the first time it happened i was in a sun-drenched piercing studio in laguna beach, waiting to have a new hole punched in my cartilage; i drank a little paper cup of water, pulled myself together, and went ahead with it. a few times after that, i felt it coming after a long dinner at a cuban restaurant with joe and my dad; we watched a pair of dancers fling each other across the floor beneath a dirty skylight, ate yeasty rolls with garlic butter from a cigar box, and talked politics, then i slithered to the ground in the middle of the plaza. once it happened in the middle of the night, and i woke up in the moonlight with my cheek against our san francisco kitchen's old linoleum floor.
in my late teens and early twenties, i fainted about once a year. to tell you the truth, i tended to forget that it had ever happened until, you know, it happened again. both my mother and sister have had similar experiences; mom once fainted while handing in a college assignment, and emily once hit her san francisco kitchen floor (and maybe part of her counter on the way down - as i recall, there was a head-whacking in that story). the takeaways back then were that since extremely low blood pressure runs in our family, i should be sure to have at least one cup of coffee in the morning - and if black fireworks flared up at the edges of my vision, i should sit down. otherwise, since the episodes had no constants (time of day, level of hydration, time since last meal, mental state - each swoon had a unique combination), there wasn't much i could do.
i had a span of several years without episodes here in new york, and then joe and i met newly-engaged friends for mexican food down in union square late one afternoon. as we waited for a table, i started to feel sick to my stomach; a buzzing kicked up in my ears, and the room began to curl at the corners. i made it to the sidewalk outside the restaurant before falling into joe's arms, and when i came to, i had no idea where we were. i became obsessed with the idea that passerby would think i was drunk - though i was sober as a judge, i was slurring my words - so i insisted we go ahead with the dinner. i think i made it halfway through a piece of cheese crisp before asking to go home and folding myself up on the floor of a cab.
that was the first of the two really lousy swoons. the second came after a night at our local bar in hell's kitchen: with a few beers in me, i was easy prey for the black fireworks. joe heard a horrible crash in our bathroom and came in to find me on the floor. though i'm usually limp and weak after an episode, that one went through me like lightning; i promptly tried to take a shower, fainted again, and became a slippery, flailing, senseless thing. as he called for an ambulance, i remember clinging desperately to our mattress as though gravity had forgotten me and i'd spin off into the ceiling. i was sure i'd never control my body again.
i was up and talking by the time the paramedics arrived, and i gave them the long, boring history of the pressure and makeup of my blood ("she donates a lot of blood," joe explained). fluids at the hospital felt like a cold shower under my skin, and i finally knew how our little cat must have felt when we gave him injections (though i always warmed his IV bags). the attending doctor doubled my drink count in his head, diagnosed me with vasovagal syncope, and sent me on my way. we shuffled home down ninth avenue, five hundred dollars poorer, as the sun rose, and i paused in front of the OPTIMISM sticker on a bodega's vending machine. "apparently the universe is in its first semester of film school."
early this monday morning, joe heard another terrific crash in the bathroom. i woke up able to tell him that i hadn't hit my head (wrong; i'd knocked both my temple and the back of my head, though they were light knocks and i wasn't concussed) and that i couldn't walk (right, unfortunately; i sprained my left ankle, and my foot looks like an artisanal sausage).
why do i tell you this? i'm not entirely sure. i don't want or expect pity; swooning ladies are too coddled in our and previous societies, if you ask me. my case isn't especially edifying; fainting and getting a diagnosis of "fainting" is pretty open-and-shut, really. perhaps i simply want to share a vulnerability; i grew up with the firm conviction that little girls who underwent injury or sickness without tears or complaint were braver and nobler than little girls who didn't, and that's an idea i've thought about setting aside. perhaps, having told you about strangers' books all month, i just wanted to tell you something personal. don't worry about me! but maybe, you know, don't lend me your wedding china.