I once dated a guy who was a gigolo. Of course I didn’t realize he was a gigolo when I first met him. I just thought he was a friendly dude in my apartment building. One evening he knocked on my door and there he was holding a plate of homemade spaghetti – smooth move. He was very funny and used to sing Tom Jones songs until I was crying with laughter.
I also dated a guy whose house was full of cockroaches. I had never seen a cockroach before, therefore seeing a bazillion of them when I turned on the kitchen light in the middle of the night was terrifying. It felt like I was in an 1980’s horror movie – with fabulous hair, makeup and clothing by moi of course.
There was the boyfriend who literally passed me over to another man, like they were farmers and I was prized cattle. We had broken up and he knew the other guy really liked me, so he said something like: “She’s yours now, take care of her.”
Let’s not forget the “give your girlfriend cocaine on her twenty-first birthday boyfriend,” because of course as young women that’s exactly the gift we dream about getting. Not jewelry, but hard drugs.
Oh and the boyfriend who had a thing for long finger nails! That was a problem for me because I was and still am a nail biter. But thankfully the drugstore lady introduced me to “Lee’s Press-On Nails.” I’m forever grateful to her for helping me keep my man happy.
There are more men and more stories, but for now this is it. Just a little fun list to jazz up your Wednesday.
“Why aren’t you out there having sex? You’ve been single for almost three months.”
“I hate casual sex, it’s horrifying.”
“What? Casual sex is the best! It’s like trying on shoes to find out what type of heel you like – stiletto, square, platform…”
“Nice analogy. But no. Letting a man inside my body – like hi, come and put your penis in my vagina – without knowing anything about him is terrifying.”
“It’s liberating. Not knowing them and just experiencing pleasure is freeing.”
“Three years ago I had a one night stand with a beautiful man. As I was going down on him, he started talking about how his mother still buys his underwear. I almost got up and left the house, except that we were in my house. So for the rest of the night, as we were having sex, all I could think about was his mother buying him underwear at Target.”
“Nooooooo! That did NOT happen. You just made that up.”
“I wish to GOD that I made that up. But it’s 100% true. You can stop laughing anytime now.”
“You have ruined Target for me.”
“Or what if I sleep with someone then find out afterwards they don’t believe in global warming? Or that they own like ten semi-automatic rifles?”
“Ha! That’s why you sneak out early, it’s a skill you can master, trust me.”
“Once I accidentally slept with a high school student. I’m not even sure it was legal. I felt so gross.”
“Dying. I’m dead. What happened?!”
“I thought I was having a weekend fling with a cute college guy – Jackson. He was 22 years old and I was 32 at the time, so it felt kind of naughty and fabulous. Sunday morning he woke up early to buy us coffee and croissants – sweet. Except that he forgot his phone on the bedside table and it wouldn’t stop ringing – it was his mother. But I mean lots of people chat with their parents on the weekend right? Then I started hearing pings from incoming texts and because I’m a horrible person I read them. They were all from his mother:
Jackson, where the hell are you?! You’re seventeen years old, you can’t just NOT come home at night. Your father and I are worried sick. Please text us so that we know you’re not lying in a ditch Also, you have to finish your American History paper Love you, Mom
“That kid had major moves. Kinda gotta respect a teenager with that much swagger.”
“True. But you see my point right? I’m not cut out for casual sex.”
“Ya, I get it now. I guess you just have to wait around until you meet another “Mr. Almost Kind Of But Not Really Mr. Right,” then you can have sex again.”
“Exactly. In the meantime, let’s go shoe shopping.”
“I miss living on the west coast. Would you ever consider moving with me?”
“California? Fuck no. America is a hell hole, or have you not been reading the news for the last seven years?”
“Just because there’s lots of bad stuff going on doesn’t make it a hell hole.”
“I could literally show you like a hundred articles right now to prove my point.”
“News flash: not everything is about winning an argument or proving a point. Jeez Louise you’re not even a lawyer.”
“You know what your problem is?”
“No I don’t, but I’m dying to find out.”
“You romanticize everything. Things are complicated, dangerous even, you need to be able to look at life through a clear, rational lens. There is no room for being a romantic.”
