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Two years and one day ago, I tweeted the following picture:
I was so happy that night. Things were good at school, Christmas was coming, Hapax was out and I was clearly on my way in writing, and I was suffused with love and good will for the people at Black Creek, my coworkers truly becoming my friends.
Less than twenty-four hours after I posted this picture, my life shattered.
I went to choir the next morning. This was December 16th, 2012. The Sandy Hook shooting had just happened, and part of the sermon reflected on the loss of so many lives, the pain their families now carried through the Advent season. I can’t even imagine, I remember thinking, my toes dangling off the back of the kneeler. I can’t even imagine what it would be like, losing someone so close to the holidays.
Less than twelve hours later, I knew.
My father died two years ago today. And honestly, that’s something I’m still trying to wrap my head around. It’s been two years. My dad is dead. He’s been dead for two years. It doesn’t even make any sense that my dad—my vibrant, lively, healthy dad—is dead. But two years? Jesus Christ.
This may be a little trigger-y for a bit. If you want to scroll down, I will put a picture of a cat. Past that, it’s all hope and love again.
Okay. So sometimes, I still need to talk about the horror of that night. Sometimes, I still need to tell the story again. This is, I’ve found, something that happens with grief. Friends and loved ones can be reluctant to bring up the event, in case it makes us sad. Well, guess what? We’re already sad, and talking it through, recapping it, putting it in order again, and again, and again, is the only way that we’re going to process it. Saying it out loud makes it real, but it also brings it out of our heads. It gives a bit of distance, so we can try to understand what the fuck happened.
Even two years later, I still need to tell the story sometimes.
So, around 9:00 pm on Sunday, December 16th, 2012, I was sitting at my kitchen table. A friend was over, doing some rough sketches of Serafine. Shortly, she and my other friend were going to watch Love Actually. I was trying to convince myself that I could totally take another night off studying for exams, because Love Actually was a Christmas tradition and I hadn’t seen it yet that year. Of course, I really needed to study, but—
My phone rang. It was my sister. She explained that she and Mom were coming to fetch me right now, and then we were all going to the hospital, because Dad had had an accident playing hockey.
I was not overly concerned at this point. It wouldn’t be the first time he got hurt. When I was small, he’d nearly lost an eye when he took a hockey stick to the face. Maybe he did lose it this time, I thought. Because I had been in hospitals before, I had the presence of mind to pack my bag with my textbooks and notes. After all, waiting for X-rays and CAT scans took a long time; I’d be able to study while he went through those.
As I tugged my boots on, I suddenly thought of my grandfather. During my first year of university, he’d driven himself to ER, promptly had a massive stroke, and died a week later. Wouldn’t it be awful, if—if—but no. I figured that maybe worst case scenario, Dad had taken a really bad blow to the head. Maybe really, really worst case, there’d be some brain damage, a bit of rehab. But that was super-worst-case. It couldn’t be that bad.
My mom and sister picked me up off the street, and we drove to the hospital. Traffic crawled. I remember the copper-orange of the streetlights. At one point, we crossed the foot of my friend Blythe’s street. I’d just been to her apartment for the first time, and I gazed up the street, wishing that Mom could just turn here, like I was just going to hang out with her.
My grandparents arrived at the same time we did. Some of Dad’s hockey team were already in the waiting room. I knew some of them—they all seemed very shaken. Memories fragment here. I don’t remember exactly what was said. I remember trying to shield my sister, dragging her over to a vending machine around the corner.
A man in scrubs led us into the labyrinth of emergency care behind the receptionist. He had blue scrubs, a long black ponytail. We passed curtained-off alcoves, cots and IVs flush to the wall. As we walked, a curious numbness settled over me. This is the scariest thing I have ever done, I thought. I remember thinking that, but also still hoping that later, the warm flush of relief would come. God, Dad, we were so scared, and for nothing—isn’t that funny?
The man in scrubs led us to a small, cream-coloured room. It had two brown, slippery couches, a shiny black coffee table holding a Kleenex box, and a cross on the wall. That’s when I knew that things were very, very bad. You don’t bring people into rooms with crosses if everything is going to be okay.
