(NOTE: this is the second story in the series. If you haven't read Kaj and the Universe, start there, and come back.)
My temperature was 102.88 and climbing. I was lying on my bed with a wet washcloth plastered to my forehead, listening to the Jungle birds singing, trying to distract myself from the twisting of my intestines and the fear that I had contracted some exotic Amazonian disease. Mom had warned me half a dozen times not to brush my teeth with unfiltered water, but I'd laughed it off—maybe this was a water-borne illness, or heat-stroke, or the bird flu…
I wished I could go home. The longing swelled until I was overcome by a piercing ache, tinged with bitterness, and not a little shame. I was a nomad after all, and we weren’t allowed to miss home. I'd been nomadic for a year now, and home was not a place, but a face—and he was gone—so which way was home now?
Wherever it was, I didn’t know how to get there.
I stared up at the ceiling, wondering at the crazy path that had brought me to Peru, when a knock sounded on the door. It was Almanzo, from the resort. He entered and set a tray of food on my nightstand—the Jungle version of chicken noodle soup and plain bread. I tried to smile, and thank him, though I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep it down. He rifled through his pockets and removed an orange medicine pack, indicating with many hand gestures that I was to take this with my food. The label was in Spanish, but I was miserable enough not to bother attempting to translate it and swallowed it obediently.
It was a long night of tossing and turning, filled with cold showers and compresses, anything to bring my temperature down. I was trying not to panic. I didn't get sick often, so when it happened there was always a part of me that illogically assumed that this was it, and started distributing my few possessions.
At three a.m., I was having fevered dreams. In them, I was busily mapping a route to the hospital—go to the front desk. Wake up Flavio. Take a canoe over the Rio Momon...forty-five minutes till we meet then Amazon River, and across—such a broad river to cross! Iquitos is waiting on the other side...dock at the tip of the city. Find a taxi, or a shuttle, maybe...I wish...no, one more time. Wake up, Flavio. Take a canoe...take a canoe...home. Yes. Can they reach it by canoe? Home. Home. Please, take me...
I dozed shallowly, while the moon tracked ever so slowly across the sky. The night wore on until it was swallowed by the morning light, and I rose, somewhat relieved to still be alive.
I packed slowly, painfully. Flavio brought me back to Iquitos in the canoe, and I retreated to my air-conditioned hotel room on the fifth floor, and lay on the bed, clutching a pillow to my stomach. Blue-black storm clouds on the other side of the bay window that overlooked the city. My fever came and went, leaving me weak, revolving continually between chills and sweats.
There was a TV across from my bed, and I found the remote and flipped it on, thankful for the distraction. The channels clicked chaotically—soap opera, reality show, singing competition, dance-off, soap opera, soap opera—all in Spanish, with no English subtitles. Finally, I stumbled across the beginning of Thor and felt a wave of relief, eager to be delivered from my misery by something familiar. I sighed and settled in. But something was wrong—Thor didn't sound like himself. It took me a moment to realize that the movie had been voiced-over in Portuguese and subtitled in Spanish.
It was the final straw. My stomach seized up, and I barely resisted the urge to throw the remote against the wall. I let it drop, and burrowed my head into my pillow and screamed, angry at the world, angry that I was alone in a hotel room, sick in a country where few people spoke my language, where even Thor wasn't safe. And I cried, for the marriage I'd lost, for endings, for the inability to make my life go the way I wanted, and for the helplessness of feeling my grief catch up to me, even an ocean away. I missed my old friends; I missed Troy; I missed having a path.
When the tears stopped, I realized with a sudden flash of clarity, that I didn't like the guy I'd started dating in Peru—he was a rebound, I could see it now. I pushed the thought away, knowing I'd have to break it off when I returned to Lima.
I took a deep breath and muted Thor. It was quiet in my room. I sat up and looked down at the streets below, full of the bustle of indignant taxi drivers shouting and the honking of horns. People walked hurriedly down the streets with paper sacks, peering anxiously at the darkening sky, and quickening their steps. Music echoed from the town center, and somewhere someone was laughing and inciting more laughter.
I laid back down on my bed and picked up my phone. There was a folder in my inbox I'd avoided these past months, but couldn't delete. It was dedicated to catching the emails I had blocked from Troy—letters filled with longing and despair and the desire to end it all if we couldn't be together. I started to scroll through them, my eyes flitting between the movie and the emails until the pain was too much, and the tears returned.
His last email before the stream stopped had been the most perplexing of all—it made me afraid that he was losing his mind. In it, he told me he'd just finished a ten-day Psilocybin retreat in Jamaica—the same drug I'd refused to let him do when we were married because it freaked me out. I didn't know a single person who had treated their mental illness with Psilocybin, much less heard of it, and I hadn't wanted him to be part of an experimental program.
In the email, he'd said that he'd decided to kill himself if the mushrooms didn't work—but they had. He was cured, he said. Better now. Happy. Smiling. Filled with self-love. Making friends, and making up for lost time. He said people he'd known for years didn't recognize him. On one of the mushroom trips, he said he'd died and been reborn, and now twenty years worth of depression, low self-worth, and attachment disorders were completely gone, and in their place was a well of joy and love, and an assurance that his existence was beautiful, and that he had infinite, unshakable worth.
I wished I could have believed all this was true, but it was too out there, too beyond anything I've ever heard before. It's just a ploy to get me back, I thought angrily, then instantly the anger dissolved into a weariness so heavy that it felt like I must have outlived my own life without bothering to expire.
The phone fell back on the covers and I turned back towards the brightness of the TV screen. My eyelids grew heavy as the Avengers ravage the streets of New York. Dark clouds gathered outside my window as the fever ran its course, and I drifted off and dreamed that I had almost found the way home.
Hope is just around the corner
Kaj & the Universe Pt. 2 is coming soon...