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(Allergic) Reactions

Stillness. Fractions.

“We only have 10 days, two weeks, maybe. That’s it.” I remind the dog and myself. I can’t look at his red, hair stripped eyes any longer so I lean back onto the couch and close mine.

Stillness helps. Making myself small. But, no one can live like that very long. Some days are good. Some days are simply better than others. My dad just watches. He doesn’t understand. I don’t even understand though I am aware of each push around me.

And, when I sneeze, when it’s all too much, the particles, the onslaught on my senses, my nerves, my resistance, it’s explosive. The attacks are in quick succession. My body vibrates. My skin is hot. I run my hands under cold water and lift the liquid in waves to my face. Relief doesn’t last. I can’t live underwater, after all, it’s not where I’m from.

I never had seasonal allergies until I returned from ten years working in Guatemala. I lived in Guatemala for ten years. I was never from there, although some wondered. If they wondered, it simply meant I was doing a good job of hiding my reactions. Of living in fractions of myself.

“I think they really respect you, the staff. They would like to be you.” These were some of the parting words the nonprofit founder gave to me.

I responded, “They don’t really know me.”

And, I don’t really know, either, what it is to be them. BIPOC. I wanted to be the explosion of myself. I wanted to be every reaction I felt like whenever I felt like, and as a white woman, I can do all of those things in a small community in Wisconsin. I could leave the life in fractions. And, honestly, I did. Still, when you run, you are haunted.

My ghost returns once a year in pollen wisps. Once a year yellow ghosts remind me of what it’s like to want to be still. Of what it means to make yourself small. I’m uncomfortable. I don’t get as much done. I know I can’t sustain it. And, I count each day, in allergy tablets.

I stay home to be still, but my home is the worst place. Sometimes ignoring the problem is enough. Sometimes pills aren’t. It depends on the day. The environment around me. The winds, the heat. My environment. All the pieces I cannot control. I am hidden in the house, but I can’t hide. Either way, I’m a coward.

My first year in Guatemala, the village fell victim to mudslides. The government pulled all Peace Corps volunteers out. “I ran away.” Someone said. He wasn’t right. But, he wasn’t wrong. He still isn’t wrong.

But, why the dog? Are we really having the same allergic reaction? Or is he simply there, my nahual, to remind me of the contaminant overflow from me to those who are actually from where I live, where I lived, where I can live. This business of farming affects me, changes the environment, but it’s so like us to make it about me.

I tip over the over the counter bottle and resist the temptation to dump out the what’s left inside and count. The calendar is doing that for me, the best that it can since each year isn’t like any other year, anymore. I drink my water, swallow the daily dose and count tomatoes instead. Only a few more pills, a few more days, a few last tomatoes. I can’t sit still so I attempt the jelly one last time. I count hours instead of pills as the mixture reduces down. I balance the acid proportions and a book between my fingers about another white woman who shares her coming of age cowardice.

I count pages. I want to but I can’t reach half way before the mixture’s due to taste. I offer one spoonful too, to my father, who can’t quite place the oddness. “Cinnamon?”


“Well, for those who look for something like this, it’s good.”

Anything beyond blandness, rows of hybrid corn and counting anything as if that’s that makes it old, is oddness.” The darker toned tomato swirled of spices is exactly why I remembered the recipe a year later. Spices. Borrowed from my sister in law’s suitcase. Cumin. Spices bought. Cinnamon. Tomatoes. Fruits stolen.

“Well, the tomatoes are done. We’ll stay ahead of them now.”

And now they’re done, for the year. Done as if they’re something to control.

“And you won,” Dad adds. Won, as if I’m in competition with their growth.

The book’s pages finish too.

“What burdens you carry trying to save the world! It is the habit of Americans to think heaven gave us a unique destiny, that we are to spread truth among nations. Luck and too much wealth allow us to imagine ourselves in this strange light, luck and wealth that have benefited both of us. We have had the luxury unthinkable to most people, of developing talents. Use them. . .Hold to the dream of saving the world. But be at peace: you are not unique.”

I linger amid the screen porch scattered breeze resisting the urge to watch pots boils. It’s always when I move that’s the problem. So too when the world moves around me. But isn’t that of course the whole reason I’m still here in my father’s house. Just to sit still for a while.

Martinez, Demetria. (1994). Mother Tongue. Tempe: Bilingual Press.

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