I want to talk about a pretty lifeguard.
She is a very pretty, blonde, willowy lifeguard who is also a good friend.
We always had a lot in common. We were both whimsical, liked to sing, to dance, to swim, to run and play.
Some of my favorite memories together were coming into her living room (which always smelled like coconut) and she was resting upside down in an easy chair. Her head was balanced on the floor and her hair was cascaded around her. Her feet were pointed with excitement and she tensed them and relaxed them in the air above the chair’s headrest. Her body was poised with excitement, but her face was serious and studied. She held a pad of paper and a pencil in her hands that she rested on her chest.
“Oh my goodness, I’m so glad you’re here!” She exclaimed when she saw me.
I had no idea why. I hadn’t seen her for quite awhile and I was surprised from things that had been whispered in my ear that she was excited to see me at all.
“What are you doing?”
She flipped her legs over her head and tumbled to her feet. She reached out a hand and I steadied her. The dizzy fit passed as quickly as it came on, it seemed and I didn’t think about it, or the fact that she’d never gotten dizzy like that before.
She clambered back into the chair, this time upright. If I had known more, I would have realized that was a symptom of her invisible illness.
“Alright,” she was breathless. “Listen very carefully to this, and tell me what you think.”
She read the short poem she had on the pad, her blue eyes were large with expectation when she looked up at me. It was a couple of sets of rhyming couplets, something romantic. I wasn’t sure what to say. It meant a lot to her, I could tell that… but what was I supposed to be listening carefully to?
I pulled my hair back and thought about what she had just read to me.
“Do you want to hear it again?” She asked anxiously.
“That might be a good idea,” I agreed. What on earth… don’t talk to someone for a week and then this happens?
She clambered upside down again, perhaps more blood to the brain was called for or it read better that way?
I wish I could remember what the poem was, I asked her if she remembered it and said she didn’t. She said that if she’d written poetry it must have been awful.
I wasn’t sure what merits I was supposed to be judging the poetry by, or if she’d even written it. She’d told me nothing! She read the poem out again, this time I decided it sounded like perhaps someone expressing a sentiment to someone, some sort of monologue?
Her cheeks were pale but had little pink blotches from her acrobatics, “well, what do you think?” She was more insistent.
“It was… good?” I tried.
She shook her head, and put up a hand as though to stop such sentiments in their tracks, she lowered her face so her hair covered it as though to disguise further signifiers. In retrospect, a bellyful of education behind me, I should have understood what she was after… right?
I wrote a story for “Invisible: the mystery of hidden illness” after being struck by a car and developing PTSD. I suddenly understood how PL felt and how she had been misinterpreted. You can read more about my story in a separate blog and don’t forget to get a copy of the book as well! It’s made the top 100 in Canada!
“Well… who do you think wrote it?”
She threw down the paper and pencil. I could see that words had been erased until their was no more eraser and then crossed out.
She abandoned the notepad like it was rubbish and stalked into the kitchen. I read the poem over. It sure looked like she’d been writing it.
“Who wrote it then?”
“You were supposed to say you thought Shakespeare wrote it.”
I didn’t point out that she’d clearly been writing the poem so I had assumed she had written it. I read it yet again. It was a love ode, I think she mentioned a dove.
“It’s iambic pentameter for school. I thought it sounded just like Shakespeare,” she sighed, despondent and then bounced back and brightly offered me some lemonade.
She ripped out the page and let it crumple down to the carpet. She wiped away the hurt and I didn’t think about it again… much. It’s a confession that writers’ carry. Every event, every human reaction around with them, occasionally taking them out and turning them over and looking at them, learning from them.
I turn that memory over now, not the conversation that followed, not that she wanted to sound like Shakespeare, but that one moment. The one where her face flinched in pain and hurt and her enormous blue eyes sparkled like lakes about to overflow into streamlets. So briefly that it was nearly not even something that could be observed.
When I asked her about it, she said she didn’t remember it. I’m sure she’d say that it wasn’t important, but I bring it up to show an insidious chain of events. These sorts of events happen every day and people with invisible illnesses are particularly prone to having these bad chains happen to them. They’re such little things, but they make this writer question: what if I would have given the correct response? Would that have stayed with the pretty lifeguard and made a love of writing blossom instead of being a forgotten, incidental memory?
Let me share a bit more of my perspective and perhaps it will become more clear. The Pretty Lifeguard, we’ll call her PL, was diagosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and I hadn’t seen her for awhile when I came to her house that day.
Now, expand further: I described the scene as though I was alone when I went to her house, but that wasn’t the case. There was someone else there, someone who had been telling me things about PL and making me feel isolated from PL. Despite having CF, her friends and people who appeared to be her friends, were seeing something else. They were seeing someone isolate themselves from the rest of the herd; the question was, why was she separating from the herd?
It was a question that PL had tried to answer, but a question that her friends had a hard time understanding. PL made a point of continuing with her job as a lifeguard, that’s a smart thing to do. Regular exercise is important for everyone, but especially for people who are chronically ill! She did her hair and makeup, she got a trip to Hawaii in the hope that the sun and the beach would make her feel better. She got a sunbed for the same reason.
Yikes! Did you just see what I saw? A green eyed monster walked into the room and said: why does she get special treatment? She looks just fine.
This left PL open to machinations that she had no way to protect herself against.
I had been told quite a few things at this point about PL and her family. How they looked down on me, how they thought they were better than me and my family… all the things that people whose eyes have been invaded by the monster say. I was young and stupid. I avoided PL increasingly. I stopped inviting her to things because her answer was often, ‘no’. I never thought about how that must have made her feel, to be increasingly isolated by ‘the herd’ so those days when she felt like she could be a bard and write like Shakespeare, her friends weren’t quite on the same page as her.
The friend I was with gave me significant looks, they told me afterward… well, things that weren’t very nice. Yes, I fell for it. I wish I hadn’t, because it turns out, PL had no ill intentions towards me whatsoever. They had never told X that I was any of the things X had said.
X pulled me out of PL’s house and said only a few things. Subtle things. Like most subtle poisoners, her victims, myself, people in our circle, PL had no idea that we were being poisoned.
I’ve decided to write about that circle of friends. I’ve learned a lot about things that went on behind the scenes. I’m not going to write about it a non-fiction book, but I don’t think anyone would believe the things that went on anyway. I’ve started a third person perspective series about it, each character will be carefully fictionalized to be a ‘character’ but it will, nevertheless, be the story of the lives of many people. If they read it, I think each character will recognize themselves. That’s what good books are for, for us to be able to recognize ourselves in, right?