There’s an ulcer in my stomach. I wake up with the knowledge that I have waited too long, postponed going to the doctor for too many Mondays, and now it’s begun chewing a hole through my stomach and into some other part of my body. I know this like I know my name. Part of me is relieved to finally know the truth about my ulcer. For months I’ve suspected that it was there, suspected its desire to break free of my stomach, even when my friends told me I just needed to drink less soda, even when my mother told me people in my family didn’t get ulcers and if only I could relax I’d feel better. Now that I know that I was right about it all along, I feel calm in a way I haven’t in a very long time. I have an ulcer! It explains so much. On the way to the bathroom, I pass my roommate, her hair wet, tied up in a towel. “I have an ulcer!” I announce. “Oh no,” she says, but she doesn’t diverge from her path to her bedroom. I can tell she’s bored with me. She’s used to me announcing my ailments in the morning. I wish I could communicate to her that this time is different. Everything will be different from now on. I start my day, giddy with this new knowledge of myself. I am a person with an ulcer now. I wash my face and get dressed and take the elevator to the ground floor and walk to the corner pharmacy. I go to the Digestive Health section. I grab the largest bottles of probiotics, of antacids, of slippery elm capsules, of Herbal Stomach Repair by Lily of the Desert. Then I walk to the market and buy white rice, kale, blueberries, wheatgerm, and cabbage juice, foods that Google tells me are useful in the treatment of ulcers. My life will revolve around the care of this ulcer. I feel so lucky. Most people go their whole lives not understanding why they feel depressed in the afternoons, or why one out of five days they hate work with a ferocity that frightens them, or why sometimes they’re sitting at a table with their best friends and realize they couldn’t care less if they all got trapped in a cave tomorrow and were never seen again. If I ever feel any of these things in the future, I’ll know that it’s just because of the ulcer and I’ll pop a slippery elm supplement. Or I’ll make a blueberry smoothie. When I get home from the market, my roommate is in the kitchen, making a sandwich with her back to me. She’s swaying her hips, and I can see earbuds tucked under her hair. It makes me sad to see her here alone, listening to music through headphones when she could be playing it out loud. I always thought of my roommate as a happy person, but now I wonder if she, too, harbors a quiet disease. A virus hidden where no one can see it. I walk past her unnoticed and go to my room. Alone, I lie down on my bed and roll up my shirt. I place a hand on my stomach. I try to locate where the ulcer is now. Has it reached my ribs yet? Has it reached my heart? Soon I’ll be a body riddled with tunnels that my ulcer has carved. My body will contain a maze that’s always becoming more complicated, full of dead ends that always have the potential to connect again.
Dana Diehl is the author of Our Dreams Might Align (Splice UK, 2018) and The Classroom (A Collaboration) (Gold Wake Press, 2019). Her chapbook, TV Girls, won New Delta Review’s 2017-2018 Chapbook Contest, judged by Chen Chen. Dana lives and writes in Tucson.
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