Friday, June 27, 2008

The Walk

It was as if my body and my head went to war, and I won. Don't get me wrong: it was a pitched battle, where both sides gave their all, but in the end, only one of us could win.

And the walk was too important to let my body give up, so if you were placing bets, of course my head won.  Of course.

I can't start this at the end, however. I need to begin where it matters: why I decided to do the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.

Two years ago, my family lost one of its brightest members: my cousin KC Chorak. KC was several years older than I, and impossibly beautiful. As a child, I always felt that she was larger than life. She was, too. The first time she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she beat it. The second time, she didn't.

Strangely, in between KC's two bouts with cancer was my cousin TC's same battle. She went for a much more radical solution than KC had, and I fully believe that it saved her life. That side of the family doesn't have much luck with this terrible disease.

Something funny about death: I just did an internet search to see if I could find a picture of her, but there was only one mention of her at all, a memorial on a website that only listed her name. Strange how there can be so few traces of someone so special. Well, now there's two. Maybe someday KC's daughter Rachel will find this and know how much she was loved.

The year after we lost KC, I was in no shape to do this walk. It was right after I'd moved back to Chicago from New York City, and I'd lost far too much that year. I lost KC and my grandfather, then my sister and my father went through some pretty harrowing illness. Depression didn't even begin to describe what I went through. I dealt with my unhappiness by sitting on my butt and eating ice cream. During that year, I gained forty pounds. Forty. The year before, when I was racked with worry over what was happening to my family, I'd gained twenty. That's sixty pounds in two years.

This is me at my highest weight. Needless to say, I was a hot mess. When I looked in the mirror, I didn't even recognize myself.

Every time I think about that time in my life, I remind myself that I came out of it. Things change. Things always change. I'd been living with my parents for six months as I saved for my condo, and the simple act of moving back into my own house was enough to snap me out of it. I had a party. I saw pictures of myself and thought, no. I can't remain this person.

It took me six months of changing my health and exercise before I felt like, yes.  I can do this.  I'd lost about thirty pounds by that point, and to make it official, I told my trainer.

One thing I've learned about myself: if I tell people I'm going to do it, I'll actually do it.  If I keep my goals to myself, they never materialize.  I realize this is a flaw in my personality, but what can I say?  I'm inherently flawed.

For the next six months I trained like a madman.  It was insane.  I often felt guilty if the day was nice and I hadn't gone training.  During the week, I'd get on the treadmill and walk for an hour at a time.  During the weekend, I'd walk to the path along Lake Michigan and walk for four hours.  I trained a ton.  I lost even more weight: my dress size kept dropping to the point where nothing I owned fit me anymore.  Nothing, however, prepared me for the reality of the walk.

Believe me when I say that this is the hardest thing I've ever done.

It didn't start out too tough. This was what I'd trained for, you see, and the miles melted away under my feet. Six miles in and I felt like I had the energy of a thousand men. An army. My sister's neighbor Jeanette and I met up at the opening ceremony and started out the walk complete strangers. By mile two, we were done with the pleasantries. By mile four, we'd moved on to ex-husbands and boyfriends. By mile ten, insane sex stories. Other women would join in the conversation here and there. We were in high spirits. I could do this. I knew I could do this.

My Aunt Arlene came to cheer me on somewhere around mile twelve. By this point I was flagging a bit. She walked with us for a little while, chatting here and there, but by this point, we were running out of the desire to speak. She kept up with us for a little while but when we hit the next rest stop, we decided to refill water and keep going. As long as I had the energy, I was going to walk.

At mile fifteen, I knew that blisters were forming. I took off my shoes and took care of my feet as well as I could: changed socks, put on the glide stuff, added powder. It was no use, though. My feet were quickly going south.

Er, north.

The last part of the day began to pass in a cloud of mile marker signs. Whereas before a mile seemed like nothing, now it seemed as if some evil gnome had gone along the route and changed the mile signs so that we were walking further and further.

I got to a point where I was going to take a picture of every mile marker just to prove to myself that I'd walked that far. However, after mile 21, I was so tired that I wasn't going to even look for my camera phone when I saw new ones. I decided to rely on my memory. I started texting friends in hopes of getting encouraging responses. I was desperate for anything that could help convince me to continue to put one foot in front of the other.

