Red Queen’s Race

It’s hard to think when she’s hurting.

I look at those seven words. Then look at them again. They don’t seem to go far enough. And they seem to fit far too well.

She’s been hurting a lot lately.

This is not new ground for me and Heather. Far from it. Some people trade favorite books and movies on a first date; we traded medical conditions. Hey, you talk about what fascinates you, right?

So I’ve known all along about her Crohn’s disease, about her migraines, about her crazy immune system. Surgery took care of the endometriosis; the lesser-known, harder-to-spell ankylosing spondylitis came into the picture about the same time. It’s a list I can rattle off better than next week’s groceries at King Soopers.

But lists don’t capture a wife who hurts so badly, she has to lean on your arm – hard – just to get from the bed to the bathroom.

They don’t capture the frustration of knowing everything she needs and wants to do, and having to wait for her body to give permission.

They don’t capture a lot of things.

It’s not always like this. Heather can go a long time between major flare-ups sometimes. Over the last five years or so, she’s even managed to keep them penned behind walls of medicine, a new drug that could push back the pain, give her some spaces to live a life. Not perfectly, but better than anything before it.

But like sunspots, chronic pain seems to have a cycle. And lately, we’ve been trending toward a maximum.

The walls are getting cracks.

I don’t know how she does it. To be fair, neither does she. There’s a lot of days when she doesn’t want to do it, when she’s flat-out had enough.

But still she’s in there. Part stubborn strength, part love, part not knowing what else to do.

I know we’re not the only ones in this spot. We’ve taken love and comfort from so many, the other folks whose friends never know quite what to say, who keep asking if you’re doing better, not understanding that “doing better” is a temporary thing, not to be relied upon.

Every so often, I flash back to a joke my cousin and I used to tell. We knew that deja vu was the feeling you’d been somewhere before. The opposite, we said, must be vuja de, the feeling you never want to be somewhere again.

Flare-ups are made of vuja de.

I think the most frustrating thing for us – for anyone caught in a similar cycle of turmoil – is that we seem to keep covering the same ground over and over again, like a football team that can’t quite get the score but won’t quite give up the touchdown. Like Alice and the Red Queen from Looking-Glass Land, running as fast as they can, just to stay in the same place.

But oddly enough, the frustration is sometimes the strength. However far away the line may be, we’re still running. We’re still in the game.

Despite everything, we keep making it.

Not long ago, I spotted a Facebook message from one friend to another that I had to copy for Heather. It’s a virtual poster, reading “On particularly rough days, when I’m sure I can’t possibly endure, I like to remind myself that my track record for getting through bad days so far is 100 percent, and that’s pretty good.”


We hang on. Sometimes by the notch in a fingernail. Sometimes by the skin of our teeth. But we’re not off the cliff yet.

And yeah, to mix the metaphor, that is one heck of a batting average.

Tonight may be hard. Tomorrow night, too. But we’ve made it through nights before.

And with love and stubbornness and exhaustion, together, we will see the dawn again.

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