by Sharon Glantz
"I'm glad we finally connected so I can warn you."
"That I'm going insane? Too late for that."
"You're not insane nor are you going there, although you might get a wee bit crazy for a while."
"Peppy, tell me what you mean." There was something ominous in its tone.
"You should be scared. Another tribe has declared war. That makes four warring factions. We've been struggling through negotiations for a long time, as you know. That's why your sinuses are so wretched. The battles seem to be fought there more than anywhere else."
"The last time, didn't you help me get rid of my stomach aches?"
"Last time, the two other tribes we were battling were so impressed by my ability to talk to you they backed off. I thought we were in good shape. The we were invaded by an especially strong strain of bacteria. Bacteria are nothing but trouble. What's worse, their evolution seems to be speeding up so that we're having a harder time fighting them off. These particular bacteria really piss me off. They're so slick -- they can con just about anyone into believing they mean no harm and only want a place to call home. Meanwhile, they pit one tribe against another. Plus, they've been harboring some fungi who have come to like living in your sinuses. Talk about scum. At least the bacteria have intelligence. Fungi are stubborn idiots who'll latch onto anything and not let go unless you kill them."
"Peppy, are you telling me I'm going to die?"
"No, silly. We're being invaded by bacteria and fungus, not cancer. And even then, we'd have some options. This is a war, not an environmental holocaust. Still, you'll continue to be uncomfortable for a little while. You could help us, you know."
"How?" Hope ignited and I felt a surge of energy.
"Whatever that was you just did disarmed all the factions for the time being. It's a short-lived victory, but it is a victory."
"What did I do?"
"It's out of my comprehension to tell you. All I know is you jolted all the tribes into reality. Those bacteria will con them out to fit shortly, I'm afraid."
"I thought you could see the big picture."
"So I exaggerated a little. Sheesh. In truth, there's a gap between what you do and what I understand you're doing. I'm conscious, but it's not like I'm omniscient or transcendental. I'm afraid we'll have to talk about this later. Rallying to get you to throw the phone just right was hard enough. Maintaining this line of communication is incredibly exhausting and I've still got a war to attend. I'll call you in a few days."
"What should I do?" The phone went dead.
I finished my rounds for the day, went home, took a scalding hot bath and melted into my overstuffed chair in front of the television. The three ibuprofen I'd taken didn't relieve my sinus headache, but they contributed to my hazy state of indifference. Peppy may have understood the dynamics of the warring factions in my body, but I only understood feeling rotten. The ringing of the phone brought me back into focus.
"Hello?" I said.
"Hey, girl, what's up?"
"Not much, Tanya." I tried to hide my disappointment that my body remained silent. Tanya was one of my good buddies. I wanted to tell her all about Peppy, but found I couldn't.
"Amy, you sound like shit."
"Thanks," I said.
"I was calling to check in on you and to invite you ice skating with Fran and Dolly and me."
"Why the hell not? Just because we're single, childless and middle-aged doesn't mean we have to give up having fun. Join us. It'll be a kick."
"Tomorrow night. Don't give me your I-don't-feel-good excuse. You've used that one too many times."
"But it's true." I hated it when I whined.
"So what? You make it to work every day."
"Barely. Besides, I gotta make a living."
"What's the point if you aren't also going to live? We miss you, Amy. Dolly said to tell you she's started taking your absences personally. Plus, Fran has a new beau. You gotta come, Amy. I want to give you your present."
"Fine, I'll be there." Tanya used a certain voice when she really wanted something. She rarely resorted to this tactic, but when she did, I complied. Otherwise she'd ignore me for a month or so. Her silence freaked me out. She was my best buddy. I needed her. I needed all my friends, but my life had gotten so congested, I hardly ever saw them. I wanted to give them their presents.
I made it through the next day by staying at home on the phone. Because it was so close to Xmas, many of my customers left frantic phone messages. Both my regular phone and my cell phone rang off the hook. It was a nightmare, but a manageable nightmare.
