Friday, October 16, 2009

Last Saturday I spent the whole day convinced I was dying. Since I'm superstitious I'm not going to say what I thought I was dying of, but I will say that there were two ailments involved and that my supposed imminent death revealed what I thought to be the meaning of my life.

By afternoon I was so freaked out I went to the pharmacy to, hopefully, buy some Xanax. Some Vicodin or Percocet, or heck, even Valium, would have been fine too--I just wanted something to quiet, for a little while, the voice of doom that loudly confirmed everything I saw, heard, and thought as a sign my end was near. The "mortality worries" had been going full-force since Joedy left for California, and it was getting out of control: I was getting out of control. On some weirdly rational level I knew my worrying had to do with Joedy's being gone, and although I was convinced my remaining days were few I was also aware that all was not quite right "up there": I knew my worrying had become obsessive, and I was starting to worry about it.

I'd been to the pharmacy before, and I recognized the young woman behind the counter. Although I'd heard painkillers could be bought without a prescription in Costa Rica, I didn't know about anti-anxiety medicine. The pharmacist, who'd discreetly sold me something for an embarrassing problem a few weeks ago, smiled gently. She seemed trustworthy. "Hola," I said, "tienes qualcosa...para el anxioso? La panica? Como...Xanax?"

"Para usted?" she asked, looking at me carefully. I could tell she was wondering what was wrong with me, and although I hadn't yet told anyone that I was dying and it made me a little bit jittery, I knew I needed to give her a reason. "Si, para mi. Soy anxioso por que soy possible...inferma."

Spoken aloud, the words sounded so dumb and melodramatic I could hardly keep my own eyes from rolling, and when she came back with three tan pills in a purple and silver package decorated with flowers I felt both sheepish and disappointed. Just voicing my fears made them seem less serious, and anyway I wanted a bottleful of pills, thank you very much, not just three. These pills looked so...healthy. Like vitamins. Nothing so benign-looking was going to work the right magic on my frayed and frazzled nerves--nothing without a good kick was going to set me in the right direction--so when it turned out the pills weren't breastfeeding-friendly I was kind of relieved.

Leaving the pharmacy--Malko wobbling around in his seat behind me and Lula talking nonstop on her bike beside me--I thought how crazy I must have seemed to the pharmacist. Tan, slinging a baby around on one hip, I'm sure I didn't look sick--I probably looked pretty fucking healthy. Riding up the hill towards home, soothed by the kindness in the pharmacist's manner and by the fact that, well, she'd taken me seriously, I started to see the humor in the situation: I was sick, all right, in the head. I felt silly, and that was a relief: my problems weren't so big after all. When I spoke to my best friend later and learned she had both viral laryngitis and pneumonia and was going to the hospital, for god's sake, I felt even sillier...

Joedy came home the next day, and the morbid dreams I'd been having stopped. I stopped examining my skin for strange bumps and analyzing the tingling sensation in my hands when I put them over my head. I stopped thinking about death, my death, and started housecleaning. In twenty-four hours I de-stained, washed, and folded three loads of laundry, scrubbed both bathrooms, color-coded the contents of the fridge, and put a plate of strawberries out in the sun to ripen. I wasn't really worried about my health anymore, and life overall seemed manageable and good, even wonderful.

We saw the ants the next morning--big and black, with spidery legs and a stinging bite, they swarmed all over the back yard in lines three inches deep. Although they looked scary and their bite hurt, they were described by our neighbors as a natural cleansing phenomenon that eliminated rot and decay, a sort of physical purging of the environment. It was best to leave them alone while they "cleaned up," but for all their skittery creepiness--there were so many of them!--they were harmless.

It was easy leaving the ants alone when they were outside, but when they started wandering into the house, threatening a mass invasion and maybe a little too much help with the housecleaning, we bought some ant poison. Joedy sprayed it carefully--we didn't want them to go berserk--and in a few hours it seemed like they'd left. There were no more in the back yard or on the patio. They weren't climbing on the trash can or creating a pretty black ring around the pool. We praised the can of ant poison, and then we saw them on our bedroom window.

Luckily, we have screens, so the hundreds--thousands--of ants that ran past our windows couldn't get in, but we moved Malko's play pen to the other side of the room anyway, and we've been shaking clothes out, and swatting ourselves, compulsively since. After purging our windows of rot and decay the ants tackled the empty upstairs apartment, climbing the outside wall in a dark upwards-moving river. Watching them gave me the shivers, but there was something in their purposefulness that was comforting, too, and when they finally left I kind of missed them. Sorting laundry outside by the washing machine, I thought about the ants and how important it is to purge and clean, to let go of the old, the sick, and the dead--to clear out all the junk and move on.