post exertional mysticism
Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. All things are passing away.
Behind the driver’s seat was a copy of the autobiography of St. Theresa. It smelled like farm truck, like oily shop towels, like wind rattled through triangle push-out windows and the fluttering wings of butterfly magnets that secured notes and lists to the brown metal ceiling flecked with golden sparkles.
In waiting rooms when my truck was receiving maintenance and repairs, and in the camper late at night under the glow of a dying camp lantern, I read about Theresa’s ecstatic visions. Unsure whether they came from God or the Devil, she wondered whether her fascination with her dead mother’s stash of decadent novels, perfume, and her growing curiosity about romance made her deserving of torment from either.
On a website selling saint-embossed medals I learned that her supernatural assaults came after recovering from malaria1, and in hindsight it all makes sense. I stretched out on the futon in the truck bed under the bejeweled spider web of galaxies, summer heat and music of cicadas and owls melting my stiff joints and aching muscles from a years ago bout with mono, thinking about poor Theresa, who originally originally went to the convent against her will. Her pious dad and uncle convinced her she was irredeemably wicked for reading romances and flirting, and years later, her violent seizures and visions convinced her that they were right, so she made the best of it. I felt like I escaped something confining by filtering the noise of bad advice and interference from relatives disagreeing with me and each other through books, music, and motion. I’d wonder what it was like, living in a time of Inquisition, chronically ill with a hijacked nervous system, spirited away for safety once inquisitors caught wind of her visions. Lately it isn’t as hard to imagine.
The truck had two gas tanks. One was shut off during a recall because that model had a tendency toward explosion, so I could flip a little switch under the dash and it didn’t do anything. A typical myopic response to the gas crisis in the late 1970s, I guess. Before it was mine, it was farm truck and occasionally a camper. It was comfortable to live in for a little while, I had a futon to sleep on and kept my bedding, clothes, and emergency kit in a steamer trunk that was also my table. It drank excessive amounts of gasoline, so when I stopped driving I imagined climate change would slam on the brakes and reverse (it did not).
My uncle by way of being dad’s childhood friend gave the truck to me after I hydroplaned into the front of a house in San Marcos on the way home from dropping off my cat, Jo, at the vet. It was the end of a long drought, the clouds burst, and my housemates and I celebrated by opening the doors and windows, shouting and dancing outside until we were chased indoors by needles of rain, leaves, and dust hitting our faces. A summer storm-fueled gust slammed my bedroom door hard on Jo’s tail, pinning her in place, and she howled, thrashed, spit, slamming her body against the door frame. Everything was wind, flying paper, terror, millions of thoughts canceling each other out, movement all around.
I closed my eyes, inhaled, teeth clenched, prepared to shove open the door. My housemate dropped to a catcher squat, holding a bath towel. I pushed the door, she caught poor Jo, and helped me put her in the carrier. I struck off into the rain on fresh, slick roads, and checked her in with her vet.
On the way home, I hit an oily spot on the road on a downhill turn. I spun sideways into the front yard of some nice people down the hill, leaving deep ruts in the lawn, knocking bricks from their house between the garage and the front door. Thankfully the couple in the house was okay and I was okay. “This is the third time this has happened since we moved here, we were already considering moving,” he told me, like they were used to it. She poured me lemonade and handed me tissues while I apologized and cried.
The cop didn’t ask if anyone was okay, he only scowled and wrote tickets, looking far too sour for the day the drought broke. My insurance covered the damages, but my 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme was totaled, so my housemate took me to pick up little Jo the next morning.
She lost the tip of her tail and they shaved and stitched the end. She looked like a strange aardvark/cat pushme-pullyou until the fur grew back, and my friends were a little scared of the tail-face. She was relieved to see me and was glued to me for days, riding my shoulders and sticking her wet nose in my ear as I did daily chores. For several months I shared my housemate’s pick-up until Uncle came through with a massive 1980 Chevy Scottsdale gas monster.
I don’t remember where the book came from or how it ended up in the truck, maybe I got it from a friend who was giving away their stuff during a move because that was half my library back then, but somehow Theresa became the saint of the vehicle. I named my truck Trixie and we went on many adventures.
Late one morning, stuck in traffic at Ben White and Lamar in 1997, seven months pregnant, driving in the heat of summer in Austin on the way to Target after a midwife appointment, windows down, no A/C, I saw transparent squiggly worms slide down the windshield, and realized that no matter where I looked, even if I closed my eyes, they were still there. I later learned that this, like my familiar flashing lights and floating colorful orbs, was another migraine aura manifestation. That might be the last day I drove, aside from a couple of “designated driver” runs in cars that weren’t mine. We donated the truck some months after my daughter was born and the book remained behind the seat to torment the next person. During a particularly bad migraine storm years later I replaced it with the same edition, The Life of St. Theresa of Avila, By Herself.
I started this pandemic interested in exploring plague literature like The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio but then got so sick I couldn’t read much at all or remember what little I could read. I still struggle with reading, writing, remembering what I have read, and proofreading my own work. Revisiting St. Theresa and seeing that she lost interest in prayer and reading not long after recovering from malaria I felt connected to her again. I contracted covid in March 2020 and felt mostly recovered by May, until midsummer, when I didn’t. I go into that below:
Today I am surrounded by books pulled down from shelves while I refresh the house and pick up every item to see if there are sparks of joy and all that, wondering if I will read, remember, or write coherently again. I am trying — it isn’t as easy as it used to be. I have a telehealth appointment tomorrow and I have so many questions about neurology.2 To be honest, with the heat and the up and down nature of this illness, it is hard to care what happens during check-ins. The clinician mentioned that “there is a lot to unpack in this visit,”3 and I have been keeping up with new findings (I actually have a running list of stuff I read about covid in the drafts folder), so I am nervous. They never have good news or answers, only questions, suggestions of unproven therapies I can’t afford, and antidepressants. Seeking answers about this condition ever going away is less of a priority than death cleaning my home — at a reasonable pace of course, so I don’t put myself back in bed for weeks with migraines and apocalyptic thoughts.
slow moving disaster is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
but if you aren’t in the market for charms …
“St. Teresa of Àvila.” n.d. Faith.nd.edu. Accessed August 10, 2023. https://faith.nd.edu/s/1210/faith/interior.aspx?sid=1210&gid=609&pgid=16671&cid=33336&ecid=33336&crid=0.
which I forgot to ask about.
but nothing new.