Sarah, Kat, Kim & I are continuing to host Reverb through 2016 as a way to share writing prompts and providing a space for writers via our Facebook group. Here’s (a very late entry for) July’s prompt. 

July’s prompt // Freedom: What is freedom to you?  How do you celebrate freedom in your daily life?

We are in a Copenhagen bar talking about our brothers.

We have run two half marathons in two countries in two days and I am shocked that I have finished. I say that running is mostly mental for me – when I run, I think about music; my dog; kissing and being kissed; the sun setting into the Pacific Ocean; running with my brother. I think about happy, positive things, because to become tangled up in the voice of self-doubt during a race is Game Over.

But it is a lie to say that I have just run 26.2 miles in two countries in two days by the power of positive thinking. I have just had both of my hips and a knee reconstructed and been diagnosed with a serious collagen disorder – whether I admit it or not – running is intensely physical.

We are here because in December, I had messaged a group of running friends suggesting we sign up for the Copenhagen Half Marathon – Smplefy; eee; Nat, and their respective partners, Laly, E, and Fox, who would come along to Sherpa. I’m not entirely sure why I did this, but it Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time. Everyone quickly signed on to this suggestion and added another half marathon in Oslo – even the partners were keen to go (except Paul, who begged off).

So we have each finished triumphantly, albeit for different reasons, and now we are in a bar, wearing matching shirts and our race medals, and we are talking about our brothers.

Nat’s brother died almost a year ago; Laly’s brother died about ten years ago. My brother is alive. I say this in my head, and I chew it and turn it over like a wad of gum in my mouth: My brother is alive.

It is not to diminish Matthew’s hard work to say that it is luck that he is not dead, but there is an element of happy statistics at play too. I listen to these women talk about their dead brothers, and it is real to me how close we came; how lucky we are. Sometimes, I think my parents cover up their raw memories of dread with Republican bootstraps and it was never that bad and stop being so dramatic, you weren’t here! But maybe when you’re in it, or when you’re a parent, you have to do that in order to survive what you’ve seen and how it all played out.

I listen to Nat’s grief – the depth and complexity of it; the nuances of the joy for the things that she experienced with her brother. All we can do is listen. Laly, too, knows that grief in a more intimate way than I do; I merely stood on the precipice and backed away.

It’s different when it’s your sibling, Laly says, It’s the only other person who knows the experience of growing up in your family. Also, it’s out of order.

It is out of order.

I remember my revulsion at the thought of losing the only other person who knew my family experience. He would disappear for a few days and we wouldn’t know whether he was in jail or dead – my mother would obsessively search the county jail inmate register – and I would try on the grief from thousands of miles away; seeing how that heavy suit of loss hung on my little frame.

I realise, now, that when I run, I prepare for every race with the thought of my brother’s first race – of watching him tie on the bandanna from his best friend’s funeral; of hearing his footsteps like a heartbeat beside me. I still dread phone calls after 8pm because I always used to think it was someone calling to say that my brother had died. I wonder why nobody ever dies during the day.

I look at Laly and Nat and wonder how they have borne the loss I narrowly escaped.

When Paul and I were out at the beach with my family this summer, a friend texted that he was in Atlanta with a colleague of his – a sorority sister of mine. I had been her advisor – she’d been in college when I’d taken the call that my brother was in jail and the world was about to end. I laughed and expressed my surprise – he sent me a photo of the two of them together. It was a worlds-colliding moment – strange and wonderful – a reminder of the way we are all connected; how past pain doesn’t necessarily taint future or current happiness/success. The photo came as I was driving back up the coast to see a project my brother was working on; managing in his new life as a builder. Sober eight years, he was working with a friend and he’d asked me and Paul to come see what he did for a living and switch his car back with my mother’s, which he’d borrowed earlier that day.

Paul stayed back in Oxnard, and I drove up to La Conchita to make the switch and see Matthew on the job. To travel that weird bend in the 101 where the sun sets over the coast and blinds you if you time it wrong; to see how far he’d come; we’d come.