The man in scrubs explained that Dad had had a “cardiac event” and had gone down on the ice. Wonder of wonders, there had been a firefighter and a cardiac specialist on the opposing team. CPR had started right away, they’d used a defibrillator right away, and the ambulance had been called right away. Absolutely everything that could have been done had be done, as quickly as possible.
And they’d not yet been successful in resuscitating him.
I may or may not have been slightly aggressive with the doctor. I may or may not have been told to relax. Then we went to see him. Around yet another corner, there was yet another curtain, a sectioned-off portion of emergency. We went behind the curtain.
And I knew, the moment I saw him.
There was no resuscitating. Not anymore. We were long past that. It was disorienting—on the one hand, it was just Dad, lying on a gurney. On the other, he looked so old. Chalk-grey skin, shirtless, tubes going into his nose and mouth, electrodes on his chest. A technician furiously doing compressions. Dad’s mouth gaped open a little, and that’s what really struck me: the way his cheeks sagged inwards, the way there was absolutely no muscle control, everything was just limp. Lifeless. Two years later, and I still sometimes see it. The horror doesn’t lessen with time. You just don’t think about it, until you do, and suddenly, you’re back in that room, with the metallic smells and the beeping, and Dad’s cheeks collapsing on themselves.
We asked how long they’d been doing this.
About forty minutes.
How long could they reasonably keep doing this?
They were about at the limit.
So, if his brain had been forty minutes without oxygen, then—
Then it was time to stop.
I couldn’t touch him. I couldn’t touch him because I knew that he was already cooling, and I was too scared to feel it. And so, cowardly, I stood very close, wanting to touch him one last time, wanting to give one last hug. Someone asked if we wanted a chaplain. “He’s Catholic,” I said. “He needs Last Rites.”
Tears spilling from our eyes, we wandered the emergency department: making calls, trying to figure out next steps, reassuring the hockey team that it wasn’t their fault. I vaguely wondered what the other patients thought. Probably they knew that some lives had just been permanently changed. We’ve all been there. We never think we’ll be the people crying.
I wandered back just as a chaplain began the Lord’s Prayer. I collapsed next to my grandparents and said it too. I don’t think they realized I knew more than “Our Father.” I talked to a cop. I gave dates of birth, addresses. I agreed that yes, I was very young. I stayed with my sister, who was refusing to leave the body.
But then I looked over, and I saw that a rosy red flush was blooming along the underside of Dad’s cheeks. And that is another horrific detail that’s branded itself into my memory. See, for a scene in Hapax, I’d had to research what happens to the body shortly after death, and so I knew precisely what this was. Without the action of the heart to keep blood circulating, gravity will cause it to pool at the lowest points of the body. When a body is lying on its back, that’s the undersides of the arms, the legs, the face…
I was right, I thought.
And then I had to leave so that I could go vomit. I never saw my dad’s body again. (My choice, incidentally, to not stick around for the open-casket portion of the visitation later that week.)
We returned to my mom’s house. I had to send a bizarre text (“Sorry, I can’t study tomorrow. My dad died.”) and then I called my childhood best friend. Numb, shocked, broken, I didn’t want to go to bed, because I dreaded waking up—I didn’t want that moment of remembering what had happened the night before, feeling it fresh all over again.
I think I fell asleep around 5:00 am. I was up by 7:00. I emailed my registrar, asking to defer my exams on Wednesday. I emailed my bosses, asking not to be called that week. And then I called my friend Rachel-the-Anglican-Priest. I’d been in her office the week before, seeking counsel for stress and family tensions. Now I had to explain, “So…new developments…”
This whole thing was so bizarrely scripted.
As promised, the picture of the cat says that things get a little more hopeful from here.
My maternal grandmother and I went to the church around eleven to sort out funeral details. Although my Dad was technically Catholic (and while I still am, technically), they could do a very inclusive service. They could recommend a good funeral home. They could help us through this—it was going to be all right, I had a community at Grace Church that loved and supported me.
I had cried in the hospital, but it had been like the tears were seeping out slowly. My grandmother stepped outside of the office, and then, alone with Rachel, I sobbed for the first time. And when she told me that it was terrible, and unfair, and painful, but that they were all there for me, I believed her. For a while, I’d considered Grace a safe place—but here it was, when I needed it most, as a rock in my life.
