Heather picks me up in her parent’s car. This is our first date.
I’ve never seen her wearing anything besides her McDonald’s uniform. She shows up wearing an ankle-length skirt with a flower print and a jean jacket. I have this strange moment where I realize we are the products of two entirely different teenage cultures. If we’d gone to school together, we might never have associated with each other. By meeting in a work environment where we wore uniforms, we didn’t drag all of our high school ideas about identity into our relationship. Until now.
“That’s an… interesting outfit,” I blurt out. I know this this incredibly wrong the moment the words escape my mouth, and none of my hastily appended comments do anything to blunt the fact that I was just a jerk to her. This is on top of the fact that I was already kind of a jerk when she asked me to prom. She’s an exceptionally good sport about it.
We go see Medicine Man, starring Sean Connery. This is a movie with A Message, and the message gets in the way of the storytelling. I really like the characters, but the ham-fisted plot repeatedly tests my patience. As it grinds through the sad parts of the movie, I look over to see if Heather is as annoyed as I am. She is not. In fact, she is a little teary-eyed.
This date could be going better, but it could also be going worse. In fact, it’s about to.
As if waiting for the right cue, a hammer comes down between my temples. It’s another one of my headaches. I’m suddenly feeling very weak, and looking at the brilliant screen in the dark theater is agonizing. As the movie hits the climax, the the sound and fury seem to be tunneling through my hand and my closed eyelids to directly assault my frontal lobe.
We were going to go out to eat, but when the movie ends I tell Heather about the headache and ask her to take me home.
I insulted her outfit. I sneered at the movie. I ended the date early. I expect I have bungled things beyond redemption with this girl. No doubt she will assume this headache is just an excuse to get away from her.
To my surprise, she offers sympathy and earnest concern, and doesn’t seem to question my story for a moment. The next time we work together she’s glad I’m feeling better, and doesn’t bring up any of my blunders. She’s willing to go out again.
I get the sense that this girl is a bit different from the others. We begin dating regularly. Eventually, we go to prom.
|This is a Polariod taken at McDonald’s, where we worked.|
It’s now the summer of 1992, and I seem to have gotten myself very, very sick. It began with some sort of stomach ailment. First I was visited by the twin menace of fever and vomiting. After several days of this it became painful to swallow anything. I’d get this burning sensation in my esophagus, which is interesting because until now I didn’t even know you could feel anything in the esophagus. As it turns out, the esophagus can be an energetic conduit of some impressively excruciating pain. Eventually it became painful even to swallow water. Because I am an idiot, a fool, and a hapless moron, I dealt with this by simply not taking any more liquids.
With no food or water, my body quickly lost strength and the infection ran unchecked. So now I’m in the hospital. I have not eaten solid food in over a week. I have yet to have a drink. In fact, swallowing causes such intense agony that I can’t even swallow my own spit without curling up into a ball and crying. I have a gross little cup here that I spit into every minute or so. When the cup is full, I call the nurse and he empties it.
They’re keeping me alive through intravenous fluids. It’s amazing to see my body drink from a plastic bag, through my arm. They have managed to hydrate me to the point where I can sweat again. I’m no longer dehydrated, but my mouth still feels thirsty.
The summer Olympics are on, and the main attraction (for me at least) is the endless procession of advertisements for Coca-Cola. My mouth longs for a cold, sugary drink. I crave it like I’ve never craved anything before in my life. On the other hand, I know that drinking one would probably cause the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. If my own spit burns, I can only imagine what a sip of icy, carbonated, slightly acidic soda would feel like on the way down. It’s a good thing they won’t serve me a Coke here in the hospital, because I’d probably be stupid enough to drink it.
Heather visits me. Every day. Not even my mother comes to see me that often. I suppose if I had more brains I’d propose to her right now. She’s already demonstrated herself to be patient, empathetic, cheerful, and willing to laugh at my jokes. All this, on top of her beauty. What am I waiting for? To meet a girl who is all of this, and a millionaire? Unfortunately, I’m about to turn 21, and it’s part of the natural order of things for people my age to not think ahead.
I wobble out of the hospital after a week. It’s been two weeks since this abrupt fever appeared and I fell ill, although that feels like months ago. I’ve lost a shocking amount of weight in that short time. It will be a while before I have the strength to return to work.
There’s no rush. I’m living with my parents, working fast food. Rushing into things right now is like driving faster when you get lost. My life isn’t going anywhere.
Push the Button!
Scenes from Half-Life 2:Episode 2, showing Gordon Freeman being a jerk.
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