The urologist’s nurse shot me a quizzical look. That should have been my first clue. I guess I looked too happy.
“You know what you’re here for, right?”
“For a baseline on my bladder?”
Months earlier, I’d been shocked by a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. On my initial visits to the neurologist, cold dread had gripped my insides, squeezing the breath out of me in the waiting room as I moved chairs aside for patients in wheelchairs. I told myself to smile and make eye contact with them. Was I looking at my future self?
With time, I’d adjusted, and that day, I was feeling more upbeat than terrified. Bladder problems are common with MS, and since mine had misbehaved in the past, the neurologist had ordered this exam. I felt strong, though, and eager to receive a glowing report. I’d always excelled on tests. If confidence and determination could influence performance, my bladder might pass. Continue reading
It has been said that art represents humanity’s collective attempt to reconcile its own existence against an otherwise cold and uncaring universe. To strip away artifice, to obliterate pretense — to provide a context through which we may hope to define, at its core, exactly what it means to be a person. Which explains why art is so often heartbreakingly, unyieldingly, sad. Because, loath as we may be to admit it (and despite all of our attempts to the contrary), ours is a conclusively lonely existence — one fraught with sorrow, doubt, and, ultimately, disillusionment. That’s the torment heard in Juliet’s deathbed soliloquy, the longing behind the chords of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” the anguished panic pulsating through Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” And that’s the reason why, every Spring, I make sure to stock up on extra-soft, triple-ply, Kleenex-brand tissues in anticipation of the season’s most gut-wrenchingly devastating artistic offering: the premier episode of the ABC network’s hit reality television series “The Bachelorette.”
I tend to pick at things.
I pick at scabs.
I pick at boogers.
I pick at my husband’s inability to clean the toilet with anything other than a one-ply square of toilet paper and some spit.
I pick at other people’s opinions.
I pick at my own opinions.
I pick at myself.
In college I was known for wearing thrift store jeans and over-sized tee shirts. I smothered my insecurity in loose-fitting clothes and obvious sarcasm. Those around me, the few I tolerated, interpreted my indifference as attitude. However, they didn’t realize I suffered from a rare medical condition known as Resting Bitch Face, a disease described by unaccredited websites as a chronic expression of anger or disgust, which apparently made me unapproachable. While most who struggle with this affliction constantly reassure the public that it is just an uncontrollable feature of their personality, mine was a blessing. I was perfectly content being left alone. Well, not completely alone.
In fact, most of my post-pubescent existence was lacking a certain ceremonial rite of passage: having a boyfriend. I’d had one or two informal flings in my early teens, but I regretfully graduated high school with my virginity hanging over me like a Vegas marquee. I looked forward to college as an opportunity to find that life-altering love affair, or at least someone to fondle until the former arrived. Continue reading
My wife had selected Winnie the Pooh as our baby’s theme. “Classic, not Disney,” she’d often repeat to family and friends as they called to congratulate us and ask for suggestion on gifts or clothing.
Being new to all of this, I soon found out that matching and coordinating was a common expectation when it came to such things as babies and preparing a nursery. Together we had carefully selected everything from blankets, comforter and floor rug, to the Classic Pooh table lamp that would sit on the dresser.
So, at first I was a little worried about the dresser. According to the instructions I had everything I needed for assembly – Phillips screw driver, small adjustable wrench and hammer to tap the tiny black nails to the back of the unit to prevent it, as the instructions explained, from collapsing when finished. But, until I sliced open the box and let the pieces slide out precisely stacked as they had been when they left the shop floor half a world away, I did not know that the sand color of its smooth veneer finish was in fact an exact match to the sand colored trail of the wall boarder, on which a series of Pooh-Bears continuously roamed, night into day and day into night, honey pot in hand, appropriately accompanied by bees encircling the nursery at a height level with the top walnut railing of the crib. Continue reading
My ex-boyfriend has changed his profile picture.
Somehow this merits five minutes of acrobatic weeping, head lolling first against the bed frame, face smushed up with the rug and lint.
When you put it that way it is kind of funny.
When I was in sixth grade, my family moved to a town composed of four stoplights and air perpetually tinged with the smell of chicken shit. With the subjective delicacy of a middle school worldview, I adjusted to my new surroundings like a Harvard Ph.D. candidate dining in a Waffle House at 3 a.m. That is, with mere anthropological interest trimmed in judgment. Burgeoning teenage angst coupled with a superiority complex along with being new to a cohort of kids together since kindergarten lead to the inevitable: I made only one friend.
Her name was Tyler, and she hated it because it sounded too masculine. She tried adding her middle name “Anne,” which to me made her sound more like television redneck heroine Roseanne and less like a delicate feminine flower, but it never caught on anyway.
The first time I went to Tyler’s house, we were dropping her off after she had dinner with my family. Tyler and I sat in the back seat with my little brother, a second grader high on ADD medications. Continue reading
I once read that most people cannot tell the difference between pâté and cat food when it’s presented to them. I’ve seen the Fancy Feast commercial, so I don’t doubt it. Particularly bored scientists have done experiments and usually get the same results. A lot of people think they would be able to tell, but it seems like such a simple experiment I’m not certain people aren’t doing it all the time. Maybe there is a vast conspiracy of people serving cat food instead of pâté, just because they can. I sometimes get the sneaking suspicion that I could eat pâté a million times until I was sure I knew what pâté tasted like. Then I’d get another opportunity to eat pâté (or alternatively cat food), and my world would come crashing down. I’d be just another victim of the pâté-cat food schemery.
I feel much the same way about overhearing people having sex. I’m never really convinced I’ve overheard people in the throes of passion. It always happens the same way. I’ll be sitting there, minding my own business, and I’ll hear a sound. Usually a female sound. And after my reaction, saying, “Oh… well… hmm,” and clasping my hands for no reason like I’ve suddenly got to break bad news, I dismiss it. I laugh nervously. Surely, I’m not really overhearing sex, I think. A ton of things sound like people having sex: fight scenes in movies, songs with high pitched notes, really jovial laughter, or even people making awkward sounds in order to make eavesdroppers uncomfortable. And it feels awfully rude for me to assume a stranger is having a private moment when they might be doing something innocuous, like watching tennis or porn.
Late weeknight phone calls throw me into a panic — fearing news of car accidents, mangled kids, suddenly dead parents. I staggered across my bedroom to the dresser and fumbled to unplug my ringing phone. “Hello?”
“Jenny?” The voice of Nancy, my ex-mother-in-law, one of the few people who called me by the childish name I no longer used. Nancy called me frequently – sometimes too frequently – and always started her phone calls with my name as a question, as if she weren’t sure who would answer at the number she seemed to have on speed dial.
“Yeah,” I responded, relieved but annoyed, assuming I was awoken for something inconsequential.
“Joe’s dead,” she said. Just like that – two and a half syllables forming a sentence akin to being stabbed with a paring knife. She continued speaking calmly, as if she were giving me directions to her house instead of telling me that her son – my ex-husband and the father of my teenage sons – was dead at forty. I couldn’t hear her words any longer, just the murmur of her voice. My mind drifted to the last time Joe and I had spoken. He sounded happy. I should’ve known something was wrong. Continue reading