As I am sitting in this bar in Copenhagen, thousands of miles from the depths of my brother’s addiction and from that day on the California coast, I think of that moment of seeing my brother at work; of that photo of my two friends; of the bend in the 101 where the sun sets; of the fear in the eyes of everyone around me the day I got the call that my brother was in jail. I think about how lucky I am. I hear Nat ask How do you explain this grief; this loss; to your partner? And I think you can’t explain it; I think your partner won’t ever believe it; I think about how addiction ends and loss is just a snapshot in time, but grief gets you, like a noose, and it works its way around your throat and never really lets you go, even once you are free.

 

This is the eighth (and final) piece in a brief series of posts. Here are the firstsecond, and thirdfourthfifthsixth, and seventh.

By mid-June, I am feeling crazed by Not Knowing whether I have the type of EDS that will make my organs rupture without warning, and also by Not Being Able to run now, or potentially ever again.

There is nothing that makes a woman feel less attractive than spending a summer recovering from surgery. My skin and stomach are both taking a beating from the constant onslaught of anti-inflammatories. I have been nauseous for weeks; constantly dissolving Zofran tablets on my tongue. I sleep in long, monogrammed PJs even as the temperature rises because I am sick of looking at the scabby holes in my leg. I’m walking on my own, but my gait is like that of a baby giraffe and I cannot walk for too long without epic fatigue.

These are First World Problems, so I try to power through. I focus on how quickly I am healing; I talk about my progress with physical therapy. I take pictures of the scars and I post them on Instagram because when you are full of holes, you only want people to see the supernova of your body on your terms. I have two constellations of incisions – one on each hip – and a whole galaxy of scars on my right knee from repeated, failed arthroscopies during my days of competitive sports. There is also a several inches-long vapour trail running down the inside of my right leg from my running accident last summer.

I have to do something. I search for any activity that I can participate in that will Take The Edge Off and will not require more medication and that will not bore me. Under the influence of the last of my narcotics and Royal Ascot, I decide horseback riding is the way forward. I ask my physical therapist whether equitation is permissible, and he tells me that it is possible, but not advisable because Meredith, squeezing a piece of horsemeat between your legs could irritate your hip flexor.

I love making dirty jokes, but I do not take his bait because the last time I did that, I wound up announcing to the entire gym that I eat boxes for breakfast! I was talking about my prowess in conquering the eight inch riser they were having me step-up and step-down to prove my quad strength before they’d let me in the anti-gravity treadmill. But I got a few looks that morning.

I spend the next few days scouring the internet for barns that are not too stuffy, that are close to the city, and that accommodate adult beginners.

The last time I rode a horse was when I was leaving my first husband. Jade told me that when I was ready to leave Andrew, I should come home. When I knew it was time, I called my parents to come pick me up at a wedding in Las Vegas and take me back to LA. I had had several moments where I knew my first marriage was over, but that wedding where Andrew had dragged us to Vegas insisting he was the best man in a wedding in which he was not even in the wedding party provided a particular moment of clarity as to the direness of my circumstances.

Once I arrived in LA towards the end of that particular shitshow, Jade took me to her mother’s house. Jade’s mother, Das, is an accomplished equestrienne, and was one of the only divorcees I knew intimately at the time. Das took me out on the trail and we rode for hours and hours. It had inspired me to write a poem about Frederic, and horses, and divorces, which I had shared with him, and which he had praised in that way that made clear he thought it was stupid.

And that was that.

Within months Frederic was legally separated, and so was I and I thought things might go somewhere, sometime. But then he surprised me by telling me that he’d been seeing the Danish girl all that time, and what was I doing, still writing him letters? Didn’t I know that I’d caused a terrible flap between him and his girlfriend because they’d moved in together and one of my letters had been forwarded to their shared abode?

I shrunk back in a special kind of shame, then, when I realised I had left a man who couldn’t handle rejection to the point of refusing to admit he wasn’t the best man in his childhood friend’s wedding, only to find myself sending poems to a man I failed to notice was living with another woman.

I sign up for riding lessons at a farm in Pleasantville, NY near where Paul and I were married. My instructor wears concert t-shirts and has turquoise hair and tells me that I need to feel things; that I will suck at this a little to start; that feeling is first. I cry the first time I get on the horse – a giant gelding called, of all things, Bill – not out of fear, but because I am certain I haven’t felt much of anything in years.

