Act I – Training
Mom wove peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from fabric and stockings. Silk-screened traffic-jammed ants onto T-shirts. Knew how much Phenobarbital to dose our Labrador when lightning and thunder threatened to bring on Epileptic seizures. The early morning when Mom found Grannie confused in the shower, Mom reassured her, “Oh you’re not late for work, Grannie. Don’t you remember? Today’s Arbor Day. You have off work, honey,” guiding her blind footsteps back to bed. You were in awe of Mom’s skillset, until the day she zipped through a red light with your passenger door still open. She said to keep you from “being abducted by serial killers.” You understood then that the responsibility had become yours to do the problem solving.
Act II – Evolution
You evolve into an 8 a.m. pencil skirt and red Mary Janes rushing across the sidewalk along Sunset Boulevard. Every single type of flavored creamer—hazelnut, mint, mocha, vanilla, strawberry—is holding your day together. You never know what flavor the producer might want to try today. Stockpiling possible solutions is necessity.
Office phone rings. The producer screams What the fuck!? on the other end of the line, something you anticipated. You find the words, the tone of voice, and the plan to ease his fears. You are tempted to tell him it’s Arbor Day but instead say, “I’ve got it all under control. No worries.”
This is how you develop, like a third breast for your second puberty. You tell yourself you don’t give up. You are a fix-it person. You are seer of all possible solutions.
Act III – Necessary Storyline Conflict for The Human Experience
When sick, you command yourself that it’s just a phase, that you are young, mind over body. After all, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That’s what they say. But you’re never sure how they know this to be true, or who they are. So you hunt the web and medical books for answers in between sending out resumes. You become two personalities: healthy versus sick, acting out enough roles and responsibilities for two people. The body and your career break down despite your schooling and effort. Your life is:
ACT IV – Encyclopedia Girl Speak
You try to explain—really, you do—when people ask, “What is the name of your illness?” The diagnoses sound like science fiction calamities:
NCS and POTS are forms of dysautonomia. NCS is neurocardiogenic syncope which is also called vasovagal syncope, and syncope means “to faint,” but then this also can overlap with POTS which stands for posturual orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, and, of course, most “syndromes” are simply a list of symptomology that include everything but the kitchen sink, with no known cause or cure. There’s quite a bit of overlap with the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome actually, though many patients have also been diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
Somewhere—usually around the fourth syllable of “neurocardiogenic”—people’s eyes glaze over. The ones that have a little more gumption hold on until the word “postural.” You resolve to simplify your answer: It’s called dysautonomia, and that means the autonomic nervous system is out of whack or broken. But then you have to define the autonomic nervous system for most people, saying it’s everything the body takes care of without consciously thinking about it: breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, temperature and gastrointestinal tract.
For years you only tell the ones you trust with this information. You fear telling the wrong person in the film industry. Who wants to hire a production assistant who might spontaneously black out? Can you hold up this sham much longer? You tell yourself that this is temporary, that you can fix yourself, even if your doctors can’t.
Your mantra: For every problem there is a solution.
Act V – Inner Monologue
I wanted panoramic. I wanted cinemagraphic. I wanted camera angles. I wanted lights. I wanted action. I wanted painted scenes. I wanted costumes. I wanted gear. Wires. Tape. Audio. Microphones. I wanted wind machines. This life was meant to be directed. I wanted shouting out orders. I wanted megaphones. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. You wanna make this rough? You wanna show me how much you can throw at me? Well bring it on. Gimme Your Herpes High Definition. Gimme Your Fainting Gaffers. Your Deafest Audio Men. Your Gimpiest Runner. Your Blindest Production Assistants. I’ll complete this film if it’s the last thing I do. I’ll complete this film if it’s the last thing I—
I need to know: Where does my soul go when I black out? The pain in my head, the cold concrete floor mashed into my face soaked in a puddle of my own drool, the fuzzy nature of the world—a small opening of light at first, like I’ve just entered a portal to someone else’s life—the immediate surroundings of just a couple of inches in focus at first and then slowly the rest of the world becomes clearer—and then speeds up in fast motion as the mumble of voices I cannot quite discern other than the tone—the syllable—the sound at the end of each mumble is raised as if asking me a question, and then the individual words come, they spill out all over my brain like photographic developing fluid turned on its side chugging out in rapid glug-glugs—MA’AM? MA’AM? CAN YOU TELL ME YOUR NAME AND NUMBER?—and I wonder how I got there and where I am, but before any of that process of becoming human occurs—before I am fully re-animated—Where was my soul? Did it leave and then re-enter my body? When I passed out, falling out of that chair, did I keep falling? Did I fall into space, into the universe wide-open, slipping through the earth in a 1/16000th camera shot speed, going through molten rock and eventually China, did my soul fall some place so far that my own body became a foreign residence? Will it ever be the same again?
