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It’s my friends’ wedding day. I’m one of two non-family who were invited to the ceremony. They were both Latin teachers at the time… said their vows to each other in Latin. They were married in one of the historic buildings at the college we all went to.
And now we’re going to the reception. The basement of one of the colonial taverns. I’m walking with Emily, the bride, and the one other non-family guest. We’re parked two blocks away. I’m dying. Dying. It hurts so much. I’m smiling. Sweating. Out of breath. Pain in my gut like everything’s going to burst. Tears in my eyes. Smiling.
“Are you okay?”
I shrug. “Yeah, I thought I’d be able to handle it, but it’s a little farther than I thought.”
It’s two blocks. I knew exactly how far it was. I just hoped.
“Oh, my God.” Emily looks crestfallen, guilty. “I didn’t even think of that. I’m so sorry.”
I reassure her. It’s not her fault. If it had been a real problem, I would have said something. She’s fine. It’s my own fault. Besides, we’ll be sitting down soon, right? It’s fine.
She’s better now.
I’m still hurting.
I’m twelve years old. Crumpled up in a bed in the abandoned convent that makes up the back half of my high school. Tired. Pain. My legs are on fire. My gut is about to explode. I’m crying. Crying from the pain. Certainly not from the school assembly I’m missing. A band made up of recovered drug addicts are in the gym playing “Adios marijuana, good-bye Mary Jane.” But I’d take that over this.
“Is it really that bad?” I can’t tell if the nurse is incredulous or concerned.
It is. I nod.
“If it’s really that bad, you should be in the hospital.” Ah, she’s incredulous. That’s what they always say when they don’t believe you. Because the hospital makes it real, so you don’t want to go if you’re faking. Joke’s on her, I don’t want to go to the hospital because I’m scared of needles. I shake my head and bury my face in the pillow, quietly wondering what it would have been like to be a nun living here a century ago.
“You can have a few more minutes, but then you’ll need to go back to class. The assembly is almost over.”
I just want to go home.
Work is in half an hour.
I can’t move my legs.
I mean, I literally could move them. But it’ll send knives through my thigh, through my stomach. I’ll vomit, my vision will go red, then white.
Right now, I can move my hand enough to grab a bottle of ibuprofen and dump eight pills out into my other hand. Grab the pink Breast Cancer Awareness bottle by my bed, gulp the pills down, wait.
Work is in fifteen minutes.
It takes ten minutes to drive there.
I can move my legs now. Pain still slices, but not enough to blot out my vision. My core still burns like it’s being eaten from the inside out, but it’s dampened enough that I can shuffle it to the back of my mind. Like I do every day. Long enough to get dressed, shuffle to the car, come into work right on time, and sit uncomfortably for eight hours.
In the back office, no one can see me cry when I get up to make tea.
It’s my second junior year of college. I withdrew during my first for health reasons. I’m back, on the condition that I don’t get sick again.
I’ve been diagnosed with endometriosis.
One in seven women have it. Cysts on my ovaries and uterus. It explains the pain.
So what’s the cure? Surgery.
I have it over spring break so the dean of students doesn’t know. I’m back on my feet in a week, limping across campus to Latin class on my great-grandfather’s amber-handled cane.
There’s still a burning pain in my gut, but now it’s because of the enormous healing incision rather than the cysts and internal bleeding. The doctor has assured me I’m cured. This pain will be gone soon and I’ll be walking and running and jumping just like normal people.
It can’t come soon enough. I’m dreaming of it.
It’s Friday night. I’m twenty-two. I’m twenty-seven. I’m thirty. I’m twenty-four. It’s every Friday. I’m at home. In my dorm. In my apartment. In my grandparents’ house. Wrapped in a blanket, sipping tea and waiting until I can take painkillers again.
At first it was because I turned down the invitations myself. “I don’t have the energy.” “I’d need somewhere to lie down every once in a while.” “Sorry, I’m just in too much pain today.” I’d get disappointed understanding and a request for me to try again next time.
