On my bed is a thick knitted blanket. It's just over five feet long, and narrow, the perfect length and width for my 5'1" frame. My mother knitted it during the first year after I was born, using excess yarn she received from a friend and whatever extra yarn she had lying around the house. I've loved this blanket ever since. It has a golden-orange scalloped edge on one end, green scallops at the other end. In between is five feet of colors in no particular order, a riotous surge of unchecked shades alternating without pattern. Every few inches, there is a row in a new color.
The first two feet go like this: orange, white, purple, pink, gray, turquoise, brown, gray, bright red, yellow, green, gray… It's not beautiful in the traditional sense. Some of the colors even look ugly next to each other. But I love this blanket. I love its warmth, and extra thickness, and how it's sometimes almost suffocating in its heaviness. It makes me smile, and makes me want to learn how to knit. These days, I'd like to learn how to knit a nice, warm beanie for myself. Then perhaps I could stop wandering around the house with my hooded jacket, looking for all the world like a wannabe big bad Artic explorer.
Yesterday morning, finding the bathroom too warm after my shower, I raised the window and pressed my face against the screen, inhaling deep breaths of the cold air outside as my eyes wandered over the concrete wall and grape vines and geraniums running along the back of the house. I was struck by a sense of déjà vu – the last time I remember doing that, I was 12 years old, we were preparing to leave for Pakistan, and it was a different version of myself that looked out a different window-screen at a backyard scene from a different house in another city. That was ten years ago.
They say an individual's sickness serves as expiation for his sins. I wonder if the past six days of illness have made me a different person, but really, I don't feel any changes, nor did I even think to pray for any. They say a sick person's prayers are granted, so I prayed some extra, and prayed that He would accept peoples' prayers and supplications on my behalf, but other than that the days and nights were blurred into an continuous stream of fever and chills and restless sleep and gulping down soup and swallowing back endless pills and sleeping some more.
This is how not to be stupid like Yasminay: Don't pull allnighters. Don't pull almost-allnighters. Try try try to get work done ahead of schedule. And when your barely-started 6-page paper nearly brings you to tears on Tuesday morning, remember the fact that you never cry over academic assignments, no matter how frustrating, and that your tears must be related to other things. Like the fact that you have an excruciatingly-painful backache and a throbbing headache and, for God's sake, a 104-degree fever. Why oh why are you even sitting here pretending to get anything done? The problem is, I don't get sick often enough to recognize the symptoms well. But I was smart enough to take two Tylenols and crawl into bed with a relieved sigh.
Tuesday evening's visit to the doctor reinforced my view that they never have anything new or interesting to tell me. Or maybe it's just because my primary doctor, a young, curly-haired, fashionably-dressed Egyptian lady with pretty earrings, was out and so I had to make do with a substitute doctor who seemed a bit confused: "You may have holes in your eardrums," she remarked.
I flinched. "I would hope not." And, no, as a matter of fact, I didn't have holes in my eardrums, thank you very much. I'm used to first-class treatment from my long-time ear specialist at the California Ear Institute (affiliated with Stanford University), an otolaryngologist with decades of experience who knows what he's doing and constantly renews his offer of a post-graduation job at his practice (if I stick with audiology) and doesn't scare me to death with stupid offhand remarks about my precious eardrums.
When I relayed my symptoms from earlier in the day to the doctor, she raised her eyebrows and stared me down. "A hundred and four degrees? Why didn't you come in to see a doctor earlier?" I just shrugged, and waited for her verdict, the diagnosis, though she never did give me one, instead sending me away with a prescription for amoxicillin. Lord knows what I even had. Probably the flu. Truth is, I don't really have much experience with being ill, so usually I'm very nonchalant about it.
I feel like such a druggie, a pill-popper or something. Right now I'm hooked on amoxicillin, cough syrup, and Sudafed. The amoxicillin is interesting. They're huge pills, hollow capsules, half brown, half yellow. After days of swallowing them absently, I got a bit curious and took one apart today to see what's inside the plastic capsule. Nothing but white powder. So boring. I had been hoping for some exciting colors. Sudafed is my favorite – teeny-tiny little red pills that look like cinnamon candy. Don't try this at home, kids.
