Sheboygan, Wisconsin, is not where my parents live anymore, but I often say that they do, because that’s where I imagine them existing, and because I like the word Sheboygan. Sheboygan is the place where I am from. Home is not there, but I am from there. I carry there with me.
Three years ago, I spent my last Christmas in Sheboygan. I was a senior in college and preparing for a semester student teaching. Due to this impending workload, and also a cold that persisted for the duration of my stay in Wisconsin, my December days were passed on the red loveseat in our family room, reading Lord of the Flies, Fahrenheit 451, and Steinbeck’s The Pearl. I read them, marked them up, wrote discussion questions, read them again. Despite feeling sick, I made tentative plans with a man on New Year’s Eve, and I wore my silk black shirt and pearls, and I looked very pretty as I waited for him to call until I realized he wasn’t going to, and then I cried in the bathroom, put my pajamas back on, and wrote questions in Lord of the Flies like, “Is Simon Jesus?” and “Is there hope for humanity if the boys killed Piggy?” (Spoiler, sorry, you should’ve read it already.)
When I got back to school I began teaching, and I thought my cold would diminish but it didn’t, and in between classes of sophomore English I ran to the bathroom to cough up phlegm and blow my nose and try to pull myself together. “Why don’t you go to Health Services?” my roommates said. “A cold just takes time,” I said. Another week passed. Health Services said, “A cold just takes time.” “It’s been over a month,” I said. They gave me an antibiotic.
A few days before I was to leave California for the Midwest, to celebrate Christmas in Ripon, Wisconsin, which is not my home, I coughed a couple times in the shower before work. After school, I drove to IKEA to pick up picture frames for the gift I was making my students, and I carried my blue plastic bag with confident steps. “You are not sick. You are not sick.” YouarenotsickyouarenotsickYOUARENOTSICK. I had not been sick since the winter of student teaching. An interval of years spread between these illnesses. I had forgotten what it meant to be sick. I googled, “How do you know if you’re sick or if you just think you’re sick?” The next morning I woke drenched in sweat, shivering. I called in to work.
Eat soup, drink tea, take vitamin C, water, sleep, more tea. And then you will heal. Give it time. I arrived in Wisconsin. I followed this self-made recipe for wellness. My cough eased. I went running outside. I felt better. Eight days later, on the way to the airport, I told my mother, “I think I have an ear infection.” She said, “I thought you were feeling better.” I said, “Maybe I just need more time.”
On New Year’s Eve, I took the strongest over-the-counter cold medicine I could find at the pharmacy. I put on a black and gold dress. “You may not kiss anyone; you are sick.” “It’s been so long, I’m probably not contagious.” “You should not kiss anyone.” “I am going to feel fine tomorrow.”
I thought time healed all wounds.
A few months ago, Brad and I were at a bar in downtown, and I was a brokenheart, and he tried to remind me of truth. “You are fine without this guy,” he said. “I know that’s true, but why don’t I feel like it’s true?” I asked. Brad made a really lovely analogy, and I think it was something like this though now I cannot clearly recall and neither can he:
“You were fine before. You were doing your thing, you were feeling good, and you were whole. You weren’t missing anything. But when there’s a guy, it’s like you grow this third arm. And you don’t need the third arm, but it does change how you live. It makes things easier. You get attached to the arm. If the guy leaves, it’s like your arm leaves, and you never needed it but you forget that you survived without it. And you don’t feel whole anymore. But you will forget. You always forget. This guy isn’t more special than the others. You’ve been heartbroken dozens of times. It’s not like each failed relationship is another limb that gets removed. You always still have your arms and legs. It’s just phantom pain.”
Yesterday I went to the walk-in clinic. Ear infection, inflamed tonsils, congestion. “How long have you been sick?” “Two and a half weeks.” “You need an antibiotic.” “Am I allowed to still drink alcohol?” “No.” At night, we went to a brewery for Kelvin’s birthday, where I drank water and cough syrup. At midnight, I walked back to the metro by myself. I read poetry that made me cry, drifted in and out of sleep, woke just before my stop. My boots click-clacked as I scurried home. It was cold, and I was sick, but I was healing.
Time, plus medicine, depending.