Barefoot in Georgia
“Mama, I want to come home,” I said into the phone.
It was well past midnight, and I was at my best friend Missy’s house. When I was in high school, I went through a phase where I pretty much lived at the Evans’ home, but for some reason I was homesick and wanted to come home.
My mom came soon after. Missy lived less than five minutes from us, and soon I was climbing the old, worn-out stairs leading to the singlewide trailer that we lived in so my brother and I could stay in the county schools. Something pinched my toe. Nature had just punished me for not bothering to put on my shoes.
Ants before had bitten me, and it wasn’t a big deal, more of a consequence of living in South Georgia, but this time was different. For some reason, my scalp started to itch. REALLY itch. What the . . . ? I thought. Something is wrong. I went and told my mom, who determined that maybe a hot bath in whatever you use for chicken pox might help. Soon I was naked in the tub with a curtain separating my mom and me. Welts formed on my neck and arms, and as I furiously scratched to free myself of whatever it was that had taken control, I became increasingly panicked. The more that I scratched, the more my mind raced. Was this some type of punishment for spending so much time at Missy’s? I know that I thought I would die before I was eighteen, but I really don’t want to die, God. I know that I quit going to church. Why am I burning down there? Will that cause me to be infertile later? Hey, my forehead feels funny. I touched it to feel if there was anything different. It felt strangely like an orange rind. Maybe if I just put a washcloth on it, I will feel better. “Mama,” I drawled from behind the cheap plastic curtain, “something is wrong.” As evidence, I pulled back the curtain enough for my head to peep out.
If my appearance shocked her, she didn’t let on. She left and went into the bedroom my parents shared, and I overheard her calmly say, “Tom, I’m taking Becky to the emergency room.”
Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when I got out of the tub. I snuck a glance in the mirror. Bad choice. Will Smith in Hitch when he has an allergic reaction has nothing on me. I didn’t even recognize myself partly because my forehead was swollen, partly because my lips, which usually only occupy less than five percent of my face, now occupied forty-five percent of my face. Think Angelina’s lips on an Asian, minus the sexy. Okay, God. I know I said I wanted bigger lips, but this is not exactly what I was thinking.
Since we lived in the county far out toward Statenville, an ambulance would take too long. After smartly putting on my shoes, we loaded back into the car. My mom, the woman who usually drives five miles under the speed limit, raced toward South Georgia Medical Center with the hazard lights flashing in the darkness. Neither of us said anything, but her silence let me know that she was praying as was I.
Once inside the emergency room, I was told to fill out and sign some paperwork. I looked down at the clipboard and saw a blurry jumble of black on white paper. Okay, try again. Nope, I still couldn’t make anything out. “Mama, Daddy always said not to sign anything I don’t read, and I can’t see.” Nurses assured my mom that she could take care of it, so I decided to take a seat. I stepped to the left and ended up on my back on the floor, looking up at my mom and a nurse. Fortunately, someone caught me before I hit my head. The cool floor provided some relief, so I whined, “I want to stay here.” By this time, they realized that I needed to see a doctor. A wheelchair was wheeled out to me, and as I was lifted and assisted into it, I mumbled, “I think I’m going to get sick.” A nurse went to get me something and returned with a small, kidney-shaped dish. I muttered, “That isn’t big enough,” and dropped my gaze toward the floor where I saw two pairs of immaculate white tennis shoes. I thought about how clean they were, were being the operative word. I will spare you all the gory details, but all three of us went home in different clothes.
The rest of the night was pretty uneventful. I was given my first shot of epinephrine that night, along with a terrific Benadryl IV, the effects of which were evident when I had to go to the bathroom (I almost missed the seat when I sat down) and was forced to stand up for a chest x-ray. You want me to stand up when I nearly busted my butt going to the bathroom? Nevertheless, I did it, and the memory of me standing in a hospital gown hugging an x-ray machine like a long-lost friend is forever etched in my mind. That was probably the only time in my life that I didn’t care if someone saw me in my underwear.
Now that I think about it, that night unconsciously changed my life. The curtain that once separated my mom and me was pulled back. Before this experience, I was living the typical teenage life, and I smoked and drank because I thought it was cool. After my near-death experience, I no longer viewed myself as immortal. I no longer felt compelled to do things my peers did just because they were “cool.” I would sit back and observe my peers doing dangerous things and think, You really don’t know how precious life is. Something as insignificant as an ant could take your life. In the past twelve years, I have had three more trips to the emergency room for the same reason and never go anywhere without an Epipen. When I was twenty-two, I finally mustered up enough courage to wear flip flops. Life is just too short not to wear flip flops. I take little risks, but barefoot in Georgia I will never be.