Thank you, all of my family at Grace, for doing infinitely more than I could ask or imagine. Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est. Where there is love, God is there.
Around two o’clock, I was at loose ends. My sister had been swept away by her friends and Mom was huddled on the couch with all of the relatives. I paced aimlessly. What would make me feel best right now? I asked myself. Who do I need to be with?
The answer was undeniable, if somewhat surprising.
Blythe. Right now, I need Blythe.
Sure, we were friends. Sure, we saw each other outside of work. But this was heavy stuff. Was it too heavy? I hesitated, looping the kitchen. The answer didn’t change. And so, I texted her, asking if I could come over and escape the madness for a bit. As I sent it, I figured that I’d get a responding text in a few hours, maybe.
She called me before I’d even slipped my phone back in my pocket.
My uncle drove me to her place. At that point, I’d actually only been to Blythe’s apartment one time, so I was a little uncertain as I directed him there. But, soon enough, I was standing outside her door. As I jabbed the doorbell, part of me wondered what on Earth I was doing. The rest was just too numb.
The door flew open. “Hi!” Blythe said. “Come on up!”
Turning, I waved to my uncle, then followed her up the narrow staircase. Maybe we made awkward small talk, I don’t really remember. What I do remember is that Blythe went into the apartment ahead of me. I bent down to take off my boots. When I glanced up, she was standing in the middle of her kitchen, looking at me: not with apprehension, but compassion. Suddenly, absolute certainty rushed over me. This was the right place to be.
She hugged me. She badgered me into eating part of an apple. Gave me odd jobs to distract me. And while the two of us tend to have different accounts of these sorts of things, I think it was then that things changed between us. We were friends before, certainly, but supporting someone in so much pain and shock is an entirely different thing. When I needed someone, she was there without question. I honestly do not think I could have managed those first few months without her.
Thank you, my friend—thank you, and all of my love.
On Wednesday, I went to work. I remember running out of the car, throwing the door open before Mom had really stopped, and booking it through the village. Like Grace, this was my place of safety. This was home. In hindsight, it must have seemed bizarre. Here I was, roaming the village with a haunted expression, dodging crowds of schoolchildren. This was my workplace—why on Earth was I there?
Because I needed to be. And credit to my supervisors and coworkers, they let me do my thing. They let me wander bleakly, surround myself with the people and places I loved. Some people came to the visitation that night (for which I was profoundly grateful, I couldn’t have done that without them—walking into the funeral parlour and seeing the casket, it was heartbreakingly, crushingly real). There was a card, filled with love. My boss sent a handwritten note. I still have all of these things.
Here is the thing about death. For the most part, it doesn’t make sense. If this was a novel, my editor would never let me get away with it. “What? And then he dies? No, that’s stretching credibility too far.”
When death strikes like this, the normal rules cease operating. And so we cry in our friends’ offices. We crash other friends’ dinner parties. We walk around our workplace because reasons. And people, for the most part, are just as stunned as us. Unsure how to react, they do the best they can: opening their arms with love, drawing us close, holding us near.
When you are grieving, nothing makes sense. You worry you’re too sad. You worry you’re not sad enough. You worry about burdening your loved ones. And at the same time—you need, desperately need that human connection. You need to be able to tell the story, as often as it takes. You need to be vulnerable, to cry—and also, sometimes, you need to go skating and live normally for a few hours, away from the sadness.
And if a grieving person comes to you…ask them. Ask them if they need to describe what happened again. Ask them if they just want to sit. Know that they may think they’re fairly functional, but in several months’ time, they will realize that they really, really weren’t.
Love us. That’s all we need.
It saddens me that almost everything that is now important in my life—working full time, Stonecoast, the nice young man, beer, my writing family, my current friendships—happened after Dad died. My life now is completely different from my life two years ago. But that’s what happens.
We heal, but we don’t recover. I will never not be sad about my dad. Every December will be hard for me. The body remembers, longer and more vividly than the mind. The body remembers the fall of light, the weight of the wind, the pattern of the clouds overhead. We don’t get over the loss; we make it a part of us, growing into and around it.
