Hey, it's Lex. This month's guest letter is from a friend you've heard from before. She wrote "apologies for hurricanes," March's guest letter, which you can read by clicking that link. I admire this letter you're about to read because it stares unflinchingly into the dark, but at the end still... well, I won't ruin it. It's a beautiful exploration of the true difficulty of turning poison into medicine, the theme of this whole project. When you're done, make sure to follow her on Instagram @eleanorclaire_, @weirdartbyeleanor, and @found_and_furnished. For more writing and poetry, follow her on Twitter @alchemistatdawn.
I’m sorry I’ve been silent. I see you try and try and try to reach me and I still turn away. Sometimes your gentle touch against my shoulder turns me cold. I don’t want your gentleness. I want the burning and screaming and black eyes; I want to stand while you hurl all your favorite books at me. I want to be bruised by short lines and enjambment; a firing squad by poetry.
Maybe you heard, I’m finally getting what I deserve. At least, what I’ve heard a thousand times that I deserve. Sometimes I wonder if you’d agree.
See, I’ve always thought poison ran through my veins. It’s funny that now it does; that every week I watch the pressure gauge release and pump some yellow bile into me. That needle barely leaves a mark, just a single drop of blood on my upper thigh. The other one doesn’t bleed – it just burns; the second shot I put into my fleshy abdomen and I always scream because it’s like cement trying to weave its way through adipose tissue.
And then the sickness. Sitting in bed with a trashcan next to me in case my dry heaving turns into something worse. Chemotherapy. Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as you think. It’s not cancer. Did you know that chemo can be used for other things? When cancer develops, its danger resides in its swiftness; cells divide at an unnatural speed; cancerous tissue just grows like some weed running rampant in the summer heat. But there are other uses, too.
I remember hearing on some television show, the melodramatic explanation of autoimmune disease: that my body is attacking itself for existing. With cancer, chemotherapy has the unfortunate side effect of killing off your immune system. That side effect is what saves people like me. But is it really worth being saved? Is there even any salvation? How can you be saved from your own reality when it is every second slowed into eternity so you can feel the pulse-shock of every breath a burst of lightning through my limbs. It is a single moment of blessed rest before the avalanche of twitch and shock and screams.
Some days I don’t think it is. I decide I’d rather just live with the pain. But then my knuckles start moving like they’re being stabbed or I turn my head too fast and my body goes numb. And then I remember that the medicine hasn’t even been helping, just making me sick. I don’t know if I’ll ever get better, or if every inhale will be like my chest seizing.
I’m finally getting what I deserve, aren’t I? A sick joke where the only solution is to make yourself sicker.
That’s not the sickest part, though. Psychologists now are coming to realize that many autoimmune diseases are a result of chronic childhood trauma. If you never feel safe, always hiding within yourself, your body begins to absorb and entomb the violence. My joints, my muscles, my fascia, are swollen with years of fear. And the only way to help it is to pump poison into myself.
Maybe I’m the one who seems melodramatic now. Maybe this is all in my head. Maybe the people who raised me are right, and I made it all up for attention. I still have that fear when I go to the doctor. That I’ve so thoroughly convinced myself that I’m in pain that my body responds in kind.
This is real. This is real. This is real.
It’s the tiny movements that get you. Playing guitar, embroidering, drawing, writing. All the things that save me.
I’m sorry if this sounds hopeless. I’m sorry if this was too much for you to bear. I’m sorry if I’ve become a burden.
I was thinking that you might understand. I know you’ve seen too much too. I know you’ve had days where you wanted to give up.
Sometimes, though, some nights I lay in bed, usually dazed from muscle relaxers and medical marijuana, and my partner lays next to me, the giant cat purring between us, and I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m glad I’m still here.
I am so scared of the future. The way my knuckles will bend until they break. The way I will one day no longer be able to walk. But I have him. And he rubs oil into my hands and brushes my hair out of my face. He draws me baths when I can’t move and feeds me medication when I can’t open the bottle. One day he will help me dress myself. One day he will need to bathe me. One day, one day. But he will be there.
I guess I just wanted to promise you that if you keep trying to stay alive, I will too.