Starting Line

It was a blustery December night in 1991.

I was playing pool with my boyfriend in his parents’ garage—smoking Camel cigarettes and listening to the Doors on cassette. It was my turn to take a shot when a wave of nausea washed over me. Within minutes, it progressed into what felt like the full-blown flu.

After several days in bed, my mother took me to the doctor, who diagnosed me with acute gastroenteritis and handed me a prescription for antibiotics. When that didn’t work, he gave me another round.

Two weeks later, I dragged myself back to school, still shaky, pale, and queasy.

A downhill battle

It was the peak of the ski team season (the only sport I ever took to), and I couldn’t wait to get back. I loved whooshing through the woods on my cross-country skis—up and down narrow, winding trails. Alpine skiing was a whole other story. We only had five girls on our team, so we had to race in both styles, regardless of our skill level. My goal on those days was just to make it down the hill alive.

That’s me in the front, trying hard to play it cool.

We met on the mountain on my first day back to practice. My skis felt like lead, and I could barely lift my legs as I made my way to the chairlift. I’ve never been so grateful for the long, frigid trip to the summit just to be able to stop and rest.

I went back to racing a week or two later, but I wasn’t out of the woods. My stomach felt constantly unsettled, and waves of intense nausea would come out of nowhere. I loathed feeling nauseous, so I swigged Pepto straight from the bottle and chomped on chalky antacids to get through the day.

The lie

No matter how crummy I felt, I was determined to keep living life as a “normal” teenager. The last thing I wanted was for anyone to think I was sickly and weak—including my boyfriend, Pete (at least that’s what I’ll call him here).

Pete was a rebel who was always getting into some sort of trouble, and I seemed to be looking for trouble at that age. Intoxication was a common pastime where I grew up in rural Maine, but I took it to a whole other level, especially when I hung out with Pete.

One night, Pete called and invited me to go out with him. I didn’t want to admit that I felt sick and just wanted to stay home, so I did something I’m not very proud of. I covered the mouthpiece on the phone, and I asked Mom to tell me that I couldn’t go out.

She refused to play along, but I still told Pete (in my most disappointed tone), “Mom said I can’t go out with you tonight.” At first, he was silent and then replied, “I heard everything you just said.” That’s when I realized the battery cover had fallen off the phone, leaving a gaping hole straight to the microphone. I was mortified, but I deserved it.

Our relationship ended soon after, but not because I lied. Our lives were about to head in very different directions…

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Hey there.

This post is part of a series called “Peeling the Onion” about my adventures healing from life-threatening digestive issues.

To view the full story, click here.