Act VI – Underneath
It wouldn’t matter you know, even if you became healthy now, because there’s a change taking place—PRI-OR-I-TIES—and fixing other people’s flavored-creamer emergencies surfaces on the other end of your twenties as futile, as petty, as not the kind of life you want to live. Focus shifts from queen of fixing outside chaos (because that’s what you do so well), to healer of inside chaos (for your own physical survival).
The new you is bleary-eyed ready. Unhinged. Armored.
Don’t analyze tit and ass size to know who’d make a good production assistant. Don’t critique hairdos as verification of who can manage production finances. Am I cute enough for you? Because I die in secret. Am I good fuck material? Because I pray I can make it through to lunchtime. Hey baby, hey baby, you know my eyes are up here, right? They’re bloodshot from searching the web late at night—to read up on the methylation cycle, the endocrine system, the mechanism of nitric oxide on the arteries near the heart.
Enough. It wouldn’t matter, you know, even if you became healthy now. You realize you love film as an art form, not the celebrity, not the paychecks, not the kiss-asses. You realize the division within yourself. You realize you love film so much you must leave the film industry.
Act VII – Whole
You have divided into two, only to come back as one whole. No longer do you pretend to be healthy when you are not. For a time, you are revitalized. You are reborn. Your new career affords empathy. Your new friends bring you food when you’re too sick to leave home. Your new city isn’t so material-obsessed. But that doesn’t stop the pain deep in your limbs that keeps you up at night or the mind-numbing fatigue that makes you forget simple words like “spoon,” “book,” “cereal,” or complete thoughts vanishing mid-sentence. It doesn’t stop the trips to the bathroom where you can barely walk a few steps because of sore, stiff legs, tender feet that feel as if tissue paper is the only protection between floor and body tissue, dizziness that sends you careening a knee or forearm into a doorway, or the shortness of breath from standing back up after sitting on the toilet to take a piss.
Act VIII – Peace
Researchers find there’s a genetic mutation causing low choline levels in multiple areas of your body. They say that, among other problems, it weakens the immune system. But then, you knew that already. You read about the lab mice. You know the outcomes. For now, Shingles deform your skin as you sit on the floor trying to figure out how you arrived here, at this place of consequence, the permanence of genetics which have no cure. Sledgehammers pulverize all two hundred six bones. Meat grinders work your muscles. You cannot imagine childbirth is worse, and then you cannot imagine that you will ever bear a child.
You conjure up a fetus starving for choline in your belly, a tiny translucent chest heaving up and down, glowing red like E.T., heart failing deprived of its vital nutrient, because your mind takes you there, because you’re morbid, because you have lost something human. Or perhaps this is what human is at its core.
You uncross your legs from Indian style. You roll to your side for better leverage, hoisting yourself up off the floor, and step toward the bathroom, taking off shirt first, then pajama bottoms, then pride. The soul takes a long, hard look at your naked reflection, weighing the situation, calculating your numbers. So this is how it is.
Shiver. Turn knob. Hot water rushing out. Stopper in drain. Bathtub filling up. Shiver. Dip. Burn. Plunge.
The words, “I quit,” fall out of your mouth. For the first time in your life you recognize them for what they are, and you are relieved. The phrase spills out of you again and again, more audible than the last time. You find yourself shouting at God. “Do you hear me? I quit.” You splash the bathtub water. The neighbors upstairs stop moving, waiting to eavesdrop your next installment. “I don’t have to suffer anymore.”
You imagine your soul free of this body. You imagine a thousand different deaths creating a release. You are seer of all possible solutions. You have taken control over your fate. For the first time in weeks you feel a smile cross your face. For the first time in years you’ve fixed something.
Very clever piece! I’m glad to have stumbled upon it!
So fresh. So new. So Needed at this point in my life. This author is amazing.
Ms. Tyrrell does an amazing job
portraying illness so outsiders can understand a snippet of what it’s like. The
storytelling is nicely done with fluid shifts between second-person and
first-person narrative. She meshes pain with self-discovery through vivid
imagery, and you can’t help but take the journey with her. Can’t wait to read
more nonfiction from her.
Stunning. The use of Acts, the second person, the word cloud… all of the form is as much a part of the experience as the writing itself. As someone with autoimmune issues, I relate to this, and it makes me want to celebrate that someone got the strength and tragedy of the journey down with such precision.
This is incredible. Not only do the visuals work well, the flow of the piece matches the palpable emotion of the writer. I look forward to seeing more of this writer’s work in print.