It all started months ago, on what had been supposed to be a fun vacation, but ended with me getting stitches and rabies shots in the ER.
We’d decided to save money and camp instead of staying in a hotel. Jenny’s sister loaned us a car and camping gear. It had been fun, making s’mores, kayaking, Lounging together in the hammock at our campsite. It wasn’t till I was walking to the bath house a couple of nights into the trip that things went bad.
It was a beautiful warm clear night, so I had turned off my flashlight, and was just enjoying the stars and full moon. When I heard the slight rustle, I just figured it was a racoon or opossum. It was a campground, not real wilderness, I didn’t expect anything big.
It came out of the bushes, straight at me. I wasn’t sure if it was a coyote, wolf, or a feral dog, but whatever it was knocked me down and was going for my neck. I raised my bare arm, fending it off. It clamped on, and had just begun to tear at the flesh, when another camper happened by and beat the creature off me with a walking stick.
The next day, when I was released from the hospital, Jenny packed up the campsite by herself and drove us back to our one bedroom apartment in the city.
At first, I was too exhausted to notice the changes. As I came off the percocet a few days after the bite though, things started to become noticable. Some were things Jenny noticed, like my being irritable. Some I noticed like how everything smelled different and more intense. Some felt easy to explain away, I was in pain and traumatized. Some made no sense, like why the previously friendly pomeranian from 6B growled and refused to get in the elevator when I was in it.
About 2 weeks after the incident though, I started to feel much more normal. I went back to work. The office manager ordered a “Welcome Back Diana” cake, and it tasted pretty much the way I expected it to. Jenny and I spent time cuddling and watching movies on the couch. The pomeranian from 6B even finally got inside the elevator, only whimpering his reluctance slightly.
It only lasted a few days before I started feeling weird again. Things smelling funny; the pomeranian growling; feeling trapped when I was inside; being jittery at work and unable to concentrate; picking fights with Jenny over the stupidest little things; being hungry, ever so hungry.
It was a Friday, just a bit over three weeks after the attack, that the night came where I realized things were really bad. Jenny had made a tofu stir fry with all my favorite veggies, she made it exactly the way I liked it. I sat there poking at it impatiently. It wasn’t bad, it just didn’t really seem like food though. I ate it as quickly as I could, I was still hungry, but didn’t want more.
Jenny and I were supposed to watch a movie after dinner, but I felt trapped, I needed to get out of the apartment. The look of hurt, frustration, and confusion on Jenny’s face as I walked out the door made me feel like a terrible girlfriend, but I knew if I stayed it would be worse.
I wandered, at first aimlessly, then I got to the entrance of the park. It was late, after dark. *Don’t go into the park alone after dark* was a rule I had followed my whole life. Heck, even when Jenny was with me, we never cut through the park after dark. But for reasons I couldn’t explain, I entered Fort Tryon Park.
Inside the stone walls, I took a deep breath. The smells of stale urine, both human and dog, that hit my nose should have been repulsive, but they weren’t. I somehow knew that the pomeranian from 6B had been there hours earlier. I could smell squirrels and pigeons, which I found exciting.
I began to run. Past the playground into the more wooded areas. Up the paths with the uneven stairs. Below the Cloisters. Through the open lawn. Around the garden. I kept running. I stood on the grass, where during the day people picnicked, basking in the moonlight. It wasn’t a full moon yet, but it was getting there.
Then I saw a racoon going through a trash can, and I had the weirdest urge to chase her. I could tell she was a her from the way she smelled.
I resisted, realizing what I was doing. I left the park.
I was still hungry, so I headed to my regular pizza place. My plan was to order a slice of regular when I got there. Standing in front of all the pies though, something happened. The pie piled high with meats smelled like food. I had been a vegetarian for over a decade at that point, it had always looked and smelled disgusting to me. Even as a child before I became a vegetarian, a regular plain cheese slice had always been what I wanted.
I was hungry.
