We Regret to Report an Anomaly
Kandahar Airfield, January, 2013
You know, it had not been the best day of my life, that day back in the early spring of the year before when my mother had posted on my public Facebook wall that “your doctor’s office called and said your cholesterol is too high and they’ve written you a prescription for Lipitor.”
“Mom, you can write those kind of private things in a private message,” I reminded her in a text.
Gawd, cholesterol, I grumbled to myself, ripping open the box of mail my mother had forwarded to me there at my new Ed Center in Kandahar, Afghanistan. What could be worse?
This could. This letter from my doctor, the one I’d self-addressed to my Georgia address without giving it a second thought. It went a little something like this:
“We regret to inform patient ****** ***** (my name handwritten in the form letter blank) that her recent mammogram has come back abnormal. We regret to report an anomaly and we recommend that she follow up as soon as possible with her primary care provider and/or any recommended specialists.” I read it again, and again, and then again. Anomaly. Specialist.
And then I refolded the form letter, put it back in its envelope, and laid it flat on my desk, my own breezy handwriting looking back at me. Continue reading
Trigger warning: child abuse, sexual assault and violence
“Cuz Christy, if you ever show up around here, I’m gonna kick your ass. And you know I can”; her heavy emphasis upon “know” reflected her conviction that she had done so previously.
Struggling to appease her fury, I conceded “Baby Sandy. You can kick my ass. But I’m still a pretty good runner and I’m not sure you’d catch me. We’re both old women now.”
“Oh, I’d catch you alright and knock that fuckin’ useless head off your shoulders,” Sandy snarled.
“But why? I’ve just been trying to help. What did I do? I love you. Always have. Always will. I worry about you every day and night. I wonder where you’re sleeping and eating. Are you safe, happy? The questions keep coming. But I get no answers. Ever.”
Without hesitating, Sandy barked “Because you left. You fucking left us here.”
The worst part about this allegation?
It was true.
And I’d do it again. Continue reading
Sitting across the rotting planks of a water-worn picnic table at a lake dive in Rome City, Indiana, Chris glowered at Bob and strained not to hear him. She studied his ruddy face with his pale, hooded, sky-blue eyes. His face was unmistakably and disappointingly redolent of her own. In anger, her mom would shake her head slowly and deliberately while growling in revulsion, “You look just like him.” She usually managed to render “just” a two-syllable word to make her point. Chris hated this actuality and longed to resemble her mother who always lingered just beyond her reach. But his widow’s peak, unruly hair and godawful teeth were all lamentably hers too. Maintaining her own teeth was a Sisyphean task. They’d crack or break. Dr. Hill would patch them up. They’d break again and Dr. Hill, again, would do the needful. Bob simply let his rot. In fact he seemed proud of these gaping holes as they were yet another signifier of his indifference to the consequences of his decisions.
She wished she could be tender or something like that. But, “This putrid son of a bitch” rolled around in her head like her moist sneakers in the dryer after an early run in the dew-kissed grass of spring. She tried to appear indifferent as he plowed along in his flat, nasal Midwestern voice which also—irritatingly—sounded like a more masculine version of her own hilljack voice. Episodically her ears grabbed onto his words and she could feel that familiar anger rearing up on its hind legs, begging for permission to lunge at him, sink its teeth into his crepe-skinned neck and suck out whatever life lingered in that wankstain’s body. She forced herself to intermittently grunt or nod, feigning interested disinterest. The task helped to keep his venomous words at bay.
My mom is hard to miss. She’s recognizable by her handmade skirts and Birkenstocks, by her playlists that range from Sinead O’Connor to Maroon 5. I can find her at night by the glow of Candy Crush on her phone screen. In grocery stores I track her by her sneeze: explosive, cathartic, followed by a “Whew! Thank you!” to all the people who offer a “bless you.”
When I was seven, I went to a birthday party at Inflatable Wonderland in the mall. After diving into the ball pit and getting lost in the maze, I realized suddenly I didn’t know where I was. Right as I started to panic, I saw a half-drunk diet Coke at the top of a staircase. I relaxed. It was a sign: your mom is here!
“Stay with us, stay with us,” the swarm of ghouls yelled at me just after dawn on Halloween morning.
Witches had snatched my three-hour-old baby, taking her so I could not see her. Her cries from being torn away from my breast tore through me, but the ghouls told my husband, who now held our newborn child, to get the hell out of the room.
The doctor who’d cut me open just a few hours before to birth our baby, now pressed with the heels of both hands on my newly stapled belly, which was bleeding out. A gush of blood, blood pressure dropping to thirty over forty. When the numbers match up, the body is dead.
The rest of the goblins, I remember, discussed a machine, some machine they wanted to arrive to help me survive. The nurse was a minute away, they said. The drug she would give me would cause bloating, and they had to give me someone else’s blood. “I’m just tired,” I complained. I did not know I was dying. When she arrived, she wore a Nurse Ratchet costume, with a tight white tunic, bright white leggings and a small blue-and-white striped paper hat bobby-pinned in her coiffed blond hair.
