Today’s New York Times had a big feature about Will Arbery and his amazing new play, Heroes Of The Fourth Turning (which is onstage in NYC through October 27 — tickets here, if any are left). The piece mentions First Things editor Rusty Reno having been seen in the audience at a recent performance:
Reno, who is friendly with Arbery’s parents, said that even just presenting anti-abortion and anti-L.G.B.T. views onstage without signposting those airing them as villains, or satirizing them, was “huge.”
“They disagree among themselves in profound ways,” Reno said of the characters, not all of whom admire President Trump. “But there’s no liberal reassuring the audience by correcting them.”
That’s true. Having read the play, I had no idea (until this story) that Will Arbery was not a mass-going Catholic anymore (he tells the reporter that he struggles with faith), nor a political conservative. To me, it’s a sign of his skill as an artist, and his empathy as a human being, to present his conservative Catholic characters as complex figures, not as figures of mockery.
And then there was this:
One person he drew on was his younger sister Monica, whose ordeal with chronic Lyme disease and experiences working in a home for underprivileged pregnant women inspired the character of Emily. (She opposes abortion, but her belief — hotly contested by Teresa — that someone who works for Planned Parenthood can still be a good person makes Emily the play’s closest thing to a liberal foil.)
I know the Arbery family a bit, and had completely forgotten that back in 2016, Will and his sister Julia set up a Go Fund Me for Monica, who was extremely sick and near death for a long time. The first post started like this:
My name’s Will, and my sister Monica has been sick for too long. She’s only 24 years old, and she wants to have a life. What she has done with her life so far has been remarkable — she was a counselor and coordinator at a halfway house for pregnant underpriveleged women in Chicago. This felt like her life’s calling — but she had to leave it for yet another medical emergency in a string of medical emergencies. Over the years, the diagnosis has been hard to pin down: Crohns? Colitis? Endometriosis?At hospitals spanning the USA, there has not been a consensus. It seemingly never ends. Right now, she’s bedridden, emaciated, and more than anything, exhausted.
But now there’s a surgery that might be able to help: laparoscopic surgery. But in order to get that surgery, she first needs to get more healthy. And in order to get more healthy, she needs to stop stressing about her absurd medical debt.
I’m raising money because she’s flat broke, and she has nearly $20,000 in medical debt. With the new surgery coming up, she’s at her wit’s end about how to pay for this. She has very little energy, and she’s just trying to get better. Meanwhile, she’s having to worry about debt collectors calling her to receive payment from her hospital stays (weeks & months at a time), radiology, CT scans, X-rays, ER visits, and specialist doctor visits. The hospital stays and radiology cost the most, but all of it is eating at her.
The money will be used to pay off the debt directly and immediately, so that she’s no longer hounded by debt collectors and can focus on her health. The rest of the money will be used for her upcoming laparoscopic surgery, which hopefully will provide real answers for her. We need the funds as soon as possible.
Here is an update from the page from November 2016, written by Monica herself:
My doctor called me on Tuesday night and said I have the most advanced case of Lyme he has ever seen- I saw the chart, and it is literally off the charts. For real. The infection goes beyond the scope of the chart. With that, on a more difficult note, this means that I have one to four co-infections that are extremely dangerous, as my doctor has told me. We are not sure which ones yet. And, my white blood cell count is low and with this new finding, the likelihood of me contracting cancer is upwards of 80%. The co-infections and the Lyme bacteria (which I may have in addition to auto immune disease because I may have been bitten by a tick or gotten through a needle- it is spreading more like AIDS now) are so sneaky and painful and have begun to mutate my cells, which is why the cancer risk is so high. The small dose of chemo I was on was not enough to prevent this. Because of all of this, and because there is no advanced Lyme treatment center/ good preventative and active cancer center in Wyoming, I will need to leave the state ASAP and be admitted into a center that can give me daily IV infusions/oxygen, physical heart therapy (that doesn’t sound like a real thing) and laser therapy for the neurological damage and all the organ damage to try to save me from this. There is one in Newport Beach, California- and I’m waiting on a call from my doctor to let us know what the plan is. We are still waiting to hear back from them, but hopefully I’m admitted- I think I will be- and can fly this next week.
Before I got the call, dad told me that the Knights of Malta would like to give me a trip to Lourdes. I’ve always wanted to go, and I think, more than ever, now is the time. This has attacked all my organs- especially right now, my liver, my skin, my heart, and my brain. It is a strange, strange thing to be aware that your brain is declining. So I pray I can go to Lourdes and I have so much hope that my body could be healed there– and if it isn’t, that God will heal my soul. I am heartbroken, devastated, terrified, hopeful, peaceful- all at once. I think the whole family is. I have never responded to a diagnosis like this before. I didn’t know Lyme was so risky, I am angry we didn’t find it years ago, I am frustrated that we were doing the wrong treatment which has made things worse. But I am also deeply hopeful, and I believe I can be terrified and trust completely that this is and will be a good, good thing- at the same time.
I am thankful for all those who urged me to get tested for Lyme once again. And I urge anyone who is chronically ill to get tested with a GOOD test like iSpot. New studies are revealing more and more deeply troubling facts of Lyme and their malignant co-infections. Lyme and its co-infections can show up as M.S., Lupus, all auto immune diseases, ALS, fibromyalgia and so many more. It is possible to have a existing condition and then get Lyme, of course. But I think the reason we are so rattled and scared is because I have had Lyme possibly since I was 10 years old when a tick bit my scull in Wisconsin, and the symptoms can show up years later– so I have late term Lyme, and it is highly likely it has caused irreparable damage. We pray it hasn’t.
There’s a lyric from a song I love: ‘Is there a blanket of pain that I can wrap up in?’ I feel wrapped in that blanket of pain and fear and loss. I feel heavy as the world. I have never felt this way. I have never known such physical and spiritual pain. But I do know some things for sure, like theses things: that each time I have experienced loss or pain, it has just made room for something so much better than I can fathom, and I ultimately end up so deeply grateful for it. So I am grateful now, even as the fear and darkness seem to have won- I know they haven’t, I know they never will, and I will fight as hard as I can.
I’ve been reading through the updates from over the years, and have been just blown away by the suffering this poor young woman has had to endure. I’m going to go back and re-read the play, and the lines of the Emily character with this in mind.
Turns out that before he was a successful Off Broadway playwright, Will Arbery made this short movie for his sister’s Go Fund Me page, with his iPhone. This was filmed during the depths of her illness:
There hasn’t been a Go Fund Me update on Monica since 2018, but I just saw that she got married this past summer! Glory to God for all things! I checked with Will today to ask how his sister is doing. He says her health is much better, but she is about to undergo some serious bloodwork, and, like many newlyweds, is struggling financially. Her Go Fund Me page is still active, so if you are feeling compassionate, please send some love to Monica Arbery Corcoran.