At one point, I remember, we passed an ice cream stand and sat down at a table with a woman and her kids. "You're crazy," she told us. "God love you both."

Jeannette called her ex-husband Matt and told him where to meet us. She kept going on about his good qualities. I couldn't wait to meet him.

Finally we hit the 26 mile marker. Matt was about half a block further. He started walking with us. Such a nice guy, too. I couldn't see why she'd left him, because he was clearly still in love with her.

Of course, I noticed all of this as if through a haze. In the end, I didn't care about Matt and Jeannette. All I cared about was the park I could see ahead of me, and the banner that marked the end of my travail.

Jeannette went home, promising to meet up with me the next morning. I went to the dinner tent and watched the fireside show as if in a fog. All around me, people were laughing, chatting. I could barely lift my fork.

They told us that all we had to do was find our number and our bags and tents would be waiting for us. If the tents weren't set up, there would be boy scouts to help us. I headed to the fields where they had the tents set up and had a hard time finding my section. Rows and rows of tents greeted me. I found my row and looked for my number: O80. Yes, of course you guessed it. My tent wasn't there. Neither was my bag. I looked around for the boy scouts and saw nobody, just rows and rows of tents, so I did what any self-respecting girl would do: I sat down in the empty spot where my tent should be and cried.

That's when nice tent lady (I never learned her name) found me. She told me that the boy scouts had gone home and walkers were to get their own gear. I looked where she pointed to the trucks and thought they looked impossibly far. I'll just sit here a while longer, I told her. I seriously couldn't move if you paid me right now.

She took pity on me, found my gear and my tent, and helped me set it up. I climbed inside, saw the Avon tower rising above me like a giant phallus, and took a picture.

The rest of the evening passed in a fog of waiting for the shower and trying to find a bathroom, but then I finally crawled into my sleeping bed and slept the sleep of the dead.  "To sleep, perchance to dream ..."

The second day was worse than the first.  
When I woke up in the morning, I couldn't walk.

I'm not kidding.  I really couldn't walk.  I couldn't put on my shoes at all.  I got out of bed, hobbled to the bathroom in my bare feet (thank god for dew -- it acted like a natural ice pack), and went to stand in line for the podiatrist.

They'd had them along the route the previous day, but of course I hadn't taken advantage of them.  Instead I had to wait two hours for someone to see me.  When they finally did see me, they had to drain blisters in places where I didn't know it was possible to blister.  But it was all good.  I was going to walk no matter what.  

I got on the road and started hobbling along.  My friend Jeannette from the previous day texted me and said she couldn't get herself out of bed, so I was on my own.  It was fine, though.  After about a half an hour of walking alone, a nice woman named Chris asked if she could walk with me.  Her story was like so many: she was walking because she'd lost someone, her mother.  She was funny.  She had cats.

I was so slow that morning, and knew I wasn't going to make the next marker.  I shouldn't worry, she told me, if I didn't hit the rest stops by the appointed time, they'd take care of me.

What she didn't tell me was that the bus drivers were crazy.

I was, indeed, late to the next rest stop and the choice of continuing was taken away from me:  I was going to be swept whether I wanted it or not.  They were going to take me ahead to the next stop and I could continue my walk from there.

So okay.  I got on the bus and there was a crotchety old lady bus driver.  Behind her was the bus volunteer.  Her job was to navigate us to the next rest stop.  The only problem was, she had no idea how to get there.  "I wish they'd have told me before I signed on for this duty that you should really know the streets of Chicago," she said.  "I'm from Wheaton, for crying out loud.  The most I know about Chicago is what I see out my window when my husband takes me out to dinner."

That didn't bode well, but I was so grateful to be sitting down that I decided to hope for the best.  From my seat back in the third row, I heard the calls back and forth on the radio as if from a fog.  "Where?  Sheraton Road?  There's a park there?  We're on Sheraton and there's no park.  Oh, a few blocks in.  From where?  No, we can't turn around, we're on a one-way street."

The bus driver wasn't too happy with her.  "Just tell me the intersection and I'll get us there," she commanded.  The spirit definitely wasn't within this one.  She took command, however, and turned down a street that looked fine, but halfway down had a delivery truck with blinkers on.  She saw it before anyone else did and slammed on the breaks.  I was thrown forward.  "We can't go down that damn street," she shouted at poor Wheaton lady.  She backed up the bus a little (beep, beep), and continued down the road.