When a writer loves you, you can never die. Dad’s fingerprints touch my work now, even if it’s his death bleeding through again, and again. In the Victorian Dark Fantasy, Sara’s grief plays out alongside my own. In short story after short story, I try to use words to build a ladder down into the abyss, using fiction to go where I can’t.
Two years on, and I am usually happy. Sometimes I am sad, but usually I am happy, and I miss my Dad more than all those words can say.
Sunday morning at Balticon, PJ Schnyder and I were eating waffles.
“I love cons,” she said. “But doesn’t this make you want to run home, and just…”
“Write all the words, ever?”
I do love cons. They are great for recharging batteries, recapturing your fire and inspiration. The more cons I attend, the harder I find it to distill the experience. I could talk about midnight pulled pork and ogling steampunk goods. I could talk about feeling the bass thump along my sternum while watching Ditched by Kate and the way I was literally trembling before moderating my first panel. I could talk about the old friends, new friends, and first-time-in-real-life friends (including but not limited to: Tim Dodge, Scott Sigler, PG+Chooch+Viv, Lauren “Scribe” Harris, Veronica Giguere , Myke Cole, Mur Lafferty, Heather Welliver, Chris Lester, Nobilis, Nutty Nuchtchas, PC Haring…) I could talk about the hugs and the laughter and the incredibly cool discussions…
Or I could talk about where I am, post-Balticon.
Strix is roughly halfway done. In a stunning occurrence of déjà vu, I’m hoping/planning to get it back to my editor before I leave for Virginia. This has been the most frustrating, challenging, stubborn thing I have ever written, but it will be worth it. I did attend a very interesting panel on “Female-Centric Faith Systems,” and a lot of things applied to Serafine and the world of Strix/Hapax. It’s encouraging to see that I’m on the right track, at least thematically.
I feel all warm and fuzzy inside because I got to see some old friends, meet some friends in person for the first time, and make lots of new friends. On the last day of the con, Christiana Ellis shared her metaphor of cons as “friend farms” (by this point, “creative projects” had become “squirrels” and “energy” was “spoons” – Doc Coleman, you are awesome). Basically, the first time you go to a con and don’t know anybody, you plant the seeds of friendship. Then you water it, and wait, and by the next con, it’s blossomed into a full-grown friendship, and you then plant more seeds. I like this image—and it definitely seemed to hold true.
Which brings me to my next, long-distance goal. I know what kind of writer I want to be when I grow up. I want to be the author that pulls in the newbie and helps them find their feet. I want to be the author who encourages, and helps, and makes them feel worth the time. As a young, newbie writer, I have been so lucky. So many authors have taken me under their wings, helped me out, and mentored me. Trust me, it’s made all the difference. And while there’s only so much I can do to pay it forward right now (n00b), I’m going to try now, as much as I can.
So that was my Balticon: a wonderful weekend, professionally, personally, and creatively. 🙂
WARNING: HERE THERE BE HAPAX SPOILERS
Writing prequels, I’m finding, brings unique challenges. Like sequels, they are to an extent dependent on the book(s) written previously. However, there’s a small-but-important difference.
For a sequel, Hapax would be a jumping-off point. For Strix, it’s an end point. Anything and everything I write in Strix has to plausibly lead to the events in Hapax. And since Hapax is published and out, I’m utterly bound by what I already wrote.
Mostly, that’s fine. The vague, overall eschatological arc was kind-of-sort-of in place when I wrote Hapax, and since I was relatively sure I would be writing a prequel during the proofing stage, I did get to go over sections referencing Strix’s time period with a fine-tooth comb. I was very aware that once it got to print, that part of the narrative would be set in stone.
It’s those darn throwaway lines and details that get me.
At one point, I was merrily filling in the gaps of Aelist liturgy, imagining how pre-flood Aelism differed from post-flood. I was mostly reusing material from Hapax. And then I stumbled across Serafine’s line:
“Where there was no time, before there was any place, the first Word of Ael sounded. And all the vastness of eternity shuddered.”
First line of the Tablet (the Aelist religious text). No big deal, right?
Except then she continues speaking: “I’ve never heard the Hapax described like that.”
A complete throwaway line. Honestly, I don’t remember why I chose to have her say that. But it has several important implications:
- If people were describing the Hapax that way before the flood, Serafine would have known about it.
