It is amazing what the human body can get used to.
Aches in the knees for 26.2 miles, bruises on the throat from the fight ring, numbness in the toes from years of pirouetting – all are indicative of strength and of madness. It is the best kind of madness, we insist, that we brave such pains on the way to glory.
No injury can eclipse the trophy we long to emerge from our race, fight, recital; besides, a 14-mile run in preparation is nothing if you have run 23.
Yet there are some feats, our daily Kilimanjaros, for which the human body should not train.
- Sickness tends to creep, but usually I can feel it coming. Before it arrives, I vanquish it with glugs of Tazo Refresh mint tea and sheer force of will. Last week, I woke up zombified, spitting mucus into trash bins, unable to ingest coffee, my lifesource.
Mom said she was surprised I was not sick more often, with how little I sleep. I told her the stress of senior-year scheduling made me ill.
I regimented myself with handfuls of Mucinex, acetaminophen, allergy medication, until I got used to not being able to open my eyes more than a quarter of an inch. Through their slivers, water streamed at the slightest provocation from an itch in my throat or a dust-triggered sneeze, and I got used to having snot rags for sleeves.
Because I always felt unwell – my nerves were always frayed at the edges – just then you could see it.
I tried to urge the bug away through nights crammed with eight hours of sleep, but despite my eager, 9 p.m. collapse into bed, I could not sleep. I had been hardwired for late-nights; I had gotten used to the insomnia.
2. I want to quit my job.
The urge snuck up on me after one particularly bad shift. I was in the midst of my snot-draped flu, but I could not call off sick because our unreliable staff did so often enough that it would be more probable that aliens had abducted me than a never-ending cough had stricken me. (My logic was foolproof.)
So I attended, sneaking into the back room every other minute to cough, sneeze, wash my hands, repeat. My boss, oblivious, asked me to stay 30 minutes extra. Not practiced in the art of ‘no,’ I stayed not 3o minutes but an hour, in the midst of which I was the sole employee at the front of the store, frantically attempting to do three jobs at once while consoling customers over the corpse of our drink machine.
That was the first day I wanted to quit. Not because of the bad shift, but because of the realization that sitting in the car, Kleenex plastered to my Rudolph nose, on an otherwise sun-kissed Saturday, that I was unhappy there.
I had gotten used to being unhappy.
The new job applications I now leaf through ask my reason for leaving my old position. I do not know how to quantify it.
These are my Kilimanjaros, the mountains I insist are worth climbing day-to-day on my way to I don’t know what.
I am amazed by those around me. I hate that word, amazed, amazing; I cringe at its tin-scrape sound, but I use it because I am dumbfounded.
That jock, brainiac, humanitarian I picked dandelions with in pre-K are now all one person: my classmates are varsity athletes, part-time employees, club co-presidents, 100-hour volunteers. I am amazed by all of us, by how far we have come, and too often I am racing to keep up.
I too must master these feats along with my daily Kilimanjaros. After all, I can get used to a few late-nights if a 19,341-foot peak awaits.
It is that drive, that adaptability on which we pride ourselves – it is how we have survived this long. We can condition ourselves to live in sub-zero climate zones, in sand-battered, Saharan colonies, in perpetual disappointment.
But there are some things we should never get used to – sleep deprivation, sickness, unhappiness.
Over spring break, my sickness relapsed, and I spent my April 1 birthday wrapped in blankets on the couch. In between blowing my nose and rejecting the Gatorade my mother offered me, I watched all eight Harry Potter movies – a total of 19 hours and 58 minutes of television.
I should have felt horrible, and for the worst of it, I did, but the same sickness that confined me to the couch and to Harry Potter gave me an iron-clad excuse to rest. I could sleep, call in sick to work, and sleep some more.
I spent my spring break on the couch. I climbed no Kilamanjaros. The high school mantra of “do-do-do-do-do-do” faded beneath cries of Expelliarmus!
That rest is not a defeat; our blood-and-tears trophies still await. These four years are a blip, we think, but it is our life now. We cannot afford to get used to it.