We'd gone about two blocks when we were confronted with the next roadblock: a viaduct.  "Damn," she muttered.  "Just how tall is this bus?"  We all shrugged.  The sign on the overpass said 11' clearance.

She grabbed the radio.  "How tall is the bus?" she said.

Crackle.  "What?  Why do you want to know?"

"Just tell me how tall the damn bus is.  This ain't rocket science."

"I dunno.  Let me look it up."

Someone started beeping behind us.  She put on the blinkers.  Five or six cars sped around.  One guy mouthing obscenities.  All I could do was grin.

The radio cracked, "I think it's eleven foot six."

"Damn," she said.  I think it was her favorite word.  "Get out," she told Wheaton lady.  I need you to direct traffic so I can get this bus outta here."

Wheaton lady got out meekly.  I wondered how she'd handle this, this nice lady from the suburbs.  She began shouting at cars, though, and managed to clear a way for us.  I was so proud of Wheaton lady, stepping outside her comfort zone.

The bus started backing up when the radio went off again.  "Why do you want to know the height?"

"Because I was trying to go under a bridge," shouted the bus driver.  She wasn't shouting it into the radio, though, because she was backing up and her hands were too busy turning the wheel to key on the radio.

"Don't try that bridge at Broadway," the disembodied voice warned.  

"Shut up!" she shouted at the radio.

They couldn't hear her, of course.  Her hands were still on the wheel.

She managed to back the bus up enough, however, to get it turned around.  Cars were honking left and right but she ignored them.  Wheaton lady climbed back on, triumphant.  We tooled back down the street to the block we'd tried before, except this time the delivery truck was gone.

"Hey," said the radio.  "I found the manual.  The bus is ten foot six."

"Shut up shut up shut up," she told the radio.  We were negotiating a narrow street that seemed to take forever but finally we were there.  I got off the bus and hobbled toward the rest stop.  The lady told me to take a banana.  I wanted to tell her about the crazy bus driver, but got back on the road instead.

Everybody was crazy, though.  Check out this guy.  He was an EMT working the walk route who stood on top of the piling by the river dancing to some disco soundtrack he had blasting from the ambulance parked behind him.  His partner stood next to the ambulance, arms folded, grinning at his foolishness.  She looked like a mom who was content to let her kid act the fool so long as he wasn't hurting anybody.

It was as if everyone had a license to be foolish.  We were so pleased by their foolishness.  Something that's hard to describe unless you've been through it is how terribly desperate you get for a reason to keep on going.  Oh, look: the cutie pie blonde boy and his dad with the convertible.  Let's walk a little faster so we can wave at him.  Oh, look: the madman EMT.  Let's do a dance step with him.  Cripes, my feet hurt.  Maybe no dancing.  I'll dance in my head.

One of the things that struck me along this walk was how committed SO many people were to this cause. They had a crew of bikers who moved along the walk route and made sure that street crossings were safe. Now, this would be a nice enough thing to do, but on top of that, they were hilarious. A couple were cute enough for us bawdy women to comment about for the next mile, but some were just plain funny. This guy was wearing a dress and decorated himself from head to toe. You could tell that in his real life, based on the bike he had resting at the curb, he'd never be caught dead in anything but leather.

There was another guy wearing a tutu, and another with a cow costume doing lewd things to his udders.  They were hilarious.

Sometimes along the walk, people would meet up with their families. This little boy found his mother along the route and walked with her for about a mile. Do you see her back? They gave us signs where we could write the names of the people we were walking for. You can't really see this, but her sign says a few names before it says, "For Me." That's the thing that got me. Every time I wanted to break down and stop walking, all I had to do was look around and see all these cancer survivors -- some were even fighting it during the walk itself -- and I'd think, shut up, Cecilia. You're seriously a wimp if you can't keep going.

 Now, if ever you're in Grant Park in Chicago and you want to go to the Field Museum, there's a fun little underpass that will take you on a path right up to the museum.  I was trudging up that path when I realized that somewhere behind me, someone was playing bagpipes.

There's one song in this world that when played, should only be played on the bagpipes.  That's "Minstrel Boy."

