A few years ago, I caught a cold that wouldn’t go away. The runny nose left me dehydrated and exhausted and was accompanied by sneezes so powerful that my eyes would explode like volcanos of hot, mascara’ed saltiness while twin rivers of black gook oozed down my face.
“Are you okay, Ms. Amy?” the concerned kindergarten students I worked with would ask, confusing my red, runny eyes and smeared makeup for the tears of an emotional breakdown.
And I would pat their arm, and tell them, “Yes; I’m alright.” Even as we both knew I must be lying. Because all they had to do was look at me.
Then things got worse.
The congestion—in what I thought was it’s big finish—clogged up my sinuses to the point that I became unable to hear their 5 and 6 year old voices. They would ask me for help with their math or with sounding out a word, and I’d turn their head to face me so I could read their lips as they repeated it.
I was hearing-impaired. My cold had become a disability.
One week later, I finally visited a doctor who was so professional that she actually managed to leave the “Duh!!” off of “You don’t have a cold; you have allergies,” and—within another two weeks—I had beat back the mucous invasion with some heavy-hitting Big Pharma darlings.
I don’t know why my allergies waited until Year 40 to announce themselves (the rumor, in the field, is that it could be from climate change http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2013/04/29/Climate-change-may-be-extending-allergy-season/UPI-19691367274289/), but--each year hence—I prepare for my three month impairment by ingesting my favorite chemical pals at the first sign of nasal ground swell.
My mom lived with year-round allergy symptoms courtesy of an exceptionally sensitive nose.
She always had a tissue with her—always—and she classified them according to their level of degradation.
Stage 1: new
Stage 2: used once, but no rips, not crumpled
Stage 3: used more than once, starting to shred
Stage 4: intact only because of the glue-like properties of snot
Her tissues would often engage my gag reflex, and watching her blow her nose into a Stage 4 was like looking into the putrid abyss of a Port-O-John.
Mom’s intimate and longstanding experience with allergies had led to a desensitization about the social graces required for mucous management. So--while the rest of us might duck into a private area to blow our nose--my mom, in full sight, would retrieve whatever Stage tissue was available to her and honk into it as if she was heralding the arrival of the queen. Her technique was uncompromising and thorough—dual alternating nostrils at full force—and the sound it made was always powerfully magnified in my head by a potent combination of surprise and embarrassment.
Her continual runny nose, itchy, makeup-less eyes, and stash of Kleenexes in varying stages of decay never garnered pity because my sympathy for her waned with each snot-filled excursion to the bank, shoe store, or beach vacation.
We never talked about how her allergies made her feel, and—honestly, knowing how judgmental the completely uninformed are--I probably wouldn’t have believed how bad she felt anyways.
A few weeks ago, I was pulled from doing reading Interventions to take part in the spring testing charge at the elementary school I work at.
Our scores are extremely important to us since—because we are an underperforming, Title 1 school (many low income, ESL students)--they determine our AYP status, our federal funding, and—in some respects--our jobs. It can be a very tense time, and a scheduling nightmare. We were to start our official testing Monday April 29th, and I was to collaborate with another testing coordinator in getting it all done.
Coincidentally, last Sunday—the 28th—became my annual Spring yard cleanup. I’ve been on my allergy meds for a few months now, and felt safe. So I raked bags of leftover leaves. Mowed; pruned. Genuflected over plants that didn’t make it through the winter, and brought back life forms that spent the last few feral months buried under a vengeful winter.
The day was warm and full of joy until twelve hours later. When I awoke—on our first testing day—to full-on itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, clogged nose, puffy face, and complete, caffeine-resistant exhaustion. The worst it’s ever been. Exhaustion to the point where my neural filter malfunctioned and the only thoughts powerful enough to wade through the new density were the same kind that used to get me grounded in high school.
And, as my sexagenarian test proctor/coordinator partner talked to me that morning—as I struggled to maintain an awareness of what she was talking about, and also think about all the things I had to do before testing—my congested brain went Stage 4 (intact only because of snot) and one of those thoughts oozed out of my mouth: “K., I’m so sorry. I have terrible allergies, and I did yardwork all day yesterday, and I’m so congested and tired this morning that I honestly can’t even focus on what you’re saying. Could we talk about this a little later?”
I’ve never done that to anyone before. And hopefully never will again. But it just seemed disrespectful to let her keep talking when I couldn’t even process a damn thing she was saying. And, even though the risk that she might not believe me--and might assume the young whipper-snapper was just being a real jerk—was high, I was soothed by default due to the fact that I was impaired—and malfunctioning—because of an overnight detour out of Optimal Neural Viscosity.
Later that day, we got to commiserate about it though. After the point when I realized the principal wasn't upset and I regained my sense of humor. Because that’s when I told her that 15 minutes after I said those potentially-offensive words to her, I had mistakenly handed a teacher the wrong testing manual and—during the most stressful, time-crunched part of the school year—had to make an entire class retake a portion of their big test.
My lawn needs to be mowed. Again. And the weather is warm. And the sun now open for extended hours.
I really want to be outside.
Yet Spring is a tease who keeps me anxiously waiting for her. A seductive life-force that pulls me through long, whining winters. Then betrays me. A lusty temptress I crave even though she spikes my drink with poison I can't see or taste.
And I've learned the hard way that love affairs with anything lusty should be brief and cautious.
Because it is only the rare few who can overindulge in such trickery without paying a price, and I simply can’t afford to spend another work day feeling more impaired than three daiquiris on an empty stomach and looking like a Nick Nolte mugshot.