Candace Hartsuyker: When You’re Allergic to Your Lover

       Each time you wake up next to him, you wake up with a rash. It doesn’t matter if you’re at your place or his. Intricate and swirling, like an elaborate tattoo, it mars all the places he’s kissed you: the back of your knee, the inside of your thigh, the crook of your elbow. Reading the greenish black dregs at the bottom of your teacup gives you nothing. The smear reminds you of the time you were ten, hopping from one slimy rock to another, favorite cowboy boots on your feet, then falling into the brackish water and scraping your knee. 
       Back when you worked as a vaccine researcher, you spent your days working in the lab for low pay, analyzing data and studying the side effects of various vaccines. Gloved hands permeating the powdery smell of latex, you categorized results and analyzed strains. Your specialty was diagnosing a problem and finding a solution. When your family and friends tell you he isn’t good enough for you, you ignore them. When they say his name, they say it the same way they’d say the words infection, virus, plague.
       The fortune teller you visit is cryptic. You carefully select three cards. She lays them out and you see they are The Hermit, The Tower and The Magician. She says that in the past, you suffered great tragedy and will soon endure more. You hate her kitschy decorations, the glowing red sign, the cheap velvet hangings inside the small room, the way she doesn’t try to conceal the mechanism that makes the crystal ball glow and instead presses the button slowly, as if daring you to challenge her.
       On the way out, you trip over an empty cardboard box outside the door and feel instantly better, believing this to be the sole tragedy awaiting you. Then you wonder suspiciously if the fortune teller put it there, karma for those who dare to expose her as a fraud.
       At the doctor’s office, you receive a round of allergy shots. You get used to the quick swipe of the alcohol swab, the stinging hurt of a temporarily throbbing arm, then the Band-Aide laid over it, trapping the blood. You’re sure the results will comfort you. It will turn out you’re not allergic to your lover but to his dog or to the plant he keeps on the windowsill by his bed. All the symptoms will go away: the runny nose, the puffy eyes, the rash jeweling your body like an intricate necklace.
       Because here’s the thing: you can’t be allergic to your lover. Even if all the clues tell you should leave him, you won’t. You’re a scientist; this is your calling. You’ll develop immunity, a vaccine. When you’re allergic to your lover, these are the things you tell yourself you believe. His hands, his lips: they’re all for you.