“And this is what happened, and this is why the caribou and the wolf are one; for the caribou feeds the wolf, but it is the wolf that keeps the caribou strong.”
~ Farley Mowat
Before my eyes open, I can see the bedroom that awaits me.
The quilt is spread evenly and squarely, an indication of a rare, restful stillness; my right leg wraps clumsily around the sheets, the only full limb exposed to the morning air—’cept for my toes, which remain buried and unimpressed; I can see the filtered tint of the room, the most peaceful lighting it will know all day, all measured through resting eyelids.
I wager that the hour is somewhere between very-early and unusually-early, as the birds’ red-carpet melodies ring beyond my window. The house itself, silent—thick with the residue of slumber as a new dawn peeks hesitantly inside.
Slowly, reluctantly, I turn inward. To my body. To my skin. My joints; and finally, to my head, which had split wide open the night before.
Look, I mouth silently. The storm’s gone.
Being the only human present, the only one who could validate this truth, I whisper back: The storm is gone.
And now it is safe to move.
On this morning, I broke free of a three-day migraine, which came in the midst of a five-week flare brought on by my lupus. “My” sits heavy in the mouth—an almost-metallic taste to it—but any other pronoun would not do the relationship justice.
Though this disease has claimed the bodies of many others, in my story—in this story—she and I have forged an intimacy that has been unparalleled. I don’t know if that is something to lament or celebrate, but it is truth all the same.
Systemic lupus erythematosus: I have her and she has me.
In her most grotesque form, she is scientific jargon, an auto-immune disease, a plague that confuses my body into attacking healthy tissue. In her most enchanting, she is depicted as a wolf, fierce, yet lovely, in her mythology.
The romantic in me prefers the latter. The realist in me… well, there isn’t much of a realist in me actually, so I skate along, blissfully ignorant until she bites—and bite she does—this unsuspecting hand.
My courtship with this disease has, in many ways, mirrored my most-regrettable human relations. Though we get lost in our dance at a cellular level, the exchange is no-less real, no-less toxic, than that of the most challenging love affair.
This is a marriage I never pictured myself in—one full of empty promises, endless last-chances, and let down after painful let down; yet, here I am, sleeping with the one I loathe, the one I somehow admire; waking each morning with caution, in fear, that I’ll be forced to face my day in the shadow of this beautiful beast.
When she lies dormant, I imagine a life free of her.
When she snarls, I walk quietly in her footsteps.
When she bites, I recoil, horrified and in pain.
She tears away the pieces of me, and I mourn each and every one.
She circles three times. She commits to sleep—her belly full, her hunger satisfied—and I watch, cowering, resentful, but with a quieted heart.
And now, each morning, as I turn inward ever-so cautiously, I shake the dust of yesterday.
With each new dawn, I disturb the quiet layer of doubt and fear and anguish and anger. So much anger. I let the fears of all the yesterdays settle where they may and I carry on—modeled after a greying memory of what former-me set forth.
Though it grows more difficult to remember what that life was, the one I had before she welcomed me into this unforgiving pack, I rise—and yes, sometimes I stagger, sometimes I kneel, other times I’m brought down on all-fours trying to remember what it means to pray, what it means to believe in the unlikely, to offer up your hope bravely, like some god-forsaken sacrifice—I rise again and again and again.
And when she fails me in her promises to relinquish that which is inside of her, that which is wild… I rise again. Not to tame her, not to make her anything other than that which she is, but to remind this beating heart, this exhausted frame, that it can rise again and again and again.
This wolf of mine, this captivating companion, this horrible witch, sings her song to me—a belly-howl that reverberates straight through my core.
Her song may guide the journey, but will never define this traveler.
I will shake this dust each morning, as I disturb my quilt upon waking. I will let all the fears of all the yesterdays settle. I will stand, because I can. I will stand because sometimes that is the only thing I can do to remind myself that I am not the frail, pathetic cub she threatens to make of me.
I will stand because that is who she taught me to be.
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