I'm lying on a cot in the nurse's office at school staring blankly at the light blue walls, waiting. The table is lined with crinkly paper that sticks to my arms and the pillow is lumpy and unfamiliar. The lights feel brighter than usual. It's one of those waiting-to-get-picked-up visits, one of those I-was-sick-earlier-in-the-week visits. One of those my-senses-haven't-recovered-yet-but-no-one-realizes-it visits. I can't explain my symptoms because, in the traditional sense, I don't have any.
On the tv: The Muppet Show. It's the only thing I can make sense of through the haze of Flu. I picture myself as Miss Piggy, beautiful, bold, and pink with those envious golden locks, winning the heart of humble, sweet, sincere Kermit. And then a myriad of muppets begin to sing. My body instantly overflows with fear. I can't hear them, see them, and be in my sick body at the same time. The tv goes off, and I'm escorted down the carpeted hallway toward the bedroom, unsure why I can't feel a single foot fall on the floor or my limbs in motion through space.
When my college roommate finds me, I'm on the floor near the bathroom sinks, muttering about schooners. It's where I'd fallen when the walls started to tip. As for the schooners, they're all I can see: tall, masted ships tossed in an angry sea. The word crashing like waves - schooner, schooner -until I am the words and the billowing sails. She helps me to my feet and walks me back down the hallway. I don a hoodie and some jeans, and we slowly make our way up the hill and around the bend toward the health center. The nurse is concerned. It surprises neither of us that I am dangerously dehydrated, delirious, and in dire need of rest. My family makes the long drive to retrieve me.
They call it Mono, but the tests come back negative, and so I eat the occasional Chipwich and sprawl across my bed, unable and unwilling to budge. Weeks of lethargy are punctuated by tiny sojourns outdoors, where I squint at the harsh, ceaseless motion of taxis, buses, and people around me before hastening back indoors to the safety of my apartment.
Our little one succumbs first and then we follow suit. It's not the Flu, but it sure feels like it - in spite of the shot, in spite of the test results. It's been so many nights of broken sleep: cradling, instead, a tiny body as warm as a roast turkey just pulled from the holiday oven.
I remove my hearty, noise-reducing earmuffs and peel off my weighted lap pad before crossing from bedroom office into the living room. There, she colors with chalk, smiling: her highest fever finally, dramatically diminished. Two days behind her in health, my handler stands watching - a picture of my own future well-being. They are my maps, my guides. My head pounds and my torso aches. He pulls me into a full-body hug, the way my body craves. Below, she points gleefully to her masterpiece and cries: "elephant!"