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Breath & Shadow

Fall 2019 - Vol. 16, Issue 4

"Masquerading Stranger"

written by

Karen Craig

We met in grad school. Ms introduced herself one humid spring morning. Though she’d been around for five years or more, she wasn’t remotely familiar. She came out of nowhere, but every time I looked around there she was. An electrical shock I couldn’t shake. My very own neurological stalker. Sitting in class, there she was. Driving the car, there she was. Even at mealtimes. She seemed to possess me, right down to my fingers and toes. She had a serious problem with boundaries. Clanging, banging MRI pictures of Ms told nothing of her history. But at least I knew she wasn’t kidding around.

Now I wouldn’t call Prednisone a friend, more like a necessity. My personal patronus. It took him over a week to break her will, make Ms see that she was not welcome. He only wanted to help, but his assistance left my muscles battered and bruised nonetheless.

Fast forward two years and I’m a producer. Wielding power, making expensive decisions, supervising creative choices. Ms a distant memory, a weird thing that happened once. Here one day and gone the next. Then suddenly she was back, rising like summer heat off the sidewalk. Always under foot. Niggling, annoying, rising irritation day by day. A tingling foreboding signaled Pred’s return. Bashed and beaten again, only this time, I was forced into the spinal tap’s fetal position probing Ms’s purpose in my life.

Would she be a permanent fixture or an occasional visitor? 

Betaseron’s arrival confirmed Ms’s part-time residency. Every other day, my bodyguard stuck himself into my world with desperate attempts to keep Ms at bay. I paid for these pricks of discomfort? Maybe she would only linger on the periphery. B12 moved in to become my monthly fatigue saviour, motivating me again and again to keep fighting.

Three more years and I’m a professor. Bet’s presence burned at times, but he had succeeded in making Ms a vague shadow. Every time she tried to worm her way back in, he found a way to fend her off. With each attack, Bet’s protection weakened until one fall day, Ms roared into my office--hissing and whispering nonsense in my ears. She interfered in telephone conversations. She required my students to repeat their questions, to speak up. Ms was relentless. She found humour in pushing me left and right down the hall. As if I’d been drinking. 

Pred sent me into hiding this time, to where he had more tools with which to fool Ms - weak, nausea, indigestion, and IV lines. Two trips to the hospital sent Ms packing.

But she never went far. She was just passive aggressive enough to remind me she would always be there. Apparently, she wanted her presence seen, not heard. Ms saw to it that I hyper-experienced my visual world. I enjoyed two of everything. Double the stairs, double the lecture notes, double the traffic lights. My face positioned in a constant wink.

Some were flattered by my flirting, some were offended. Escape. That was surely the solution. Just get the hell away from her. I’d had enough. Bet couldn’t handle Ms anymore, his resistance was futile. So Avonex visited my new home once a week. A longer, more imposing figure. Surely he would stick around and intimidate Ms even if she found me.

My sudden departure worked! Ms spent years searching for me. Dumb luck that we toured Venice at the same time. In fact, our encounter was so brief that I didn’t realize she was there. Fatigue had clouded my awareness. Ms turned my personal thermostat to roasting again. Hotter equals slower, an energy-sapping weight around my neck.

Walking, marching, walking, stepping, walking, ambling, walking, trudging, walking, dragging, stop. Winter coats or summer shorts;heavy in any season. How much profit can medical commerce make from cooling cloths and bandanas? Just soak in tepid water, wring out and snap! Cool as a cucumber. Yeah, right. And then Ms disappeared. Avo and B12 had worked in tandem to scare her.

But the travel wiped Avo out. He was helpless against Ms’s assault following my mother’s death. Ms leapt into view, doubling down on my grief. She laughed at Avo when he showed his muscle. He’d lost the element of surprise. Pred came for a short visit and managed to ward Ms off, leaving me fuzzy and disconnected once again.

Time to take matters into my own hands. The travel had clearly confused Ms, so I found another new home in another country. Rebif took over from Avo three days a week. He threw up a smoke screen that hid me well. He thought a smaller point would leave a smaller footprint thus Ms would overlook me. Boy, was he wrong. She arrived with a vengeance and never left. First she clung to my leg like a two-year-old, reminiscent of my earlier experience. Then she wrapped herself around my arm, turning my fingers into cigars. What am I supposed to do with these? Reb was clever enough to distract Ms and keep her from enveloping me, but he just couldn’t untangle her.

That’s when I called in Gilenya. Her approach was easy to swallow. She was mobile and light, tough to keep up with. Had Ms met her match? Gil and I decided to make it hard work for her. Gil concealed me in her invisibility cloak.

Dr. Neurology says “follow my finger. Squeeze as hard as you can. Set one foot in front of the other. Hold your arms straight out, palms up. Bladder function normal?

Does this feel the same?”

They say join a support group, a chat room. With others just like you. A weekly airing of symptoms, meds, anxieties. This only encourages Ms to stay. Did you read that article? Bee stings or cannabis? Ocrevus? Stem cells? The others are not just like me.

Home has become a safe place, but if Ms thinks I’ll be travelling too, maybe she’ll question whether it’s worth hanging around. Been with Gil for a while now and Ms has been stalking me for over twenty years. So far, Gil’s working but Ms ever lurks in the shadows. Am I ready for her next move?

Karen Craig holds an MFA in Television/Video Production and an MA in Dramaturgy. She spent many years in the academic world teaching theatre, film studies, and television production. Ms. Craig is a member of the Writer’s Guild of Alberta, the Alexandra Writers Centre Society and the East Village Writers Circle where she continues to develop her craft. She is currently working on her first novel. Ms. Craig had two poems published in the Spring 2018 issue of Breath and Shadow and her novella, Bailey Boy, was a finalist in Minerva Rising’s 2018 novella competition. In 1997, Ms. Craig was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Over the years, the disease has caused pins and needles in her hands and feet, tinnitus in both ears, double vision, and now affects the function of her right arm and leg.

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