Julie A. Dickson


I woke up feeling groggy and disoriented. Staring at the ceiling, I did not recognize where I was, whose bed I was in. Looking down, I noticed that I was half-dressed and beside me was a man I knew of as the father of my daughter’s boyfriend.


Your words topped mid-sentence again. Will I speak to fill the awkward silence as you search for the words, or hope you complete the thought? Your quiet blank look hangs like milk fog, white, colorless as music at rest when I can still hear it playing. I search your face as finally you finish speaking, apologizing to me again.

The diagnosis was FND. I had never heard of Functional Neurologic Disorder. When you first described symptoms to medical staff, they first thought you had MS, especially after many falls.


When I hear the stories of your mother–her brilliance, sense of humor, activism–I feel that I knew her on some level. After all, I know her daughter, taught well by this woman I never met. A great listener, but also one to share, trade stories, talk it out; throw around ideas like playing catch in the yard, bare-handed, because that’s what friends do. Catching words like a ball, bare-handed, stings a little, but we still do it.

Ground In

I lay on the pavement weeping, my bicycle on its side. I’d received the blue Schwinn on my 9th birthday, and it was still too big for me—a small-built girl with weak legs, just recovered from mono after a year spent sitting out most activities. No jump-rope, hopscotch, or bicycle, the pediatrician said. For months, I just sat on the patio (for fresh air, mother said) reading or drawing.

On the Floor

Aunt Jenny is in her chair knitting when she asks me to make her some tea. “Nice and hot,” she says in her whispery voice. “Warm the cup with boiling water and pour it out.” She’s forgotten that she tells me this every time I make her a cup of tea. I sigh and head to the kitchen, fill the tea kettle, and am taking the fragile porcelain cup from an upper cabinet when I hear her fall.

Sleeping Now

“I can’t sleep,” I repeatedly told my PCP. I told him I would lie in bed at night, my mind racing from one topic to another: work, errands, kids, pets, yardwork. I would turn the light back on and play solitaire until my eyes were blurry, then give sleeping another try. Getting up at 4:00 a.m. was usual for me, which meant getting to sleep between 8:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. was essential.

Pulling Away

Left alone, feeling a tenuous thread stretching taut skin over adipose tissue and tender flesh—pink, vulnerable womb empty; umbilicus severed; blood dried and brown. Perspiration beads on my brow, my breasts are heavy with milk. The letdown eases the waning contractions, starts to erase my recent memory of pain.

What Do I Do on the 31st Day?

I stare at the prescription bottle with instructions: Take once a day. Pill count-30. Refill until this date, the following year. I have a heart condition, Hypertrophic Obstructive Cardiomyopathy (HOCM), and I need the pills to decrease the blood pressure to and from my heart.

No Chill Pill?

They have pills for everything it seems, but not a chill pill.

When I was young, I would often look up to see my mother’s concerned face outlined in the kitchen window, knocking, beckoning me into the house. “Quickly,” she’d say, leading me to the sink where she immersed my wrists into cold water, while draping a wet hand towel over the back of my neck. This was a normal occurrence for me: getting overheated, face red, white around my lips. “Sit in front of the fan,” my mother would say, as the headache started.

Coffee, No Cigarettes

She smoked. There was always a pack of Lark cigarettes on the kitchen table next to a half-empty cup of lukewarm coffee. I couldn’t stand the smell of coffee for years because it was comingled in my nostrils with curling cigarette fumes. I had to beg her not to smoke in the car, where the combination of motion and tobacco smoke nauseated me until I had to yell to my father to stop the car, just in time to open the door and throw up on the side of the road.

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