I’m not sure where I heard these words but they ring true: “growing up is more than resignation to the normal things as inevitable.” It’s a testament to what adulthood could be if we didn’t give up so easily. Every child is asked a question, what do you want to be when you grow up? And every child tries to answer in a few terse words, sometimes saying a job title or a career, always wanting our
approval. I want to be a nurse, a doctor, a painter, a teacher, an astronaut…As we get older we realize our profession is an extension of ourselves or something completely separate. Often it is not us, but simply what we have to do in order to pay the bills. At some point a job becomes your life, and if you truly love the hours you put into working— then you feel a sense of worth. Getting older also means little time for silliness, acting, playing different roles, dressing up—none of that magic that you once had as a child. The words to “settle down” are always there—get married, have kids, invest in real estate. Sometimes it feels like you’re checking off a list that doesn’t belong to you, conforming to the way things are supposed to be. But that small child is still there, saying, “I want magic!”
“When such an old woman comes out of the matadero, holding her shawl around her with her face gray and her eyes hallow, and the whiskers of age on her chin, and on her cheeks, set in the waxen white of her face as the sprouts grow from the seed of the bean, not bristles, but pale sprouts in the death of her face; put your arms tight around her, Ingles, and hold her to you and kiss her on the mouth and you will know the second part that odor is made of.” – For whom the bell tolls, Ernest Hemingway p. 255.
For most of Friday, that eerie feeling Hemingway describes began to spread. The flu over came me early in the morning, and little by little my body became weaker until finally I couldn’t get out of bed. It hurt to walk or to move around.
I’m not used to getting sick. Usually I glide by winter without a hint of malaise, and I thought myself so confident this week, after seeing people in the train cough and hide under their tissues. I rejoiced saying in my head, not me, not this winter. I shall pass unscathed once more, cheering for victory upon getting home on Thursday. That night I drank beer heartedly, and ate sushi. The beer was cold, and after a couple of glasses, my throat began to feel a tingle. I assumed it was a minor irritation, since my body was warm and I was drinking cold beer. I went to sleep thinking it would fall over the next morning. I was expecting to feel storng and be able to do a morning run.
Yet I woke up weak and my throat had worsened. I drank water. My body was taking on heavy air. The most I did was take a hot shower, and then went back to bed. The laziness was too strong, tying me to a slumber. I though, any moment now it would subside and I would go back to my computer to write,
I rummaged through my mind: who gave me this sickness? Was it the sneezy lady on the wagon holding onto the pole, the children I teach, who coughed freely, or my partner’s mom, who had a throat infection? (I had hugged her for her birthday on Wednesday.)
My dad gave me a quick phone lecture on why I didn’t get the flu shot? “I got it, that’s why you see me–I never get sick…,” he said. I heard stories where the vaccine provokes the flu even if mild, and it’s not recommended if you already have the flu, since it could make it worse. We did have some ibuprofen bottles my partner took for muscle pain a while ago. But for me to take medicine it must be unbearable. I rather wait it out and see if my body conquers whatever malignant bacteria has entered. I kept the medicine in the back of my mind.
I sliced a garlic clove and started chewing and sucking it, hopping it would relieve me or at least wake me up. It sent a trickling, energetic frenzy in my mouth. It was awful to chew, but I swallowed it raw. For most of the afternoon, I felt oddly weak and cold. I was shivering, and yet the heat was working and my partner was warm. My body was suddenly that of an old woman; it would hurt to get up with every muscle. I started thinking about the characters from The Jungle. This must be how they felt, cold and weak in the terrible winters of the early 1900s; bed-ridden when their bodies could not function after long hours of exploitation in the factories.
I’m not a couch bunny, so this was the worst possible day. I was told the flu could lasts for weeks. I was horrified, since it would mean missing work on Monday. I kept munching the garlic and had chicken soup late in the afternoon. It was hearty enough. I kept myself warm in my bed, with a giant snuggly sweater and a thick Peruvian blanket. It was solace; my only corner in the apartment. I could stay in this igloo for the duration of the day. In my blanketed igloo, I read To Kill a Mockingbird. If I was going to lose my consciousness by tomorrow, I wanted it to be the last thing to enter my mind. Harper Lee’s Scout Fitch was clever and always innocently curious. Death drew closer to me while reading the pages.
My body was giving out. Any small movement took exorbitant amounts of energy. Before going to sleep I stretched. My muscles were taut and rigid. I tried breathing in and out, and doing a cat stretch and a child’s pose. The ibuprofen bottle of 400 mg was sitting in the kitchen table. I put a pill in my room next to a glass of water. If I felt bad enough, I would take it. I didn’t want to, but I also didn’t want to continue my weekend being in bed, like a lazy muppet. I read until I could read no more. My head had absorbed enough words. And if I was going to perish to the land of no return, the land of full-on sickness, these would be the last sensible words. I took the ibuprofen. Fearing the worst since I don’t normally take strong medicine. I was already drowsy, so I thought this would knock me out. I lay there with out a sensation, numb and semi-paralyzed. I couldn’t sleep; instead my body heated up and oddly enough, sweated. My igloo had become a sauna, so I decided to sleep with light covers. My partner put a cold towel on my forehead.
I slept, until half way during the night when I woke up slightly cold. I covered myself up. I quickly noted that my body was no longer exhausted and my fever had calmed. During the morning, I woke up with energy, and all that was left from Friday’s flu hell was a cough and a minor runny nose, mostly sporadic, though at times strong. It could be that it wasn’t the flu at all, and I was being paranoid. It could also be that the ibuprofen worked and the garlic didn’t hurt. My muscle pains are gone, so no more ibuprofen, and if this runny nose continues, I have my trusty garlic, as it clears up the congestion still lingering around.
"For the sad truth was that poets didn't drive, and even when they traveled on foot, they didn't always know where they were going." —Paul Auster, Timbuktu (pp 142)
For most of last week my body was visited by strange ailments, some of physical lengths and others marked by emotional queries. They distorted the time of day. I was the girl with pins in her stomach.
But I don’t suppose I’ll let my fears and the emotions of my mind win out the rest of this month. If we let that happen, we forget that reality is perceived; it can either exist or cease to become permanent. The real strength of character may come from the ability to control and organize our thoughts, moving from irrational to logical, finally to a place made for you.
While driving in the fog the other day, I realized how flat and permanent reality appeared on the road: the straight white lights from ongoing cars, the misty fog and the early winter darkness. Fear was running before I took off– made aware by dreams of spiral roads, shaky turns, crashes, fumes and faulty breaks. It happens every time I dream of driving; either I’m immobile and the car moves by itself or the accelerator and the breaks are missing. How silly it is to fall under the feeling of dreams. Once moving, and the accelerator finding its place under my foot, I glided through the fog, making fear impermanent and the drive a continuum instead of divided in parts.
There is no easy way, and as any person climbing into a new boat, it takes many wild days to understand a new experience. How does one take off so elegantly? There are the stops and goes even when you are grounded. The doubts, and the reemergence of energy; it is the up and down motion of a child learning how to stand up. There is the question of inspiration. And then the arrival of silence when you don’t want to write a word, and to force yourself would be insincere. I should wait until my eyes are led to a new thought. There will be first tries, mistakes, rejections, fears and bitter endings, but there is always a time to start again, to push the wheel until you find that words come easily.