A post-it hangs on my monitor, “water,” is all it says. I know you worry I don’t drink enough. A deep sigh sinks me into my chair before I push back from the table. The water in Los Angeles tastes like somewhere else, heavy, earthy and tired. Sometimes my mouth tastes the way your mouth tastes and I think it must be the water. We drink from the tap in the bathroom. It’s closer than the kitchen and we get back to bed faster. I put a glass under the running faucet, and I check my phone without a reason to.
Two weeks ago, the phone rang at 4:43 am and I was frightened that I had lost something irreplaceable. I couldn’t understand and I couldn’t speak and my hands clamored in the dark for the tea left from the night before and I drank the bitters to pull me back from the dead, to pull us all back from the edge. I was dehydrated and my body wasn’t strong enough to know the words to say when he told me he was talking to God.
After I hung up the phone, I prayed to the same entity I had refused to believe he was speaking to. I needed water and hope. I crawled from my bed into my shower and I left my mouth open like swallowing rain. In the steam and scald, I counted my blessings. These legs that work, this home I call my own, a family built on strength and trust, and enough credit to fly across the country to save someone’s life. It’s only when we’re brought to our knees that we are reminded of our ability to stand. In the shower, I drank gratitude like water, only when I was so thirsty I would die without it.
Later, a nervous check-in over the phone was peppered with “at least this…” and “thank god that…” We were qualifying what a good life it was, while I researched medications and theories.
“Just stay healthy. We don’t need to worry about you, too,” my mom said. I took a small post-it pad and wrote “water” on it. I didn’t like water, but people said drinking more of it helped you stay healthy. I wanted to be able to help, and 3000 miles away, this was all I could do. I put the post-it on the corner of my screen.
I wrapped myself up in you that night, letting your hands work out the demons nesting in my back. I felt safe and cared for and full. And I thought about the phone calls with my best friends and my parents that day. There was no posting, there was no texting or tweeting, there were only the deep connections and heavy leans and I felt more than gratified, I felt more than noticed and pretty and funny and cool, I felt grateful. You offered me a glass of water. I said I wasn’t thirsty, and you said I shouldn’t wait for thirst.
Every day we drink the liquors of Likes and Retweets, snorting lines of texts, looking for that hit, that instant gratification. We are gratified, but we are not grateful. And we drink the hair of the dog rather than the water because we want it easy and fast and right now. We are empty and worried and dehydrated. Acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, they taste like nothing. They incite nothing but the very slow build of a better life. And I found myself waiting until I was thirsty to feel these things, waiting until life shook me painfully to stabilize myself.
I don’t check back over and over after I call my best friend because she answers when I need her to. I don’t count the replies to the listserv because we all know we don’t have to; we love each other. And I don’t refresh you after you say I love you because I can feel that you mean it in the way you press your fingers into my back, crushing the tension that fear built.
I take the full glass to my lips and I can feel the water as it moves down my throat and into my body. I imagine the effects are instantaneous, that my skin is clearer and my eyes wider. I arch my back and stretch, letting the water trickle into my bones. I get stronger and brighter and better, feeling hydrated and happy.
I worry about my family, but I take a sip and feel grateful that they’re strong. I worry about the stress of work, but I take a sip and feel grateful I have work at all. I worry that you’ll grow tired of me, but I take a sip and feel grateful that you haven’t yet. And I know you worry I don’t drink enough water, but I’m not waiting until I am thirsty anymore and worry is just a dirty word for hope.