“Let me get 2 slices of whatever this one is with all the meat,” I said pointing.
4 slices of pizza later, I slunk back to the apartment. I didn’t want to get in the bed. I curled up on the couch in my clothing. I didn’t like how it smelled of Jenny’s soap, but it was better than the bed where the smell was overpowering.
I used to love the smell of Jenny on the sheets and pillow. Light with hints of lavender and jasmine. Now it was overpoweringly flowery. And there was something else, I didn’t understand, but she just smelled wrong, she didn’t smell like my love anymore.
When I woke up, fully dressed down to the shoes I should have left by the door, I felt like crap. A little physically, my long chestnut hair was a tangled mess, my muscles ached from the unusual amount of running, but more so mentally. I knew I was ruining my relationship with Jenny. And what the hell had made me eat all that meat last night.
I started crying.
That’s how Jenny found me, crying in dirty clothing with the worst bed head I’d ever had Saturday morning, when she came out of the bedroom. She came over, sat next to me and put her arms around me.
“Diana, I think we should find you a therapist.” She said gently as she rubbed my back. “Someone who specializes in PTSD maybe.”
“I’ll call my insurance company on Monday.” I nodded agreement, “I’m so sorry for how I’ve been. Tonight, I’ll try to make it up to you. I’ll make penne primavera for dinner. We can watch that movie we planned to last night. It’ll be nice.”
“Ok babe.” Jenny’s hand moved from stroking my back to my hair. “How did you tangle this so badly?”
I shrugged, I wasn’t sure, but it was going to take a bit of effort to get untangled.
That night, all the promises I made fell apart. I couldn’t handle cooking dinner, as soon as I sliced into the garlic, I felt nauseous. I abandoned the half started cooking, water beginning to bubble on the stove, and headed to Inwood Park and ran in the moonlight. I went to a hamburger joint, and just ate patty after patty, no lettuce and tomato, no condiments, no bun. I once again slept on the couch.
Sunday, Jenny watched me warily. Her expression shifted between worry, frustration, concern, anger, sadness, and confusion all day. I knew I was dirty and should shower, but I couldn’t stand the overpowering scents of any of our soaps and shampoos. That night, I had to go back to the park again to run in the light of the moon that was just a day away from being full.
Monday morning, I was late for work. I had tried and failed to get all the tangles out of my hair. Plus, I changed my clothing a dozen times because everything felt too restrictive, I finally ended up in a wrinkled out of style shirt dress. So I had a late start out the door and down to the subway.
The pings the rails made as the train approached hurt my ears like they never had before, then the roar as the train pulled into the station was nearly unbearable. The ride downtown was torture. I paced the length of the car, feeling trapped.
I got off the train at Columbus Circle, unable to stand it any longer. I walked the last 20 blocks downtown to the office.
Inside the office, things weren’t much better. The elevator ride was both claustrophobic and disorienting. I could only sit in my cubicle for 15 minutes at a time before I was up trying to find any excuse to walk around. My coworkers giving me strange looks as I passed their cubicles.
I went to the breakroom to get coffee, but when I got there, I had an urge to look in the fridge. The smell of food was overwhelming and irresistible. I grabbed a brown paper bag with the name “Tom” written on it. I tore it open, dropping most of its contents to the floor. I pulled apart the sandwich and found the slices of roast beef. I scarfed the meat down, and dropped the bread to the floor. Then I grabbed another lunchbag, an insulated one labeled “Kate.”
“WHAT THE FUCK, DIANA!!?”
I looked up, Linn was standing at the door of the breakroom looking at me with disgusted confusion. I looked around me, I was standing in the middle of a circle of the ruins of half a dozen lunches.
I ran from the breakroom, and headed back to my cubicle. I was suddenly tired, ready to rest now that I had a full belly. I crawled under my desk and curled up into a ball. I didn’t come out till I woke up around 3 o’clock.