The Mistrel Boy to the war has gone
In the ranks of death you will find him
His father's sword he hath girded on,
And his wild harp slung behind him

Those are all the words I know, but they were enough to make me burst into tears.  You see, this is also possibly the saddest song in the universe.  It's about a boy who goes off to war, his harp slung on his back, and dies.  He dies heroically, however, because he doesn't let them take his harp or his song; he rips out the strings with his dying breath and the song dies with him.  That conquering army wasn't going to take his music, no sir.

Yes, of course.  Not much application to this situation, except I truly thought that any moment I might puddle up one the ground and expire.  For these folks, though, I think I'd leave my harp behind me.  The angels might need it.

My best friend Dawn had texted the previous day to tell me that she was going to try to meet me at the finish line. Her son Shawn is my godson, and I knew they'd be waiting. I can't even tell you how much it meant to me that there would be someone there to meet me, to witness what I'd done.

So of course when I rounded the corner and saw that she'd brought a whole cheering section of our friends, I broke into tears again. Shawn even made me a poster, for chrissakes. A poster. Nobody's ever made me a poster before.

They jumped up and hugged me and I hugged them back and then I said, no, I have to finish. So I finished. Dawn took a picture of me after I crossed the finish line. Of course, a man walked into the shot right as she snapped the photo, but whatever. It's a record. I made it.

Anyway, I finally made it to the finish line, my puffy feet making every step agony. And just because, I took a picture of them. Posterity and all that. Nobody's ever had feet uglier than these.

They took about two weeks to heal.

People keep asking me if I'd do this walk again.  The short answer: yes, but not next year.  I met all kinds of people who did the walk every year, but I'm pretty sure I don't have that in me.  

Someday soon, I'll do it again.  

Just not too soon.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Investigator

"Yo, Miss Baader," Anthony came crashing into my classroom. "Anderson wants you."

Anderson is head of security. He has feet. I've got about a million kids in my classroom. I said I couldn't leave.

Anthony ran out. He was back two minutes later. "Anderson says he really really needs you."

Again, can't leave. Tell him to find someone to stay with you guys.

Five minutes go by and one of the security guards walks in. "Anderson needs you. He's got a parent in there."

It finally occurred to me why Anderson wanted me. Shemekia's mother must be here.

And indeed, when I walked into his office, Shemekia was standing in front of me, her mother on one side, and her father on the other. Her mother smiled at me. "Miss Baader," she said. "You remember our phone conversation yesterday? I just wanted to clear up a few details with you, because Shemekia's story still doesn't match yours."

I looked at Shemekia. She met my eyes, didn't look down at all. She was good. She was going to brazen this out.

"Now Miss Baader, Shemekia said she made a mistake yesterday. She said she was with you, but she hadn't spent the whole time with you, she'd spent how long?" She glared at her daughter.

"Half an hour," Shemekia supplied.

I'm pretty sure I would have remembered half an hour, I said. I didn't see her at all yesterday.

"But we were there," said Shemekia. "Brittany and I, but then we went to another room."

I looked at her. She sent me a pleading look, but I just couldn't back up her story. She's one of my favorite students, too. Wherever she was, it wasn't with me.

"One more thing," said Shemekia's mother. She settled deeper into her seat. "Did you notice I'm an investigator? Shemekia doesn't know her mother is an investigator. Did you make a phone call to Mr. Clarke for Shemekia? Because she says that the reason she was so late was because Mr. Clarke had left for lunch and you had to call him on his cell phone so he could give her cell phone back to her."

I don't even have Mr. Clarke's phone number, I said. We'd covered this ground on the phone yesterday, but it apparently needed to be done in person to prove something to Shemekia. I looked at her again. Shemekia's mother was a mountain of a woman, and in this mood? I'd have confessed everything she wanted to know. I have to say, in the face of the investigator, the fact that Shemekia didn't change her story said a lot for that girl's backbone.

"See?" said her mother. "One more question from the investigator. Shemekia, what was Miss Baader wearing yesterday?"

"I don't know," she said. "I never pay attention to what teachers are wearing."

Now this was the biggest lie I'd heard come out of her mouth. If there's anything kids pay attention to, it's what I'm wearing. They're always telling me when I should take an outfit, put it away, and never take it out again. Shemekia is no exception. In fact, she likes to pay special attention to my shoes.

Shemekia's mother stood, opened her arms wide, and enveloped me in a hug. "I thank you for your time, Miss Baader. We'll take care of this."

