At my most sick, my spirit was shot. The reason for me being in Chicago was finally coming to fruition- Buzzfeed was arriving and we were going to meet and interview on a final rest day before setting out for Indiana to get some video footage. My nose was dripping. I told Amanda I would be gone early, but couldn’t drag myself out of her bed. Clammy hands, soaked in my own sweat, grumbling in a raspy (albeit sexy), battling a headache larger than I ever had before. The only thing that got me out of bed was the absolute need to shit.
I showered. Amanda’s toilet had this weird thing where the flushing mechanism wouldn’t spring itself back up, and kept water flowing into the bowl if you didn’t manually reset it. She warned me about it, and every other time I used it I never seemed to have an issue, However, this time, stuck in my feverish haze, I ignored that simple motion to restore water flow to the bathroom. The shower water pressure was compromised, and I basically stood under a dripping waterfall, attempting to keep myself into the warmth without reaching my extremities too far out of it.
Using other people’s showers was endlessly weird. I never knew if they assumed I had my own shower necessities, like shampoo, soap, conditioner, etc. Obviously I didn’t, but gauging how obvious that was to other people ramped up my anxiety about the situation. Amanda had the second shower I saw across the country with a seat in it. The first was in Nebraska. I was unable to use this shower seat because of the water pressure, but all in all it’s a neat thing to have when you can hardly hold yourself up. I used Amanda’s soaps and hair products, trying not to use too much or too little, out of kindness and selfishness. Her products seemed expensive. As someone who never had much more than your average Dove “beauty bar” or a 99 cent bottle of Suave, I tried to be kind.
Between the medicine the other Amanda gifted me, and the shower, I still wasn’t feeling any better. It was apparent to me that the onset of Giardia and the constant diarrhea from Nebraska to now had weakened my immune system. I was broken, and especially upset because I was about to make my viral debut to the world through a hazy lens of sickness. I rolled around with Femur, her dog, for a while – it was like he knew I was sick. He was so warm and cuddly to me. I dressed myself and prepped again for the cold, aiming to get anything into my system to eat.
My travel to the outdoors walked me straight into a fast food joint. I had eaten fast food once before in Iowa, but it made me feel terrible. This time, however, I didn’t have to continue skating after, and it was my cheapest option. I walked into McDonald’s, somewhat terrified of the people. I was in a neighborhood where I knew nobody, completely alone, and the hustle and bustle of it all in Chicago made me feel smaller than any mountain ever did. Unimportant, another customer in line, and quiet. I ordered my food and ate it, neglecting to get a drink. It was funny to me that this restaurant didn’t have a fountain machine- they kept it behind the counter. Refills weren’t free. They didn’t trust their own neighborhood to not take advantage of the drinks. I personally thought it was pathetic, and a great example of how business has lost its touch with their customers- imagine trying to set up a burger joint and simultaneously control your demographic of sales. If anything, it showed adaptation of corporations into being exactly that – a money hole. McDonald’s offers nothing to their community other than burgers, while the little guy who hand packed his meat every morning and pressed the grease of it on a grill with love suffered.
I longingly stared out the McDonald’s window waiting for the Buzzfeed producers to meet me. I only ate a little snack, thinking that I would be getting lunch with them later, but my little snack seemed to fill me up. I had no control over my stomach- the innards of my body entirely ruled over me. Mind over matter seemed so much easier before.
Branson and Maria arrived in their rental car, and greeted me in the parking lot. I had no idea how I looked – I tried to do my eyeliner but I didn’t do it nearly as well as I usually did. Had I not been meeting them, I wouldn’t have done it at all. We decided to immediately head out for lunch- none of us having been to Chicago before. They didn’t ask me for any recommendations- Branson was vegan, and I had no limits on what I could eat. I told them I would eat wherever, but I was also a lot less hungry than I was when I woke up. We visited a vegan restaurant, which was obviously very hipster-esque and absolutely reaked of gentrification. I had a beer and “chicken and waffles”, neither of which I was able to finish. I always ran into the same problem where I would talk entirely through a meal and not touch my food, while everybody else finished.
Our conversation led us to their Air BnB location, on the south side of Chicago. You could feel as things became poorer and poorer, and the color of people went from white to black. Humanity literally pushed and classed people together the same as they did in Feudal times, only in this era the people had more color options for their clothes. Our Air BnB was a light shining through darkness. A beautiful home with lots of charm- it truly didn’t belong in the neighborhood it was in. The producers explained to me that Buzzfeed was onboard with feeding me, housing me, and traveling me across the country as far as I pleased and as much as I wanted. CNN didn’t make that same offer – CNN was much more interested in the sport aspect of my journey, the records, and the adventure. Buzzfeed was interested in the humanity, social markings, and coming of age tale. As sick as I was, I was grateful.
We set up for an interview in the kitchen. I didn’t know what I was going to say. Branson seemed to be pulling questions from thin air, something I wasn’t used to at all. CNN was very organized and detailed with prepared questions and expert task management, plus significantly better equipment. I didn’t like doing an interview where the questions weren’t predetermined. It felt to me like I almost had to take the reins of the whole project. However, the questions were great and I had a lot to say, even if I was completely anxious about how I looked and sounded. End of the day, I told myself the LGBT and queer audience that Buzzfeed catered to would accept me and applaud me no matter what I looked or sounded like. I found the interview to be a great opportunity for me to get out some things I wasn’t able to say before. Interviewing in front of a camera was therapeutic to me. So badly I wished CNN was still with me, because even though I detested the time consumption of it all, it gave me a chance to be myself.
After our initial interview, I had to say goodbye to Amanda. We drove back to her neighborhood and I gathered my things. I forgot to give her back the knapsack she lent me, and guilt loomed over me. She was so kind to me, and gave me everything I wanted out of a new city. Between visiting the aquarium, tasting the Chicago food, and having her as a tour guide, I felt like my experience would have been different without her. With many big hugs, I departed- and the rest of my journey could start. The sun had set and I successfully wasted another day. I was beaten despite not doing much for the day.
Tucked into a neat little one person couch, I passed out. I drooled all over myself. My fever was broken, and I could feel it. Were better things coming, or was the illness coming for another part of me I couldn’t control? I should have gone to an emergency doctor in Chicago but I couldn’t spare the cash for the copay and I had no insurance to fall back on. I had to take the parasite I was given and hope for the best. I was uneasy about it, and I didn’t feel like anyone I talked to fully grasped the seriousness of it. I remained stoic and mobile, but the sickness and pain ached me.