I guzzled down two cups of coffee just before leaving for the ice skating rink. Going out at night had become such a novelty, I felt like I had to make sure I'd stay awake long enough to enjoy it. The coffee warmed me up so much I only thought to bring a light jacket. The rink was outside and the air was freezing. Moving helped, but we were committed to skate as a pack and Dolly kept falling down on her butt, pulling the rest of us down with her. Eventually, the cold was easy to ignore because we were so busy laughing.
I didn't realize how much I missed doing silly time with the girls. I had shut them out with I was seeing Mike. After he dumped me, I continued the same routines of making dinner and watching television. Mike was a stay-at-home kind of guy like me. Over giggles and a hot cup of cocoa, I felt something inside of me unlock. The door didn't open completely, but it least it was ajar. We talked and laughed about our favorite subject -- men. Fran and her new honey were in that we-can't-talk-to-anyone-else-about-our-budding-love stage. We managed to squeeze a few juicy details out of her but she was pretty close-mouthed. I tried a few more times to talk about the strange conversations I was having with my body, but the words wouldn't spew forth. It felt uncomfortable not being able to confide in my friends something that effected me so much. No one noticed my discomfort except for me -- and Peppy, I'm sure.
By the time I got home, my body was bone weary, my sinuses burning, but my spirits were high. I looked forward to sleeping late. I figured I could easily weather another quiet Xmas. Being Jewish has its benefits, one of which is being able to bypass the mandatory joy of Xmas.
The ringing of my cell phone woke me up at 7:30.
"What?" I growled into the phone.
"Put down the phone and go drink three glasses of water. And not that stuff out of the faucet."
"Damn it, Peppy, you woke me up out of a sound slumber for water?"
"Do it. You can go back to sleep later. In fact, sleep as long as you can. It makes for fewer casualties of war. I'll hold on while you drink."
I reluctantly got out of my warm bed, grabbed a glass and pulled the bottled water out of the refrigerator. Just the site of water sent me to the bathroom. Back in my bed, I poured and drank three glasses of water.
"Better?" I asked into the phone.
"Yes. At least ten major battles have been disrupted. But we've got a ways to go. Your little stunt in the freezing cold last night gave the other side temporary immunity from our attacks."
"You attacked my immune system?" I asked drowsily, amazed at my own cleverness.
"Your immune system is strengthened by peace, threatened by war. But somehow the cold froze our attacks."
"But that's a good thing. Who's side are you on, anyway?" I asked irritably.
"I'm a negotiator for peace, but I fight back if my survival is threatened."
"Fine, so I screwed myself by going ice-skating with my buddies."
"Not completely. The time you spent laughing with your friends gave us ammunition to fight off some of the flourishing bacteria that decided to use the war to their advantage."
"That sounds bad."
"Bad? How about the worst? The tribes at war with us believe in what the bacteria are preaching. They refuse to see them for the self-destructive fascist extremists that they really are."
"I never could get a handle on politics. Peppy, did you make sure I couldn't talk about you and these conversations to my friends?"
"I worked that out long before contacting you. I wasn't sure I could trust you. I know that hurts your pride, it doesn't really surprise you." I grunted. "Go back to sleep."
"I'm too annoyed to sleep. Tell me what's going on, Peppy?"
"Fine. Maybe ongoing updates will help, maybe not. A cult of violent bacteria and their recruits have created a home in one of your sinus cavities. They've blocked the only entrance. Meanwhile, two tribes have decided to fight over something insignificant but of vital importance to them because they're idiots and don't comprehend the real threat of the bacteria and have dragged in two other tribes in their fight, one of which I am a member. Some of the members of each tribe are acting on the bacteria's behalf. Smarmy spies. So there I am, trying desperately to negotiate peace so we can join forces against the bacteria instead of each other. Meanwhile the bacteria are recruiting so many they're threatening to take over other sinus cavities. The more recruits they get, the more it will poison negotiations for peace."