I don’t suck at horseback riding, but I am not instantly good at it, which is exactly what I need. I need something to take my mind off of the EDS; and the whole of my lower extremities.

Hold the reigns up, like an ice cream cone! Tamara the instructor shouts from the centre of the ring, and I apologise for not doing it right. Why are you saying you’re sorry? she asks me, truly baffled, You’ve done this like three times in your life!

With that, I begin to realise how far off the rails I have gone. Literally. Figuratively.

At the end of my first lesson, I sign up for many more because even if I never master the sport, I am coming to terms with the fact that nothing will be the same again, and the future, whatever it is, will be entirely different and wholly Okay.

This is the sixth in a brief series of posts. Here are the firstsecond, and thirdfourth, and fifth.

It is mid-May.

Jade is originally meant to stay for a week, but she stays for ten days instead.

I do not know how to communicate how glad I am to have her here. I am the sort of person who sends handwritten letters, or gives Grand Gifts to show gratitude, but who struggles with the basics of close emotional engagement. With that in mind, sometimes I re-watch Hannah and Her Sisters, and I want to believe I am the desirable Lee or the fragile Holly – but in truth, I am the easy-to-resent Hannah. Hannah, who never needs anything from anyone.

Jade works in the Arts, and some of her work can be done away from Los Angeles, so she works while I lay on the sofa in a drug-addled stupor with my leg in a machine that bends it for several hours each day. My contractor has not finished the bathroom renovation he promised to finish a week ago, so Jade puts on her headphones as the Tile Guy cuts marble in the background.

One thing is clear: We did not expect to be Here, wherever Here is.

Jade has come to New York wearing a hat with Half Dome embroidered on it, and I laugh, because I have the same one. It dates back to the early days of my divorce; my first week on the California coast. Jade had met me in Carmel, and although we were arguing about The Circumstances Surrounding The End of My Marriage, we drove to Yosemite to climb Half Dome.

For the first time in my life, I had no idea what I was doing.

In my head, it was the Perfect Time to climb a mountain, specifically, Half Dome. But because I do a lot of communicating in my head, I do not think I fully explained what this entailed to Jade.

We arrived in Yosemite at night and everything was on Fire. Jade’s house had once burned down, and she was terrified and furious at me that I had brought her to a literal firepit to force her up a mountain for no reason. And I had lost all powers of persuasion – I had just filed separation papers two weeks before – and had gotten a speeding ticket on our drive. At the time, I felt like it was an excellent idea to argue with the National Park Service officer over what federal preemption is and how it applied where a state law explicitly granted one the right to decline to provide one’s social security number for a speeding ticket.

(When you are getting divorced, it is shocking how angry you are – even if it is an amicable split. I denied how angry I was for a long, long time. I admitted to feelings of guilt, and sadness, and grief. But I look back on all the fights I picked with strangers; all the things I had to prove; and I cannot help but marvel at the magnitude of my rage.)

So Jade and I climbed – it took us all day but we summited Half Dome and looked out over the hazy valley. There were points where I had to scream back down the trail and encourage; bribe; cajole her up the mountain. But we did it.

Relationships are not easy. But that is part of how we got Here, I think: New York by way of California; divorced by way of Half Dome; married by way of a proposal in Yosemite Valley. Diagnosed with some rare disease by way of Scotland, and Amsterdam, and Big Sur, and an aunt who died in infancy.

So Jade works, and my leg bends, and the Tile Guy saws, and here we are.

Throughout the week, people come and go and Jade and I talk in between guests. Or sometimes, we don’t talk at all. Sometimes we just sit. On Saturday, when I am finally less disoriented and nauseated, Jade goes to spend a night Out East with an old friend of ours. JRA comes to visit; my friend Patricia comes in the morning to stay for a few hours. Others come and go. One friend jokes: Your house is always so clean and you are always so put together that it’s sort of fun to be like this. She confides this like we are little girls at a sleepover, and we are pulling a trick on My Ordinary Self.