"Oh yes we will," said Shemekia's father. It was the first time he'd spoken, and to tell you the truth, I'd forgotten he was there, but I looked at him then, and he was hot. His temper was about to boil over.

I looked at Shemekia. See you next fall, I said.

The next part of this story I had to get later from Anderson.

After I left the office, Anderson asked, "Now, do you mind if I just ask four questions?" Her parents agreed. "One," said Anderson. "Did you come to school yesterday?"

"I said I did!" She said this with the voice of someone who wasn't lying.

"Okay," said Anderson. "Question two: when you came to school yesterday, were you actually in the building or were you just around the building?" Shemekia looked like she was about to answer when Anderson stopped her. "Now before you go any further, I have to tell you that you weren't two blocks away from this school when a little girl came up to me diming on you. So you better tell the truth or I'll tell it for you."

"I was outside the building," she said. "I never came inside. I met Brittany outside and we left."

"Question three: where did you go?"

She mumbled something at this point. "What?" said her father. "I didn't hear you."

"The mall."

"The mall," said Anderson. "And who else was with you? Let me remind you that I already know the answer to this question."

"Brittany and Chris."

"Hell, no," said her father. "Please tell me that this Chris is a girl."

"I can't tell you that," said Anderson. "Chris is a boy."

"Please," said Shemekia's father, "Please tell me that this Chris is a ho-mo-sexual."

"I can't tell you that either," said Anderson. "I see that boy in the hallway chasing girls all the time."

"Where did you go after the mall?" asked her father.

"Let me remind you that I already know the answer to this question," said Anderson.

"Nowhere. I went home," she said. At this point, she got smart and shut her mouth. No matter what they did, they couldn't get her to change this part of the story. Anderson told her to step outside.

"You've got to tell us now. Where was she?" asked her father.

Anderson laughed. "I've got no idea. I made that little girl up."

"A full day goes by and she sticks to her story and you get her to give up the truth in five minutes?" said her mother.

Anderson grinned. "I should hope so. That's my job."

Now, while they were having this conversation, I found Shemekia in the hallway and asked her why she'd lied.

"Because I didn't want my mother to know where I'd gone."

Where did you go?

"To the mall. I was running away."

That didn't make any sense. You were running away to the mall? Where were you going to sleep?

"I don't know. And anyway, I changed my mind. That's when I came home."

I sighed. Shemekia, maybe instead of telling this story, you could just tell your mother what's really going on. Because when I stood in there, I saw a parent who cared what happened to you.

"Yeah," she said. She looked down.

The door opened and her parents came out. "Oh," said her mother. "There's your teacher. Have you apologized for putting her name in your mouth?"

"I apologize," said Shemekia.

"Now let's get on home."

Shemekia nodded glumly and followed her out. Her little brothers and sisters were jumping around and laughing like this little family drama had never occurred.

I was a little sad to watch her go. She'd put up a valiant fight, but the treachery of a teenager is nothing compared to that of a security guard.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What are you wearing?

"What are you wearing?"

Unfortunately, it wasn't a handsome man on the other end of the telephone with me, it was somebody's mother. Shemekia had told her that she was late coming home today because she'd been with me, helping me close up my classroom for the summer.

She hadn't. I hadn't seen her all day, in fact.

"Really?" she said. "Because she claims she was with you for four hours and you were helping her get her cell phone back."

I laughed. Four hours? I was pretty sure I'd have remembered that.

"You'd think Shemekia would remember that, too," she replied. "In fact, if she'd spent such a long time with you today, you'd think she'd even know what you were wearing. What are you wearing?"

I looked down at my outfit. A blue shirt and green skirt. White sandals.

I heard her turn to Shemekia and ask the question. "What?" I heard Shemekia's voice in the background. "How should I know what she was wearing? I wasn't paying attention."

"Okay," her mother said. "But you'd probably remember how she was wearing her hair. How did you wear your hair today, Miss Baader?"

Down, I said. Pulled back with a headband because of the heat.

"Huh," said her mother. "A girl who spent four hours with you should remember that, don't you think? I mean, if she'd been with you this whole time, she'd know. What did her hair look like Shemekia?" She didn't even give Shemekia time to answer. "You don't know? How curious. See, Shemekia thinks I was born her mother. She doesn't understand that I was once a teenager too. She doesn't understand that her mother is an investigator."

