2016 almost killed me. In an emotional way.
A head fog was followed by a depression that felt like I was walking around with weights strapped to both my legs. The weight settled into my bones, and I would often leave class to sit in a bathroom stall and stare at the walls. I felt like a tourist in my own life. I wondered if everyone around me was real.
Come 2017, I felt slightly better emotionally, but the New Year greeted me with a sore tailbone. Days later, I hobbled onto a train, got off in Manhattan, and hobbled into an emergency room. Fluid was trapped under my skin, so I got around sixteen injections, gripped a med student’s hand, and a doctor sliced me open.
The next few weeks went off without a hitch. But then I caught my first cold of 2017. It was uneventful. I blew boogers into some tissues and took naps. The next one was bad. It was February and cold, and I had an annoying sore throat for over a week. I almost cleared out a dollar store’s cough-drops section. I joked on social media that someone had placed a mal de ojo on me and that I needed a gold-eye necklace and a bunch of bodega saint candles to protect me.
Another cold came, and I shared witty bilingual memes on Facebook about Vicks vapor rub, aka Vi-Vaporu, and lighting Jesus candles in hopes of ridding myself of this “evil.”
The next one hit me in late March. It felt all kinds of wrong. I walked to the pharmacy that night and had to stop to lean on a gate. On the way back home, I sat down at the curb and tried to breathe. A delivery guy stopped and asked me if I was all right. I said yes and kept walking home. I made it halfway up the stairs to the second floor of my house and lay down for a few minutes. My dad asked if I needed help getting up the stairs. I told him no and just waited to stop feeling dizzy for a little bit. I eventually got up and stumbled into my room.
My mom reminded me that I used to catch horrendous colds as a kid. I remembered weeks of coughs that left me listless and sore. My grandmother would nag her about why she had raised us up here in el frío. She used to think the cold in New York was unnatural and always made me wear even more shirts than my mom did.
“Mamá saved you once,” my mom told me. “You had this cold that didn’t leave. I had to go out in the snow into Bushwick, where this Puerto Rican lady sold these herbs. I gave you the oil from it, and you got better.”
I don’t remember that. I do remember someone putting leaves on my chest at one point and having me inhale the steam from smelly water when I was in elementary school. I remember my dad soaking a lime wedge in warm rum, tea, and honey and making me suck on it. He said it helped his colds as a kid and that he was trying to numb my throat with that and those pharmacy sprays so I could actually finish a meal.
And now I really like mojitos.
My grandmother used to claim that she’s the reason I’m alive. Maybe she’s right. She did give us Dominican cough syrups that are hard to find here. I’m not sure if they’re legal here, because the ones my aunt brings over when she visits don’t have ingredients on the label, but they work. Better-known ones that for sale in the United States have ingredients like honey, eucalyptus oil, and propylparaben … whatever the hell that is. She always reminded me of the time I coughed so much I was turning pale. And of the time I had a high fever and only she brought it back down. Before she died, I used to joke with her that I’d compile her remedies and bedtime stories into a novel.