I found out I was a wretcher the first time I fell in love.
I was seventeen and he stretched tall and pale with red hair and water eyes. He held my hands and then me and together we were silent standing in the foyer.
Then his mouth and mine together, there was his smell, his taste, the texture of his shirt, the movement of his throat, I was staring into the water, the water staring back, I felt the beautiful swell.
Then he left, it was late, and upstairs, in bed, I felt nauseous.
In the morning, I opened my eyes and thought of his mouth and my body made bile and then there was the sickness up out of me and onto the floor and I knew what it was, I knew that was love.
My mother came into the bathroom when she heard my pain sounds, my sick noises.
“My baby,” she said.
She stood behind me, rubbed my back, went nice at my illness.
“The doctor,” she said.
And then together in the car, my mother driving, taking me to the sign that said ER.
In the ER, there were papers to fill out and I was confronted with
The nature of your injury/illness/condition: __________________________.
The length of time you’ve suffered: __________________________.
The extent of your suffering: __________________________.
In each blank I wrote his name. My mother read over my shoulder, let out a curse.
“You’re a damn wretcher,” my mother said and she was close to tears.
My mother shook her head and pointed to a corner of the ER, full of people doubled in half.
The nurse came over and reviewed the page and shook her head, too.
“Over there,” she said, pointed to the corner.
I walked to the corner with my mother and picked up a clean white bucket, my bucket. All around me, people were vomiting into their own buckets, sobbing. Their pain was physical, up heaved into plastic containers.
I stood there with the wretchers who wretched and their wretching stunk around me.
I felt my own heartpain and thought: “These are my people.”
Then I thought of his mouth and lips and smell and wretched next to a man in a gray sweatshirt who kept moaning a name I could not make out and a woman who wept louder than anything I’d heard before.
The nurse called names one by one. I wretched twice before my name came out of the nurse’s mouth, with “the doctor will see now.”
“I’m not allowed in,” my mother said and that sentence sent fear up to wrap a fist around my heart, almost caused another wretching. But I moved away from her into the room, held my head up, did it alone.
Inside this room, more wretchers were standing. One by one, they were called into another, smaller room. A doctor moved up to my quivering form, looked me up and down.
“You’re in bad shape,” the doctor said and then moved me to the front of the line of sick.
When the door to the next room opened, there was only a hanging chair in the dead center. The chair was red and connected to ropes that hung from the ceiling.
“First, the injection,” and then a needle was in his hand, near my arm, near my flesh there.
“What is this?”
“We’ve found small amounts of embalming fluid help to relieve the symptoms.”
Panic seized my chest again, I wanted my mother, I wanted to call out, I needed another spine to keep standing.
But my mother was rooms away, I was growing up, I was almost a woman.
After a moment, I nodded and the silver slid into my skin and then the fluid came, into my veins and I felt colder and then I felt the need to wretch, the hard need to wretch and then an easing.
“Take a seat,” the doctor said, pointing at the red chair.
I climbed into the red chair and it began to lift, my legs going slack in the air, swinging. The chair paused at a certain height and the doctor leaned over me, chest close to my mouth, and slid a black blindfold over my eyes.
“It’s going to begin now,” he said.
Then the chair lifted even higher, my legs felt more air, my body went weightless.
“Please prepare for the spin,” the doctor called up to me.
And then it happened, the chair began to move, began to rotate, my legs swaying in the push of the air.
The chair spun slowly at first. I thought of my love’s right set of eyelashes and tears started at my eyes, my chest began to crush inward. The wretching wanted to come out of me, wanted to come up and into the world, wanted to be created.
But the chair spun faster, swirled me around, and the fluid was already inside of my veins, working magic, already becoming the keeper of my wretching, paving over it, keeping it inside of me.
The chair kept whirling, whirring, keeping me in motion until I felt my own spine was the true center of myself again and not the sickness, not the sickness as the foundation.
Then the chair slowed and stopped and lowered. I put my weak legs onto the ground and wobbled out of the room, into the room of the other wretchers.
I stared at their sickness, their doubled over love, their wild wanting, their heaving insides coming out.
Then I thought of him, his water eyes, his eyelashes and his mouth and his chest and the bones inside of him and our maybe life together and the sickness did not come and it was no longer love inside of me and I knew I had been cured, for the first time.
SARAH ROSE ETTER’s chapbook, Tongue Party, is available from Caketrain Press. Her work as appeared in Barrelhouse, Black Warrior Review, Salt Hill Journal and others. Her story “Hunger King” will appear in the spring issue of Green Mountains Review.