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Slackjaw by Jim Knipfel
Not Your Jesus Christ
The seizures had been creeping back upon me with a frequency and a force I hadn't experienced in years. They were hitting me at home, on the street, at work. It was becoming intrusive, and it was beginning to worry me more than a little. I'd even tried to make an appointment with my neurologist, only to discover that he was on vacation in Cambodia for the next several weeks. I was adrift for awhile.
This latest one began to make its gentle presence known in the bar at about five on a Tuesday evening. Morgan and I were having a few and talking, when I felt the beginnings of the familiar slow burn at the base of my brain. Within a few minutes, the bad, inescapable stuttering kicked in. Once I hit the stuttering point, I know that there's pretty much no turning back. All I can do is pray that I don't do something really awful before it subsides.
Soon my face was contorting spasmodically and my body was trembling, I was hissing obscenities, and my teeth had latched onto the meat of my right index finger. I didn't notice until later that I had actually punctured the skin.
I was able to get on a train home, which, thankfully, wasn't too crowded. I replaced chewing on my hands with chewing on my tongue and lower lip.
Something was going wrong. Yes, I'd had seizures before, with all these same symptoms, but they usually passed in 20 or 30 minutes. This one showed no signs of going anywhere in the near future. It had its claws in me.
I held myself upright long enough to pick up a refill of my anti-convulsive medication. When I finally got home and locked the apartment door behind me, the seizure exploded across my body. I was twitching and growling and barking. I couldn't control my arms or legs. Two hours later, when the most violent spasms had passed, waves of low-level tremblors still washed up and down my spine. I forced myself to go to bed, where the chances of seriously injuring myself or the cats were much slimmer. In bed, though, I couldn't sleep, my eyes glaring maniacally around in the darkness, my teeth still slowly gnawing away on my tongue. Every time I felt like I was about to drift off, another wave of shakes and spasms and rage would pass through me, and I'd stare into the darkness again, worn out but wide awake.
Finally, at about three or four, my eyes closed. These things just drain everything right the hell out of me. I might've still been shaking, but at least I wouldn't notice anymore.
By the time I awoke again the next morning, things still hadn't completely left. My face was still convulsing as I stood under the shower, my hands twitching violently as I tried to shave. Still, I put myself together somehow and headed into work, where I tried my damnedest to do my job.
The inside of my head still felt like it was aflame, but the major tremors seemed to have passed, leaving only a constant, low-level hum behind. Still enough to wrack me up and keep me from thinking straight. Thing about not getting any sleep--this was a bit of a kicker--was that exhaustion always makes a seizure more likely. And here I was, exhausted, still trying to shake one after, Christ, 17 hours? They had never lasted that long before, and it was still threatening to explode again into something that could drop me to the floor.
I held myself tight to my chair, my fingers shaking too much to type worth a shit, just trying not to let things loose again.
By four, the fire had pretty much burned itself out. I was numb and I was drained but was no longer shaking. Twenty-three hours. That's a new record for me. My tongue felt like ground chuck and I could taste blood, but at least I didn't feel like screaming anymore. I left the office, met up with Morgan, and we had a few peaceful beers.
That night, I watched a bit of the television, and decided to go to bed early. I piled my clothes on the chair by my desk and went into the bathroom. I brushed my teeth, took my pills, and prepared to step into the shower.
That's when I noticed that something felt weird. It wasn't pain, really, or discomfort of any kind. Something just felt different about my right foot. I looked down towards the floor.
Well, I'll be damned if my right foot wasn't covered in blood. It was mostly dried, but some of it was still sticky. It covered the top of my foot, running down the sides, across and between the toes. It was thick and dark.
I found this rather disconcerting. Strangely, though, I didn't panic or begin to flail about. I'd had enough of that over the past couple days.
I sat down on the cool edge of the tub and searched over my foot, feeling for a wound, a cut, an open sore of any kind under the coating of blood. There was nothing. No obvious source at all. I'd been wearing socks until just before I entered the bathroom, and they seemed fine, and much of the blood was dried, so it hadn't just happened. It was almost as if it had just seeped out of my flesh.
Not being in pain of any kind, finding it all peculiar but not too worrisome, I climbed into the shower and washed the blood away. My foot seemed perfectly fine again. I went to bed shortly thereafter and forgot about it.
It wasn't until the next morning on the subway that the word "stigmata" entered my head.
The previous day had been Passover; today was Maundy Thursday--just a day prior to Good Friday. We were getting into that stigmata season, all right.
But did stigmata affect feet? It would seem to make sense, but you never much heard about it. Hands and sides, yes, but feet? I didn't know too much about such things, so I made a few telephone calls to some lapsed Catholics and discovered that yes, indeed, feet are fair game.
Well, what the hell was happening to me this time? If it was stigmatism, why did it affect only one foot? Why didn't I get the full package deal? And why did it pass so quickly?
I thought on these questions for a long time. They kept me well occupied for most of the morning. Everybody thought that I was joking about the blood on my foot, so they didn't take my questions seriously at all. They just laughed and sent me on my way. Still it ate at me. Can a person get a mild case of stigmata?
A few hours later, while I was eating lunch, the answer came to me. And it made perfect sense too. If what I was dealing with was indeed a stigmata, then it only affected me peripherally because--obviously enough--I was raised a Lutheran. I didn't have a vaguely Catholic bone in my body. What's more, I was no longer even a believer.
So now the question was, why was I being burdened with an affliction of the most holy? (I don't, by any means, aim to mock believers with all this. This is just how I think about things sometimes.)
It took a few beers that night for the answer to come. I realized that I had to go back to a point before the blood (or rather, Blood) appeared. I had to go back to that peculiarly tenacious seizure, which had ended only a few hours before I noticed what was happening with my right foot.
Accounts I had heard of other, more traditional cases of stigmata over the centuries--nuns and priests whose hands, sides and feet would spout great gouts of blood for years at a stretch--also seemed to involve shakings and speaking in tongues and other strange behavioral tics--visions and what-not. It was put down in those cases to visitations--possessions, if you will--by the Holy Spirit.
So maybe that was the answer I was looking for. Maybe that seizure--during which I trembled and flopped around and spoke in tongues, of a sort--was a visitation by the Holy Spirit. But in my case, instead of entering my body and filling me with a joyous inner light and the peace that passes all understanding, the Holy Ghost tripped up somehow, ended up inside me, and was fighting to get out, having realized before too long that He had made a terrible, horrible mistake. And maybe, after a day of struggling, He finally discovered his portal of escape through my right foot. Being, as He is, a spiritual being. That, of course, would explain the lack of any visible exit wound.
Things pretty much returned to normal after I finally understood clearly what had happened. That night, when I took off my socks before taking a shower, I looked down at my foot expectantly. It was clean as a whistle. Not a drop of blood anywhere. For some reason, I was vaguely disappointed.