I never need anything from anyone so I am grateful, even though I feel watched; supervised; incapacitated; and momentarily mortified about the state of My Apartment Under Construction. But the magnitude of my pain, nausea, and immobility is such that I do not have a choice. I have to ask for help.

By Sunday, nearly a week after the operation, I am feeling Marginally More Human. My friend Smplefy, who once met me in the Edinburgh Airport, is in town and he stops by with his daughter in tow – he is picking her up for the summer from a nearby college. He has asked me what he can bring to cheer me, and while I am inclined to say Just yourselves! I remember that JRA tells me to tell people specific, actionable things they can do for me, for both their benefit and for mine. So I tell him what I really want – a black-and-white cookie – which they proffer upon arrival. I know it is a labour of love because they are Californians, who have absolutely no idea what a black-and-white cookie is, and they have brought a fresh one from the Carnegie Deli.

While we are chatting, Jade comes back from Long Island. I watch her as she talks to our guests, and I cannot help but be completely overwhelmed by the generosity of these people who have come to be with me.

I am thinking about Scotland, Smplefy says suddenly, And your grandmother’s bracelet.

I am momentarily shocked, because that has been on my mind since the beginning of this adventure; since my diagnosis. Additionally my grandmother’s birthday and the anniversary of her death are upon us. But that bracelet, and those clues – they had been my information; my burden. It feels so strange for some one else to be in the thick of that with me. I am not even sure my mother had remembered the jewellery, or could piece together how it led to this place. Then I remember that M has a frightfully good memory, and he is struck by small details and things of beauty all the time.

It’s funny you should ask about that, I say…

So here we are.

This is the fifth in a brief series of posts. Here are the firstsecond, and third, and fourth.

It is May.

An old friend comes to town and asks me to dinner. It is one week until my surgery date. You’re so calm about all this, my friend remarks.

I shrug. But I am glad my friend is here – this is a surprise; we have History dating back to the California Coast, and there is quite a lot unsaid between us. There is a lot of comfort in these Things Unspoken – those weird, unshakeable friendship ties that friends never have to talk about; the stuff that spans time zones, and continents. But maybe I am a bit shaken by the visit, too – always waiting for the next arrival or departure; always expecting the other shoe to drop.

I walk home in a still-cool New York night, happy and full, like an early Joni Mitchell song when her voice was still high and the melancholy was just an undertone. But then I take a phone call outside my own door that devastates and infuriates me; that throws me into a tailspin where I feel I must pretend to be my own twin sister for a week to make up for being rude to the doormen. At the time, this seems like an excellent solution to my behaviour, but in retrospect, perhaps I am not admitting that I am also unnerved by All The Things I Cannot Control.

Paul arrives into town a few days later, the weekend before my surgery, and we bicker about mundane things. It is nerves, I know, but he takes this to heart and I know I need to be better about this. Bickering has never bothered me – my parents are champion bickerers and love each other deeply. I have always seen coldness; neglect as signs of trouble in a relationship – not the day-to-day sniping. My parents say We Yell Because We Care, and I honestly think they believe it.

We arrive early at the Hospital for Special Surgery on the Monday morning – they take me back immediately to prepare me and they tell Paul they will bring him back shortly. I have done this every summer for three summers in a row, so I know what I am in for. But for Paul, this is his first time taking anyone in for a surgical procedure; this is his first time being solely responsible for another adult human’s well-being.

With this in mind, and in advance of my surgery date, I have called my best friend – my sister – Jade, who agrees without hesitation to come in from California to take care of me after the operation. It is not that my husband cannot take the time off of work. Rather, it is that I am stuck with the belief that no waspy woman worth her salt would have a man come man a sick room. This is simply Not a Done Thing. My belief is dated and sexist, but I know that while I love his company, my husband cannot do the basics without step-by-step instruction, and I Do Not Want the Hassle Right Now.

Is this wrong? Am I a bad person for this; am I anti-feminist – for asking a woman to do the work that women have always done? Or is it right and safe for a woman to ask another woman to care for her during an injury or illness?

The surgery is a success and I wake up quickly in the PACU.