“But is there room for being a New Romantic? Like Spandau Ballet?”
“I’m being serious.”
“No, you’re being irritating. Who are you to go off on what you perceive to be my problem? Did God quit and put you in charge?”
“You know I don’t believe in God, religion is the opium of the people.”
“Ya, ya, Karl Marx – what are you, a first year philosophy student?Anyway, if we’re gonna argue, I would argue that now more than ever there’s a need for Romanticism. The world is desperate for it. The universe is asking us to look at each other through softer, sepia-toned lenses and to not be so binary. To come together, recite poetry, eat cake and drink wine. It wants to hear us roar with laughter and moan in ecstasy. The world isn’t interested in your clear rational lens right now, it’s desperate to be softly petted like you would pet your beloved dog. It’s hurting – the world is fucking hurting. It needs love and tenderness to help it get back on track.”
“That’s the biggest load of Instagram-y horse shit that I’ve ever heard. It actually scares me that you think like that. When we first met I thought you were an intelligent woman, even a bit of a nerd. But now it’s like you’re a sage burning, crystal wearing, astrology-believer. What happened to you?”
“I’ve actually always been this way, you just chose not to see it. And a person can be smart and burn sage, the two are not mutually exclusive.”
“But they are mutually exclusive. A smart person would never believe that burning a few leaves would clear out negative energy, because that same smart person would never believe in the idea of negative energy.”
“Just okay. Like we have four more hours in this car together so I’m gonna peace out of this conversation and put some music on.”
“I’ve got a new playlist that I made last week, it’s really good.”
“Absolutely not. You have curly hair. Perms are not for curly-haired girls.”
“But I want ringlets like Lisa Bonet.”
“Lisa is a beautiful young woman and you’re a beautiful young woman. Embrace what you have.”
“But you get perms.”
“Exactly. I get perms because I have straight hair, that’s who perms are for.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Life’s not fair. Embrace that concept too.”
“What if I use my own money?”
“You’re welcome to fry your hair on your own dime, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“Okay. I’m calling your salon to see if they can squeeze me in today.”
“Mom, can you come pick me up? I’m finished at the salon.”
“Okay, I’ll be there in ten minutes. Are you okay? Your voice sounds weird.”
“I look like Mr. Vanderhosen’s poodle.”
“Oh sweetie I’m sure it’s not that bad. We’ll figure out some styling options. See you soon.”
“Oh wow, it is pretty bad. Yikes. At least it’s big though – you wanted big, right?”
“I wanted big and ringlets! Not big and frizz! You’re gonna have to homeschool me because I’m not leaving the house until this perm is out of my hair. What if I wash it like twenty times? Would that get the chemicals out? Stop laughing mom, it’s not funny!”
“Should we get Dairy Queen? I feel like this is a Dairy Queen moment.”
“This is a cigarette moment mom.”
“Well I’m a liberal mother, but I’m not giving you a cigarette just because you don’t like your hair. You’ll have to steal one from me like a regular teenager. Do you want a hot fudge sundae?”
“Sure, a hot fudge sundae and maybe a large hat.”
“What if we use gel, like a lot of gel, and slick the whole thing back into a low braid like Sade wears? You already have big hoop earrings – you’ll look beautiful. We’ll stop by the drugstore on our way home and pick up some supplies.”
“There’s not enough gel in the universe to slick this hair back. You better brush up on your algebra skills because homeschooling starts Monday.”
“Darling I hate to break it to you but there is no way in hell that I’m homeschooling you, that’s for granola moms – which I’m not. Call Jenny, she’ll know how to help.”
“What about boarding school? Can you and Dad afford boarding school? Just ship me off somewhere. I don’t want Mark to see me like this.”
“Who’s Mark? Haven’t heard a wink about him. I thought you liked Todd.”
“I found out Todd is in the Young Republicans, so he’s out. I told him I only date Democrats or Independents. Mark just moved here from New York – like Manhattan New York. He’s super cool. But if he sees me like this he’ll never ask me out.”
“Why don’t you start a trend? A big perm frizz-head trend.”
“Not funny mom.”
