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Breath & Shadow

Fall 2019 - Vol. 16, Issue 4

"At Age 18 Weighing 83 lbs"

written by

Casey Cromwell

the oldest patient in the children’s wing    I see a bald boy with baby 

teeth    holding a cue stick taller than he might ever    

be    he’s alone except for quiet laughter    the popping 

fireworks of plastic hitting plastic    and his father standing nearby 

smiling    (but that doesn’t mean    the dad doesn’t ask himself 

constantly   Did this happen    because of me?)


I know my dad did    blaming the gene he passed down 

that gave me celiac disease    an illness of luck and      

love    or lack of    intestines driven to suicide by a single 

crumb of wheat    I do hate    this body 

that doctors prod like a wounded lioness at the zoo    

not dangerous    except to itself    

Diagnosed at age 17    a nurse reads aloud    Failure     to thrive 

despite going gluten free    Unknown    

cause    What is    


known    a feeding tube forced down a nose    feels like a 

hammer cracking sinuses and bones    if veins shrink too 

small for your nurse to see    he’ll page for help

from the neonatal wing    and every night    at two AM 

the nurses drop to the cold    tile floor    and pump out 

fifty    push ups    I watch through sterilized 


glass    remembering soccer practices from last summer    when

my arms could be planted    in muddy grass and hold    my own body

weight as sweat danced down my nose and other girls cursed     around

me    before the nausea    weight loss    blood tests    and this too   

quiet    too dark    hospital room 


in which blood is crusted over my feeding tube    like the skinned 

knees that always make Dad yell    at me    He yells because he cares   

Mom says    when I cried in the hospital this morning 

about being a nose-tubed freak    he told me to get a nose ring    or dye   

my hair pink


it’s too late    at night to research what hair dyes are gluten 

free    so I will dream in color instead    of green grass    and a yellow

soccer ball kicked by strong legs    to my teammates    or to my 

father    cheering from the sidelines

Casey Cromwell is an MFA student, a people watcher (because observations are often the best writing inspiration!), and a successful blogger at Casey the College Celiac. When she isn’t writing about living with two chronic illnesses or other adventures in her life, Casey enjoys long walks with a podcast, experimenting in the kitchen and reading all the mystery books she can get her hands on.

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