I knew I was ill, proper ill, the day after my best friend’s wedding. I was on the train home from Manchester when my legs gave way and I went temporarily blind.
Thankfully, the weekend hadn’t begun that way. The night before the wedding, Tess and I ate Chinese food and went for a stroll. It was warm outside, for May, at least, and it seemed like everybody in the world had come out to vape and drink. Prince Harry was to marry Meghan Markle the following week, and Tess decided to take a selfie in front of a poster of the couple that a Didsbury royalist had put in their window.
‘God, she’s always upstaging me, that Meghan. First they announce their engagement like a day after me and Rob, then they get married in the same bloody month! Angry emoji, methinks.’
She stopped to send the photo to her mum, and I tried to picture my childhood friend walking down the aisle.
‘This is so weird, Rose. I have no idea how you’re supposed to feel on the night before your wedding.’
‘Yeah, I mean Christmas Eve, we go through loads of those over the course of our lives, don’t we? So we know what to expect. This, I mean bloody hell, no one ever knows what this is going to be like. Are you nervous?’
‘So nervous. It doesn’t feel real, any of this. You’re not going to say anything blue in your best woman speech, are you? Just ‘cause I don’t want to be worrying about that on top of everything else, it’s being livestreamed to my grandparents in York.’
‘Heck, well if they’re in York, I mean that changes everything. No, nothing blue to speak of, really. I was going to mention that joke about queefs that you came up with in Berlin, but I got rid of that last min because no one will know what I’m on about and I’ll look stupid on account of something that you pitched to a narrow audience. Can I say the thing about cats and virgins?’
‘No. Nothing to alert my grandparents to the fact that I even know what sex is.’
The story is as follows: when Tess and I were fourteen, many things troubled us. Most of these things troubled us in equal measure. Head of Religious Studies and her shouty face. Iraq. Exams. Cancer. Spots. Netball outside. Netball inside. Toxic Shock Syndrome. Not doing smoking properly.
But the thing that trumped all of that was our fear of being virgins forever and owning many cats. I recall one night when Tess and I, high on Mini Eggs and curled up on my sofa bed, first landed on this hypothetical nightmare.
‘Rose, I’m pretty sure I’ll never have sex with anyone and I’ll just be a cat lady.’
‘As if, you’re definitely going to have sex one day. I won’t.’
‘And I bet I’ll have more cats.’
‘You so are going to have sex one day.’
‘That’s such bollocks.’
‘No, it isn’t.’
‘As if. I’m going to have like, nine cats.’
Tess now has a cat called Rick, but that’s incidental. On the morning of the wedding, Rick sat on the navy dress I’d laid out and draped it in white hairs.
Even brushing the hairs away was exhausting. I dragged some make-up over my face, smiled for photos, gave my speech and danced a bit, but my body was screaming. Tess was a picture – a siren in lace and gypsophila – and the wedding was perfect, magical. But any notion that I was maybe just lethargic or wearily dissatisfied with life was fast dispelled; if it had been merely that, the wedding day would have cured it, no messing.
Something had gone wrong in my body. The following day, I checked in with a first-aider at York train station who told me to go to A and E, just to be sure. A and E sent me home to rest, and rest I did, for what it was worth (spoiler: not a lot).
On Monday, I told work I would be off indefinitely, and I told Mum that I wouldn’t be able to put a wash on for a while.
These are the random paths that chronic illness have led me down; expect silliness and deep reflection in equal measure. Impaired health can bring pain, despair, uncertainty and a bit of unexpected joy; seek solace here if you crave some light relief from campaigning/suffering.