There was a time when I congratulated myself on making the city block-long walk to my car in the morning before work before passing out. It wasn’t that long ago, but long enough where I can’t really remember what life was like before then.
It was around that time when Mama L., my roommate’s mother and former EMT, greeted me not with a hug but with a worried look and a gentle finger on my face, tugging down the nearly transparent skin beneath my eye.
When I went to parties, I fell into a chair—probably less gracefully than I thought—while my friends stood around me. I napped after work because I didn’t have the strength to return home and immediately begin cooking dinner. I stopped blow drying my hair because my arms couldn’t hold the weight of the instrument above my head for any effective length of time.
I was anemic. And this was my game: I carefully placed my feet on each granite step leading from my apartment’s foyer to the sidewalk. Left, together, right. Right, together, left. A slow-motion pirouette and I was off. Inhale—step one, two, three, four, five—exhale. It kept my anxious “will I make it?” thoughts at bay until I reached the corner, kept the oxygen flowing however feebly through my arteries. In and out, faster, just a bit faster. Farther, just a bit farther. Darkness creeping in—so close! I parked in the same space every night so that my feet knew where to walk, even as the black dimmed by vision.
I always made it, always won, refused to admit anything was wrong. Only Mama L. saw what blood tests from my worried doctor would confirm soon after: I was deeply, incredibly, nearly hospital-worthy anemic. It was at dinner one night when she handed me a pinhead-sized wine-colored pill. I tossed it back and there I was, my usual self, cracking jokes for my supper before I fell back on the couch into the darkness once again. But as I stared into the underside of my eyelids, waiting for sleep to overtake me, I could taste a newness on my lips. It’s the tang you get when you suck on a mint that’s been hiding in the corners of your coin purse. Iron, sweet iron.