"Can't you reason with these bacteria?"
"I already told you -- not rational, they're self-destructive, the scum. And I haven't mentioned the viruses, the psychopaths of our world. Viruses grow in power and shrewd intelligence even though they can never attain a consciousness that would be at all helpful to your body. Not that I can tell, anyway. They're kind of like your politicians. What's worse, they've taught the bacteria everything they know."
"Should I take antibiotics?"
"And give the yeast the upper hand? Don't do it. Yeast only want to proliferate and they're a whole lot sneakier than the bacteria or viruses. They wear disguises and spy on all the tribes. Antibiotics will help the yeast infiltrate more tribes, ignore the viruses and may only pacify the bacteria temporarily. You finish the dosage and not only are the bacteria back, but they hide behind the yeast. We can eventually sort it all out, but it takes time and it takes far too many casualties to maintain your immune system. We'd be sitting ducks, as you so like to say."
"How can I help?" I was glad Peppy could read my desperation.
"You're doing all the right things, but you may have to change the order."
"Timing is everything but how to determine the best timing falls into the gap I told you about. Think of it like anything you do well. You practice and practice for a long while, until you finally develop technique."
"Healing is a technique?"
"Think about it. Sheesh. Look, I've got to go and you've got to sleep. We'll talk more another time."
I slept all day Xmas but was no better for it. So much for my "healing technique." But I went ahead and did many of the routines I'd done previously -- herbal tea, nasal irrigation, vitamins, hot bathes -- changing when and where I did them. I waited three days for my cell phone to ring before I noticed the battery was dead again. I replaced the battery, but had to assume that either the new frequency was beyond Peppy, or the poor thing was a casualty of war. That thought alone made me feel bad. Fortunately, the week after Xmas was slow and I paced myself accordingly.
Despite my grief over Peppy's departure that turned into lethargy, I forced myself -- with Tanya's help -- to go out with the girls on New Years Eve. When she picked me up, I remembered how our last adventure had been so satisfying.
"Feeling bad again?" Tanya asked.
"Yeah, but by the end of the evening I'll feel better." Tanya raised her eyebrows and smiled.
"And here I thought you were allergic to being social."
We went to a benefit for some arts organization. The place looked pretty bizarre, but I liked it. We danced, laughed and drank too much champagne. At one point, I found myself alone watching my friends gyrate on the dance floor. Just as the pulsing of my sinuses reminded me I didn't feel good, I got up and immersed myself into the dancing mass. Usually I hate crowds, but this one was as nourishing as it was active. Maybe it was something in the music or maybe it was the alignment of the stars, I would never know. But for a long moment, I looked around and I felt part of something larger than myself. We were all shapes, sizes, colors and ages, but we shared the desire to dance and celebrate. The door that had only been ajar opened wide. The veil of pretension dropped and I could see reflected in those around me our mutual need to feel connected to one another. Our needs binded us into -- not so much a marriage -- but a tribe. I laughed out loud at the source of this paradigm.
Tanya and I debriefed our adventures on the way home. I drank three glasses of water and happily fell into a deep sleep.
I woke up the next morning with only a mild hangover and knew my sinus infection was on its way out. The puffiness was gone, my sparkle was back and despite my hazy demeanor, I felt renewed. I sneezed, took a deep breath and for the first time in weeks, felt oxygen breeze through my sinuses. So it was a communication problem rather than a sudden death that prevented Peppy from calling. He must have successfully negotiated peace and helped the bacteria's spies see them for the self-destructive slime that they were. At least for the time being. What a relief. The war was over and the culture of my body would re-invent itself whatever that meant.
I knew it was just a matter of time before I would be catapulted into sinus hell, but I also trusted that Peppy might get the right frequency of my cell phone with its new battery to help me move through it. Maybe Peppy could even help me figure out how to break the cycle for good. The idea of having enough energy to do something inspiring and fun after working all day, was most appealing. Maybe there was hope after all.