
Right now, the Esposito-Bernard family has almost nothing left from the life they used to lead; nothing, that is, except for everything that is truly important.
“My son misses his books,” Esposito-Bernard says, “but what he is learning, is that he still has us.”
If you wish to help the Esposito Bernard family build their new future, you can support them through a GoFundMe account that was started by their friends.