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash
In the foreseeable future, the Turing test, which measures the ability of humans to determine if an unseen communicator is a human or a computer, will undoubtedly undergo a significant enhancement: a test to see if a computer can determine whether the unseen communicator is a human or another computer. Continue reading
Divorce is final and clean on paper. But when there are kids involved, no judge in the world has the power to sever the bonds between two people who have entwined DNA walking around as a constant reminder that, despite the formality of the notarized seal on the decree, they will never really be divorced from each other
“Blended” is the fictitious term we use to describe families created out of the ragged stump of divorce.
When you make a cake, you “blend” the ingredients. It’s such a gentle process that you can do it easily with the rounded edges of a wooden spoon. Methodical, harmonious, smooth strokes of the spoon combine the disparate elements into a tranquil, pliable batter. Continue reading
There’s not much in the hot desert that stretches from California into Arizona, save giant tumbleweeds, strangely anthropomorphic cacti with upstretched arms for branches, and a long, long highway that is interstate 10, replete with mirages and, every so often, a blip in the road for gas stations. The last time I traveled down that highway the temperature was topping out at 121 degrees. It was July, but this was hot even for July. We– my husband, children, and nephew—had just crossed the border into Arizona, on our way to Sedona for the annual family vacation, when I saw a remarkable road sign. I shouted out: “Did you see that? The sign for Sore Finger Road?”
No one else in the car had seen it. They didn’t believe me. Instead, they all laughed, and my husband looked over at me and said something about my vivid imagination and projecting and excess energy, because I couldn’t drive.
He was right, because on a road trip, I share the driving. I’m a good driver, and I like to be in control. Hurtling down a highway at 80 miles per hour is much more appealing if I am the one doing the hurtling. This time, though, I was confined to the passenger seat for eight hours with a bank of pillows to prop up my heavily bandaged left hand because, you see, I had one very, very sore finger.
Spending the holidays in the Detroit airport is an overrated experience, no matter how many faces of happy customers they have pasted in the corridors. Mark and I hadn’t seen his parents and siblings for three long years and we were looking forward to some great big hugs and long-awaited homemade pecan pie, only to be found in the confines of Dayton, Ohio. To make a long story short, we never made it there. The rest of the saga made a Chevy Chase Christmas look like a free honeymoon in Hawaii.
Now, Dad did warn us that they were having a little snow back there — courtesy of some lovely photo attachments sporting him toying with his neat little snow blower on the driveway. Since we get about two snowflakes every three years here in Southern Oregon, I thought the whole thing looked like a precious Rockwell painting. “Just a little snow,” as it turned out, stretched from their doorstep right up to New York City. Unaware of the rapidly deteriorating weather, we put a few magazines and a book in a carry-on and headed to the Medford airport. Continue reading
Jenny lived across the street and down three houses. Precocious, with white blonde hair in a bowl cut and a tendency to run around the neighborhood in her swimsuit, she was the first friend I had when we moved in.
My father was a fundamentalist evangelist and along with my mother, we had been traveling around the country in our big 1983 burgundy Buick, state to state, church to church, revivals, tent meetings and summer camps for the last seven and a half years. After years of pleading from my mother for a home of our own and empty promises from my father, he had finally found a church to pastor and we were going to “settle down.” The church was in a Phoenix suburb and had a small, struggling congregation that needed Jesus as much as they needed jobs and money to pay bills that were due last month. With little more than a pittance, a rental house with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, a front and backyard, as well as the long promised formal dining room, was found for us fifteen miles away in a largely Mormon part of town. As a homeschooled, only child whose friendships came on visiting preacher’s kid status and the backseat of the Buick that was the most permanent personal space I had, the move to a house in a neighborhood with an elementary school around the corner was new, exciting and often a culture shock.
Jenny’s family was what my mother called “rough around the edges”, but Jenny was friendly and curious and no cold shoulder from my mother seemed to discourage her interest in me. We walked the two blocks to school together in the mornings and rode our banana seat bikes around the neighborhood in the afternoons. Roughly the same age and in the same class at school, the thing that really cemented our friendship was a love of Barbie dolls. Barbie, Ken and her friends were my favorite, though they were generally given different monikers and often after various pastor’s wives or children I had liked best; small and compact, they were easy to pack up and play with in the backseat of the car. Barbie’s long hair, big breasts, tiny waist, plenty of dresses made out of my father’s old ties and tiny plastic high heels made her the perfect wife, mother and lover of Jesus in all the scenarios that I placed her. I was never aware that Barbie had a dream house or career aspirations. My Barbie had been baptized in the bathroom sink in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of her sins and cooked dinner for her family before going to church three times a week. Jenny’s Barbie dolls moved in different circles; they wore mini skirts, some cut their hair off and drove Corvettes. Regardless of our respective Barbie’s differences, Jenny and I loved to bring our haul together and spent countless hours in our imaginary worlds with them. Continue reading