When Wendy pulled up to my house, I hesitated to get out.
We sat in silence for a few moments. "What's wrong, Professor?"
"I can't tell Ellie."
"Why? Because I just mutated like a freak in a comic book, Wendy. I don't even know if that's what it was. I can't even explain it!"
"Well maybe you don't have to for right now. At least until I take you to meet- ... just say you don't feel well. It was something you ate. That will explain your face."
"My face?! What's wrong with my face?!" I immediately pulled the passenger side visor down and looked in the mirror. It was dark in the car, but I felt clammy and flushed, even now.
"Your color hasn't returned yet. You've been white as a sheet for the past half hour."
I looked down at my hands, which seemed to shake weakly. It was as if any strength I ever had was gone. I could barely unbuckle my seat belt. Wendy was burrowing worry into my face with a heavy intensity. "Would you like me to walk you to the door?"
"That's very sweet, Wendy. But I'll be fine. It just feels like my muscles have turned to jell-o. Like I can't move unless I concentrate really, really hard. And I can't concentrate because my brain feels like jell-o, too..." I felt tears coming again. I willed them back down.
Before I could protest, Wendy was out of the car, walking around the hood, and opening my door for me. She reached in and took one of my hands, as I focused all of my might on pushing myself out of the car. I was shaky, but I was standing on my own two feet. The crisp, damp air seemed to help a bit.
One step, after the other. Slowly we walked. It suddenly occurred to me that I might have Parkinson's disease ... but I quickly dismissed that notion. Parkinson's didn't happen all at once. It was gradual and slow. And while I wasn't an authority on the subject, I had never heard of any Parkinson's patient having an intense bout of strength and ripping up furniture as a starting symptom of the disease.
Then, with blinding clarity, I thought about Ellie. What was I going to say? How could I even start? Would she leave me? NO. Don't be ridiculous! my thoughts yelled at me. Just stay calm. Let's figure out what this is before we worry anyone. I didn't have any earthly idea of how I was going to "figure it out." But I promised myself I would.
By the time I reached the end of my mental dissertation, Wendy was knocking on the front door. "Why are you knocking?" I asked.
"Because it's not my house, professor."
Fair enough, I thought. The door opened slowly. Ellie looked annoyed that someone was coming to call at such a late hour - 9:00 p.m. was Ellie's equivalent to midnight. "Oh hi Wendy! Where's -" Then she saw me. Her face went from politely puzzled to beyond worried when she saw my face. "Angie! What happened? What's the matter? You look like a ghost! Do you have a fever? Are you nauseous? What's your temperature?" She put the back of her hand to my forehead. "You're freezing! Wendy, will you help me get her inside?"
Within the course of her rapid-fire questions, I had opened and closed my mouth at least five times, trying to answer and explain. But I couldn't - and she wouldn't let me. Wendy looked at me, and then at Ellie.
"I think it was something she ate, Ellie. In the middle of the ... lecture," here Wendy rolled her eyes, ever so slightly, "Professor Derrick ran out the door. I found her in the bathroom after it was over."
Well, it could have been true.
Ellie looked at me an smiled wryly, but with love in her eyes. "No doubt the lecture made you sick to your stomach, eh, my love? Come on," she laced her fingers with mine. "Let's get you into bed. I think we have some club soda in the pantry."
I slowly started to rise to my feet. I looked Wendy in the eyes. "Thank you, Wendy. You're a life-saver."
"Any time, professor. I'm just glad I was there." She looked back at me knowingly.
After Ellie put me in bed, she saw Wendy to the door. I heard Ellie's voice raise a bit. "Please take it, Wendy. You didn't need to drive her home. Think of it as gas money."
Wendy was usually too proud to take anything from us on the occasions that would otherwise clearly delineate payment; dog-sitting, data-entry, driving me home after a mysterious, nightmarish freak attack. I heard her grumble and walk away. She must have taken the money. Something told me that Wendy's stubbornness by way of payment had to do with her sense of family - we were apart of her Wellesley family - she did what she did because she loved us, not because she wanted to be paid. The offer of money was an affront to her sense of loyalty. We felt the same way, only from the opposite point of view. Is it unnatural for parent figures to slip their respective "children" a $20.00 bill every now and then? It was the best war that neither of us won gracefully.
Ellie walked into the bedroom with a cup of club soda and a napkin full of crackers. "I don't know if you're ready to eat anything, but just in case."
"Thank you, sweetheart." I said, weakly. I felt positively exhausted.
Ellie climbed into bed, and kissed me softly on the cheek. "Was it really bad?"
I slowly turned my head to look at her. "It was the worst thing I've ever sat through. She insulted the school, she insulted the faculty, she insulted the students - she said that Wellesley and the faculty were pushing a liberal agenda, and were recruiting the students into lesbianism, via the means of brainwashing. She must have mentioned the word 'God' 100 times during her ... lecture."
"Oh God. What did the students do?"
"They practically rushed the stage. They were standing and screaming and booing. It was around that time that I ... went to the bathroom."
"My poor love. What did you have to eat today?"
I couldn't think of anything except that morning. Did I have anything to eat? "Coffee, and the omelette I made this morning."
"That's it?!" She seemed highly annoyed.
"Well once I got to my office, I didn't stop all day."
"No wonder you got sick, honey! Coffee is not a meal, dear, it's an accessory. It'll tear up your stomach."
I winced, "I know, I know. I'm sorry. I just-"
She kissed me. "No, I'm sorry. You're not feeling well, and I'm lecturing you. I think there's been enough lecturing for one day. Here," she gave me a smile. "Can I get you anything else?"
"No. Just you." I wrapped her arm around my stomach. "Just hold me."
"Always," She whispered.
