Falling asleep late Sunday night, all felt right in the world. My world at least. Gazing up at an ink-black sky littered by stars, my thoughts drifted elsewhere while I shifted restlessly on my friend's futon. Gradually I tuned out the hoard of fishing boats sounding their arrival in the harbor or the smell of leftover charcoal from the downstairs fire pit. My mind turned toward next week. I anticipated a smooth, clean schedule to triumphantly announce the start of a mini-vacation. Three straight days off meant a visit to Norton Point, dinner with the parents, a job interview and of course an obligatory jump off of Jaws Bridge. Never tell God your plans. If you make that mistake, He laughs.
I woke up to the sound of my alarm clock at around 8 AM that next morning. Or so I believed. Hearing Iris by the Goo Goo Dolls on endless loop, I knew something felt wrong. Staring at the clock from across the bedroom, the clock read 10:30 AM. I slept in nearly three hours longer than usual--something I never do on the Vineyard. My mom always told me stories of how even the smallest roll of thunder woke me up as a child. Sure I snore louder than a horse to the point my brothers throw books at my face, but I never had an issue waking up. Until now.
Rolling over to reach the alarm still blasting its late-90s pop-rock melody, my neck refused to turn with me. Standing up felt like someone shooting an ice pick down my back. Shocked by the pain, I gave it little thought. I worked out and played sports for the majority of my life, making it easy to write the pain off as cramps or even soreness a few days after playing beach football. By the time noon approached, the symptoms subsided--all except for one pestering lump on the top of my collarbone.
The crisp, clear sky air from the night before gave way to the smell of low tide and perpetual rain showers made worse by the hovering humidity over the Oak Bluffs harbor. Making my way into Edgartown for an afternoon freelance journalist interview, I felt on edge. Two Mocha Mott's double espresso shots later and my mind only felt worse. In fact, the dull headache I felt waking up transformed into a migraine as my symptoms gradually returned.
I finished my interview strong--strong enough that I received my first assignment covering the Bloomsday Celebration in Vineyard Haven that next day. Not exactly an English major, I knew nothing of Bloomsday let alone James Joyce. I hate anything pertaining to the arts and put WWE in the same category as theatre. The more I think about it, I last saw a live play in New York City at the age of five. That play, The Lion King, left me with two things: puke on my hoodie from the kid sitting behind me, and a fear of talking lions.
Before I left for my first freelance assignment, I felt sick to my stomach. My neck continued to aggravate me as another fever flared. My neck lump appeared to grow larger by the hour, taking on the shape of a rubbery, round shaped pellet. Concerned, I visited the library to access Wi-Fi and research my symptoms online. Of course, I made the fatal error every college student makes: I typed WebMD into my Google Chrome browser. I planned my funeral the moment AIDS, thyroid cancer and leukemia popped up as diagnoses. Learning little from this venial sin, I sought solace in my mom who knew her fair share of medical info. Naturally she worried over the fact her son possessed a lump the size of a golf ball on his neck. Telling her about the sore back and fevers, I gave the poor lady nightmares of West Nile and meningitis.
The so to speak cherry-on-top remained the weather--uncooperative throughout the miserable two days. Between rain showers and over-cast, fog and the occasional ray of sun highlighted each day. A special level of hell exists in Dante's Inferno where a person suffers the existence of perpetual illness during a rainy day on Martha's Vineyard. You spend your days wallowing in the shadows of your apartment, eating leftovers to First Take re-runs and daytime television featuring the likes of Jerry Springer. While beaches close, stores turn into packed sardine cans. You try leaving the house but the salt air and humidity strangle your lungs, adding to your vicious cycle of illness with your body wiped clean of energy.
To make matters worse, I lost my appetite completely. Driving to the Bloomsday Celebration in Vineyard Haven, I skipped dinner reservations. I prayed to make it through the whole performance without passing out and enough energy to interview a few audience members. Unable to pay attention to any of Joyce's dramatic monologues or musical interludes, I called it quits early, deciding to meet up with the performing cast at the Ocean View Bar instead. I managed to draft the entirety of my 500 word piece in the hazy lit bar, deciphering my pigeon-scratched notes from a used pizza napkin stained with more grease than ink. Thanking the whole Bloomsday cast for their time, I made every effort possible to head home early and sleep. The cigarette smoke and fishermen cries for their last call of fireball shots suffocated my brain--evoking that same migraine from just a few hours ago.
Driving home over the East Chop Bluff that night, I saw the moon rise above the Nantucket Sound. My mind wandered back a few nights ago when everything felt perfect. Why all this now? Why the neck lump, the fevers, and the rain? I wanted answers and answers now. Going to bed that night, I braced myself for the days ahead.