I can see that.

"I want to thank you, Miss Baader, for spending all that time with Shemekia today. It must have been so important because she remembers so much about it."

I laughed. Tell Shemekia that I'll see her in the fall. She's got me for English again next year.

"Oh, I will," she said. "And I'll see you, too. Next open school night, I'll make a point of it. Shemekia's going to know that we've got her on all sides, you and I. You have a good summer, Miss Baader."

You, too. You too.

Monday, June 16, 2008

My Real Mother

"My mother's here," said Anthony.

I'd never seen him so happy.

You mean your grandmother? I asked. She'd been up to the school several times, especially after he'd gotten in trouble. See, there was that incident when I caught him with the survival knife in his bookbag. Apparently he'd felt it necessary to carry it for protection.

With the way he got picked on every day, I could understand why.

"No. My mother's here," he said again. "My real mother."

I wondered briefly if it were possible to spontaneously combust from sheer joy.

"She's in the office," he said. "She's waiting for me."

Can I meet her?

"No," he said. "She can't stay. I just wanted to tell you she's here. My mother's here. My real mother." He grinned one last time and ran out of the classroom.

For half a minute I was tempted to follow him, tempted to find her in the office and ask her where the hell she'd been. But I didn't. Anthony deserved this moment.

Later, when he was older, he'd ask her that question himself. For now, I could only hope that he' be satisfied with her answer.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Aw, Nuts.

There's been a report on the news all day about a woman who died enroute from Haiti to NYC. Her family brought a suit against American Airlines, complaining that they should have been better prepared to help her. I watched the report and thought: they're absolutely right.

Let me tell you about the time when I almost died on an airplane.

Okay. Maybe that's a slight exaggeration. I could have almost died, though.

Yes, I know. You've already dismissed my argument because I began it with a (slight) exaggeration, but you need to understand: I could have almost died. The flight attendants couldn't have known the difference just by looking at me.

You see, I'm allergic to peanuts. When I eat peanuts, I usually know immediately because my throat reacts. At first, it's only mildly uncomfortable. I want to spit. Then, it starts to feel like I have strep throat. My lips will start to swell as if someone's punched me. Or a bee stung me. Yes, that's what it looks like. A bee sting. If I don't get Benadryl in me immediately, my throat and lungs start to close up and I start to wheeze. Then I itch. My whole body feels like I want to peel it off, and all I can do is curl up in a little ball and shake.

It's, shall we say, not pretty.

I haven't had a reaction like that in years because I'm usually very careful. If I go to a new restaurant, I'll tell the people serving me that I can't have nuts and even have them check with the chef to make sure that an iffy dish isn't cooked in peanut oil. Once, back when I lived in Brooklyn, I had to leave a restaurant, run two blocks to the nearest drug store, take a Benadryl, and come back. It was mildly embarassing, to say the least, but I was with friends who pretended not to notice how strange I looked afterwards. That one never got past the throat-closing stage, thank god.

Another time, I was at Denny's with some camp friends. We decided to order dessert, and even though I said no peanuts, one or two got in mine. I started hacking and Spaz said, "Simon, I swear to god if you die on me I'm going to kill you."

I didn't die.

(On a side note, I believe that was the same night that someone called the restaurant and asked them if Mike Hunt was there. The security guard went from table to table asking for Mike Hunt until, suddenly, he caught on. It was damn funny, even if I was wheezing.)

One time it happened to me when I was at work. I'd gone to Subway for lunch, and that one day I said to myself: hey. I'm going to have cookies. So I bought the cookies, brought them back to my desk, and ate about two bites.

That was when I learned that I was allergic to Macadamia nuts, too.

I remember I went to the bathroom to try to throw up, but it was too late: the reaction had already set in. It was faster than usual, too. I ended up shaking on a couch in a corner when somebody found me. Scared the hell out of them, too. They were about ready to call for an ambulance. I still remember how Oliver ran to the store for me. Oliver. Sigh. He was hot.

Where was I? Oh. Dying on the airplane.

So I was on a flight home from Japan. We were about two hours over the Pacific when the flight attendants came with snacks and drinks. All of us were starving because they'd loaded the plane early, sat on the tarmac for about a thousand years, and then took off. I think it had been five hours since I'd eaten, and when they handed me the small bag of trail mix, I didn't look at the list of ingredients too closely.

