This essay was written in 2015 for Entropy’s “On Weather” Series. I didn’t have the energy to rewrite the whole thing differently as the editor asked so gave up on it.
The nausea begins with the Barbacoa Super Burrito Mojado I wolf down at El Arco Iris while my boyfriend sips a beer and munches on guacamole. Or does the heatwave catalyze the nausea? Or is it taking my sleepytime anti-psychotic Saphris at irregular times and not often enough? Or am I pregnant?
“It is a perfect storm,” the voices in my head repeat as I fall asleep at dawn after a phone call with a friend in Miami. He texts me a photo of a male stripper in a gay bar the night before the Orlando shooting. I watch in Xanax-ed stupor the tear-jerking Anderson Cooper CNN coverage. Reflect how close we all are to death.
It is a perfect storm of haphazard violence and a sense of danger as the heatwave hits. Fast on the heels of my burrito orgasm. When I awake at my boyfriend’s house I vomit again and again without him noticing. I don’t tell him I’m sick as we fight over something I said on Twitter. Have make-up sex. Too much is going on.
When I return home it is to cockroach-infested cat food and my own private hell. I watch queers get shot on CNN then Tangerine on Netflix. Do yoga reflecting on the mean streets of Hollywood outside my door. I vomit again and again not knowing why. The heat climbs in my apartment. I blast the A/C from the wall mount unit. It proves inadequate.
I stay inside my apartment because it is far too hot to go to the grocery store. I don’t eat for three days. Only vomit. Take the Saphris twice in a twenty-four hour period which I really shouldn’t do because I want only to sleep. To sleep without the voices in my head and nausea.
When I wake from the second sweaty, fitful sleep I call my best friend. We talk for eight hours until the sun comes up. We confess to each other. She tells me she’s worried about me. Mutual pity juxtaposed with admiration welds us.
“Stay up all night to avoid the heat,” sing The New Bad Things in “Knott St.” The New Bad Things encapsulate the golden, “front porch drinking Hamm’s in the summertime,” moments that I remember so fondly from college in Portland. I listen as I frenetically polish a nineties punk Portland novel called Scaffolding. Racing to get that perfect final draft before the small press I recently queried requests a full manuscript. If they do. I have been scouring my mostly inconsequential email with intensity.
The voices in my head tell me that, “Your intensity is uncomfortable.” I am aware of this yet I persist. Maybe it’s okay. It’s what I’m doing because I don’t know how to do anything else anymore.
A different New Bad Things song lingers in my mind after watching the epic twenty-minute battle scene on Sunday’s Game of Thrones. The intensity of that is uncomfortable too. In my horror over the medieval bloodshed I want only to vomit again. The think pieces I read tell me this is the appropriate response.
The song “Krankenhaus” rings in my mind throughout the subsequent day. “At the hospital: There’s three square meals a day. At the hospital: no one asks if you’re okay. At the hospital: there are people who are trained to take care of you.”
I wonder what is wrong with me. Do I need to go to the hospital? I have done my time in psych wards, detox and outpatient rehab. I would really prefer not to. The hospital is a possibility that mounts with ever-pressing potentiality as the heatwave, nausea, fever and heatstroke intensify. It is a perfect storm.
I look at an article about the dangers of heatstroke. I have all of the symptoms but I so do not want to call 9-11. I read how people are dying in this heat. I do not want to die, but I also do not want the embarrassing spectacle of an ambulance and expense of an ER visit if it can be at all avoided.
I look at the Wikipedia entry for Nausea. Pregnancy is a possibility. With my IUD and his on point pull-out game that seems unlikely. Every time I think of the possibility I feel a mounting roar of terror that I refuse to quell with more Xanax. I already took one to bear witness to Orlando. I don’t want to take too many so that they stop working. Yet I am terrified on a myriad of levels. It is a perfect storm.
I text my sister and friends about my fear that I might be pregnant. Women understand these things. There are some things that only women endure.
It is 100 degrees in Los Angeles today. I spend the day drinking iced coffee with coconut milk. Nitpicking my novel in a blue maribou bathrobe filled with mounting disgust at myself. I can smell my sweat. My book makes me want to take a shower. This heat makes me want to take a shower.
I tweet, “To get the perfect smokey eye: vomit, wipe face, reapply eyeliner, gag repeatedly, wipe eyes.” Glamour and abjection are not strange bedfellows.
After exchanging panicked texts with a sympathetic married friend I arrange for my boyfriend to pick me up. I read CNN articles about wildfires. Hikers dying in Arizona. Record-setting temperatures as the summer I so wanted for half of June hits with the force of a thousand suns.
My skin burns. I put on leopard leggings and the Good Vibes tank top that I fear will identify me to doctors as a stoner. I feel the inadequacy of my emaciated frame. Wish only for health. It becomes less of a bikini body and more of a humiliating statement of not-okay-ness when I’m 40 and my hand-span thighs are concave.
An eating disorder hospital was suggested to me recently by the terminally ill best friend who must spend more time in hospitals than I prefer to. I said no. I can drink enough Venti Frappuccinos with whip, eat enough pizza that I will put on a healthy amount of weight again. I believe this so hopefully.
