Five Minutes to Midnight

For obvious reasons, I have been thinking a lot about sickness lately. The sweet-smelling sweat, the gunky vomit, the hacking cough, the hushed room with the shades drawn at noon. Foil packets of pastel-colored pills, alphabet pasta in thin broth. A body existing only in stasis, waiting powerlessly for healing. The terrifying hypotenuse formed by joining death and life at the hip.

Sickness has a way of kidnapping me from this time and place and plunging me back into the misty dreamworld of my childhood. I am again surrounded by the arcane, occasionally goofy artifacts of medicine: the toy-like stethoscopes, the multi-colored tubes snaking into the bed, the intricate anatomical charts, the clunky machines whose beeps, clacks, and dings live in my mind so obstinately I recollect them better than symphonies. As sickness escalates, every feeling is eclipsed by pure panic; rationality topples headfirst into heightened vulnerability. Red-hot bile, chilling fever, and the wails of an ambulance speeding through the velvety, all-encompassing darkness.

In Tokyo, shorts weather begins. I shed my layers and eye the A/C. In a surgical mask and denim overalls, I walk to the convenience store to check if the change in season has prompted an update to inventory. With glee, I spot kakigouri, a dessert of shaved ice, condensed milk, and fruit jam, in the 7/11 freezer. I buy three cups, paying the cashier by sliding coins underneath a sheet of heavy plastic, and walk back home, irradiated by an early spring sun that feels stolen from midsummer.

(A confession in this luminous Tokyo interlude which no one wants to hear: I know from experience that, for some, healing from sickness is impossible. You don’t realize it at first, and even when you do, you do not recognize it as truth. Hope is so stupidly human, it might as well be chemically baked into DNA. You watch someone ride the wave of recovery high, inching away from pain and towards life, before throttling down into relapse. This has to happen a few times before you stop hoping they can get better. Comfort and cure become alien words. You sit alone at the bedside, as still as a potted fern or a pinned butterfly, an observer to the palliative trance of a forever sickness. You watch someone die in real-time.)

Back in the world of the living, Strawberry and I sit at the table and dig into the kakigouri. The jam gleams, slippery and delectable, as reflective as gemstone in the light pouring in from our dusty balcony windows. I watch Strawberry quietly, resisting the usual urge to leap into irreverent conversation. The glossy sunshine glances off the blond tips of his thick eyelashes. I think of the family gene for dementia, living by the billions in the body, strewn across the bloodstream like ashes carried by a river. I think of tumors cropping up in soft tissue like explosions of dandelions in a field. Underneath Strawberry’s right eye are five perfectly round, fawn-brown freckles: a tiny segment of Ursa Major cupping his cheekbone. I think of viral particles studding the air. Strawberry scrapes the bottom of the white plastic cup with a stainless steel spoon, and I think of bone-bleached hospital sheets and the metal, cool-to-the-touch rails surrounding the cot. He smiles at me, guilelessly. I think of how some sicknesses are invisible; how they replace the mind overnight with a dagger, perched in the skull, the blade pointing downwards, revving up.

Comment (1)

  1. Holly wrote::

    Have you been unwell (I hope not)?

    Sickness is the same to me – a state always reminiscent of childhood sickness specifically.

    Em edit: No worries 🙂 I have not been ill — just too close to sickness for comfort.

    Sunday, June 21, 2020 at 9:36 pm #