I scraped the congealed mass of scrambled egg into the bin as quietly as I could. The fact that this kitchen is the most effective echo chamber in the world, and even being alive is too loud, is not lost on me. I’m not eating tonight, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of food for thought. Crumbs. Everywhere. It’s all I can think about since my friend suffered what we can only assume was an episode of Celiac contamination at Dragon Con last night. While it was blamed on the shitty vodka she purchased, I have to face the possibility that I did it to her.
The Sin of Forgetfulness
I stand here in my pajamas, trying to very quietly rinse the remnants of untouched breakfast from the plate. Of course, every droplet of water is shattered glass in the dim kitchen. I remember sitting on the ledge outside the Marriott, eating crackers, drinking. What if I touched something she touched, and then she touched her mouth? What if my gluten-rich food came into contact with something she touched or ate? What if my gluteny fingers made contact with her skin? I backtrack through the admittedly dim memories of last night before the hammer fell and I am consumed with guilt. What if I ruined the one thing she looks forward to all year?
She said she was hungry after her night of sickness, there in a bathroom stall at the Marriott. I spent hours crouched outside the stall door, the brain-numbing decibels of the party in the lobby beyond, bludgeoning me. There were many strange looks, but many words of concern from strangers, too. I’d known something was very wrong when she was unsteady and slurred after only a few shots of vodka. This woman could outdrink a fish and walk home steady–but there she was, weaving and indistinct. I’d removed her necklace because she was swelling, and it had grown tight.
How Do You Live in the Air?
What happened after we’d returned to the darkness of Suburbia was not breakfast. Not for her, anyway. She fell asleep on the dining room carpet while I prepared soft-scrambled cheese eggs and grits, sausage and yard tomatoes, fresh coffee. Between bouts of sickness the night before, we’d sat in a stairwell leading down to the street. I found out that I was not really accustomed to living with a friend who is both Celiac and deeply unwell as a result. Because there are things they keep to themselves–depressing things, horrible realizations, feelings of despair–forbearing to share moments of legitimate darkness with others. They already feel like social pariahs, why add to that by being honest?
I remember having a long-distance conversation with her, while I was still living in Albuquerque. She was talking about all the products that contain gluten–from lotion and makeup to ice cream and lunch meat–and how she had to call Tampax and ask them about their products before she could feel safe using them. Shampoo that made her break out. Soy sauce that destroyed a dining experience as surely as Godzilla in a grainy B-movie.
I burst out with “How do you live in the air?” This has since become a standard running gag between us, much like my outburst of “There is no god!” in response to a description of vaginal prolapse. But that’s another story, and probably one you don’t want to hear. Ever. Trust me.
You Never Get Used to a Death Sentence
No, not all autoimmune disorders are untreatable. Many have found successful applications of medication and dietary measures. But there’s this thing about being uninsured–and I assure you, it’s still a very real situation in states like Georgia–you don’t get those options. All the careful diets and all the nights of enduring the fact that your “friends” stopped calling you because you can’t eat their pizza won’t save you.
We sat there on the steps, as Bunnies and S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents, Star Wars characters, Lego people, and fantastical creatures of every Universe swirled around us. They were all drunk on liquor and the high of socially marginalized people in an accepting and understood environment. She said, “I feel like the person I used to be died.” Referencing all the things she’d done, all the activities and travel she could no longer do. All the supposed friends who’d ditched her because her disease was a downer for them.
I, being the sensitive, tactful soul that I am, said, “You did, but I love you whoever you are.” This was greeted with a double-barreled bird and a “Fuck you for your honesty.” But at least she was laughing. What I did not say out loud was that, in that moment, I wondered how it must be to carry the dead within you. Knowing you will never be that person again, but unable to lay them to rest, because it wasn’t your choice. There were no options. You simply don’t have the energy to do what you once did. Being alive hurts, never mind rock climbing, surfing, traveling to distant lands where sanitation and medical facilities may be less than optimal, or simply the rigors of travel in the first place.
But, along with worry that I might be guilty, I have an enormous and very un-friendly batch of words for the people who simply dried up and drifted out of her life, because being around her was too hard for them. Because her potential illness and all the steps she has to take to avoid it, to plan her days, to parse out dwindling energy reserves were just too much of a hassle. I stowed the plate in the dishwasher and stood looking at the coffee maker. Around it was a delicate constellation of coffee grounds from a careless scoop.
It makes me wonder, these events of the past 24 hours–how much am I contributing to the suffering of someone I profess to love, simply because I am less mindful than I should be? What might even a single moment of my inattention cost her? She kept apologizing for being sick last night. I hate that she feels she has to, because–whether or not I inadvertently contaminated her–Celiac is not something she can control. She was worried that her sickness had ruined my experience. But, the cost of that episode to her notwithstanding, I wish she knew that I could visit the underside of a rock with her and still have a good time. It was enough for me that she rallied slightly, and that she was able to return to Dragon Con to enjoy herself this weekend.