I haven’t had a seizure in two years to the day.
Snow, then. Sun, now.
Winter takes a break in January, and so do I.
I open a window. In the space between the sill and the screen, there’s a grave of June bugs. Hollow amber, the insides eaten clean. I consider the dead, then consider the living, the spiders who ate themselves large on beetles but still flatten themselves into shadows behind the walls.
It’s a lot of June bugs. I sweep them up and throw them away. The stray hair on the tile around the trash can, I sweep that, too. Some of it isn’t hair but more spiders. They run, and I sweep, and they run again. They are everywhere because I give a world of space to any creative creature. In the bedroom, I keep a snake who tunnels in her tank. At a desk, my husband draws people with impossible hair. Above him, a water stain on the ceiling grows in a way I refuse to interrupt.
“We should tell the landlord about that.”
Which becomes, “Didn’t we tell the landlord about that?”
Last summer, our upstairs neighbors asked if we’d seen more spiders in our unit than usual. I told them no instead of telling them to find a way to live with the spiders like I have. I don’t like telling strangers what to do. That’s none of my business.
What is your business?
I am my own business.
I was born in West Virginia under just the right stars to make me stubborn. My family was only there long enough for the bull to bake in, for the store where my father worked to be the wrong store, for my mother’s back to heal from having me. But I don’t remember any of it. Instead, I remember the next place, the ocean in South Carolina. We lived a few blocks from the beach. Whenever the water slipped out, I dug for sand crabs. They were never too far down, hard and round, the color of rain-wet pebbles. I took to the scrabble in my hand, the perverted tickle of legs.
Later, in Kentucky, where we finally landed, I suffocated from nightmares tickling me under the covers. Disabled in the dark. Impossible to fight. But little monsters live everywhere. Monsters I could manage. I flipped over rocks in the creek by my house and pulled up crawdads just to look at them. Other boys put them in buckets and made them angry. I studied for detail. The claws, the alien tail, the molasses eyes. It didn’t occur to me then how my curiosity was playing out the same as the other boys. I wasn’t raising a mysterious object to the light. I was pinching a shell to test its strength.
God help the crawdads, but at least I never killed them.
What were you doing then? my mind asks my body.
I was shrinking my nightmares in my hands.
The morning after Christmas 1995.
I was 10, and no one could wake me up. Looking at it from a distance, like I’m with the rest of my family praying from the hallway, it’s a fairy tale. I’m on my back in bed, circled by kneeling paramedics, less cared for than revered. They’ve quit trying to wake me up. My arms are folded across my chest. Cursed or at rest? The mystery goes unsolved until I awaken on my own to solve it.
I know this isn’t true. It’s not a memory I can have. It’s a memory I make up. So I can be included. So I can see what it looks like from the outside when I have a seizure. So many seizures now, and I still don’t know what my body becomes. I’ll never know like they do. Even if I beg my husband to tell me what I look like when it happens.
I couldn’t even use the word for a long time. Neurologists refused to diagnose me with epilepsy until I had another one. My parents were told I had a night terror. We would have to wait until something else happened.
So, we waited.
In some other world, we’re still waiting.
I go further. I ask my husband to record me on his phone the next time it happens. He refuses.
He’s right to refuse.
But I’m not wrong to ask.
Look at me, and you’d say I’m not disabled. Look at an empty room, and you’d say there were no spiders in it until you remember what sleeps behind the walls.
Epilepsy. My invisible disability. I know my spiders. They finally left the dark enough to be diagnosed as tonic-clonic seizures, the demon seizures, the ones where I jerk around, possessed. I’m given a warning of seconds. My left arm raises on its own. I run to the bathroom to freeze my face in the mirror. As much an impulse as the seizure itself. I want to study the moment before my mind enters a black hole and all that’s left is my twitching, idiot body.
I never make it to the mirror.
But I always find the floor.
I wake up in bed. Dragged there somehow. My body doing its own work without me to guide it. The me I’ve convinced myself is separate from my body. The me who comes back in shock.
Why were you asleep?
You had another seizure.
Like I lost a game with my body I forgot I was playing.
If you try hard enough, it won’t happen again.
Two years on, and it hasn’t happened again. But it will. That’s the truth.
Another truth a long time waiting:
I know there aren’t just two of me. Not just the mind and the body. I’m the hair I cut over my own sink because I can’t stand it anymore. I’m the teeth that fall out of my mouth in my dreams. I’m the desires I have for other men, the short bridge between my body and my mind, the one place they’ll always meet.
The split between them didn’t occur the first time I had a seizure.
You know the story.
A long time before.
Young and gay in a small town, I convinced my body it could wait a few years until we got where we were going, wherever that would be. I could keep my mind open and my mouth shut, but my body, I knew, would betray me. So, I didn’t give it an outlet. I fed it junk. Mowed the lawn sitting down. Didn’t move much but my hands to draw, to write, to map out all the places my mind was running. It would have been a chore if there’d been any temptations, but when I came out at 15 to my best friend, I looked around and saw I was alone. No one there to kiss. I became a spider okay with being a spider, because a web isn’t just a beautiful home, but a dinner plate. I made and ate, made and ate, until my body was a tough vessel and my mind was the talented pilot inside it.
Be patient, and trust me, I told my body.
I’ll get us both out of here.
Pretty that I thought so, but an uneven alliance always breaks. I was 18 years old, up too late and sewing a shoulder bag cut from old jeans, obsessed but tired, mind still going.
Just a little more…
When my body took over.
I crouched down to put my mother’s sewing machine back in the closet under the stairs, and I never stood back up.
My second seizure. The one where I found the limits I still push.
Part of the pact I made means I work my mind to obsession and forget my body’s there. Even writing this essay, I lose how long I’ve stared at an invisibly flickering screen until I feel the familiar tickle. The disorientation. That’s the risk. The lesson I’ve learned but still struggle to practice. I so much want to prove I’m not my disability that sometimes I trigger it.
Take a break.
Or you’ll have another fucking seizure.
I look away from the screen to a naked wall. My husband asks if I’m okay. I tell him I’m fine and close one eye to minimize the computer’s hypnosis. Then I continue typing, because seizures are the life I was given, but writing is the life I chose.
A last leggy truth emerges covered in fine, irritating hairs. It’s a truth I know on logic and have absorbed on belief, and it has so many eyes it hurts to look at them all at once:
My mind makes the rules my body breaks.
But that’s my own damn business.
I don’t even mind it.