It all began with an eyelash. Perhaps poison ivy found in Marquette, Nebraska. Or maybe some dust mites. After returning from a two-week trip out west, I found myself in the ER of a hospital room in Brooklyn, covered in curious and extremely itchy red marks. As usual, I do my best to pretend away my body but when the blotches spread to my eye, my spouse insisted on a medical intervention.
As we waited, I tried my hardest not to itch, so I forced my attention toward the television above me. A new game show where contestants could win up to one million dollars just for naming that tune! I had twenty dollars in my wallet and two college degrees.
I always know I’m really sick when my appetite goes away. I usually dream about dinner while I’m eating lunch, so after spending an entire day with maybe 100 calories in me, I knew something was wrong.
I stared at the welts of varying shapes on my arms, legs, two on my belly, gathering beside my hairline. I imagined being this itchy for the rest of my life.
The smell of the waiting room was a mixture of fast food, sour cologne, and August sweat. I turned toward my mate and said, “Remember that eyelash? I can’t remember what state that was.”
“Minnesota, I think.”
“Yeah,” I paused. “I wished I were dead."
I’m unclear where the tradition started that a stray eyelash gave permission for one wish if blown off the tip of a finger. But I feel like it had always been there.
I started to cry or maybe I hadn’t stopped.
“Do you still feel that way?”
“Not right now,” I spoke.
“I think it was from the dog’s fur, actually. I don’t think it was an eyelash.”
When my name was finally called, the nurse weighed me and asked about height and habits. Then she sent me back to the waiting room until the doctor was available.
Recently, an almost-stranger grabbed my forearm and asked about the state of my skin. “You get attacked by some zoo animals?” they asked.
I can’t remember any time I understood my skin. It was never smooth and unbothered. And if it was, those memories have all dug themselves away.
When my name was finally called again, I was sent to a room with beds beside each other. “Take the second one,” a nurse instructed.
A young, long-lashed physician assistant approached me. I removed my sweater, so she could observe all of my itchy constellations.
I watched her burnt caramel eyes approach a diagnosis.. “Any idea what this might be?”
Suddenly, I panicked. I’m paying $150 to diagnose myself?
“I’ve been traveling the past two weeks, so I’ve experienced different environments. Been outside a lot. Maybe…poison ivy? I’m extremely allergic.”
“Everyone is, really,” the doctor said.
“I don’t know. Maybe bug bites?” I don’t mention the eyelash and my fear that wishes (if wished enough) do come true. I don’t mention my fear that these welts are the beginning of my end.
“I’m gonna put you on steroids for a few days and some Benadryl.”
“But you don’t know what this is. But—”
“They’re all treated the same,” the doctor interrupts.
I used to be allergic to milk. Then, perfume. For a significant portion of my life: men. On and off, I’m also allergic to any derivative of happiness.
I’ve wished on eyelashes my whole life. Over three decades of birthday candle wishes. Two or three shooting stars. I have no memory of any wishes coming true.
Day three of these unconfirmed mountains of itchiness and I do my best NOT TO ITCH. My spouse tells me they are fading. I wish I could wish this itch away, but I’ve sworn myself away from fallen eyelashes and my birthday is a long way off.
Aimee Herman is the author of meant to wake up feeling (great weather for MEDIA, 2014)