I Woke Up with Chilly Urticaria



In the morning, Matt wants me to go whitewater rafting with them. He says it will be good for us. Good for me.

But how? The water is cold. What if I fall in? What if I go into anaphylactic shock? I know I’m not allowed to ask these questions, as the person who got too drunk last night. I feel lucky to still be invited. I get dressed like it’s my penance.

“My brother will give you his splash gear,” Matt says.

His brother promises the suit will protect me from the water. He wears it while guiding in the winter.

“People go rafting in the winter?” I ask.

It’s a Gore-Tex suit that is baggy everywhere except where it suctions at the neck, wrists, and feet to keep out the water. I am much taller than the groom, so the suit is too short. I look clownish next to the other women in bikinis. But I take a deep breath and swallow the pills that everybody is giving me. Three types of allergy medication.

“I feel woozy,” I say.

“Then it’s working,” the physician’s assistant says.

We all agree I will probably be fine, unless I get knocked out of the boat. Then I will be in the cold rapids, and who knows what will happen to me.

“I don’t like the sound of that,” I say, and people laugh. It’s good to hear them laugh. It makes me feel like it will all be OK.

But then the employee of the rafting company gives us a safety lecture about running Class V rapids in the Penobscot River.

If you get knocked out of the boat, keep your head up, feet up. Give up control. Just float. You’ll come out, he says, at the end of the rapid. Unless you get caught in the hydraulics, he says. The ones just after the gorge. People get caught there all the time.

“It’s like being stuck in a washing machine,” he says. You turn around and around and around. You may be swimming as hard as you can, but you’ll probably be swimming in the wrong direction, all the way down to the river bottom.

It’s a horror. I dissociate from my body. And it’s like the river guide notices, because he stops talking. He looks at my splash gear. It’s too warm to be wearing full-body gear like this, especially one that so clearly does not fit me.

“You,” he says, and points at me. “Why are you in disguise?”

I won’t be allowed to go if I explain to the river guide that I’m allergic to cold water, and I have to go. Matt wants me to go. I want to go. I want to live my life. I am not going to be afraid of anything anymore. That’s what I have just decided. I am going to be a normal person who goes whitewater rafting with her boyfriend’s family and has a wonderful time.

“I don’t know,” I say. “Just am.”

I try not to think about how embarrassed Matt is.

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