“I’m serious. How do you think trends get started? With one brave and fashion-forward person. Do it. It can be like a social experiment, maybe you can get extra credit for it in school if you write a paper.”
“Oh I’m loving this idea sweetie. I’ll help you with it. The key is to act like you meant to get your hair done like this. Commit to it 100%. Strut those hallways like you’re Cindy or Naomi—
“Stop it mom.”
“Love, open the door. You’ve been in there for a long time. I don’t have a good feeling about this. I think you might be making a bad situation worse. What’s that sound? Is that your father’s electric razor?”
“Mom, chill. I’ll be out in a few minutes.”
“Oh. My. God.”
“Do you like it? I think it’s cool, very New Wave. I shaved off the left side with dad’s razor and then I chopped off like seven inches from the right side – it’s an asymmetrical bob.”
“I can see that. Well done love, it’s very…asymmetrical.”
“Dave, don’t say anything about Jess’s hair.”
“Why, what happened?”
“Hi Dad. I used your electric razor, hope you don’t mind.”
“Wow. Um…very cool Jess. Very London UK.”
“That’s what I was going for! Like on that fashion television show where they interview cool kids in Paris, London and New York – that was my inspiration.”
“Well, you totally nailed it. Was that the doorbell? I’ll get it. Are we expecting anyone?”
“No, Jenny is away for the weekend. Maybe it’s our creepy neighbour.”
“Jess, you’ve got a visitor.”
“Be right there.”
“So Mark, you go to school with Jess? You have a NY accent, did you just move here?”
“Ya. My dad got transferred. Kind of feel like I’m living in a twilight zone episode in this town, it’s so different. But your daughter is super cool sir.”
“I agree, she is super cool.”
“Mark?! Hi! Oh my god what a surprise, come on in. It’s okay Dad, I’ve got it from here.”
“Your hair looks rad Jess.”
“Really? Thanks. The hairdresser ruined it so I had fix it myself. It’s not too much is it?”
“No. It’s very downtown cool, very Soho. Hey, I brought you a couple copies of The Village Voice, you seemed really interested in NY.”
“Wow, thanks! Can I get you something to eat or drink?”
“I’ll take a coffee with sugar if you have it.”
“How about a coffee with Bailey’s Irish Cream? It’s so good.”
“Cool. Your parents let you drink?”
“No they don’t, but they won’t notice.”
“You’re funny. Can I help you?”
“Grab that box of cookies, they go really well with coffee and follow me upstairs.”
“I gotta warn you, my room is a total freaking disaster right now.”
“No problem. I don’t trust people who have really clean rooms, they’re like psychopaths.”
“Totally. Let’s open the windows, then we can smoke.”
“Jesus, Bailey’s in coffee is fucking good.”
“My grandma introduced me to it, she’s the best. Whenever she takes care of me, like when my parents go away, she lets me have wine with dinner. How are you liking Brownsville? It must seem kinda lame compared to Manhattan.”
“Ya, at first I totally freaked out. I mean you need fake id to drink, the record stores sell almost no Punk, there’s no decent Chinese food…”
“I can hook you up with a fake id. I know this guy Jeremy who makes them, he charges ten bucks.”
“Oh right on man, thanks Jess. By the way, you’re not dating that Todd guy are you?”
“Todd The Republican? Oh my God no. I mean he supports Reagan for fucks sake.”
“Oh good. Cause I was wondering…do you wanna see a movie next weekend? Hitchcock’s The Birds is playing at The Revival Cinema.”
“Ya, I would love to. I’ve never seen a Hitchcock film, which I know is totally lame. But if we’re going to a movie together I need to ask you an important question.”
“Do you eat popcorn before or during the movie?”
“Before, like during the previews. I’m not a complete asshole. I can’t stand when people are making loud crunching noises during the movie. Drives me fucking batshit.”
“Oh thank God. Okay then, we’re definitely on for next weekend. Cheers.”
“You might feel broken, but you are not broken. Do you hear me? You are not.” “Okay.”
“Feeling broken is your psyche’s way of waving a giant red flag, it’s telling you to make changes immediately. Feeling broken is a warning sign and you must – you must – take it seriously.”
