She & I… (& Rheumatoid Arthritis)

127H

I

haven’t been able to bend my left pointer finger for the last six months. It moves far enough to form the shape of a claw. No farther. It’s as if I’m perpetually pointing at everything in my path. Look there. Go there. Over there. Right there. It’s pink and resembles a crooked sausage. The corrosion of rheumatoid arthritis is crawling into my palm.

She

types seventy words per minute, opens mason jars, and lifts mozzarella-laden lasagna out of the oven. She can scrub her hair and push down the pump of her favorite perfume. Her hands are beautiful and slim and her fingers rest together, straight and aligned. Perfect.

I

follow behind my boyfriend when we take our walks. I’m ten feet back. Limping. My right foot will no longer take my full weight. I just have to manage Chloé because I only have the one fully-functional hand. I watch him run through the grass with So-Kr8z and Sancho to get their pent-up energy out. My pent-up energy rests inside me like a ball of unrisen dough.

She

runs alongside them. She’s still really fast. In tenth grade her P.E. teacher singled her out for the track team. Asked her to join. This same teacher watches her now from the sidewalk as she runs through the grass with the pups trailing along behind her. The teacher nods, approving of her speed.

I

want to connect with my guy later that night. I’m on top and I ask him to hold on to my forearms so I don’t have to use my hand. I’m a lover in traction.

She

is an acrobat. She digs her fingers into his chest. She only feels pleasure.

I

try to remember the jump rope rhymes. What were they? My niece, Adri, and my boyfriend twirl the rope so I can show her how to jump in while its moving. I count one… sway forward and back… two… forward and back… GO. My bum foot hits the ground and crumbles underneath me, the rope burns as it stops against my calf.

She

doesn’t count. She knows the rhythm. She’s in. She jumps and jumps and jumps. Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Turn Around. Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Touch the Ground. Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Touch Your Shoe… 

I

decide hopscotch will be easier. I grab blue glitter sidewalk chalk and draw the outline, I make the boxes and write out the numbers. I find the perfect round rock and toss. It lands on six. “Watch me, Adri.” I make it to four. I stop. I try to show her with my words and direct her little body down the board.

She

hops—two feet, one foot, two feet, one foot, one foot. She picks up the rock one-footed and completes the course, hop-twisting her body to go back down. Showoff.

I

travel to Pennsylvania for my week-long master’s residency. I stay at a beautiful bed and breakfast where Sister Renata greets me with one of the best hugs I’ve ever received in my life and says, “Welcome home.” After a full day of classes and thesis readings, I sprawl on the floral bedspread at 7:00 pm, exhausted. I fall asleep as soon as possible, so I can keep going the next day. I haven’t drank since my thyroid was removed in 2011 except for three solitary sips of wine and a single taste of limoncello.

She

attends every science fiction/fantasy dinner and young adult writer’s meet-up. She goes to the Comic Ball as Poison Ivy. She belts out Don’t Stop Believing at the karaoke bar and she closes down the place that night with her fellow writers. She’s still the life of the party. She wears a construction cone as a hat. She dances the soul train at the hip-hop club, and the next night she clears the dance floor, just like she did at a discoteca in Zurich to rounds of clapping and cheering on of the “crazy American.” She orders orange mind erasers for all. She pays.

I

try to eat an anti-inflammatory diet. No sugar, no gluten, no dairy, no fun. I make it five months. I cheat. I make tortillas out of quinoa and sour cream made with coconut milk. I cheat again. My Pinterest board is full of peanut butter and date ball recipes. I’m sick of eating cashews. I want a sundae with a cherry on top. Instead I order the avocado salad. I’m always hungry.

She

eats creamy mashed potatoes slathered with gravy. She eats Nerd Ropes and roast beast. She has seconds. She feels full. She is satiated.

I

gauge the movement of my joints before bed and decide whether I want to risk a steroid knowing they’re causing the new inches around my middle and the mood swings. I worry that what happened to a friend of a friend will happen to me. That I’ll be full of blood clots if I take one. I wake up groggy, there is never enough sleep for me to feel right. I test my hand and my toes to see how much movement there will be. And… I try to discern how many spoons I have to work with that day. I plan accordingly.

She 

dives out of planes. She wakeboards in the summer on Lake Erie and she snowboards in the winter in New York, both sponsored by Redbull. She traipses through Europe with a backpack twice her size. She goes to the gym. She lifts weights. She runs on the treadmill. She rides mountain bikes. She does yoga. She climbs rock faces.

I

attack myself. Every cell.

She

loves me. Every cell.

On my good days, we merge.

12 replies
  1. Heidi Armstrong says:

    Chronic injury and illness is just plain $hit sometimes (I have an injury and my dear friend was recovering from a TBI when she was diagnosed with RA). You’ve done such an eloquent job of juxtaposing the bad stuff/feeling trapped with beautiful visions. I’m going to share this with a dear friend.
    With love,
    Heidi

    Reply
    • Melanie Bates says:

      Thank you, Heidi. I almost didn’t post this today. I asked my boyfriend, over and over, “Is it whiny?” I wanted to share what it felt like, without the angst and too much woe.

      I so appreciate your kind words and I hope that your injury is soon healed. Love to you and your friend.

      xo
      Melanie

      Reply
  2. Teri Anderson says:

    I’m sorry you have another health battle to fight, Melanie. But I know you’ll bring the same fighting spirit and tenacity to this as you did with endo – RA may make your life miserable but it doesn’t stand a chance against your inner strength and light.

    Reply
  3. Sheila Bergquist says:

    Melanie, I’m so sorry to hear about this. It’s so hard to not be able to do what you used to. I hope things get better in some way. I love the way you wrote this piece. Sending you a big hug.

    Reply
    • Melanie Bates says:

      Thank you so much, Sheila. I so appreciate it.

      I’ve missed you. I hope all is well in your corner of the world!

      Big hugs back,
      Melanie

      Reply
  4. Sarah says:

    I feel satisfied. Full. I am not left with any questions. The picture you just painted for me is rich and colorful and tasty. It is vibrantly human and that’s my favorite part.
    I am surprised and grinning that you questioned whether or not to share it – it’s so good! So good.
    Thank you. This made me love you more.

    Reply
    • Melanie Bates says:

      Thanks, Sarah. So much. I miss your face. We really need to get together. It was good to see Andrew during the game, but I must have asked three times, “How’s Sarah and the kids?” I tried not to ask during the game 🙂

      Love you,
      Melanie

      Reply

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