I roll over and pull the wool blanket closer around my head. I’d adjust the blankets to tuck around my feet…if I had the strength. But I don’t. I don’t have the strength to reach my water bottle. I don’t have the strength to put on an extra pair of pants, like I’d like to. I don’t even have the strength to call for assistance. I don’t have the strength to pull myself out of bed and walk twenty feet to the bathroom. But I do. And every muscle in my body screams from fever pain as I do. My brain swells against my scull as I rise, and I have to keep one hand on the wall for balance. The stomach cramps start kicking my insides out and propel me forward. I make it to the bathroom, but on my return I actually stop and fall to my knees in exhaustion. I listen and notice that no one is home. No one here to help me if I pass out, which I suddenly realize is a serious possibility. I stare at my hands. Despite the gallons of water I have drunk, they are cracked from dehydration and purple under the nails from cold. I stare at them for a long time, procrastinating the rest of trip back to bed. The chills race up my back and through my hair and help me muster the energy necessary to make it back to the temporary warmth of my bed.
This was my condition for roughly thirty-six – fever-and-cramp-ridden and thus, mostly sleepless – hours. Thirty-six hours spent wondering if I’ve ever, in all my amoeba days, felt to absolutely and completely terrible. Thirty-six hours spent in astonishment that my body had failed me and so violently violated my trust in it. Thirty-six hours not having the will or desire to appreciate a single thing in life. Thirty-six hours spent only asking for mercy for all those people in the world that suffer like this every single day of their lives.
IT hits me. But I don’t have the energy to cry about IT. Not yet.
I rustle through my backpack and find in my medical kit an old set of antibiotics I picked up last year in Guatemala. I read the instructions in Spanish and it says the pills say will kill a list of six different intestinal parasites. I’m not diagnosed, but I’m desperate. I take half the dosage…and wait.
I tell my mother every few hours that I feel a little better. She knows I don’t. What she doesn’t know is what a comfort JUST her presence provides.
The next day I take the second half of the antibiotics. “Fast and Effective” the box claims. I pray so.
Twenty-four hours and liters of water later, I’m finally re-hydrated again. The fever is gone. The abdominal cramps are gone. I don’t feel “good”, but I can smell the pine, I can hear the birds and I can feel the warmth of the sunshine. Energy has come back to me.
Enough energy to cry.
I have a friend. A best friend. Once upon a time we lived together in San Diego — where the boys would line the boardwalk every day at sunset just to catch a glimpse of the 5’10 figure with bronzed skin and golden hair *that trailed her body by four feet* as she coasted by with the ocean breeze on her skateboard. Even more beautiful than her appearance though, was her stride in, and appreciation of, life. The first person I have ever met who could grasp a moment – a really nice moment – right at its peak and give it love. Recognize it for the minute of bliss that it brought. Most people don’t seem to recognize the best moments of their lives until they’ve passed. But she didn’t. She felt them, and she loved them, AS they happened. Maybe it was her unique ability to be so susceptible to the highs of life that made her so susceptible to the lows. For she had pain. She had terrible migraines. I knew they were in town when her door would close for all daylight hours and she’d emerge from her eye-cover only for a pizza-pocket, a Dr. Pepper and an episode of Friends. Those days started off only once a week. By the end of our year living together, they were four days of week. But she still had life, beautiful life that could not be denied, and her special way of grasping it by the minute.
This was the condition I left her in when I kissed her goodbye on my way out to Guatemala.
We passed email updates throughout the year. Her letters were mostly comprised of under- exaggerations of the pain she was in and crazy tales of the multiple doctors and treatments she was experimenting with. Her “migraine days” increased to seven a week, thirty days a month. She couldn’t go to work. She couldn’t skate the sunsets. She couldn’t get out of bed. She moved to her parent’s home to meet more doctors, go to more pain treatment centers, and take new meds and have new surgeries. But none eased any pain and no one provided any answers.
How many times could I tell her I was sorry? How many times could I urge her to keep hope? How many times could I tell her I loved her and would do anything for her? And would be “there” for her…when I was thousands of miles away? It hurt. All I could be was honest and supportive.
Today, right this minute, she is in pain. Pain that is constant and unrelenting. Pain that weakens you and wrestles constantly with your simplest will. Pain that numbs the senses from feeling the beauty in life. Pain that deeply violates the agreement your mind made with your body upon birth. Pain that makes you fall on your knees in exhaustion and beg for mercy. Pain that consumes your soul.
Pain that I didn’t have an inkling of an understanding about until three days ago. Pain that I experienced for less than two days. Pain that you, Leah, have lived with every single day of your life for years. Pain that you live with this very moment….when I don’t.
So I cry. I cry because I’m so sorry I didn’t understand your pain…. and that I never really will. I cry not only for you, but for all those in the hospital beds next to yours. I cry because I’m out here realizing all my dreams, and despite all that pain (that you don’t talk about), you just keep cheering me on from a hospital bed. I cry because I wish there was something more I could do for you than cry. Well there IS one tiny little thing I do.
I take you with me. I take you with me up every Guatemalan volcano peak. I take you with me to every Thai sunrise. I take you with me on every dive in the Caribbean sea. (And you’re coming to Fiji with me this week.) For you taught me how to “grasp” the moment. To seize it, and appreciate it, AS it happens. To hold it for just for a minute, sigh, smile, and love it. It’s the best gift I’ve ever received. And I think that if someone told me that I’d given them the best gift they’ve ever received, well…that’d make me really happy. And if someone told me they thought of me every time they did something wonderful or saw something pretty… well, that’d make me happy too. And more than anything in this world, and more than any person in this world, YOU deserve a little happiness.
I miss and love you Leah.
(Please, no emails regarding this post.)