After a few hours, I really really have to pee. But this surgery is performed under spinal anaesthesia and my legs are only barely awake. The nurse brings me a bed pan instead of taking me to the bathroom. I see Paul’s eyes go wide, as the nurse lifts me up and puts what appears to be a puppy pad beneath the bed pan. She then lifts me and moves my bandages out of the way as best she can, before setting the pan beneath me.

I’m, uh, gonna give you some privacy, Paul mumbles. I’m going to go get a coffee.

The nurse rolls her eyes, and I start to laugh. Paul has reached his limit.

They always do this, the nurse assures me after he is gone.

It’s better than my first husband, I tell her, I was in the ER at St. Vincent’s a lifetime ago, and the moment the doctor touched me, my ex passed out into the bed of the woman next to me. 

The nurse clucked approvingly, as if to suggest that a husband who walked away from a bed pan was definitely an upgrade from a husband who Simply Couldn’t Deal in the first place. I am inclined to agree, but in either event, I still know it was best to import Jade. That I maybe I am sexist, but I am not wrong.

Eventually, they let me leave the hospital and Paul leaves for the airport as soon as he gets me home. There is a gap between when Paul has left for the airport and when Jade arrives, so Strand and Sam and their dog, McGee come to babysit me. It is a month before their wedding; my house is a disaster because we are renovating a bathroom and the contractor is taking forever to finish; but Strand is familiar enough with Needing to Babysit Me When I Come Home From the Hospital that she seems unfazed by the whole thing.

She is a saint.

Thai food arrives in waves, because we have ordered it, and friends who live downtown have also Seamless’d an order to me. Everyone knows that I love Thai food. Jade arrives shortly after the Thai food comes, and walks in to find me surrounded by dogs, blondes, noodles and Pringles – the detritus of demolition and construction all around.

This is the third in a brief series of posts. Here are the first and second.

It is April.

It is at this point that I see my rheumatologist, and fill him in on the medical adventure I have been on. I have known my rheumatologist for 11 years, and we are neighbours. I used to work with his college roommate. We are close. So together we brainstorm some possibilities for what caused my odd injuries.

Are you very flexible? He asks suddenly.

Yes. I can do the splits all the way down. I can bend my thumbs all the way back, too. Do you want to see? I stand up, prepared to drop into a full split on his lineoleum floor in my paper gown.

 Yes, the thumbs. That’s part of the diagnostic criteria for something. Anything else?

I can bend my legs behind my head and turn myself into a fruit basket.

The last one I say in earnest – it does not occur to me how bizarre it sounds. He ignores the Fruit Basket Comment and suggests You may have a genetic connective tissue disorder – this could be why you keep getting injured so easily. Let’s refer you to a geneticist.

I go home to Google the diagnostic code on the invoice. I have spent my life with a variety of strange, seemingly unrelated ailments that would instead seem perfectly correlated with the diagnosis he has preliminarily given me.

I call the geneticist in the morning. He is booked for 18 months. I search NYC hospitals for another one. She has retired. Another  is booked for two years. I call the foundation dedicated to this disorder, and they tell me that their genetics centre has a waiting list of five years, but would I like to donate cash? At each of these hospitals, I am told that if I were pregnant, they would see me immediately, but since the testing is for me and not a foetus, no interventions can take place.

I do not know what interventions are, but this process seems Kafkaesque.

As a last resort, I consult Dr. Google again, who refers me to a genetics centre only loosely affiliated with a hospital in Boston. After some negotiation, they offer me an appointment two weeks later if I can send them my files ASAP.

The weather has turned sharply cold after a mild winter, and I am due in Boston on a rainy Thursday. On my way to Boston, I stop by Kat’s house to see her and the new baby. I wonder if I will ever have children; if I even want to have children. As I ponder this, Baby A spits out her paci and waves her tiny fists menacingly at me.

Kat wishes me Good luck as I leave. I wonder if I will need it.

