When I wake up, I know who I am instantly. For the last week it has been the very first thing I check every morning when I first wake up, and it is the first thing I check this time too. My breasts—they have been shorthand for my identity ever since I switched with Celeste. What I feel under my hands is small and firm and bony above and below. I am Wendy—I am in my own body!—and I can breathe. The awful splitting headache I had just seconds ago (or was it hours?) is gone. The hives Celeste had are gone. I’m just Wendy, in a normal body that works normally, and everything is going to go back to normal. The relief comes out in tears and gasping, and for a bit of time I’m too wrecked to do anything besides bask in the gratitude.
At last I try to remember what got me here. I’m in a hospital bed, and it’s bustling and busy, so I know I’m still in the ER, and if I’m awake and I’m me, then I must’ve gotten Celeste the EpiPen after all. And someone must’ve gotten her to the hospital and administered another dose and started me on this IV drip and given me a walloping dose of Benadryl, which always makes me super groggy. What else can I remember? Who called 911? Where are my kids? Where is my husband, and is he still my husband, and do I want him to still be my husband? Because I am me again, but I am changed. I cannot unknow what I know.
And I don’t want to try.
I sit up slowly. Nothing hurts. I have a nasal cannula—a tube that runs under my nose and pushes oxygen into it—and a blood pressure monitor on my fingertip and an IV that is only hooked up to a single bag. In other words, odds are good that I’m as fine as I feel. Actually, I’m probably better than fine. Compared to last week, my body feels great! I have abdominal muscles, and my back isn’t tired from hauling Anna Joy up and down. Plus my shoulders don’t hurt, because this isn’t the body that fireman-carried a suffocating person onto a ball field. This is the body that was suffocating from peanuts, and this body feels fine now.
But then, that means someone is unaccounted for.
Finally I start to remember details. The pitch, the crack of the bat, the connection of ball to jaw. Dropping to my knees and face-planting into the dirt between the batter’s box and the pitcher’s mound. That was me, but now, if I’ve switched again, that means that person who blacked out is now Celeste.
So where is Celeste’s body?
In the movies, people are always ripping out their IVs when they flee their hospital beds. Unable to be quite that impractical—or quite so masochistic, perhaps—I call the nurse station and tell them over the beeping that I wish to check out on a very urgent basis. Within a few minutes, a nurse comes into my room and tells me I will not be discharged anytime soon.
She slowly explains that I am in here for observation for a reason—do I remember I went into anaphylactic shock just this morning?
I don’t, exactly, but she doesn’t need to know that. Besides, my body remembers everything. It tells me everything I need to know about what just happened to me, and it tells me in no uncertain terms that I feel fine, if a bit groggy from the Benadryl. I shake my head, apologize to the nurse as if it’s all some big misunderstanding, and rephrase: it’s not that I really want to leave the hospital, per se, but that I want to go for a walk around the hallways of the unit to stretch my legs.
In that case, it seems, I’m welcome to wander as long as I stay far from Triage. She hooks my IV up to a wheelie stand I can push around, my saline bag—just saline, not even glucose, so I must be totally fine according to my Chicago Med medical degree—hanging from a shepherd’s hook at the top. She helps me to my feet and ties a second gown around me, with the ties back to front so I end up with full coverage. And after checking another gauge, she unhooks my nose tube and tells me to come straight to the nurses’ station if I feel any shortness of breath before bustling off and leaving me to it.
I totter out of the room feeling 100 percent fine, except for that dopey haze over the top of everything, and the dawning realization that Celeste is missing, and can you die from being beaned by a softball?
Of course you can. And here I am, fine. Better than fine. I can tell my body has been treated better over the last week than it has ever been treated before. Funny how I was so nice to Celeste’s body—exercise, sleep—and she was so nice to mine—home cooking and a break from punishing boot camp routines—and we are both normally so awful to each other . . . and to ourselves.
When I see Celeste again, I am going to tell her just how sorry I am. I’m going to make sure she knows that I never truly suspected her—just took anger out on her unfairly, to try to keep my own stories intact. If I see Celeste again.
But I have to see Celeste again. The fact is, there is no way you can swap bodies without sharing so much more. No matter what we were telling ourselves over the last week, brains and bodies aren’t two totally unconnected things. There’s not a Wendy’s brain that can float around without information from Wendy’s body, and a Celeste’s brain without Celeste’s body. There is a third thing, which is what we have been since this started, something neither purely Celeste nor purely me.
After all, I was awash in Celeste’s nursing hormones. Celeste was feeling what I feel for Davis—no matter how my brain has tried to cover it up. The person I was in Celeste’s body wasn’t just Wendy with a different bra size. It was someone who could take a few days off and let her business be. It was someone who opened her heart to three more kids, kids I hardly knew before and now love dearly.
It’s someone who was jealous of Celeste, of how loved she was by her husband, of how she carefully, tenderly mothered everyone around her, and of how she lived outside the rush-everywhere panic bubble that I thought was just how life was supposed to go.
And what did I do? I weaned her baby, gave her kids fast food, plugged them into screens, and neglected them. I made fun of her husband instead of seeing him for the upright man that he is. I told Celeste that her life and her choices were stupid. That she didn’t matter.
My face burns with shame.
I touch my own cheek and think back to that night in the Taco Barn. To the hot burn of that salsa in my mouth. I follow it to the equally painful memory of Seth leaning over to kiss me, of the weight of Celeste on my shoulders as I dragged her from the car, of the impact of that ball on my face, of the ground rushing at me as I fell forward.
I make the rounds of the ER, intrusively peering around every cubicle and curtain. Celeste is nowhere to be found. The thought is almost purely intellectual for a moment, a beat too long, and then it lands, bam, on my heart. If she’s not here . . . where is she?
I cough and grasp at my chest, and my body remembers what it went through. While I was out of my mind.
The nurse is back at the nursing station. I start shuffling along the back of the wing and see an elevator come into view. I wait just a few seconds, making sure I’m unnoticed, before I push the down button, slip inside, and make a break for it.
On the reception floor I find the information desk, where someone with a name tag that specifies pronouns waits merrily. I tell them I’m here to visit Celeste Mason. They frown at me for ages. Finally, they start tapping in their computer.
The wait is interminably long.
At last, they call a number. Is it to page someone whose job it is to give bad news?
“No visitors,” they tell me, at last.
“No problem,” I tell the receptionist, giddy that Celeste has a hospital room. That must mean she’s still alive. “I’ll just go back up there and talk to her family in the waiting room.”
The receptionist looks at me in my gown for a moment. Then they shrug—what do they care?—and I say, “Oh crap, I can’t remember if I was on floor two or she is.”
They laugh gently. “You’re on two now. She’s on four.”
“Thank you. Otherwise I’d be riding around up and down the elevator like a lunatic,” I say. Which is absolutely true. Lunacy is the perfect word for my state of mind.