“I understand. Except that because I feel broken I also feel exhausted, unable to do anything.”
“That’s because you’ve given all your power away, you didn’t mean to, but you did. And that’s left you feeling tired: no power = no energy. I understand my dear sweet thing. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: you have a hidden reserve of power. Think of it like a backup generator. And in emergencies – like now – you need to switch that generator ON to power you up.”
“Well I don’t know, that sounds a little nuts. A backup generator to magically give me energy so that I can make changes in my life?”
“What’s nuts is that you’re allowing the life to be choked out of you.”
“Either you believe me and tap into that backup generator to energize yourself, or I’ll move on to help someone else. I’m not getting any younger.”
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to take up all your time, I’m not even sure who I’m talking to. Are you God?”
“God? No. If there’s a God he’s been on one long-assed vacation – I mean just look at the mess this world is in! Think of me more like a Fixer, A Spiritual Fixer.”
“That sounds like the name of a Netflix Series that I would watch.”
“Good, then maybe you’ll listen to me and use your backup generator and get your damn life turned around so you can stop feeling broken.”
“Okay, okay, I’ve got it. I believe you. I’m turning the generator on. Next time you see me I will have taken back all my power, I promise you.”
“Glad to hear it. Now I’ve got a busy schedule today, it seems there are a lot of people feeling broken in your neighborhood, so I’m off.”
“Thank you so much, I appreciate your help.”
“I’ll email you my invoice.”
“Wait, you charge for your services?”
“Well of course I charge for my services, why wouldn’t I? A girl’s gotta eat – and buy shoes! I’ll check in on you in two weeks, there’s no charge for the follow-up appointment.”
“Okay. I’ll see you then, bye.”
“Bye sweetness. And remember: you’ve got this, you really do.”
“It seemed like you needed a little pick me up. Last night you were saying the pandemic was making you feel hopeless. I thought this would help.”
The box was the color of brown craft paper and it was tied with natural twine ribbon. It smelled like patchouli.
Marissa hated the scent of patchouli. It reminded her of a faux hippie girl named Star who had stolen her boyfriend during sophomore year of college.
She opened the box and there lay a gray stone with the word HOPE inscribed on it.
“The salesgirl said you just hold the rock in your hand, focusing your mind on things that bring you joy while massaging it.”
“Wow, well…this is pretty cool. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. I’m going on a run now, wanna Netflix at 9?”
Henry kissed Marissa on the tip of her nose.
When he left the house in his olive Lulu Lemon running shorts, Marissa called her best friend Nica.
“Henry gave me a rock that says HOPE.”
“Oh my god, those gray ones right? The ones that say things like LOVE and GRATITUDE. Are they even real rocks? I’m sorry, that gift couldn’t be less you.”
“I know. And I feel like a horrible person because I don’t feel grateful. Whenever Henry buys me a gift I feel like it shows that he doesn’t really know me, like he doesn’t pay attention to who I truly am and that feels so shitty.”
“I totally get it. Like last Christmas when he bought you plaid, flannel pajamas – I wanted to strangle him.”
“Oh I forgot about those. I ended up wearing them all winter because what am I going to do? I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.”
“Marissa, maybe you need to hurt his feelings. Maybe you need to scream ‘this is who I am! I need you to really see me.’ Feeling seen is all most of us want anyways.”
“You’re right. Why are you so damn wise? What are you and Jen up to tonight?”
“It’s date night, so we’re trying out that new Mexican restaurant downtown. Hopefully the tables will be spaced out. I’m not comfortable eating inside restaurants yet, but Jen really wants to go and we’re vaccinated, so…”
“You’ll be fine. Have fun and give my love to Jen.”
“Will do. Enjoy your rock tonight.”
Marissa put the HOPE rock on her desk in her office, then took a shower and applied a charcoal mask.
“What happened to your face?” asked Henry dripping sweat on their bedroom floor.
“It’s a charcoal face mask, it helps to clear out the pores.”
“You know that’s all bullshit right? None of that stuff actually works. It’s just skincare companies taking advantage of womens’ insecurities,” Henry said as he peeled off his drenched running gear.