There are still dirty piles of snow on the New England ground and the rain falls in sheets as my reliable Volkswagen cuts through the midmorning traffic. I arrive in Boston in good time, and the Doctor Will See Me Now. He is an older man; South African, with one of those lilting Afrikaaner accents that at once sounds Dutch, English, and vaguely Australian. He asks me a list of questions and throughout our chat, he rolls his eyes in a way where I cannot tell if he is impatient with me, or annoyed I have come.

He asks me at length about my family history and I am as prepared as I can be. I have checked birth and death records; I have grilled family members. I have pulled as many of my own files as possible.

Do you or does anyone in your family struggle to heal from surgery? the doctor asks me as the interview portion winds down.

My mother had a sister who died at six weeks old because the surgery to correct her oesophageal atresia failed completely. 

He looks up at me, sharply. Margaret’s condition itself was incredibly rare, and the genes involved might be associated with the syndrome my doctor thinks I have. The fact that her surgery did not “take” is one more important data point towards confirming my diagnosis, and by association, hers.

Finally, after over an hour, he slams his fist down on his cluttered desk.

How did your doctors miss this? This is a textbook case of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. 

He is irritated not with me, but with other people’s failures, it seems. I have taken on the yoke of those failures; been dismissed as a hypochondriac or presumed to be a pill-seeker. As it turns out, I am Textbook.

We proceed to a physical exam where he asks me to touch my thumb to my wrist and my hands to the floor while standing. I again blurt out the fruit basket thing, and he seems unfazed by it. Instead, he asks me what I do for a living.

 I’m a lawyer, I simplify.

I love lawyers, he tells me. He gestures to the photos on his walls, These are all lawyers. Famous lawyers. Do you recognise any of them?

I squint at the walls, which are covered with pictures of the doctor and friends, some of them with a distinctive 70s vibe.

That one is me and Justice Blackmun. Very important man. Great friend, especially to a geneticist.

He finishes his exam, takes my blood for genetic testing. He is certain I have EDS, but the genetic test is important to identify which of the subtypes I have. He tells me he will also test me for being a CF carrier and SMA in the event that I want children. He explains to me the risks of childbearing with my condition. He tells me that depending on which version of the bad collagen gene I have, I shouldn’t be dissuaded from having children, but that I should be selective.

It is not until I leave the office and I get into the car to drive home that it dawns on me that Justice Blackmun authored the opinion in Roe v. Wade. I finally realise what the doctor means by selective; intervention.

More importantly, I begin to realise that none of this is my fault. This isn’t happening because I am a shitty runner or because I ran too many races trying to work out some deep childhood pain. None of it is my mother’s fault, and none of it was her mother’s fault, either.

All of this angst; all of this complex grief; all of this damage was done by a simple quirk of DNA. I do not know whether to be angry or relieved. All those years of therapy suddenly seem like a huge, expensive waste.

This is the second in a brief series of posts. The first post is here.

It is March, 2016 and I am standing at the finish line of the Fitbit Paris Half Marathon. It is cold, and windy, and as with every finish, my feet are hot, so I strip off my shoes. I have run the whole race without stopping once because some primal part of my brain has said Do not stop; keep going till the end.

I know at the finish line that this is not my Triumphant Return to Running after my 2014 hip reconstruction and my 2015 knee reconstruction. I know that Something is Not Right, but I cannot yet put my finger on what. I fumble in my waistpack for paracetamol with codeine, and I gobble it greedily. I drag myself back to the hotel, where I order ice and Pringles from Room Service, and fill the bathtub with cool water and ice cubes, lowering myself into it like a professional athlete. Then I watch shitty movies on my iPad and eat Pringles in a questionable hotel bathtub.

I am able to make it through the weekend and arrive back to New York. Days later, I am standing in paper shorts in my hip surgeon’s office when he knocks to enter the exam room, his entourage of physician’s assistant; student fellow; nurse in tow. He is one of the best orthopaedic surgeons in the world – his patients are typically professional athletes. He’s also a really nice guy with a good bedside manner. I’m still not sure how I got so lucky to get on his roster.

He begins to talk to me about my right hip, and how great it looks on the x-ray I’ve just had, when I interrupt.

No, I say, I mean, yes. It does look great. But I am here for the left side.

