I'm taking a creative nonfiction class this semester. The class focuses on creating exciting essays (they're called essays if they are nonfiction), based on our own lives. It's a class that is meant to break you down. One of my friends, who took the class a few semesters ago, commented that it brings up repressed memories that you had forgotten about. The following is an essay that I wrote about my freshman year of college. It centers on the illness that I've been dealing with for 10 years, and how it affected how my life ran while at school. Throughout the piece my point of view shifts from me talking directly to my disease to me talking about it. A fair warning, I use some colorful language.
Ralph, I've never considered you a friend. You insisted on entering my life in a way that is still undetermined, creeping through the cracks and crevices, and leaving me feeling like a helpless baby. I don’t know how you ever determined that we were friends. If we were, it was one-sided. You took from me and I was forced to go along with it.
There was a period of my life when I was so sick that I was often left in a heap on the floor, crying out in pain, hoping that if I yelled loud enough it would go away. I was a freshman in college. I insisted on moving up to Logan despite the resistance I received from my father. He wasn’t happy when I decided last minute that I was moving out. I found space in San Juan hall, one of a cluster of apartment buildings that USU had placed on the North East side of their campus. I thought that it was going to be an amazing year. I was naïve. I was hopeful that the infirmity that was coursing through my body would keep calm.
Ralph, I don’t understand why you always insisted on me sleeping on the floor in the fetal position. You never listened to me when I complained about the smell or the random stains. You weren’t concerned that the floors probably hadn’t been deep cleaned in years. You wanted to be on the floor and wanted me to be as curled up as tightly as I could possibly make myself. You never liked to sleep. You and I spent many nights contemplating your existence. I’d ask you questions like “why don’t you go away?” or “why the hell are you here”, and my personal favorite “what are you?” Your responses came through jolts of intense pain that started in my abdomen and extended up my back. You always gave that response and I hated it. When I think about it today, a phantom pain forms in my gut, making me think that maybe you aren’t gone. God, I hope you’re gone.
Freshman year ended up being the worst year for me. I’d wake up in the morning, a clump of blankets and body on the floor, feeling like I had just spent a wild night with Jose Cuervo. I threw up almost every morning. My throat would become so raw and sore that more blood would protrude out of my mouth than what didn’t make it out of my stomach from dinner the previous evening. I’d finally climb into bed and hope that while I tried to sleep, I'd have some reprieve from the pain. I longed for sleep. It became such a luxury to me that I often slept in class. Biology became a chore. Mitochondria, nuclei, and cell walls all blurred into one giant conglomerate of what a cell was supposed to be made up of but I couldn’t determine the difference. When I look back on that class, I remember the 10-pound book I had to lug around with me. The green and yellow paper weight became an irritation to me. As I bent into myself as tightly as I could go, it glared at me with disgust. How was I ever going to become a doctor if I couldn’t remember what I had just read? I also remember the reproductive cycle of pine cones. It stuck out to me only because I wondered why the hell I needed to learn about it. Was learning about how two pine cones have sex really going to help me in the future?
My roommate started to wonder what was going on with me. He often questioned why I was spending so much time in the bathroom and why I slept on the floor. When I would be in my bed, he would see me tossing and turning like I couldn’t get comfortable. I had become a self-conscious individual, thinking that if I told someone that I was having issues that they would somehow take it as a personal attack. I longed to fit in and didn’t want something like my body trying to destroy itself to push people away. I wasn’t about to tell him what was going on but he questioned me day in and day out until I finally gave in and told him. He was worried instantly, wondering if he was going to wake up and find me dead, my stomach having chewed through my abdomen and now wiggling around the room searching for another host with whom to attach. This was the moment when the pain became a separate entity from myself. We started to joke that something sadistic was living inside me, getting off on my pain. We thought of the most perverted name we could think of to call it, and Ralph was born. Ralph became the roommate that we didn’t want but couldn’t kick out because of contract issues. He was definitely underage and often flushed his tainted fruit punch down the toilet. Fruit punch becoming the disguise word I'd use when I'd stain the toilet bowl red.
You had lived inside me for a year and a half when I finally took a poop test to confirm that you might be a parasite. Ralph, you had been leeching yourself onto me for almost two years before the doctors allowed me to have the test to determine if foreign bugs lived within me. It didn’t click with them that you might have come from The Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico. When I finally took the test, I “passed” with flying colors. You were finally given a proper name, Giardia. I took every last pill they gave me, shoved them down my throat with delight. They became the most important thing I did every day. I thought that I’d finally get rid of you. When the last one was gone I hoped that it had taken you with it. Then, in the middle of the night I woke, being startled by your cackling “laugh”. It snaked through my entire body, leaving me feeling so weak that I didn’t think I was going to make it to the bathroom. When I finally made it, I sat down on the toilet, looked down at the floor and cursed your name. I cried as fruit punch dripped down my leg and onto the floor. Ralph, it was at this moment that I knew I’d never be rid of you.