- The fact that she did not tells us that people were NOT using that language to describe it at that time.
- Therefore, this version of the Tablet post-dates the flood.
- So, what changed in the interim, when, and why?
I ended up finding a reason that pleases me, and (hopefully) adds more to the story than, “The Tablet just always started that way.”
There are many other examples. There’s a brief reference to Islanders at one point; Gaelin assumes Serafine is one of them, mostly based on her name. I never developed the Islanders beyond surface allusions to their emphasis on kin groups and beer drinking—since they were a red herring, it wasn’t necessary.
Except now, in the rewrites, I need to explore the history more fully. Who are these people, that they would still be willing to name their children after the Beast? Who were they to Serafine? Suddenly, three facts become the basis for a whole culture.
It’s often the little details that provide the key to the greater story. Like the proverbial butterfly causing hurricanes halfway around the world, word choices can affect things far more than you would ever imagine.
It’s a lot of fun, making sure that the threads between prequel and sequel align. In fact, it’s exactly the kind of detail work that I love. But it goes to show: you can’t take anything for granted.
Unlike winter, essay season seems to come earlier every year. A list of topics goes up. The request for a thesis and outline goes out.
And of course, there’s a rush on the libraries.
Over the last 3.5 years, I’ve had ample opportunity to observe different strategies to the “research” part of the research paper. Now, I’m not talking about whether you use notecards or looseleaf; obsessively note page numbers or look them up later.
I’m talking about procuring sources.
Sources are currency. Sources are power. Sources are the security blanket that lets me sleep at night.
There are several types of student essay-writers. Let’s look at a few.
Style: Start early. Clear shelves before other people even have a topic. Hoard books like a squirrel hoards nuts, because if you leave it too long, everyone else will steal your books and you’ll have nothing left to use.
Traits: Twitchiness, anxiety, slight hunchback or raised shoulder from carting heaps of books.
Worst Fear: “Item due back: April 8”
Style: Automatically set catalogue filters to “online resources.” Read books, journals, primary sources without ever leaving the comfort of your room or carrel.
Traits: Blurred vision, headache, aversion to smell of old books.
Worst Fear: “Access Denied.”
Style: Seek out the really old, really rare books that can’t be taken out. Set up camp in library, lifting brittle pages late into the night. Don’t come out until research is done/essay complete.
Traits: Dust-covered fingers, keyboard marks on face, vague feelings of pride and loneliness.
Worst Fear: “The library will be closed the weekend of….”
The One-Hit Wonder
Style: Find one book. A real book. Probably the authoritative book on your subject. Read that one book. Quote that one book throughout. Have a list of vaguely related articles from which you occasionally cite a sentence or two in order to meet bibliography requirements.
Traits: Smug grin, skill at mental gymnastics.
Worst Fear: “Plan to devote considerable attention to the historiography…”
Style: Between databases and rare collections, come up with mostly primary sources. Not only mostly primary sources, but mostly random, obscure, hard-to-categorize primary sources. Pamphlets with no real publication information. Oral interviews. Third English Editions of a translated passage of a primary source in an electronic book currently in its second edition in the original French.
Traits: Half-bald from pulling hair out, sore teeth and jaw from constant clenching, a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style lying in a broken heap in the corner.
Worst Fear: The correct/recognized way to cite your source simply does not exist.
Style: Read the Wikipedia article. Track down and use their footnotes. Done.
Traits: A mix of confidence and desperation, tendency to lose hours to following the Jacob’s Ladder of Wiki-links.
Worst Fear: The prof edited Wikipedia.
There are more, I’m sure, but…I need to return to my stacks upon stacks of books. 😉
Sometimes people ask me how much of life shows up in my writing. I never find this question easy to answer. After all, I write fantasy. It’s all made up, right? How much life and research goes into that?
Imagine you’re making a cake. You start with some recognizable ingredients—eggs, butter, milk, flour, sugar—and then you change some of them. You separate the eggs, or cream the butter, or chuck some chocolate chips in on a whim. Then you mix them all together, and suddenly, it’s hard to tell where one ingredient ends and the next begins. And then, you throw it all under high heat, and when it comes out, it’s delicious and totally does not resemble the elements going in….although you’ll certainly notice if a cake is lacking sugar. Likewise, you’ll notice the chocolate chips, or extra spices, or what have you.
