from bedbugs and tears to constructing a profession

from bedbugs and tears to constructing a profession

My move to Australia got off to a bad start. My parents were going to sell my childhood home and move to another country a few months after I left the northern hemisphere for the south, so my possessions faced an ultimatum. Everything has to go – to Australia or in the bin. There was no third option.

Determined to beat the airline-imposed 23-pound limit, I figured out what I felt was the perfect way to play the system: Just carry everything on the plane. Then I’d have enough weight to carry my collection of original Broadway cast CDs and an ugly bathrobe, which I have an unreasonable attachment to. I was dressed in tights, leggings, sweatpants, and baggy jeans, along with several singlets, long-sleeved shirts, a couple of jackets, and a winter coat.

We went to St Kilda because it was the only suburb anyone had heard of in Ireland.

Unfortunately, that was seven years before the all-female Ghostbusters film, because I would have made an absolutely perfect Stay Puft Marshmallow. If you think a 26-hour journey is uncomfortable, then you probably haven’t made it with everything you own. It upgrades a miserable experience into a truly hellish experience. Going through security in Dublin and Dubai was an ordeal all of its own.

It was February, which meant I was dressed a little too warm for the 6 degrees when I got on the plane from Dublin. If someone else had forced me to carry that many clothes in the 40 degree heat of Melbourne on the other end, they probably would have gone to jail.

As I had done to myself I had to go to an unair conditioned youth hostel in St Kilda, the accommodation my partner and I booked because it was very cheap and in the only suburb anyone in Ireland had ever heard of.

Were we a little suspicious reading online reviews that the place was infested with bed bugs? “That was a few months ago,” we said, with the callous disregard for personal comfort common to 23-year-olds. “I’m sure they’ve taken care of it by now.”

Cassidy Knowlton after moving to Melbourne.

Cassidy Knowlton after moving to Melbourne.

If you’re smarter than me (which is almost certainly the case), you know they absolutely didn’t. The overnight temperature rise of 35 degrees was not good for a body that, despite growing up in New York, was used to Irish winters. Hydration wasn’t the absolute cultural obsession it is now, and I was ill-prepared for the heatwave.

I spent much of those first few days throwing up in the hostel toilet while bedbugs and fleas made welts on my bare legs. I could actually see them jumping on my skin as I lay in a bed where hundreds or thousands of backpackers had slept before me.