He frowns. Okay, let’s take a look.

With labral tears, femoroacetabular impingements, and certain other impairments/ injuries of the hip, a doctor will rotate your joint around and push it this way and that to see if you have the injury before ordering a scan to confirm. The manipulation feels excruciating.

The surgeon looks disappointed – his goal for me was a complete recovery. I know that I am a typically fun patient because I am motivated, and I follow instructions. I am disappointed; I am a Bad Statistic now. He orders an MRI, but we all already know that I will be splayed on an operating table sooner than later.

The MRI results come back quickly, and the surgeon’s nurse practitioner calls me to tell me that they have a variety of areas of concern. They have compared this scan to the one they took in 2013, and it seems impossible for me to have injured myself so badly when I have spent the better part of three years in sports rehab. The bone marrow edema is significant; the tear in the cartilage is obvious; there is an impingement; so on and so forth. Before they can do anything else, before surgery can even be an option, I am given a list of specialists I need to consult.

This is March.

I do not say much about this to anyone, because people tend to think that People Who Run are to blame for everything that happens to them. When I slipped and fell in August and had to have my knee emergently reconstructed, a bunch of probably well-meaning friends and family sent me messages telling me that this was God/The Universe’s way to say Don’t Run Any More!

I wondered, then, if I had been hit by a car if those same people would tell me that it had been God’s way of letting me know I shouldn’t walk outside alone anymore. As if I should be personally responsible for every possible contingency resulting from my mere existence or participation in society or recreation.

(But I am also related to a lot of rightwingers and Bootstrappers; I have dated more Eagle Scouts than even your average Mormon, so I do wonder if I it is partly the company I keep.)

As the weeks tick by, I see specialist after specialist, each of whom takes my blood and asks me questions. One doctor thinks I have blood cancer. Another doctor thinks that this is the legacy of a previous bout with an eating disorder. Nobody has answers.

I am sent for a DEXA scan, and I am asked to track down the DEXA scan I had performed on me in 2008. I call NYU Hospital and ask them to sift through Hurricane Sandy-affected records under my old-married name to find out whether I can have the test done on the same equipment. This feels weirder than it should – saying my old name; digging through old files; looking at old diagnoses.

It feels almost like we are talking about a dead person – this Sick Woman; this anorexic; this woman who couldn’t hack it in BigLaw; this Woman who was Married to Andrew; who loved Frederic; who couldn’t Recover. I am not That Woman.

In the midst of This March, it is Frederic’s Birthday. I text him, because I have wished him a Happy Birthday by some sort of message since before Texting Was a Thing – it is reflexive. I could never help myself where Freddy was concerned. Thank you, he says, Of course you remembered. I feel a need to reconnect with you. We should make lunch happen.

He had relapsed; he is sober again. I had appreciated his honesty in telling me, but now I am left to wonder if the whole rekindling of our friendship; our business relationship (which took place during his relapse) was a lie. It is the Same as it Ever Was, except the promised lunch will never happen.

I have the new DEXA scan. This time, they scan my wrist, too, for good measure, and they have forgotten to tell me to take my Love bracelet off. They look irritated with me when I ask if they have a screwdriver. They push the bracelet up my arm, but the bangle shows in the scan, and I am secretly glad of it, because now I know it is Me in these pictures, and not Her – not the Sick, Dead Girl.

I do not have blood cancer.

It is April.

This is the first in a brief series of posts.

It is May, 2013, and I am standing in a hipster bar in the middle of Amsterdam in the middle of a long afternoon-into-evening.

I have just come to The Netherlands to receive terrible news. To soften the blow of having to tell me how bad this particular situation is, a group of lawyers is taking me out for drinks. But I am jetlagged and angry about How We Got Here in the First Place, so I have become rather tipsy, rather quickly. But instead of paying attention to the Dutch happy hour and the attorneys who have graciously arranged it, I am frantically texting with a man I have loved for a long time, trying to focus his attention on me. In my head, I feel I am the embodiment of a Joni Mitchell song – winsome, wistful, lonely, pining for a man who is not ever going to be mine alone.