Again, it didn't take long. I tried to talk myself out of what I was feeling. It was probably just the airplane air getting to me, I thought. Please, please, please. I read the list of ingredients: no peanuts. Then, when I flipped the little thing over to the side, it said: may contain trace elements of nuts.

Trace elements? Again I tried to talk myself out of what I was feeling. My throat wasn't closing. It wasn't. My arms weren't starting to shake. Shit. They were. They really were.

Now, at this point in any peanut story, people are going to say, well, you should have been able to reach into your purse and just pull out the Benadryl, right?

Well, right. Except that my Benadryl wasn't in my purse. It was in my suitcase. Which I'd checked. Yeah.

The thing is, you never think it's going to happen. Not again. Years go by between accidental peanut attacks. I'm very careful. I swear.

So I climb out of my seat. I'm sitting next to this woman who's a Marine on her way back to the states and she's not friendly at all. I tell her I need to get out and she huffs and moves her knees so I have to do a bit of mountain climbing in order to get out.

The flight attendants are cleaning up from the snacks. Excuse me, I say. I think I just ate peanuts.

They look at me blankly.

I'm allergic, I explain. Mildly, so as not to panic anyone.

Again, they look at me blankly.

My Benadryl is in my suitcase, I go on, and I need some. Now. Or else I'll go into shock. We've got a very small window of time before I start wheezing.

The head flight attendant looks at me. "Why did you eat the trail mix if it had peanuts in it?"

It doesn't have peanuts in it, I say. But it has something in it that is causing a reaction. I need Benadryl.

"I'm not allowed to administer Benadryl," she says. "Only a doctor is allowed."

Do you have Benadryl?

"Yes," she admits, "But it won't do any good. The paperwork requires that a certified M.D. opens up the first aid kit."

I stare at her. I want this to be over, and she's making that impossible. So what do we do?

"We page a doctor," she explains. "There's usually one an any airplane."

And if there isn't?

She avoids answering. Instead, she walks to the P.A. and starts the page. We wait. No one answers.

The Japanese flight attendant comes to the galley. She offers to repeat the page in Japanese. We wait.

Still nothing.

At this point, I'm starting to shake. Try again, I urge. I need this Benadryl now.

They page again, this time in English. And from the back of the plane, a man climbs out from the middle of a row. He's just lovely. Tall, with a soldier's haircut. Yes. Lovely. I'm not too sick that I don't notice that.

He makes his way to the galley. "What do you need?" he asks.

"I'll need to see some identification," says the nasty one.

He hands her his wallet.

She looks it over carefully. "This doesn't say MD," she says. "Are you certified to practice medicine?"

He clears his throat. "The army seems to think so, ma'am."

My hero.

He breaks open the kit and checks out the contents. I'm kind of leaning against a corner at this point. "Well," he says. "I've got some good news and some bad news."

What's the good news? I ask.

"There's Benadryl here."

And the bad news?

"No pills. I'll have to administer it as a shot."

Do I have to drop my pants? I said it with trepidation, but the truth is, I wouldn't have minded getting a little naked for this one.

He laughs. "No. I can do it in your arm. Why don't we go in the back where we can have a little privacy."

It was then that, for the first time, I looked around. Half the airplane was looking back. Christ.

We make our way to the back of the plane. I have to take my shirt off so he can get to my arm. I think to myself, damn. There are much better reasons to be taking your shirt off than this. I look down at his hand. Wedding ring. Even worse. I decide that I didn't see it. The fantasy was better that way.

He swabs me down with alcohol, puts the syringe in me, and it's over.

"By the way," he says. "That Benadryl is a pretty high dosage. You're probably going to sleep all the way to L.A."

He was right, too. The flight that seemed impossibly long on the way there passed in a Benadryl blur on the way back. At one point, my hero sought me out to check on me. I was in a fog, but I managed a response or two. I might have told him I loved him; I don't know.

All I know is I could have died. It's possible. And if it weren't for my lovely, hot heroic (did I mention hot?) medic, who knows what could have happened? The flight attendants were crippled by the rules. They were more worried about the paperwork than they were about me possibly expiring on their floor.

I didn't die, though. Aren't you glad?