Seven years ago, I caught a cold that wouldn’t go away. The runny nose left me dehydrated and exhausted and was accompanied by sneezes so powerful that my eyes would explode like volcanos of hot, mascara’ed saltiness while twin rivers of black gook oozed down my face.
“Are you okay, Miss Amy?” the concerned kindergarten students I worked with would ask, confusing my red, runny eyes and smeared makeup for the tears of an emotional breakdown.
And I would pat their arm, and tell them, “Yes; I’m alright.” Even as we both knew I must be lying. Because all they had to do was look at me.
Then things got worse.
The congestion—in what I thought was it’s big finish—clogged up my sinuses to the point that I became unable to hear their 5 and 6 year old voices. They would ask me for help with their math or with sounding out a word, and I’d turn their head to face me so I could read their lips as they repeated their question.
I was hearing-impaired. My cold had become a disability.
One week later, I finally visited a doctor who was so professional that she actually managed to leave the “Duh!!” off of “You don’t have a cold; you have allergies,” and—within another two weeks—I had beat back the mucous invasion with some heavy-hitting Big Pharma darlings.
My allergies had gestated for 40 years, and made their appearance with a ground swell requiring tsunami sirens.
My mom lived with year-round allergy symptoms courtesy of an exceptionally sensitive nose.
She always had a tissue with her—always; often tucked up inside her sleeve—and she classified them according to their level of degradation.
Stage 1: new
Stage 2: used once; no rips, not crumpled
Stage 3: used more than once; ripped, starting to shred
Stage 4: shredded; intact only because of the glue-like properties of snot
Her tissues would often engage my gag reflex, and watching her blow her nose into a Stage 4 was like looking into the shit-abyss of a Port-O-John.
Inevitably, Mom’s intimate and longstanding experience with allergies led to a desensitization about the etiquette of mucous management, to the point where her public persona often involved honking into her tissue using an uncompromising technique—dual alternating nostrils at full force—akin to heralding the arrival of the queen, the volume of which was always powerfully magnified in my head because of a potent combination of surprise and embarrassment. As she reached into her sleeve to pull out a used Kleenex in varying states of decay, I am ashamed to say that my teen mind was not very compassionate, for it would be many years before I would be able to understand her misery and restrain the impulse to run from her as she blew and to keep my mouth from shrieking should, after the fact, any unaccountable droplets of wetness manage to reach the exposed portions of my skin.
A few years ago, the school I worked at gave my friend Karen and I the responsibility for collaborating on end-of-year testing. Karen is much older than I, and even though she’d done the task before, was still less confident in her abilities, simply because of the pressure; at our underperforming, extremely vulnerable school, testing was an evil that both teachers and students detested but without which we’d lose federal funding, making compliance to the attendance and testing standards a logistical nightmare that if not performed correctly, could make all of us lose our jobs. It’s a very tense time.
So naturally I spent the day before testing doing yard work and came to school the next day unable to function.
As Karen looked to me for guidance, I looked back at her with the equivalent of a Stage 4 brain (intact only because of snot) struggling to maintain any kind of awareness of what the hell she was saying to me, caffeine-resistant exhaustion, full-on itchy, watery eyes and puffy face, and sneezing, clogged nose, impeding neural processing to the point where the only thoughts powerful enough to get through the non-optimal viscosity were unspoken pleas to the world to just stop whatever it was doing and let me lie over there in the corner of this classroom under the testing manuals.
And now here we are again. Spring. And my lawn needs to be mowed. Again.
The weather is warm. And the sun now open for extended hours. I really want to be outside.
But Spring is such a tease; who I wait for all winter, then like a lusty temptress, betrays me by spiking my drink with a poison I can neither see nor taste.
And it’s a hard lesson to learn that love affairs with anything lusty should be brief and cautious, for that day we started testing, when the whole school ran around looking to Karen and I for confidence and calm, I ended up handing the wrong testing manual to a teacher and–at the height of stress season–did everything wrong and had to make a third-grade class retake an entire section of their end-of-year math test.
Damn it to hell, the struggle is real.