I so dislike institutions given the pleasures of outside. I would prefer not to spend my life in one. I have worried that I might.
I rock back and forth directly in front of the A/C in the rising tide of afternoon heatstroke panic. Pack my medication, extra keys and a sweater so I will be prepared if I do indeed have to go to the hospital. Wait for my heroic boyfriend to pick me up and rescue me from my inferno of an apartment.
My cat who can sense that I don’t know when I am coming back twines around my hands. Cuddles with me. I wonder if I should take her with me. I wonder if she will be alive when I return. There is a distinct sense of disaster.
I do not know if it is the hospital which awaits me as I shoulder my medication tote bag and fringed purse. Bid farewell to my cat who may be a charred skeleton when I return. Put on sunglasses to walk down the steps of my apartment building to the street where my boyfriend waits. He stands by his yellow Smart Car. I don’t know if he realizes that he is rescuing me. We can never know the thoughts of another.
My boyfriend is my hero as we whiz through traffic. Pick up tacos and french fries in Glendale. I tell him I can’t even handle getting out of a car and going into a restaurant. I want only to be as low-maintenance as possible as I answer his questions with “Yes, okay. Yes.” When he is high-maintenance at the drive-through it amuses me because as someone has to freak out here it helps for it not to be me. If getting extra salsa and ranch dressing will help that is fine.
At my boyfriend’s house I consume a Carne Asada Taco and many French Fries with the fervor of someone who wants to be healed. I lie on his orange couch. Put my feet on the pillow he wants me to. His Brussels Griffon snorfles to my hand. Leaps in my lap.
“They flew golden retriever therapy dogs into Orlando to comfort the traumatized. I saw it on Twitter,” I tell him.
I live my life on the Internet because it is a place where I can be both private and public. Isolated and communal. Alone and together. Hidden and confessional. Socially awkward and flamboyant. Reclusive and talking to everyone all the time. A world mediated by screens because I never leave my apartment where I sit day after day writing dreadful things. I’m on SSDI because I’m too mentally ill to work. This frees me up to write into the void of the iCloud and Internet chasing some illusory impossible success as swirls of voices both flattering and upsetting echo in my ears.
It is what it is. Both luxury and tragedy. I accept it as I have no choice.
The voices ring about me as night falls. I smoke a bowl under the Strawberry moon. Contemplate the pinkish-silver moon as humans have since we began being awake at night. As Oscar Wilde does in my favorite of his plays, Salome.
My boyfriend and I watch the moonlight ignite the dark air through the open windows. We sit in anxious vigil throughout the hot night. My nausea and fever come and go. I try not to vomit up the food he so kindly bought for me out of a sense of both thriftiness and not knowing how soon we will next be able to eat.
He sleeps fitfully on the couch. Wakes to yelp then falls asleep again.
I fiddle with my phone on a mid-century chair patterned like a heartbeat. Calendar the healthiest time every day to take my medication and sleep normal hours like the healthy person I want to be. Asses expenses. Beat my iPhone at Scrabble a couple of times although I can rarely beat my boyfriend. That he consistently beats me at Scrabble tells me I have the right one.
A darting faerie breeze comes through the stagnant air from the open windows. The New Bad Things song in my head finally changes from “Krankenhaus” to “Knott St.” “Front porch drinking Hamm’s in the summertime. Stay up all night to avoid the heat.” I realize as the hospital dirge leaves my head that I will make it through this hot night to finish my nineties novel. It’s going to be okay.
When I wake again the heat and fever have broken. It is afternoon.
My boyfriend who I watched with tenderness through that long Strawberry moon vigil feeds me another taco. I finally tell him over pico de gallo that “I was low-key having a pregnancy scare.” It was a conversation that I did not even want to begin the feverish night before.
I already knew the name and phone number of my gynocologaist who would give me the abortion if that was needed. I got an abortion in college so I could graduate and I would do it again. There was not even the question of a decision. My ambition outstrips my maternal instinct. Childbearing is not in the cards for me. It’s not a responsible choice for anyone including the child given my situation.
That night I tweet, “How many of these tweets & Internet essays are a cry for help, I wonder? So much pain yet we all cope collectively.” This essay is not a cry for help as that moment has passed. Please don’t send ambulances to my apartment, thanks. I would like to hope that it’s all fine for now.
The heatwave is over. For now.
In the cool of the 3 am air conditioning I sip iced coffee and compose the essay my mind churned over throughout that hot night. Writing about it later was the main thing that kept me going. Writers are such vultures. We arise from the corpse of a tragedy with poignant text in hand for submission. I suppose it’s something to do. I can only spend so much time in therapy.
It is a desire to have one’s pain understood and witnessed that drives confessional text. There is an indecency too confession. Why am I so compelled?
The other thing that kept me going through the heatwave was knowing I was not alone in this global warming crisis. As I know I am not alone in my desire to read and write confessional essays. I saw on Twitter under #heatwave that everyone in the Southwest burned that day. It was hot all over. It will be hot all summer in Los Angeles.
I said to my boyfriend in the car as he drove me home, “Everyone has a story and a struggle. I learned that in rehab. You never know until you ask.”