A few months before I began writing Love Lessons, I was diagnosed with a pile of allergies. As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve fought usually baffling chronic pain issues for a decade, but in the past few years things have become particularly acute. I was always tired, I always felt sick, and if I didn’t take a Zyrtec every day, I would scratch my skin off. When my upper lip began to swell, sometimes alarmingly, my doctor sent me to an allergist.
A scratch test later, I was told I was allergic to the following: dust mites (severely), dogs, cats, mold (several kinds), down, cow’s milk, egg white, and possibly almonds. The cat allergy he said wasn’t awful and was probably held in check by the fact that I have four. If I ever stopped having cats, I’d never be able to have them again, and some days their existence bothers me more than I’d like.
This diagnosis meant a huge change for me and my entire family. In addition to radically altering my diet once again (I’d gone vegetarian briefly, as well as cut out refined sugar), we had to deep clean our house. Dan, Anna, me, his parents, and my mother put in a solid two weeks of scouring, and then we hired a local cleaning service who spent eight hours giving it another scrub. Now we clean–as in, to the baseboards, washing curtains, wiping off ledges–every two to three weeks, and we run the air conditioning even if it’s relatively nice out. I wash my sheets, comforter, mattress pad, and everything else on the bed once a week on high heat. I take daily all the drugs in the picture on the left. When I take my daughter to the horse barn (my allergist says, “Why don’t you add chickens so all your allergies are present?”) I have to stay in the lounge with the door closed, then shower immediately once I get home, or I’ll have an asthma attack.
Because the annoying thing is, it turns out once you remove the allergen from your system, when you reintroduce it your body goes seriously haywire. A tablespoon of milk will make me ill for days. Three bites of a baked good with egg makes me feel nauseous. One night in a poorly cleaned hotel room will have me swelling to twice my size and render me nearly unable to breathe. Travel is a nightmare, both for sleeping and for eating. I’m a thousand times healthier and have made more progress on my chronic pain and fatigue than ever, but there isn’t a day where I don’t face walls brought on because of my allergies.
Naturally, I put all this in a book.
I gave Kelly all my allergies, plus I made his reaction to almonds anaphylactic. Me, they’re still not sure if I am or not, but I do notice if I eat too many or drink too much milk my lip starts going wonky, or if I’m all keyed up from other exposure even a little makes me sick, so I generally stay away. Kelly is so allergic the oil or extract will send him to the hospital. Usually I don’t include something so raw and fresh from my own life, but writing how Kelly’s allergies isolated him, creating walls at a time he didn’t need any extra awkward, helped me make some peace with my own newly discovered limitations. It’s hard to have people offer you cookies or cakes and have to decline or pretend you’ll eat them when you know you can’t. It’s really, really awful to go to a party where everyone else is happily eating and making wry statements about diets and you’re just grateful for baby carrots. I don’t even have a moral conviction like veganism to ease myself with: I just can’t eat things because they’ll make me sick, not because of a choice I made.
What was most fun—and healing—for me when writing Kelly was watching how strong he was despite all the limitations. Walter loves to protect Kelly, even when they’re just friends, but by the end Kelly is the much stronger character, allergies and all. It was a way to say to myself, and to the world, that maybe a lot has changed about what I can and can’t do, but I can still make that work for me, can still be strong.
Also, I know a lot of us have allergies, and now those of you who do have another character who is like you. What are some allergies you suffer from, or what are those of people you love? Any war stories? Perhaps more importantly: do you have any vegan or dairy/egg free recipes you want to share? Because I’m always hunting…
Love Lessons: Love doesn’t come with a syllabus.
Kelly Davidson has waited what seems like forever to graduate high school and get out of his small-minded, small town. But when he arrives at Hope University, he quickly realizes finding his Prince Charming isn’t so easy. Everyone here is already out. In fact, Kelly could be the only virgin on campus. Worst of all, he’s landed the charming, handsome, gay campus Casanova as a roommate, whose bed might as well be equipped with a revolving door.
Walter Lucas doesn’t believe in storybook love. Everyone is better off having as much fun as possible with as many people as possible…except his shy, sad little sack of a roommate is seriously screwing up his world view. As Walter sets out to lure Kelly out of his shell, staying just friends is harder than he anticipated. He discovers love is a crash course in determination. To make the grade, he’ll have to finally show up for class…and overcome his own private fear that love was never meant to last.
Warning: This story contains lingering glances, milder than usual sexual content for this author, and a steamy dance-floor kiss. Story has no dairy or egg content, but may contain almonds.
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