“Excuse me,” I hear her mutter and I move to the left, kicking off with my feet on the rolling chair. I’m in class, we moved all the rolling computer chairs into a big circle to open class.
“Good morning Gwen,” I hear my professor say, “You look comfortable,” the professor comments. It’s a jest. We’re education majors.
I look over and see Gwen’s fleece pajama pants with Disney characters on them and a tee shirt. I’m not good friends with her, in fact I’ve only ever spoke to her within class a couple times. We’ve sat within proximity to each other but never developed any type of friendship. I can’t tell she’s not feeling well.
“Is this a comfy day or got up late this morning?” the professor asks.
“Sick day,” Gwen sits down, “I have a migraine.”
I perk up after hearing that word, my eyes lock on to her. She looks uncomfortable. Is it a migraine? Or a headache? Is she using the right word? I know the cost of using the word in correctly. The stigma attached to the word… I immediately shrug those thoughts, I can’t feel her pain, I don’t know what she is feeling. I give her the benefit of the doubt and turn my attention back to class.
When it’s my turn to add to the discussion, I take a deep breath, “okay,” I breathe. The question is ‘are you smart? What do you think about intelligence?’ “In middle school, I was one of those kids who just understood everything automatically. I didn’t have to try,” I pause, “In high school,” I swallow hard, “I started getting headaches and migraines frequently and I had to learn how to learn. I had to learn how to get by. I didn’t want to fail out of school but I spent so much time with my head in my hands in class. I think I’m smart when I’m not hindered by pain or medicine. I think intelligence for me has become all about adapting and applying content,” I answer.
The professor nods and the next person shares their views. I don’t look back at Gwen, instead opting to look at my feet.
The professor lets us go back to our desks and I look over at Gwen. Her head is in her hands, palms pressed over her eyes.
I shudder, thinking about myself in this situation. I would have left, I wouldn’t have even showed up.
The professor is talking to Gwen. I head immediately over to them. The professor is asking how she is.
I kneel down next to Gwen, “would you like me to take you home?” I ask softly. Gwen nods. The professor looks at me. “I don’t want her to take the bus,” I explain, “it’s going to be loud and smell,” I answer. My stomach turns at the thought of taking the campus bus anywhere with a migraine. It smells, it’s bumpy, loud, and stops every couple of minutes. I would hurl before the first stop.
“I think that’s a good idea,” the professor agrees.
“Gwen,” I say to her, my voice soft and light, “I’m going to grab my keys and take you home.” I’m set in motion before she can answer, back to my bag. I dig in the front pocket of my bag pulling out not only my keys but my sunglasses, and wallet with my pills.
I head back over to Gwen and place the sunglasses in her hand, “put these on,” I tell her.
“Thank you,” and it’s the most sincere ‘thank you’ I’ve ever heard. She pushes them over her glasses.
“No, no,” I say, “take off your glasses and put the sunglasses on.”
She replaces the glasses with the sunglasses and stands up. She’s unsure with her footing. I snatch up her hand in mine and guide her out into the hallway. Out in the hallway, I move my hand to her elbow and guide her. “Just close your eyes, and I’ll guide you.”
We move slowly through the hallways and outside. The morning fog is rolling over the hills.
“Is it foggy?” she asks.
“Yeah,” I laugh. Over the whole parking lot a fine mist has set over the cars beyond that more fog rolls in off the hills, “I get the auras…step here…so I…step…think I’m…step…going….step…crazy,” I guide her down the steps, “I’m right over here,” I point to my car. I unlock her side of the car first and let her climb into the passenger seat. I run around the other side and hop in. She struggles to push the seat belt into the lock. I help her.
“This is going to rough,” I tell her and put the key in the ignition and start the car.
I start the car, pause a moment to let her adjust and then put the car gear and pull out.
I get green lights at both intersections and neither of the crossing guards stops me to let students pass. I pull onto the south side of campus and see a squirrel in the middle of the road. I slow down and wait for it to cross. I would normally beep but I can’t in this situation. The squirrel bolts after a moment, hopping across the road. I get as close to her apartment as possible. She goes to pull off the sunglasses, “No, keep them. You can give them back to me Thursday,” I tell her. I just want her to get inside, into her safe spot. “Just let me know when you are feeling better,” I tell her. She nods and gets out of the car, walking in. I would have walked her in but I was currently parked across two handicaps spots and the closest place for me to park with my parking sticker would have been on the other side of campus. I put the car back in drive and headed back to class.
“If there’s anything you learned today,” the professor made her way around the classroom, weaving in between the rows lecturing. “I hope you all learned about community. Emily taking Gwen home, that’s community, helping each other.” She pauses in front of my desk.
“No problem,” I reply, “I know all about it.” And shudder internally.