I tried venturing out on Thursday. The sister was my chauffeur for the day, first to a meeting, then later to a (post-)Eid banquet, both in Sacramento. The latter event just made me irritable. One, I understand it's nearly-impossible to expect Muslim people to start things on time, but can we at least try? Two, I start feeling claustrophobic in a roomful of South Asian people – yes, I know they're my people, but really, I can handle them only in limited quantities. Like, say, one at a time. Three, why the hell can't people learn how to park correctly? I was tired and ready to leave by nine. But, oops, we couldn't, because three cars were parked in a nice perpendicular row behind our parking spot. Slick, real slick. So I stomped back inside and fumed and tried listening to Imam Suhaib Webb's speech while I coughed and coughed and my eyes watered with fatigue.
"I think I know who those cars belong to," said a friend of mine at the end of the program.
"Good," I snapped. "Can you please tell them to move their damn cars already, because I'm really starting to get pissed off."
She went to see what she could do, while her friend peered at me with slight amusement. "Are you mad?" she asked.
Now there's a question I dislike, right along with "Are you mad at me?" Depending what mood I'm in, I find them a cross between condescending and naïve. And really, they're just stupid questions.
"Oh, I'm not mad," I said. "I'm exhausted and sick and I would have been almost home by now, except for damn people who don't know how to park. I'm not mad, I'm straight pissed off."
"Aww, you're sick? I hope you feel better soon."
"Yeah, me, too," I said curtly.
I came home and crawled back into bed and decided to spend the remaining few days at home with my family, people I'm mainly nice to, people who love me and make me soup even when I'm cross and childish.
The brother has visited everyday this week, a new record for him. I like to believe I'm special enough to merit that sort of solicitousness. Don't burst my bubble, or I'll hurt you. He regaled me with stories of his mini-road-trip down to Santa Cruz, while I entertained him with my numerous voice changes and mock-threats of, "Shut up, or I'll cough on you."
The flu is over, praise the Lord. All that's left now is what sounds like a smoker's hacking cough. Sometimes it nearly brings me to my knees. Usually I'm just bent over double, breathless with the pain of incessant coughing, assailed by a crazy dizzy fear that it won't ever stop. At least the changes it's wrought in my voice are amusing. Most days I sound like an 80-year-old man – when I'm not sounding like a boy who's going through puberty.
I spent part of today lying in a pool of sunshine on the living room floor, right under the main windows, reading Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's Arranged Marriage, a collection of mainly profoundly sad short stories. I borrowed it from the library simply because the title made me raise my eyebrow, like, Oh Lord, here we go again with that subject. I'm not much into South Asian writers, and honestly, I prefer stories where everyone lives happily ever after. But she writes well. Good stories. Go read. Or don't. Last night I lay in bed reading Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies. Another good one.
The daddy-o made me take a walk around the yard with him today, while he showed off the six new fruit trees he has planted over the last few days: orange, pear, pomegranate, persimmon, fig, apple. Very nice. I told him that, next up, we need a nectarine or peach tree. He's already decided it's going to be planted diagonally across from the apricot tree. I feel useful in the garden, all of a sudden. I'm terrible at volunteering to help, but at least I give valuable advice.
But the days and nights of sleeping are over. Tomorrow I'm returning to school after a week off, and the sheer amount of work waiting for me is frightening. I still have to finish writing that damn paper, and study for a midterm I've gotten an extension on, and read some research articles for one internship and present a workshop for my other internship on Wednesday to a group of freshman who'll likely be fidgety and suffering from A.D.D., just my luck. And then more midterms and projects and workshops, seemingly back-to-back. O my Lord, grant me strength strength strength.
Sometime on Tuesday, after I had emailed a professor asking for an extension on my paper, she sent back a reply that began: Relax, it's going to be okay.
I laughed. It must have been a really frantic email I sent her.
Breeeeathe, Yasminay, it's going to be okay.