By now dangerously tipsy, I message the man a loaded question – a question that is meant for winesoaked lovers’ lips next to each other in bed, or the shadows of a bar, and not from halfway ’round the world via electronic pings. I ask him: Don’t you love me and want me to be happy?

He replies: I want you to be happy.

It is clear that I have made A Terrible Mistake. I gather up my things and leave the bar. I meet my colleague for dinner like Nothing Ever Happened. By the door of the restaurant there is a large, ostentatiously displayed wheel of stilton. My colleague fusses over it like it is a puppy or a baby. We English love stilton, he explains, as if that excuses his behaviour over a wheel of cheese. We finish an unmemorable meal by ordering a cheese plate – the stilton is standout. They cut it freshly from the giant wheel.

It is after Midnight when I arrive back at the hotel and I put myself to bed.

The next morning, I am up early to catch a plane to Edinburgh to run the 2013 Edinburgh Half Marathon. On the flight, I sit and observe the bracelet I am wearing, which I inherited from my grandmother – my mother’s mother.  I am flying on what would have been her 100th birthday, and the bracelet is stamped with scenes from Don Quixote.

photobracelet

My grandmother was a tiny, peculiar woman, and had been the mother of four children – two boys and two girls. She had lost one of her daughters at the age of six weeks. Years earlier, when my grandparents had still been living in their house in Florida, and I was a tweenager, my grandmother and I had gone through her jewellery and she had taken tiny enamelled pins out from a case.

Those were Margaret’s, she said. Before that moment, I’d never even known such a person had existed, or that my mother had had a sister. Margaret had been born with an oesophageal condition and the surgery to correct it had failed. The absence of Margaret had left a hole in my grandmother’s heart that my mother could never fill. Perhaps any parent who has lost a child will confess to this; perhaps any after-born child will bemoan it. It did not occur to me until much, much later that maybe the Complex Grief was why my own mother and I were not particularly close: Those sorts of gaps; wounds couldn’t close so easily in just one generation.

The irony does not strike me at the time – that I have been chasing a non-existent love and fighting off imaginary giants. That my own Complex Grief has had a hand in tanking my first marriage and subsequent relationships. I just think that I am honouring the dead.

My friend Smplefy meets me in the Edinburgh Airport with a sign that says International Woman of Mystery, and I laugh for the first time in days. We go to pick up our race numbers and talk about running, and Scotland, and Things That Are Easy to Discuss.

I am grateful.

That night, we part ways early so we can each prepare for the next day’s race. I message my mother before bed, hinting at my romantic failures. You just need to put yourself out there, she advisesNobody is going to come into your office and sweep you off your feet. I roll my eyes from 6,000 miles away.

For once, I draw the blackout shades in a hotel room, because it is 10.30pm and the Scottish night is still purple and blue. It is beautiful – I could drink it in forever. But I have to go to sleep because I have to run the next day. I am filled with missing, and longing, but I am limbo because he wants me to be happy. I should be happy. Alone.

The next day, Smplefy and I meet at the Start, making it by the skin of our teeth, and running the course in the unusually pleasant Edinburgh morning. We run past the landmarks, through the city, along the North Sea. It is Perfect. My heart is breaking, but it is a Perfect Day.

I run a slow race, which is confusing. My body feels like it cannot work. I am in good physical shape, and at the finish, my hip seizes for the first time. I blame a twitchy IT band, and jetlag, but I am baffled.

That afternoon I shower at the hotel and cancel my reservation for the night; opting to head back to London then onward to New York. I have failed; I am failing. I am inordinately sore. My then-assistant manages to get me on the last flight out of Edinburgh that afternoon and by evening, I am safely back in London, my grandmother’s bracelet clanging on my wrist as I exit the Tube and make my way to dinner with my friend PG.

It is the end of May, 2013.

I do not know then that within days, someone will walk into my office and sweep me off my feet – and will later become my husband. I do not know that the pain in my hip is not my IT band – it is a serious cartilage injury that will sideline me for a more than a year. I do not know that the bracelet on my wrist and the story behind how I came to possess it will later hold the key to unlocking a serious family medical mystery; that I will be fighting a different kind of giant.