For the first six weeks of summer I hobbled around on a cane from The Plum On My Heel. I reeled from the break-up that ensued when my girlfriend went back to Illinois and resumed dating another much older guy. I healed very slowly but while I did I took on a new job, helping care for adults with behavioral and mental disabilities in a string of group homes across the Southern part of the state.
I met a whole new slate of people, several of which I would form a band with once I returned stateside. My trip to Europe loomed. You'd think I'd be excited but I was so physically strained and so emotionally blasted that all I could sense was a deep unease at leaving home. I'd spent two of my four college years living with my parents so college was not for me the time when a taste of the real world helped prepare me for my post-college years. If anything I'd regressed.
But this new job? This new job was good. I was challenged. This is very difficult work that involves adhering to programs put in place by trained psychological experts. Training in physical restraint is required as you are often called upon to intercept violent behavior, either against others or, in most cases, self-directed, against the client themselves. At first I couldn't work with clients who required this kind of intercession because I was walking with a cane. But once I was cleared to walk I took on any shift I could get.
The shift that altered the next twenty years of my physical well-being involved clearing the side of a hill that blocked a view from a luxury house that was being built. The owner of the house had heard about the work programs that the clients were involved with and hired several of the clients to aid in clearing the land. A work crew was scheduled to go out into a wooded plot of land in Western Rhode Island and cut down a slew of trees and remove the wood.
Now, during this time, I'd begun to date again, a girl I'd been introduced to by an old friend. Jennifer. She lived in Newport and I would drive my Karmann Ghia over the tiny Jamestown Bridge dreading our awkward lust-less interludes. Every second I spent with her my hands were enveloped in a cold sweat and the specter of my ex hung over every second. The cane didn't help either. We had weekend plans to go see a friend of mine perform in an evening of one-act plays in Providence.
Now, we'd been on a few dates before this but they'd been to parties with other people, bars where crews gathered, etc. This was sort of our first date even though we'd been out several times over the course of two months.
At the beginning of the week I got a terrible rash on my groin. Hip/groin, but close enough to the good stuff that I immediately became certain that my rotten ex had given me some terrible disease.
Since I was still officially a college student I made the dread trek down to Health Services who seemed hellbent on making my life miserable. But this time the doctor took one look, assured me that I had no sexually transmitted disease, unless you counted the deer tick who'd taken a bite out of my inner thigh.
I had Lyme's Disease. It was a Friday morning. I was prescribed a round of antibiotics. When I got home Jennifer (the girl I was going out with) called. I told her my diagnosis. She said it would be fine if we canceled that night, if I wasn't feeling well. I said I felt fine. I wasn't lying. But the shit hit me quick.
A mere hours later as we filed into our seats in the little black box theater, everything started to disintegrate. The chair felt like a torture device. I was sweating bullets. Walking from the car to the theater, the bottoms of my feet had hurt, as if I'd been standing in line in the cold, instead of taking a short stroll in comfortable shoes in warm weather. I had difficulty getting my wallet out of my pocket to pay for the tickets.
By the time the first short one-act was over I knew I'd have to leave.
I had trouble walking out of the theater, so sore were my legs. Jennifer had to drive my car.
I no longer had sufficient energy to be able to make it through a grueling shift at work, tackling and restraining grown men and women who had no restraint of their own. Bright light hurt my eyes.
Now, remember, I was leaving to go live in France for NINE MONTHS in little over a month. The prescription lasted until the day of my departure. Looking back, I marvel that I went through with it, that I left to go live in a foreign country for the better part of a year when I was having trouble functioning here in the good ol' US of A. But go I did.
The last month of the summer I spent in seclusion and began obsessively watching 'Crimes And Misdemeanors' and 'Goodfellas' back to back in some sort of twisted high-brow/low-brow double feature. I must have watched them every other day for a month, bundled up in my parents living room, shivering even though it was August, forcing myself to eat because I had no appetite from the massive doses of antibiotics I was taking daily, and occasionally hanging out with Justin over at his house.
At the time, Lyme's Disease was still something of an under-reported mystery. Most people upon hearing what I had, didn't even know what I was talking about. Pre-Internet, pre-Lyme's epidemic, I was like a guinea pig in a sadistic unregulated study.
If Lyme's Disease is left undiagnosed it can kill you. For some people Lyme's Disease is like a bad cold. You take your medicine and it goes away. Then there are people like me who walk away with something resembling arthritis. I've never felt the same. Aches, pains, discomfort at even the slightest contortion, my body feels DIS-jointed, disconnected, something patched back together after having been disassembled.
I didn't know any of this at the time. All I knew was I was going to live in Europe where I wouldn't be able to scrutinize the masterworks of Woody Allen and Martin Scorcese on a daily basis anymore.
And Jennifer? Well, it turns out that the old friend and I had a lot more in common than she and I did. One of the few nights I had enough energy to be out, the three of us went to a bar down near the ocean. As we were leaving, my old friend and I naturally held hands as we walked out of the place. Jennifer didn't see it. As our fingers meshed we looked at each other. Twenty one years of history was instantly transformed. Their friendship ended and ours changed.
I took the last antibiotic pill right before I got in the car to drive to Boston to catch my flight to Paris. Working on my nervous system were so many factors that there was a kind of blackout. I cried for what I was leaving behind, I cried for what I might encounter across the pond, I cried for all that I didn't know.
Today I can still feel the weight of those factors. The antibiotics didn't erase the imprint of the Lyme's Disease and there was simply no antidote for the remaining drags on my constitution. Those I'd have to endure as well.