It’s official: I’m a sickly person.
I have my share of colds and illness every season, but having just recovered from my third round of strep throat in two months, it’s undeniable. It’s beyond the bounds of decency. It reminds me of those writers who had “weak constitutions” as children. Little Jane was so ill that she couldn’t go outside to play with the other children; surrounded by her books, she could do nothing else but become a writer.
I figure if I’m going to be sick, then I’m going to write about it.
I’ve been reading a book on writing essays by Dinty W. Moore called Crafting the Personal Essay. In one chapter he talks about introducing conflict into your writing, and one way to do that is to be the provocateur; in other words, put two opposing ideas into your writing. He offers an example from an essayist named William Hazlitt who wrote “On The Pleasures of Hating”, and suggested another example on the theme, say, On The Pleasures of a Sore Throat.
Well, I had a sore throat. A bad one, a recurring one, with the attendant nausea, swollen glands, and crushing fatigue. It’s not, by any means, pleasurable. But could there be some kind of silver lining wrested from the situation? An upside, something that saves it from being total, abject misery?
I had plenty of time to think about it, and the answer is: no.
But wait. There is the napping…
The first awful day was spent in total darkness in my bedroom, curled up in the fetal position, pulled down into groggy, coma-like sleep between doses of Tylenol, my throat inflamed, my stomach churning. I wouldn’t call it pleasurable in any way.
By the second day, however, with several doses of antibiotics in me, I was feeling much better, but still not well enough to participate in the activities of the world. And I suppose that’s my first point: at first, I get panicky and irritated that I have to stop my life completely to deal with illness; but since there’s nothing I can do about it, I eventually move on to acceptance. There’s a freedom in that. Sorry, can’t adult today. Can’t do anything today, except take a nap.
I’m well enough to take this nap on the couch downstairs in the living room. The curtains are only partially closed, and some light filters through the gap; I see a brilliant blue sky and yellow sunshine outside, and normally I would be depressed that I can’t go out in it. But not today. The couch looks inviting. It’s a long, comfortable couch, and I curl up on it, pull a blanket over me. It’s quiet; my husband is at work, my daughter at school. There’s only the the occasional drip from the kitchen faucet, the hum of the refrigerator. The heat turns on, and the pipes in the walls knock and hiss and whoosh, the house sounds that I find so comforting. I think about the dream I had the night before, of cars falling from the sky, crashing to the ground like missiles, they’re getting closer, there’s nowhere to hide.I turn over and doze, but don’t remember what I dream. I’m awakened by a slam of a door, as the neighbor comes home, his booted feet pummeling up the stairs, his dog following, his claws ticka-ticking on the wooden steps. Cars zoom up the drive outside our window; a Bobcat drones somewhere outside. Birds are singing in the pine tree. Eventually Lilly’s Peanuts cuckoo clock goes off upstairs; it’s Schroeder’s piano theme, marking the hour.
But it’s been two hours, two hours of dozing and dreaming and listening, something I don’t normally allow myself to do during the day. Pleasurable? Yes, despite the throat that still hurts when I yawn. Would I rather have been outside enjoying the long-awaited spring? Absolutely. But illness has a way of taking you out of the maelstrom, and converting you into the eye of the storm. The busyness revolves around me, but I’m not a part of it. I’m the observer, the listener, the things that made me a writer in the first place.
Maybe the germ gods decided I needed some more listening time. Or maybe it’s just the chaptsticks I didn’t throw out after my last illness, reinfecting me. Yeah, could be that.