April Penn

For Andrea, Because I Miss You

It was always hard to find the words to explain how your body never stopped healing
after you broke your ankle. Your body kept making extra bone,
which twisted your arms and legs into contortioned knots and unexpected right angles
where the bone should be straight.

Your story was not the story that people preferred to hear
because you didn’t have a problem that anyone could solve, not even doctors,
but you wanted everyone to know about mysterious chronic illness,
and what happens when your own body’s immune system turns against itself.

It has been hard to find the words
after you died, frail and bruised in a hospital bed in Mexico because
the US wouldn't provide the experimental treatments that were your last hope.

You didn't say goodbye.
You weren’t the type to anticipate death.
You were still ripe in your youth, unsure of your sexual orientation
and flirting with me on instant message.
I could almost taste your lust for me.

During meetings for people with invisible illness,
I used to stare at your breasts, and oh how your curves made me wet.
We never touched each other. You fucked lots of boys
while talking about girl's bodies. I remember your angry rants about the chronic pain wracking the joints of your body.
I didn’t know how to respond to your suffering, but I listened the best I could at the time.
Years later, when the storm of my own chronic illness began,
these moments with you came back to me, and I finally cried.

When I think of you now, I have a repeating dream where I see you,
then all the pieces of you shatter and scatter,
and I ask you if you were really there and you don't answer,
so I stare at the ceiling all these lonely nights.
I ask, Can one disagree with death? Negotiate?
Sometimes the air around me becomes a constellation of your energy,
and I speak directly to you the way I never could when you were alive:

Andrea. You know when you died
people tried to say kind words like at last your death
had silenced your pain. But I know that only made it worse, like saying
that those of us with chronic pain are better off silenced, dead.
I know they were just trying to say nice things about you, but
that’s why I want you back because
you would have known better than to divide your actual experiences
from the way people remember you.
You were no pretty little angel, so
don’t come back that way.
Come back through your passion and anger.
Come back as the real you.