Writing is kind of like that.
Take a lot of different things. Change some. Mix them together. Let them react and transform. See something very different come out—with maybe a specific flavour distinguished here or there.
For me, it’s always interesting to see what gets chucked in. Writers are like kleptomaniacs at a grocery store. Random ingredients somehow end up in our mental baskets, and they sometimes get used in unexpected ways.
Looking for firewood in Australia one afternoon, our guide showed us how to knock over small, dead trees. In the current draft of Strix, three of my characters work together to knock down small, dead trees. At the time, I didn’t think about the experience as fodder for fiction. And then it was, and it was exactly what I needed. Kind of cool.
Likewise, I have a short story in the February issue of Black Treacle Magazine, wherein I shamelessly riffed on Black Creek (with the important caveat: I shamelessly riff on places, not people).
Likewise, the numerous times I’ve smiled at the delightful children’s doodles scrawled across my choir music wound up in Hapax—Praeton likes the random sketches and notes too.
Of course, sometimes you don’t know things, which requires research. I’ve never been flogged. Nor am I a celibate priest in his fifties. Nor have I ever gone for days without water. My list of Google searches would likely leave a few people scratching their heads.
And then, the magic of fictionalization happens. I guess that’s like tossing everything in the oven.
Assorted bits and bobs go in, and the results aren’t always predictable. Random bits of life that you don’t necessarily think about until the moment comes, and it just fits. Really, it’s just a reflection of the old saying, “Write what you know.” Write what you know, but watch it become transformed as you change it to suit the needs of the story.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably (hopefully) heard of the Acts of Whimsy campaign for Jay Lake. If you’ve not, here’s a brief rundown:
Jay Lake is an award winning science fiction author. He’s written ten novels and over three hundred short stories. He is American, and he has a daughter.
He also has cancer.
The Acts of Whimsy began as a way to raise funds to get Jay’s genome sequenced, in hope it can give his doctors something else to go on.
To date, $40,000 has been raised, which means that another level has been unlocked. While various authors and members of the spec fic community have done acts of whimsy in support of Jay, now “everyone can play.”
I jumped at the chance to join in. Although I’ve never met or corresponded with Jay directly, there is a certain connection between us. When Gabrielle Harbowy acquired my novel Hapax, Jay’s name was one of the first on her list of people I had to meet. “Read Mainspring,” she said. “You’ll love it, and it’s similar to yours.”
I read it. I loved it. It is similar.
Not in setting, not really in plot, except by the broadest strokes. But in heart. I closed that book thinking that although Jay and I took very different routes, we essentially reached the same conclusions.
And so, here is my Act of Whimsy. Contrary to popular belief, Hapax was not my first published book. In 1999, the Allenby Public School Press published “Prey Valley,” an epic story of wolves and adventure, which I’m releasing now in the form of a fully-produced podcast.
Please enjoy. And please, if you can, support Jay here. Every little bit helps.
For those who have not yet heard, my father passed away suddenly on the night of Sunday, December 16th, 2012. As people have pointed out, I’m not very old myself, so he must have been quite young.
This was completely unexpected. This was the phone call that you never expect to get, the phone call that only happens to other people. Unfortunately, to paraphrase Calvin and Hobbes, we’re all “someone else, to someone else.”
There will be time for processing and grieving in the days, weeks, and months ahead. This is really just a note to say that all my various projects have entered into a state of flux. There are two episodes remaining in Hapax-the-Podcast. It is possible, but unlikely, that they will be released on schedule (although, frankly, I do tend to throw myself into work at times like this, so who knows).
Hapax is not on hiatus. I’m just asking that you don’t hold any expectations for now.
Likewise for The Next One…although again, work helps me.
If any good can come from this, it’s recognizing afresh that there are some pretty incredible people in my life. Since Sunday, I have received many hugs, many thoughts, and many prayers. People have fed me, driven me places, and just held me. My extended family, my choir ladies and clergy, my friends, and the writing/podcasting community… you have all been so, so wonderful, and I’m deeply grateful for you. My mom, sister, and I could not make it through this without you all.
