Belly Up

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The other night I awoke to the strangest happening. In what must have been less than a minute, three years’ time flashed through me. The most disorienting part was that in the space between start and finish of this pithy slideshow, I didn’t know where this roller coaster of my past was headed. A condensed serum of emotions folded over, closed in on me like an accordion. Parsing out the spectrum of coalescing sparks of my past seems impossible; akin to translating the essence of eggplant by means of music. The viscous spiral thrummed with a dose of hope packed dizzy with adrenaline. In my primitive hazy ghost-state traversing here and all of the theres I condemn to the fringes, I hovered. Then, as if falling from my high-rise, SPLAT! The crinkles of the memory stretched fully over my consciousness. Yes, it happened. All of it.

Terror like a bacterium spidered through me. Ignoring the familiar path my now mostly oriented mind took me down, I inhaled mentally, ebbing the terror, the pulverizing discord of my organs going belly up like shimmering fish within me.

My socked toes touch the floor, craving stability. Chin downward, I note how the white background of my floral sheet glows ominously in the dark. Daisies, tulips, lilies have no idea how good they have it. To exist in the cotton thread of petals beneath me, I think, would be delectable. Apparently, sleeping atop soft imagery is an ill-fated freeway to flowery dreams. Finger poised on the light switch, I debate sneaking a reassuring glance in the bathroom mirror, just to make sure all of my pieces are still there. I leave the room cloaked in shadow. The pieces are not all there, I know, no matter what my reflection may convey.

Art by Jordan Landerman

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Yes to All Things Me

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“How are you feeling?” Knitted brows narrow with what is probably genuine concern, but feels like pity. Exhausted. Hysterical. In pain all the time. Hopeless. Suicidal. “I’m okay.” The tension this familiar stranger expels is palpable, her anticipation that I might say something less than pretty draining like the air of a flyaway balloon; which in a matter of seconds, is what she gets to do. Fly away, free from the woes of a chronically ill somebody.

Growing up in a quaint community coupled with a history in the nonprofit sector, has branded me with the infamy of big-time illness in a small time town. Should I emerge from my cave for an outing to the local natural foods store, an interaction such as described above will be inevitable. Feeling about as inconspicuous as a dog walking on her hind legs, I get through the interaction. If I were being honest, though, I would punctuate this conversation with unflattering grimaces, tears and the admission that this lady’s perfume is killing my liver. But I don’t. Why not?

From the most practical of standpoints, the answer is that I just don’t have the energy. A reassuring, if not plastered smile and nod, is often the easiest of uneasy methods to get through this. And that. I’m getting through my life, not living it. I’m existing in what feels like a parallel universe while those my age, my peers and forgotten friends are living. But I just don’t have the energy to live.

Societal and cultural expectations too play a significant role in my ironic attempts to soothe the healthy. The symbol of a gracious, beautifully broken, tired but determined sick person is just that, a doctored fairytale. She does not exist in the real world of ugly that is chronic illness. Yet the mass population is unaware of this and therefore believes not only in her, but that I should be her; that I should sustain myself on Hallmark colloquialisms and spout pearls of wisdom in the face of adversity.

Don’t count on it. Being ill is a blemish society attempts to conceal on multiple layers. Political, industrial, medical, recreational and relational boundaries for how we may be sick are exclusionary and not to mention, ridiculous. A paradigm of denial, encapsulating not only Lyme disease, but also those of us with chronic illness as a population, makes us wrong. Demonstrate anger about the injustice of it all, and you are not being sick in a socially appropriate way. If I were to bare the naked torment of my being, I would not be concealing my illness in a normative manner that protects the status quo and those who benefit from it.

Yet, despite my sociological theorizing and righteous indignation, I won’t hesitate to apply a social Band-Aid for your comfort. Not even for a second. When a man with green eyes and the steady stroll of someone who knows how to savor offers a smile, I want so badly to be the unblemished woman of my imagination. A woman who thrives where she is, blooms by the simplest of moments and can coexist completely with another because the ever-present something by her side is not called pain. It’s called health.

But today, she’s not me. I long to reach out to Green Eyes, to wrap myself in the cloak of stability beckoning me forward; to ask him to ask me “how are you?” And to mean it. Mostly, I crave to wilt, be vulnerable, fall apart into a gazillion shards and without trepidation, for him to reply “Yes.” He would say yes to all things me.