I hope so, I thought.
Ellie woke me at 7:00 a.m. the next morning, kissing my shoulder. "Honey, how are you feeling? Should you call in sick, or are you going to go to work?"
"Errrmmmmmm. I'm okay. Need to lecture on Keats today. Can't get behind."
"Are you sure you're okay? Keats can wait. He's been dead for years."
I rolled over onto my back, eyes half closed. "I promise." I fell back asleep for another half hour or so. I smelled the delicious scent of batter from the kitchen. When I opened my eyes, a stack of blueberry pancakes was sitting on my nightstand. My favorite.
"What's the occasion?" I sat up.
"No occasion. I figured you deserve a hearty breakfast in case you decide to commit to another hunger strike today."
"Ha. Ha. It's Wendy's TA day. I'm guaranteed to have some kind of lunch. But thank you!" I smiled like a 7 year old as I cut into the pancakes. No one made better blueberry pancakes than Ellie. They were so good, they almost helped me banish the memories from the night before ... almost.
After I finished my pancakes, I took a shower. The sensations of the night before flooded back with the fall of the water. Flashes of anger, pain, the heat of my skin, the red in my eyes, the feel of my hands ripping off the arm rest of the auditorium chair, the thrum of my heart in my ears and chest - the hateful words turning over and over in my mind. I actually did start feel nauseous. I put my hand up on the wall of the shower to steady myself. I turned off the shower, and stood there dripping as I checked my pulse. It was racing. "Breathe," I whispered. "Just breathe." Tears started coming from my eyes. I wanted to fade down the drain with the shower water. Why was this happening to me?
"Honey, are you okay?" Ellie's voice startled me. I took a deep breath.
"Yeah sweetheart. I'm fine." I pulled the towel over my hair and started drying the excess water. Go away, whatever-you-are, I will fight you. GO AWAY.... I gritted my teeth. I was going to beat this thing or die trying. I wiped the condensation from the mirror, and looked at my face - it was white again. Fuck. I pinched my cheeks, trying to rouse some color. I put my bathrobe on and walked into the bedroom.
"I thought maybe you weren't feeling well again."
"No, I'm okay. Thanks though." I walked to the closet and started taking out clothes.
Ellie walked up behind me and wrapped her arms around me. "Are you sure you're okay? You could stay home with me all day. In bed." She kissed my neck.
I turned to face her, twirling my fingers in her hair. "That would be amazing. But I need to teach Keats before the end of the semester, otherwise I'll have Sue breathing down my neck about syllabi and coursework. Besides, I don't want Wendy to worry."
"Why would she worry?" She looked a bit confused. "She brought you home. Did you feel worse than what you told me?"
I didn't know what to say. I felt my pulse quicken again. "You know how Wendy is. If she doesn't get a full report on the rest of the night, I'll be quizzed all day long, and then she'll call the terrible nurse down at the medical center. And you know how much I love her." I felt my resolve failing. Change the subject, Angie. "Can I take a rain check for a day in bed, though?"
"Of course. You'll be sorry though. I'm going to call you through the day and taunt you." She smiled wickedly.
"My love, that's not a threat. That's a gift."
"I love you. Now get dressed and go teach young people about old dead ones." She kissed me, and left for the kitchen.
I sat down on the bed, feeling miserable. I need answers. Now.
The morning passed by relatively quickly. The students were still buzzing about our night's firebrand of a guest. I had given the assignment of writing Keatsian poetry about a personal experience, and didn't think till later that the completed assignments would be all about Elisabeth Hasselbeck. Even thinking about her name threw my body into a heightened alert. So I tried to refocus to Ellie, or the puppies, or Shakespeare. Anything else.
I picked up the phone to call Dave. Could I tell him? Would he believe me? Maybe if I told him first, it would help ease the initial shock of telling Ellie. It was like coming out all over again. I put the receiver down. Wait till he get's back. Don't do it over the phone.
There was a knock at the door. "Come in."
"Hi professor. How are you feeling?" She was approaching me slowly, as though any sudden movements would throw me into a fit.
"I'm fine, Wendy. I'm not epileptic - sudden movements won't throw me into hysteria. I hope."
"Do you remember me saying that I had an idea - of someone you could talk to?"
"Vaguely. But how is that possible? I don't think therapy is going to help. I suppose I should go see a doctor, maybe get some tests done. But I feel ... at a loss. I don't know if it would help."
"What I'm thinking of isn't therapy, or medical assistance. It's something else."
"Something else? Like what? Please don't tell me you're talking about holistic medicine and essential oils and crystals and chanting ..."
"No, professor. You know me better than that. No. There's someone you can talk with. In the library."
I paused ... expecting something else. But nothing else came.
I put my head in my hands. "Mrs. Lloyd isn't exactly my idea of a confidante, Wendy." Mrs. Lloyd, the librarian, was 70 years old, incredibly near-sighted, and couldn't hear to save her life. She did love Victorian poetry, though, and always found out-of-print volumes for me to look through. She was dear, but she wasn't anyone I wanted to pour my heart out to.
"It's not Mrs. Lloyd who I'm talking about." She stopped, briefly, slightly frustrated. "Look, you're not going to believe me unless you see for yourself. But I think she's the only chance you have at figuring this out."
I looked at Wendy, trying to figure out if she'd gone mad, or if she'd merely been doing drugs. "Okay." I'd already lost my body, my mind might as well follow. "Let's go to the library. This is insanely cryptic. But I trust you."
"You should bring one of your rare books."
"Wendy. Seriously. I'm freaked out enough as it is-" She grabbed my 1919 snake-skinned covered copy of Tennyson from my shelf. "Careful!"
"It's okay, professor. She loves Tennyson."