A decade ago, I opened up Long Day’s Journey into Night, but I never got past the introduction. There, I read of Eugene O’Neill’s youth, of his sailing the world and battling tuberculosis.
This summed up everything that was wrong with me.
I had never sailed the world, and I had never, ever, gotten tuberculosis. How could I ever accomplish anything meaningful in my life without these essential experiences.
I was plagued by my shortcomings.
I threw out my TV, gave away my furniture, and loaded my books to move to Brooklyn. Lived life and whatnot. And from time to time, asked myself what my greatest fear was. Time and again, it was stagnation. The day finally came when I realized my greatest fear was also my reality. I was stagnating.
I threw away everything. Joined Peace Corps.
It’s a long road, Peace Corps, and includes many medical exams. Including one for tuberculosis.
I was told if had a raised red bump on my arm in three days, I should call the doctor immediately. Three days later, I call. “By raised red bump, you don’t mean if the entire area is red and raised, do you?”
They call me in. Do other tests. And tell me I’ve been exposed to TB.
“Do I die now?” I ask. (I’m a pleasure to the profession.)
She explains that it’s not TB itself that I have, but latent TB. Which means that my antibodies have contained it, but basically if my immune system takes a severe tumble (like if I were to contract AIDS), then TB will rise to catch me. It’ll be TB I die from, not AIDS. I listen to all this.
“So I’m carrying my death inside me.”
The nurse isn’t sure how to answer.
“But I could die of other things first.”
She looks at me.
You can imagine.
I was thrilled. Euphoric. Devastated. Elated.
I had a work event to attend that night, and as I walked there, I snuck through every closed door in every historical building that appealed, coz what could they do? Kill me? Ha! My little killer was inside me already!
I arrived at the party, flush with life, giddy, free.
Someone who hadn’t seen me in forever asked me what was new.
“Nothing new, really,” I answered, “but I am dying!”