I thought that maybe having had a nap, I could manage to get some work done, but I still couldn’t concentrate. Then I remembered promising Jenny I would call the insurance company. I took out my insurance card, and started making the call.
After 15 minutes of pushing buttons and trying to navigate the menu, I lost it. I pulled the phone cord from the jack and threw the phone down onto the floor as hard as I could. It smashed loudly sending shards of plastic out scattering over the floor. I let out a yell of frustration.
At the end of the yell, I looked around. Dozens of heads peered over the tops of the cubicle walls at me. I sat down and pretended to get back to work on my computer. 10 minutes later, Nancy from human resources was standing at the entrance to my cubicle, frowning down at the broken phone.
“We need to talk, Diana.” Nancy said to me way too calmly with a fake smile. Her smell didn’t match her calm voice and smile, she smelled strongly of anxiety. “Let’s go to my office. It’s almost the end of the day anyway, so why don’t you bring your purse and stuff so you can leave straight from there and don’t have to make the trip back here.”
As we walked through the corridor, I could feel the hidden glances. The usual sounds of the office were muted. People pretended to be working as we passed, but I knew they were really just paying attention to us making the slow trek towards Nancy’s office. The whole place reeked of fear.
In the office Nancy closed the door and sat behind her desk gesturing for me to take the chair across from her. I couldn’t sit, so I started pacing.
“There have been a few complaints made about your behavior, appearance, and work over the last week and a half.” She began as she sorted through a file on her desk. “I have a list of tasks that you should have completed last week, but seem to have made almost no progress on. You were late 3 days last week, and extremely late today. Those are all pretty minor, and I understand that you had a hard month.
“But today a number of much more serious complaints have come to my attention. Starting with this morning you went through several people’s lunches.” Nancy said with a sigh. “Do you want to tell me what’s been going on?”
“I was hungry.” I said, as I continued to pace.
Nancy continued after a few minutes of waiting for a better explanation that I couldn’t provide. “I have a complaint about your disheveled appearance today. Did you shower this morning?”
“I couldn’t get the tangles out of my hair.”
“If you’re having trouble managing the long hair, maybe get it cut into a shorter style.” Nancy suggested with fake helpfulness.
I paused my pacing and found myself growling at her. I pretended to cough to cover up the growling, and went back to pacing.
“I’ll consider it.” I said even though I had absolutely no intention of cutting my long wavy hair, even though it was true I’d been having a hard time managing it these last few days.
“What happened to your phone?” Nancy asked in a deliberately neutral tone.
“I was having trouble making a phone call.”
“Have you considered therapy?”
I finally sat. I buried my face in my hands and started to laugh.
“I was actually trying to call the insurance company to see if I could get it authorized.” I explained. “Jenny, my girlfriend, thinks I need to see someone who specializes in PTSD.”
“That’s a very good idea.”
“Yeah, except I couldn’t get through to anyone at the insurance company.” Then I focused on Nancy and asked, “Am I fired?”
“If you will commit to getting therapy, I can simply put you on medical leave.” Nancy offered. “I will try to deal with the insurance company in the morning. You can’t return till a licensed therapist says it’s ok, though. So don’t come in tomorrow, I will call you.”
“Thank you.” I said around a lump in my throat as I felt my eyes filling with tears.
“Head home and get some rest.” Nancy said then walked me out to the lobby.
I started walking towards the subway, but when I got to the entrance going down into it felt like a terrible idea. So I just started walking uptown. I knew I should probably try to hail a cab considering that it was about 170 blocks, but I just wanted to walk.
When I got to 59th street, I felt drawn into the park. I decided walking uptown through Central Park would be nicer than walking along the crowded streets of the Upper Westside, even if it would take a little longer and I might still be in the park after dark. I meandered, and spent some time just sitting. I didn’t head uptown swiftly like I should.
The last thing I remembered was watching the sunsetting from the edge of Sheep’s Meadow.
To be continued…