By Madeline Anthes
I didn’t notice the reactions at first. They were so small. Pin pricks on the back of my hand. A hive on my leg.
They got more noticeable in time.
By then I’d started asking you questions about your father, why you studied Political Science if you hate talking politics, what you think about as you fall asleep. You’d started asking me my favorite songs, why I can’t stop biting my nails, where my mind goes when I stare out the passenger window.
What I mean is, by then it was too late.
You’d leave my apartment and I’d look at myself in the bathroom mirror. Even in the dim yellow light I could see the hives spreading across my neck where your stubble had burned me. It would creep into my throat and I’d cough to clear the itch.
My doctor tested me. He pricked my arms and back, and I bled in tiny drops. He looked at the results, watching to see if my skin raised at the touch of a peanut or crab.
He couldn’t figure it out. I wasn’t reacting to anything, it seemed. What could be causing my reactions at home?
I knew even then. By then I was repeating your name in my head, the syllables making my heart dip in my chest. By then I was folding your laundry and you were picking up groceries. By then you left a mark on my wrist that time when you grabbed it too hard.
What I mean is, by then I was underwater.
But I couldn’t tell the doctor because he wouldn’t understand. You weren’t something to test for. I couldn’t distill you into a pinpoint. They couldn’t inject you under my skin. You were already there, in my blood and in my cells, coursing through me.
I started to have trouble breathing. My breath came in whistles and my eyes were swelling shut. I left the hospital with an EpiPen and a plea to try to identify the trigger. I promised I would.
But by then I was checking my phone to see if you were worried. Or if you’d noticed I was gone. By then I was missing you when I was at work. By then you’d told me I was so special to you, that you couldn’t share me with anyone. That I was meant just for you. By then I’d stopped calling my mother back. I knew you didn’t like her.
It was too late for me, and I didn’t want to stay away. You were telling me that you needed me, and it felt so good to be needed.
My doctor told me we could do more tests. We had to figure out the cause. Whatever it was could kill me one day.
What I mean is, by then I didn’t even care.