Reverb 10: Dying or alive?

On the last day of November, I signed up to participate in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here. Here’s hoping it keeps me honest. Today’s prompt: December 3 Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors). (Author: Ali Edwards)

I'm finally keeping food down. I'm mostly rehydrated. My splitting headache has gone away. And I fear I'll never fall asleep: It's 10 p.m. I've been in and out of consciousness all day.

Last night held all the promise in the world for me: a party with all the free food and drink I could handle, a concert in a beautiful venue by one of my favorite bands. I was the belle of the ball, flitting from group to group, catching up with friends I hadn't seen for months at my first gathering of the holiday season. That restaurant in Wrigleyville was the top of the world.

The stomach pains started after we'd arrived at the concert venue. I was sipping water near the bar in the horseshoe-shaped balcony of Lincoln Hall, and dizziness overcame me when I hopped down from our high-top table just before we headed down to the main floor. I pushed myself for the first few songs, determined not to let whatever this was knock me down. But I gave in when blotches of light, tiny fireflies, gathered in front of my face, obscuring the crowd and the waitresses with their tiny trays and the banjo and drum kit and glockenspiel and harmonium.

I retreated to the bar, asked the bartender for a glass of water — no ice. I'm sure he thought I was just another overserved patron.

The music was quieter in the bar, leaking through the cracks in the heavy fire doors, opening and closing as other concertgoers came and went, and playing softly over sound system. I could still see the band on a grainy monitor over the mirrors reflecting bottles of liquor.

Enough. I took my ticket back to coat check, got my bright yellow peacoat and melted into the seat of a matching taxi. I handed over the $12 it took to get me home, barely feeling the cold as I stumbled to my door. My body surrendered as soon as I'd locked the door behind me.

I haven't had the stomach flu since I was about 12. Since college, the only times I've thrown up I've really deserved it. Enjoyed the Prelude to Vomit a little too much. The why-god-why of getting sick with the flu — one clammy hand propping me up from the toilet bowl, the other holding back my hair in a hurried ponytail — choking out sobs between retches? I've never been more aware of my body, more intent on just extracting myself from it, from the pain. It's different from heartbreak. That's bearable. I can handle a lot, internally. But physical pain? No. No, thank you.

I woke up every few hours through the night. My body fought valiantly against whatever germ warfare was being waged inside. Hot to cold and back again, shaking and spent from the exertion of expelling my insides so completely. Every bone and muscle ached. At 3:30 a.m., I turned on the lights my Christmas tree and drifted in and out of fitful sleep in the comforting glow until morning overtook its warmth with cool, grey light. The idea of food was anathema to me, Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger, overtaken by fear of whatever I put in coming out again. But when I could no longer be sure whether the pain in my stomach was nausea or impending starvation, I finally bit into a Saltine cracker — delivered this morning with ginger ale and Gatorade by a merciful friend — and it was like nothing I'd ever tasted before. After just 12 hours of sickness.

My therapist tells me I "catastrophize." Case in point: Those times you're certain the next moment will be your last are a fantastic reminder that it hasn't come yet. There's my moment. I am alive.