It’s 3:00am, and we’re at a gas station ninety miles outside of the park. We’ve been up for twenty-two hours, and been on the road for sixteen of them. I pull out of the station and on to the open road. We roll the windows down and open the sunroof. The air hits my arms and my body shivers at the cold. I stick my left hand out the window and open my palm to the night—it keeps me awake.
On the straight stretches of road I see cars in clusters ahead and behind me. The ones ahead disappear around arcs, and I follow their red taillights. A semi-truck bears down on us, and I step on the gas to find my way back into space. The headlights illuminate the yellow markings on the road. Occasionally, a car heading south will drive past with its brights on—I squint and look down, using the yellow dotted line for guidance, and chasing those red taillights off into the distance.
I remember that there is a drink in my backpack, a coke I purchased at the White Sands. I reach my right arm back and grab the straps of my pack. Inside, I grab the warm bottle and unscrew the lid. The cola hits the top of my mouth and bubbles down my throat. I’m indifferent to the fizz, and take large gulps of the product. I love the label but wince at the taste—its only use is the sugar.
The doorbell rang at 8:00pm. I was sitting on a chair in my sunroom, wearing sweatpants and a bloodstained t-shirt, wrapped in a soft black robe. The sun had set, and I stared at our carpet, waiting for the stomach cramps to return for their midnight run-of-terror. I was numb, and the loud “ding” of the bell did not rouse me from my meditation. My two guests walked through the door, into the dark sunroom, and sat on the couch across from me.
I slowly looked up. It was two youth group leaders from my church—a man and a woman. I knew them from my summer mission trips, where he would play guitar for hours in the evening and she would give passionate prayers through the microphone on the bus before we disembarked each year. Our youth group looked up to them as models of faith and virtue, and we laughed with them as much as with anyone.
Nevertheless, I was surprised to see them here. It had been months since I had attended church, and there was no reason they should know of the struggles I had kept so secret all this time.
“We hear it’s been a hard few months”
I asked why they had come, and they simply replied—
Long seconds of silence followed. I didn’t know what to say, or where to start. So instead I started talking about my long drives to school in Wisconsin, how I loved to watch the leaves on these trees darken into reds and yellows come October, the icicles replace them in the winter, and the green burst forth again in April, or perhaps May.
And somehow that took me to the fatigue, and how I couldn’t run in the grass and play with my sister. Then it was my visit to the Mayo clinic, and the nutritionist’s house where I received bottle after bottle of supplements. I talked about putting the food at the nightstand next to my bed, wishing I could eat the lunches all my friends had.
I told them about the Prednisone, and the Thanksgiving flare-up. About the few months of happiness spent by the lake, surrounded by friends, before it all crumbled again. And then I croaked, in a shaking voice, the pain of the cramps, and the red, blistered skin, and the sleepless nights and embarrassment and the shame and the feeling of darkness each night that all but extinguished my hope in tomorrow.
And so I closed my teary eyes, and bowed my head. I was silent while they prayed for me, for my body, for my spirit, for my life.
They left shortly after, wishing me peace as they walked out the door. The whole ordeal left me fatigued—the dam of secrets had burst. I was emotionally drained, and climbed up the stair to my room and to my bed. My last bit of strength was used to turn out the light, and my last memory was falling arms out onto my bed.