Then… the invitations stopped. I remember the first invitation I didn’t get. I didn’t know my friend Camille was having a party. Then one day, all the photos popped up. All my friends in 1920s attire at a fancy party. An outing to see Singin’ in the Rain at their local theatre – the movie I introduced many of them to.
The first I heard of it was the proof that it had happened.
Years later, when I was going to parties again, a friend would ask if I remembered that night. “No,” I would say calmly, smiling genuinely, “you didn’t invite me.”
Past me would have felt vindicated by the awkward silence that followed.
I’m twenty-eight. There’s a Def Leppard tribute show downtown. Rob rides his Buell down to take me there. We go out for dinner at the local fondue place beforehand.
Riding the motorcycle hurts everything. My hips. My gut. My legs. Everything.
“Ready for the concert?” he asks after dinner.
“I need to go home. The ride wore me out.”
I don’t need to see past his helmet to guess the look on his face. “I didn’t even think of that. I’m so sorry.”
He takes me home. I rest. I tell him I’m fine not seeing the concert. He’ll just have to go have enough fun for both of us. He promises he will. He smiles. I smile. He leaves.
I cry all night.
I’m twenty-three. As far as I know, I’m still cured. I’m visiting Rob’s new town house for a party. He’s just bought his Buell.
He stomps downstairs in his riding gear, a second helmet in one hand. “Who wants a ride?”
I shoot my hand up.
He drives carefully, like I’m a glass statue behind him. We get out to a back road. I lean my head over his shoulder. “Go as fast as you want.”
He squeezes my hand and tears off.
I’m thirty. I’m at a sci-fi convention where I’m performing. I’ve just had my third surgery and this time, this time, I’m cured for sure.
I’m sitting out on midnight improv. Too tired. Too much pain. But that doesn’t seem right. I’m cured, right?
I’m in my room watching gory Japanese horror films on my cracked iPhone, covering everything but the subtitles. The gore is too much for me, but it’s a work of art, damn it.
I pause the video. I have to use the bathroom. I know because the constant throbbing pain in my gut is just a little sharper than usual.
My incision is bruised and bleeding.
I last out the convention and my one performance that weekend, and then I’m on the phone with my doctor again.
I’m thirty-two. My grandmother is dying.
Cancer. Not the cigarettes. You’d think it would be the cigarettes. No, pancreatic cancer. Just one of those damn things.
My cousin is looking after her. I can’t. I can’t even climb the stairs to her bedroom without help. Over the months, though I don’t know it yet, it’ll become something of a competition to see who goes slower. Eventually she won’t even be bothering to come downstairs anymore.
I’m in line for a fourth surgery. This doctor seems like he isn’t lying. They’re just going to give me the hysterectomy. No guilt about potential babies. No interrogation about what my future husband will think.
But what if they’re lying again?
Two days after my third surgery. I’m making tea in my kitchen and get a shard of glass in my foot.
My grandparents come and get me and take me to the hospital. The nurse offers me a numbing shot for my foot. I tell her I don’t like needles.
“The needle won’t hurt as much as feeling me take this out.”
It was nothing compared to what I’ve been through recently.
My grandparents buy me a cheeseburger with mustard.
I’m standing at my grandmother’s funeral. Standing with no pain.
Nana saw me briefly without pain. I made sure. I showed her. Now I’m standing up next to my grandfather, my cousin, my uncle. My father’s too far away.
Standing without pain, walking without pain.
Two days prior. I’m visiting Rob. He hasn’t seen me since before the surgery.
“Do you want dinner?”
I very much want dinner.
He walks down the long flight of stairs to his front door. I dash after him, two at a time.
He’s still staring. “I’ve known you for years and I’ve never seen you do that.”
I run up and down a few stairs again. I spin on my heel like a child in a cartoon. “I know, right?”
We walk. I run ahead of him and back like a puppy. He gives me a long-suffering look, but there’s a smile behind it.
“You’re going to have to get used to this,” I tell him.
I run up and down my stairs because I can.
I stroll to the end of the block and back for no reason.
I park far away from the tea shop just to show myself that I can go that far without getting tired.