You ask me how I am, and I say, “Fine, and you?”

But what I really mean is, I can feel them creeping into my bones, the fibers of my connective tissues. They clang like cymbals in the pit of my stomach, loudly, forebodingly. They are in my head, gnawing, and in my fingertips, marching and parading, waving banners to mark their arrival. I can feel the banners throbbing and waving under my skin. I can feel the heat and fever of movement reaching the surface.

You’ve had a good week then?

“Yeah, it’s been okay. Can’t complain.”

What I really mean is, can I complain? Because if only you knew that I’ve been overtaken by unwanted guests, uninvited visitors that set up camp with no disclosed time of exit, the ones that rattle my nerves with their yelling and screaming until wee hours of the morning, the ones that doctors can’t seem to find, even when they stick needles right into the heart of where they’ve called homes, the ones that take me hostage and make me yell NO I CANNOT because I know what they will do to me if I say YES I CAN. Inevitably more banners of pain, more heat and fever, more of the color red–always red, and more of the clanging.

Got any big plans for the holiday weekend?

“Nah. The usual. What about you?”

What I really mean is, having big plans for a holiday weekend sounds a lot like throwing myself down a jagged cliff but still surviving the terrible fall, bloodied and bruised, and to be honest, I am carrying a lot of extra weight here, what with the uninvited guests entering my knees and elbows, my wrists and knuckles, and slowly making their way into my head and heart–ya see, they’re sort of big bummers to have around–and if only this holiday weekend hadn’t inconveniently occurred right as the uninvited guests showed up, and I tried to reschedule, they’re unreasonable, but thank you for asking, and your holiday plans sure do sound lovely, like a cliff.

I remember pointing at my head, shoulders, knees, and toes and laughing as I sang. I remember when they were just body parts not parts of my body’s pain.

Where do you hurt?

“Here, and here,” pen in hand, I circle places on a diagram, the head and shoulders, the knees and toes. “There, most of the time, but not all. And here. And there, too.”

What I really mean is, head shoulders knees toes and well… it is easier if I just circle the whole diagram, really.

Sometimes I wish my body could be seen in infrared, but instead of heat, it revealed levels of pain. Then you would know. Then doctors would see. And I wouldn’t feel so crazy.

What is your biggest fear?

“The dark. Fire. Being stuck with no way out.”

What I really mean is, I am often awake when it is dark when I want to be asleep and unaware of just how dark it is, and I can feel the fires kindling in my head, shoulders, knees, and toes as I sing the lullaby quietly to myself, and I sometimes feel fires spreading as I try not to move, stuck under the covers–no, too hot, out of the covers–no, too cold now–stuck because I know the uninvited guests will throw a hissy fit if I move again. No, perhaps I’m not really afraid of those things; perhaps I just hate them, so what I really mean is, I’m afraid of what happens next, and does the dark get darker, will the fire get hotter, and is there a way out, and will I always feel stuck?

What do you want to do with your life?

“I would love to become a teacher, and a writer. And a professor. And a mother. And.”

What I really mean is, God help me, I want to become all the things I want to become, and God help me, I hope the uninvited guests don’t get in my way, and God help me, can I answer the question about my biggest fear again because I am suddenly reminded of what mine is.