Being sick is no longer any fun. It means you either have to call off work and not make money, or slog through the day, discreetly wiping your faucet-like nose on the merchandise. However, I lucked out and got sick over Labor Day weekend, which gave me an extra day to lie around and think too much.
The stakes are so much lower when you’re a kid. That moment when you realized you might be getting legitimately sick was always a cause for celebration, because you knew, you knew, that a fever got you of school the next day.
Of course, it didn’t always take something as dramatic as a fever. I remember faking coughing fits to get out of church early, waking up with a slightly scratchy throat and playing it up like it was the end of the world so that I could stay at home and watch Nick Jr. all morning (always ending, satisfyingly, with an episode of Little Bear), and even that one glorious day in middle school when my mom knowingly let me skip school to take me to an open audition for a rebooted version of Star Search in Columbus. I got three notes into “Colors of the Wind” and was asked to leave. Another girl did a stirring 16-bar rendition of “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Some girls are just natural-born beaches.
Longing for the simplicity of days past, in a somewhat self-destructive mood after having watched all of Emma in one-sitting, and on nighttime cold medications during the daytime, I yanked out my old elementary/middle school yearbooks. I went in search of that tiny something in my past that would spark the blazing inner wildfire that is a quantum change; something that would put my runny nose into perspective and lead me back down the path to Little Bear’s Birthday Soup.
Now, I was on nighttime medications during the daytime for a perfectly legitimate reason. Yes, I had a fever and was feeling very sick. But, more importantly, because my fever dreams are the weirdest! So whenever I’m sick I like to be asleep as much as possible so that I can have as many freaky dreams as I can! The three highlights of this set of fever dreams were:
1) A dream in which I inexplicably had “STRONG SALLY” tattooed in thick, black letters on my left forearm.
2) A dream in which I was visiting a rehabilitation center for injured magical creatures, and there was a unicorn there with a metal prosthetic hind-leg. We talked briefly.
Dream Keely: Are there any unicorn jokes I can’t make?
Unicorn: No. Are there any whore jokes I can’t make?
“Mean unicorn,” #4.
3) A dream in which David Hovey made a cameo as a part-fish.
Also, because of my aforementioned state of mind, I put a live version of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” on loop.
Halfway through my 4th Grade yearbook, I found pictures of “Pioneer Day,” a very special day at my elementary school, when everyone wore (surprise!) pioneer outfits, and one of the local Ohio rugged-types came in and demonstrated how to kill a chicken. The demonstration was always held in the gravel pit near the school, because once the chicken’s head was axed off, the running body emitted a fair amount of blood.
What picture could possibly do that justice?
What better place to begin my return to simpler times? I remembered buying my bright blue, gigantic bonnet at Gettysburg, Virginia a full year in advance, finding an old collared silk shirt of my mom’s from the 70’s (or so she says, but I’m pretty sure I have a picture of her wearing it well into the 80’s), and a full-length skirt at a local thrift store that was, almost definitely, fashioned from cheap curtains.
I’ve written about my 7th Grade Love before, but what I haven’t written is that I’ve never been able to peg down the moment when I fell madly in love with him. It might have been the first time I heard his absolutely perfect imitation of Salad Fingers, and my realized love coincided with my realization that all I’d ever want to be in life was his own personal Hubert Cumberdale.
Or maybe it was when I found out that he was in an extracurricular math club, and that filled me with adolescent confusion and wonder, because that meant he must be some kind of sadist.
Whatever the reason, I don’t remember it. It’s been wiped out and replaced with all those times he ignored me in the hallways, and the times when I signed onto AIM only to see him sign off immediately. But lo and behold:
I FOUND THE MOMENT!
There we are. There it is. That’s where it all began. Me in my bonnet that could blot out the sun, him in his flowing button-down, obviously having mistaken Pioneer Day for Pirate Day. That’s where it all began.
That, plus Bonnie Raitt’s 45th rendition of “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” threw me into a bit of an existential quandary. Fourth grade felt like a different lifetime, when really, it was only a decade and some past. Half of my entire life ago, really. Would I look back on this part of my life, my early twenties, in ten years, and feel completely detached from it?
How many more of these “chapters” would I get before I died? Would I have enough time to re-write my adult version of The Velveteen Rabbit, in which The Skin Horse is the nursery equivalent of Dr. Cox?
I looked over all the signatures in my yearbook, the pledges of everlasting friendship scrawled in Easter-colored gel pens, all come to nothing. And yet, we had promised to luv each other 4ever. Years from now, when I looked back on my life, would my mark on the world be the equivalent of a pastel gel pen?
Luckily, just as I was about to lose it, I found this gem:
This is Daniel. He is my oldest friend, his natural, delicious musk is that of a Chipotle restaurant, and apparently, he went through a Johnny Tsunami phase in middle school.