- This One Long Winter
I’ve been ill for three months and I’ll be ill for three more. Six doctors can’t find what’s wrong with me. At their smallest, each tonsil is the size of a peach pit. I chase antibiotics with steroids, with big white doses of ibuprofen, with sugary homeopathic pills that dissolve into the walls of my cheeks. Nothing keeps the suckers down. I want to yell at people on the subway: Can’t you see I’m choking?
Random foods make me puke. Yesterday it was quinoa. Quinoa! A shiny, wet rainbow across the bathroom floor. I can feel my own abjection, a leaking rupture, a permanent shift: the daily fevers, the night sweats, the nausea, engorged and cratered tonsils anyone might catch sight of if I open my mouth too wide, the sensation of chewed food clogging up my throat, the paranoia of sudden onset fatigue. It takes hours to leave the apartment. Each day before waking fully, I take my temperature and gargle with salt water and spit and feed myself two aspirin and some applesauce from a jar. Then I sit in the shower until I feel like I can stand.
Some mornings I’m too weak to leave, so instead I float in the backyard where a widening lake has been growing and growing between the buildings. I let myself bleed into the lake, brush the cloudy red plumes from me like bothersome seaweed. I drift on my back and raise my eyes, listening to the traffic over the Triborough, the soggy winter pavement. I watch for planes. I wonder about pilots, why they don’t narrate the journey more often (. . . to the left is the lake where I learned how to swim; and those circles of light down there come from this; take a look at the Mississippi; take a look at the border, the desert [End Page 69] beneath us; is anyone from Denver? Go ahead and wave to your hometown)—do they think we’re not interested?
How much slower and louder the world goes and goes—and does it still go?
As Woolf wrote: Illness enhances our perceptions. We float with the sticks on the stream; helter skelter with the dead leaves on the lawn, irresponsible and disinterested and able, perhaps for the first time for years, to look round, to look up—to look, for example, at the sky.
And maybe that’s not the worst thing.
Give me more tests, I tell the doctors, but they say they have no more tests to give.
So I take matters into my own hands. Every few weeks, once the relief of my last negative test results has worn off, I walk ten blocks from my office to the free clinic in Chelsea, where men with dirt-caked blue jeans and sores around their mouths hang out, and I start the harrowing process all over again.
It’s cold, and most of the patients in the basement waiting room wear puffy blue parkas over their T-shirts. They look hungry in more ways than I can begin to imagine. A television hanging from the ceiling is silently tuned to the local weather channel.
There is one woman, alone, with hair down to her calves.
She watches me from across the room. I’ve seen her before but can’t place where. These days are like dreams, both watery and vivid. Everyone looks familiar.
Slow down, she says. Be softer.
That’s nice advice, I think.
I sit on a plastic chair surrounded by baskets of free condoms, use my tongue to dab at my gigantic tonsils, while I text boys whose last names I don’t know. Boys listed in my phone as SohoHouseBryan and TallLuka. I want to know if they’ve had tests. I want to know what is wrong with them so I know what is wrong with me. Mostly no one responds. They are nighttime people after all.
The nurse who takes my blood is the same one every time. He likes my veins.
Nice big veins, he says, laughing. You could have a lot of fun with those...