I Don’t Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

By Yaeli Greenblatt

Wednesday morning’s clock rang, and I hopped out of bed. I don’t take my time in the morning because I might start missing the sweet comfort of my bed, and change my mind about getting up. After assembling my things in a bag, I went to the kitchen cupboard, grabbed a banana and chocolate flavored energy bar and was off. When I arrived at the university cafeteria area it was already class time so the place was pretty much deserted, perfect for catching up on some reading. Tobias Wolf was first, and then Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” It was beautifully written, and I immediately felt close to the protagonist. She was innocent but self-aware, and charming, really charming. By the time I got to the part where her stepfather abuses and rapes her, to the part where she describes the physical feelings, the way her body changes, I started feeling nauseous. I felt like gravity was changing inside of me. So I decided to take a break and maybe get some food to settle my stomach. I get dizzy pretty often because of low blood pressure. The dizziness didn’t bother me at first, but when I reached the coffee stand it got too strong for me to stand. I sat on the floor taking a minute to collect myself. I had already picked out what I wanted: a pastry with goat cheese and pesto. In my head, I was already berating myself for being a drama queen, making a spectacle of not feeling well. I stood up, and –


There was darkness. Then there was a dream I was trying to wake up from. The first thing that I remember when I gained consciousness was the sound of my own voice. Not from the outside but from inside my own body. Screaming and gasping for air. Then I felt the cold on my face. I was sweating. Then more sounds, like a volume button that was turned on, like in the movies. I heard people in a large room far away and more people talking anxiously close by. Not familiar voices. That’s when I realized what happened. At the same time, the floor rematerialized under me. I wanted to get up but my body was not yet obeying commands. I started moving my arms trying to reassemble, but producing more of a crawl. It came out like one of those floor exercises we do in modern dance class. “In and stretch, don’t forget to breathe.” Finally I managed to sit up. I just couldn’t stop crying. Through the hysterics I wanted to be myself and started asking all the analytical questions: “What happened?” and “How long was I out?”

 The action film in front of me continued though, through a light haze of detachment: Paramedics, an ambulance, my mother at the hospital yelling at random people: “Why is she not lying down? Someone get her some water!” Aharon also showed up looking composed as usual. Actually he was really scared. He told me so afterwards, and then I remembered that his face looked a little white. My dad never actually made it there. He rushed to Hadassah Ein Karem Hospital, parked his car and went up looking for me, only to discover that I was in Hadassah Mount Scopus on the other side of Jerusalem.

 After doing the complicated neurological examination which entailed walking in a straight line and touching my nose with my finger, I apparently proved my stability as well as my sobriety. Nevertheless, they had to do some tests “just to make sure.” The first one was hooking me up to some alien looking devices. Electrode thingies were glued to my head while disco flashing lights went on and off. I passed that one with flying colors. Aharon said that the wires around my head looked like a crown and took a picture with my phone. That made me feel better, though I don’t think it looked like a crown at all. Next they took me to the alien ship for a CT (cat scan). Contrary to my prior belief, it did not involve kittens walking all over you. Instead I had to close my eyes and was driven back and forth on a treadmill table that made funny noises. It felt like they were sending me by fax; whoever received it said that I was fine.

I’m on the wide spectrum of epilepsy. I had heard that term before, “has this ever happened to you?” the smiling doctor asked me, his official looking clip board blankly waiting for my answer. It had happened before. Six years ago, while I was up north on a pre-army program I had fainted while giving blood. Similarly, I got sent to the hospital except this time it took my mother a little extra time to get there since it’s a four hour drive from Jerusalem. Though, with her magic mother powers she made it much faster and was there by the time I got out of the hospital. I always suspected my mom could teleport if she really wanted to. That time when we went to the doctor, epilepsy was only an option, a scary bad word that we were hoping to avoid. We did avoid it for a while, deciding I had just fainted and sending that word on vacation for the next six years. But now it was back, and after more than one incident it’s harder to ignore.

So, I’m on the wide spectrum of epilepsy which really means nothing but a percentage of likelihood I’ll fall down again. I don’t work well with math, so that percentage didn’t make an impression on me. I used to think epileptics all walked around with bicycle helmets on. That would be ironic since I don’t even know how to ride a bike. What it actually means is that my mom will be hysterical over me for a while, and that I have to take a pill every day. My dad looked it up online and found a long list of side effects. “It’s not likely that you’ll get any of them, but let us know if anything unusual happens.” So my life turned into a collection of symptoms. Did I sleep late, did I not fall asleep, my head itched a little, I forgot my phone somewhere. Do all these things mean something? Nothing is just nothing anymore. The emotional things are the worst. Am I really happy today or is it a side effect? Maybe paranoia is on the list as well; I can hardly say I didn’t have that before. Every little thing could be a symptom. So when my leg started itching I felt obligated to tell my mother. That was a mistake. She showed up at my house 15 minutes later insisting that we go to the allergy doctor. I’m not an expert on doctor etiquette, but that seemed like cheating on the other doctor. The one who said on the phone, “it’s O.K, just let me know if it spreads.” So we went to the allergy guy. It was Purim and he was wearing a funny jester hat. He was the nicest doctor I ever met. After taking one look at my foot he said I should stop taking that pill immediately. Turns out, my mom was right, I was allergic to the medication and that rash was an infection.

 It’s been a couple of months since the whole ordeal and I still can’t make up my mind which is more troubling: worrying I might lose consciousness at any minute, or worrying about the damage medication might cause my body. I still carry those pills around in my wallet, mostly as a talisman. As if they will protect me just by being there. Also, they remind me. Generally it’s good to forget, makes it less likely to happen again; but every once in a while I see that shiny silver packet of pills and know that there is something in me that I just have to deal with. Even if it never happens again, it’s just there. The memory of completely losing control.  The worst thing is that I don’t think I’ll ever go back to reading that Maya Angelou story. I hope it turned out all right. I hope that girl grew up strong and put it behind her. What I really hope is that it never really happened.


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Filed under Issue 6: Creative Non-Fiction, Short Story

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