Written by Rigby Celeste
Art by Cottonbro
I feel as if my lungs have collapsed. I am the loner in the corner of the library who jumps when they breathe. Each inhale stabs the left of my chest and I skip my next, as if my breath swallowed itself. My body is shutting down. Swollen lymph nodes around my jawline spread my neck into a trumpet. The base of my skull houses tender lumps I mistook for spider bites. My throat has inflated inside me, barricading my swallows and breaths. Can a shut down body still operate?
I cope with immersion in another world. At the hospital, I live inside the stories of Faulkner, Salinger, and Kafka. As Gregor acclimates to his hard shelled body, I acclimate to my fever state. My senses are skewed by congestion and a high body temperature. Under attack of a virus, my body produces soldier white blood cells en masse. The excess of immune cells swell the skin. The perimeter of my body expands, and I fail to adjust to the inflation. I feel like a passenger in the body of a balloon animal.
In an abundance of caution, I am banned from visiting work, friends, or school. I am alone most of the day, only obligated to isolate. I have time to look closer around me. Yesterday I saw a car driving backward in the street. No one could do anything about it. The couple in the seats sat slumped and blank faced, like they were watching a B-rate movie.
To settle the nerves, I tell myself I am not breaking. I buy the lozenges the doctor prescribed. I take medicine. To keep the days from blending together, I make a routine out of my home pharmacy. In the morning, I suck the throat drops and in the afternoon, I take DayQuil. When the DayQuil wears off–around 4pm–I take my Tylenol. When I decide the sky is too dark for me to be active, I swallow some NyQuil and hope I don’t wake up until it is time for tea. But without fail, I wake up so stuffy I can’t breathe, so swollen my head aches as it pivots on my neck, and so sore I swear my muscles are a forest on fire. I fear the day I wake up morphed, like Gregor. Suddenly I am an ashen shadow of a forest. Imagine my skin alchemized to bark. Imagine my fever becomes the fire that minimizes me to dust. I am all singe and burn. Gone are my limbs, gone goes my heart.
Nightmares are pounding at my perception, so life seems more disordered. I dream of a domesticated snake, loosed by its owner. Abandoned, the snake is forced to make a home from litter in the reeds. It tests its caution; It rolls its body across the peat. Shivers. The snake is reinvigorated: a wild creature finally connected to habitat. Its body orients itself to branches and mineral caves it had only known as plastic imitations its entire life. Finally adjusted, the snake curls into a log in ecstacy, when from the brambles scutter seventeen deer ticks. Deer ticks with a direction toward body heat, with hook teeth that claw through the luxurious leather of the scaled python. Ticks, the fat parasites who make homes in their food. The longer they gorge on the snake, the larger they swell. And all while the snake is drained, the ticks keep watch on the sky, fearing the swoop of a woodland fowl who might feast on their skeletal bodies.
I wake up in fright, and sweep my skin for bites or lumps. As I come to, the panic crystallizes to pain, and I go through my medical routine again. Swallow the logenze and spoon down cough syrup. Somehow, I am not relieved. The virus which infected me is not large or living like an insect, but I am surely drained. Drained from the fever, drained from the paranoia. Yet I am uncertain said paranoia is linked to my fever. My sick days are the same as any days in the past two years: bored, isolated, and deranged. I lived a whole life before I wore this broken body. No swells, no burns, no nightmares. I was once a young dancer, a set of muscles clenched en pointe. I was an artist with intuitive hands. I ate lunch beneath trees, surrounded with laughter. Once, I was a body in rhythm with a crowd. My chest used to pound with anticipation of another body to love. I used to love. I used to be real.
I comfort myself away from this epiphany: I am not lonely, I am metamorphosed. I am the released snake. I am reunited with home in the soil. I love my rock cave. Again I swallow the syrup and the drops and the tylenol pills. I can make this work. I try to revel in the verdure, but I am cautious of ticks around the corner. I feel like a target: a tick meal. I simply must settle, must orient myself to my new home and this new normal.