My trip across the Great Plains was painful, but the thing about chronic illness is, even when you never ever could have pictured yourself as a sick person before it hits, you do eventually grow accustomed to it. The world keeps spinning even when you're shutting down, and after a year of thinking only as far as the next fifteen minutes, having the energy to worry only about your anemic marriage or how to afford the next round of injections, you will eventually turn your focus back to the world again. Because you belong to that world, after all, and you care about things beyond your bedroom. Deeply. As soon as you're feeling a little bit better, you'll turn on the radio.
That may or may not be a good idea.
During my trip to Nebraska, it felt like the world was spinning more quickly than I'd remembered. I'm sure the violence at Standing Rock had been a reality for a long few months but we were only just now beginning to hear about it. Donald Trump, at that time the GOP nominee for president, was holding an invisible rifle up to his eye and telling his 2nd amendment supporters to 'take care of it.' Racism, bigotry and anti-semitism had been given a new breath of life; it was emerging in livid pockets across the country, like sores.
I watched the TV at the airport terminals in Asheville, Atlanta, Denver, DC and Boston. I spoke with a woman sitting next to me who said she considered Donald Trump to be a Godly man, despite the 'naughty boy' things he was prone to saying. At that point, Hillary Clinton held a steady lead and no one on NPR seemed to think Trump had a chance, still, I began to feel a bubble of panic begin to take shape beneath my rib cage.
I felt it as I visited Ash Hollow and knelt down to touch the twin indentations in the earth, ruts left by the wagons as they rolled West on the Oregon Trail. The fledgling panic distracted me as I visited the grave of the unknown cowboy on Boot Hill, and the crumbling headstone of a pioneer woman who died in childbirth, whose body by some glitch of chemistry did not decay but became petrified instead, hard as marble with her death grimace perfectly preserved.
At sunset I visited Carhenge, as one does when one visits Northwest Nebraska. Carhenge is exactly what it sounds like: a dozen or so automobiles, planted hood-down into the earth and arranged in a ring, like Stonehenge. An older lady struck up a conversation with me, apparently inspired by the surroundings, about what a shame it was that Ford was moving all its plants to Mexico.
Ford has never planned on moving to Mexico, for the record. The unease swirled inside of me like a storm kicking up over the ocean.
The lightning pain in my joints pulsed with every breath, yet Somehow the idea of Donald Trump becoming the next president of the United State acted as a mild analgesic- the thought was so terrifying that the soreness paled in comparison. Still, the pain prevented me from doing everyday things with any sort of grace- clicking the shutter button on my camera with my index finger caused my elbow to explode. So did lifting a fork. I left a number of plates of steak and baked potatoes untouched.
A few things stood out as being very enjoyable : the Hudson-Meng trail that threaded through the Oglala Grasslands at sunrise. Exploring the Nebraskan Badlands, which looked like Mars and Moab combined. Eating a piece of cinnamon cream pie (joint pain be damned). Stumbling upon an old clapboard cabin in the middle of a thousand acres of nothingness and hearing how a mail-order bride had arrived there from Scandinavia, set up a tidy home, bid farewell to her husband as he journeyed West to find wood to make a barn, was all alone for four months, and lost her mind. I pictured her shuttered inside her living room, rocking back and forth. I imagined her howling into the thundering silence of her endless front yard.
What a cush life we lead today. Incurable disease or not. At least I have neighbors.
I took notes, called the magazine, organized my photos, and after five long days called it good. The trip back East, not to Asheville but to White River Junction, Vermont, inexplicably took 36 hours. As I said before, the whole entire trip and the timing with regards to the Mycoplasma was a terrible idea. I figured I'd bounce back to my new normal (New Normal, what a term, I'd love to slash that permanently from my life) when I reached New England, but not so. The joint pain in my fingers, wrists, elbows, neck, knees and ankles went from wracking to obscene to grotesque. Lifting the fork was now no longer an option.