It’s difficult for me to be vulnerable. It’s difficult for me to ask for help, to say, “Actually, yes, I need people right now.”
But people have been there. People have said, “I’m here. I don’t know what to do, but I’m here.”
I don’t know what to do either. I think that simply being there is enough: hugs, thoughts, texts, and prayers.
So, to recap.
I am with my family. I am so grateful to have such an amazing network of support. My various projects will be done when they are done.
And while we should have had longer, I am so grateful for the twenty-one-and-a-half years I had with my dad.
The sun was out for the first time all day. My boss had just called to see if I could work next week (in my favourite building, no less!). My roommate and I were eating freshly baked cake. I was whiling away the last hour or so before I needed to leave for a pool party. Life was pretty good.
“Whoa. What’s wrong with my hands?”
Small, flattish red bumps covered the backs of my hands. They seemed to spread as I watched, covering more and more space, though not really venturing past my wrists. I checked my feet, and found a few around my toes.
“Hives,” was Gemma’s diagnosis. In general, she’s not the type to accept much nonsense. As her boyfriend and mother both have epi-pens, she is even less inclined to do so with allergies—especially when you don’t know what’s causing them. And so, I was quickly dosed up with Benedryl, given copious amounts of water, and, when the hives refused to fade and my throat started tightening, bundled off to the emergency room.
Here’s an effective way of getting attention in a hospital: state, “I have hives, my throat feels tight, and we have no idea what’s causing it.”
We moved quickly through triage (I could only laugh at the question, “Have you travelled outside of North America in the past thirty days?”) and into a curtained-off corner of another room. For the next while, I answered questions, while Gemma provided additional details.
Yes, I thought I might be allergic to wasps, but have never actually had that tested. No, I hadn’t been stung by a wasp. No, I hadn’t used any new detergents or soap. No, I hadn’t gone walking barefoot through any parks. No, I’ve lived in this house for a year. Yes, I had started drinking almond milk instead of regular milk, but I’d been doing it for over a week and hadn’t had any since that morning.
“Well,” one doctor said, observing the new splotches on my feet. “I think you’re having an allergic reaction.”
Apparently at a loss, they decided to give me more Benedryl, this time via an injection into my muscle. Here’s an effective way of getting hospital staff to treat you like you’re six: stare at the giant, pokey needle, clutch your friend’s hand, and stammer, “Will it hurt?”
I still maintain that a fear of needles is perfectly rational.
They left us a while longer while the antihistamines did their work. The spots faded, but all the combined Benedryl took its toll as reality felt increasingly dreamlike and I drowned beneath a wave of drowsiness. I tried to chat with Gemma, but I think my side of the conversation stopped making sense. However, I do remember that we both decided it might be a bad idea to take a picture of myself looking sad in a hospital bed, post it online, and caption it, “In ER. Just got a huge shot. Doctors have no idea what’s wrong with me.”
But, eventually, the doctors decided the hives had calmed enough to let me go. They wrote me a prescription for an epi-pen, gave me instructions to come back immediately if I experienced any facial swelling or throat closing, and sent me on my way.
As soon as we got home, I hit my bed, slept for an hour, woke up for a brief conversation with Gemma, and fell asleep again until just now.
I’ve been told that hives recur, and since we don’t know what caused them in the first place, they may come back. So, just a general announcement: if you see me with bumpy, angry-looking hands and feet, don’t worry. I probably don’t have the plague.
This is the obligatory awkward first post. I don’t much care for these. It’s like writing the first letter to a pen pal, or the first conversation with a new roommate – what do you say?
Hi, my name is ____. I’m from ____. I like ____. Oh Lord, please fill this silence with something.
Hi, my name is K.T. Bryski. I’m from Canada, though residing in New Zealand for the next six months, which means there will be six months of “travel blog!” thrown into the mix here. I like writing, science fiction/fantasy, and eclectic periods of history. My first novel, Hapax, will be published by Dragon Moon Press this October, and will be available as a podcast sometime around Septemberish (though it’s not for a while yet, I figured I ought to be up front about it – save the date!).
Well, now we can move into the fun stuff. Alas, it shall have to wait until next time – I’m on my way to dinner with my new flatmate, her friend, and other international students. Yay, socialization!