In Sweet Tooth: A Memoir, Tim Anderson describes growing up gay and with Type 1 diabetes in the 80’s. In this edited excerpt, the first of five, Tim describes the confusion of first showing signs of Type 1 during a field trip to Baltimore led by his first crush, a counselor named Brad.
I was drifting through Baltimore in a post-apocalyptic nightmare of malfunctioning biorhythmic human machinery. My parched mouth ached for oceans of wetness; my usually nimble arm and leg muscles began to turn to molasses; my sad blue eyes struggled to see anything in front of them clearly, as if I were viewing the world from the inside of a car wash; and my hyperactive bladder demanded the expulsion of any and every liquid that passed my lips.
At long last, we made it to Memorial Stadium to watch the Orioles probably lose to the Texas Rangers. We all filtered into our seats, and my body issued a pitiful “hallelujah” for the opportunity to slowly collapse into the oblivion of stadium seating.
I was a stick of licorice left out in the sun, melting into the seat. I was a pool of candle wax whose long-burning wick would soon expire. I was the watch hanging from the tree branch in Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory. I was in desperate need of another piss.
The world whirred and writhed around me as I moved in slow motion to lift the paper cup in my hand up to my cracked lips and tried to muster the superhuman strength needed to lift my body out of gravity’s grip, gain control of it, and steer it toward the temporary paradise of a functioning toilet.
I stumbled out onto the main concourse and clawed my way through the crowd to the restroom. After relieving my shell-shocked bladder for what surely had to be the hundredth time that day, I exited the men’s room and started staggering back to where our group was. On the way I passed by a few kiosks selling Baltimore Orioles paraphernalia and could just make out the little orange and black birdie on the jerseys.
Next to the kiosk there was a pay phone. I lurched over to it, picked up the receiver, and dialed my parents collect. My older brother Chris, home from college for the summer, answered and told me that no one was around.
“Oh, I guess I’ll call back later,” I said. “I think something’s wrong with me.”
“What’s going on?”
“I’m just . . . really tired and thirsty and I can’t see and I keep having to pee and it’s so hot and, God, there are all these freaking people, and I’m sweating a lot and I feel like everything’s melting.”
“Hmm,” Chris said.
“Tell Mom I’ll call back in a little while.”
I looked around for a drink stand, tumbled over to the nearest one, and ordered a cup of water.
“I’m still gonna have to charge you for the cup,” the fat guy behind the counter said.
“I don’t care,” I said through chapped and brittle lips. He filled a Coke cup with ice and water from the sink.
I took my expensive cup of water and walked back to the pay phone. Checking my watch to see how much time had passed since I had last called, I realized that not only had I not paid attention to what the time was when I’d talked to Chris but that now I couldn’t see the hands on my watch. I tried opening my mouth to say “Dammit” only to realize that my mouth was now so dry that my tongue was sticking to the roof of my mouth. I pissed a little into my jeans.
I was officially in the Twilight Zone. The Orioles would surely win tonight.
“And you’ve been going to the bathroom a lot?” Mom said. I’d finally reached her on the phone and had done my best to communicate my predicament through the cotton packing my mouth.
“Yeth, like every theven minuteth. And the drinkth just theem to make me thirthtier.”
“Make you what?”
“. . .”
“They jutht make me want more to drink!”
“Oh, Tim, I think you need to go to the hospital.”
“I gueth tho.”
“You need to get off the phone, go get one of your advisors, and bring him to the phone and call me back. I think you’ve definitely got diabetes.”
Diabetes. Dai-ah-bee-tis. Dah-bee-tease. Diabetes. I hung up and did the zombie walk all the way there so I could break the news to Brad or somebody (Brad) that they were going to have to drop everything and take me by the closest emergency room real quick, no big deal, just for a little checkup.
After hoisting myself along the concourse to the stands like a rubber android with self-awareness but no real muscle coordination, I found our group and caught Brad’s eye with my own bloodshot devil’s beams. He stood up and asked if I was feeling any better.
“I’m actually worth,” my lizard-dry tongue begrudgingly allowed me to say.
“Wow, your mouth is really dry,” he said, putting his strong hand on my shoulder.
“I talked to my mom and the thaid I thould go to the hothpital.”
Brad’s face fell, ever so slightly, when I said this. He walked with me back to a pay phone, where we called my mom again. After dialing and thaying hello to her, I handed him the rethiever and excuthed mythelf to vithit the rethtroom.
Brad was still on the phone with Mom when I returned. He was smiling and nodding respectfully as he punctuated the conversation with “Yes, absolutely” and “Oh, is that right?” He and Mom would really get along well one day, later on, when he and I were shacked up and having babies.
He hung up the phone, turned to me, and put his hand on my shoulder once again. “OK, we’re going to get everybody together after the game and take you to the hospital. Everything’s gonna be fine. They’ll check you out and we’ll see what they say. OK, buddy?”
My bulging red and yellow eyes managed to focus themselves enough to make out the smile he gave me at the end of that sentence. He then walked me over to the drink stand to get me more water.
“I’m gonna still have to charge you for the cup,” the attendant said.
“That’s all right, I got it,” Brad replied, reaching for his wallet as my heart swooned and my bladder called me back to the bathroom.
To order Sweet Tooth: A Memoir, go to www.amazon.com/Sweet-Tooth-Memoir-Tim-Anderson.
Excerpted with permission from Lake Union Publishing from Sweet Tooth © 2014 by Tim Anderson. All rights reserved.
Thanks for reading this Insulin Nation article. Want more Type 1 news? Subscribe here.
Have Type 2 diabetes or know someone who does? Try Type 2 Nation, our sister publication.