Please stop talking.
“Do you mind not taking off your sweaty running clothes in the bedroom? It smells up the whole space,” Marissa said from her side of the bed where she was relaxing.
“You’re in a mood tonight.”
Marissa couldn’t stand the smell so she went downstairs, grabbing a washcloth and towel from the linen closet on her way. When it was time she wiped off the mask with the warm cloth, then followed with a splash of cold water. She dried her skin and inspected herself in the hallway mirror. Her pores looked smaller and clearer and she felt good. What the hell does Henry know about charcoal face masks anyway?
She poured herself a glass of Pinot Noir and settled on the couch with her new book, “H is for Henrietta.”
“Are you going to read that whole series about witches?”
“I don’t understand what you like about those books.”
“I don’t understand what you like about the war books you read.”
“Where’s your HOPE rock? Aren’t you keeping it with you?”
“Um no, it’s on my desk.”
“Well you can always grab it if you need it.”
“I will, thanks.”
“Do you want to watch that new documentary about the opioid crisis?”
“Not really, life is upsetting enough right now.”
Who is this man? What is wrong with him? Why did I marry him?
Henry poured himself a glass of wine and sat downon the couch.
“What about Justin Theroux’s new show on Apple TV?”
A quarter of the way through the first episode, Marissa asked:
“Why didn’t we try harder to have children? I feel like we gave up too soon.”
“Can we just watch the show and discuss this later. Not that there’s anything to discuss, we’re better off not having kids – the world is a disaster.”
Marissa got up and opened another bottle of wine, even though the first one was still half full.
“That’s a really expensive bottle, why are you opening it?” Henry asked, his voice tinged with irritation.
“Because we’re living in a fucking pandemic that’s never going to end so why not drink the good stuff?!”
“You’re spiralling. You need your HOPE rock.”
“I hate that rock! You should know that I would hate that rock, you’ve been with me for ten years. I feel like a cardboard cut-out wife that you just project things onto. Like you think your wife should like HOPE rocks and plaid pajamas and rock climbing and Patagonia and cheap wine and fake diamond stud earrings and being childless and being pet-less. But I’m not that person. Why don’t you see me? Why don’t you want to see me?”
“Just because it’s a pandemic doesn’t give you the right to lose your shit. Get it together. And if you don’t like something, speak the hell up. How am I supposed to know that you don’t like Patagonia jackets?”
“Because I read British, French and American Vogue magazine every month. Because I’ve dressed beautifully every day of the pandemic instead of wearing sweatpants. That’s why you should know.”
“I can’t talk with you when you’re this emotional. If you want to calm down and have a rational discussion after the show is over that’s fine, otherwise I’m putting the headphones on.”
“Put them on then. I’ll read my witch novel and maybe I’ll find a spell that I can cast to turn YOU into a freaking HOPE rock.”
And hour later Marissa was in bed, still reading “H is for Henrietta” and still fuming.
Henry came into the bedroom and lay down.
“I had a vasectomy when I was 28. I’m sorry. I never wanted children.”
Marissa felt her face morph into “The Scream” by Edvard Munch.
“When we were first dating you told me you wanted two kids.”
“I lied; I was in love with you.”
Marissa opened her bedside table drawer and took half a sedative.
“You shouldn’t take a pill, you’ve had wine, you – “
Marissa shot Henry a death stare.
“Okay let’s just go to sleep. We’ll talk in the morning when we’re fresh. We can’t let this pandemic tear us apart. I just read an article about how Covid stress is causing the divorce rate to skyrocket.”
Marissa didn’t answer. Applying her favorite Dr. Haushka lip balm in the dark, she was thinking about the time she told Henry that she liked the names Olive and Ryder for their children and how he had agreed enthusiastically.
“I know I just told you something shocking and you have every right to hate me right now. But just know that I lied because I was scared of losing you. I love you Marissa. I’m just as in love with you now as I was ten years ago. And I’m sorry about the HOPE rock.”
Marissa applied more lip balm.
“I know we’re childless, but we don’t have to be pet-less.”
Marissa was starting to dose off, her mind tranquil like it had been glazed with marshmallow fluff.
“Make sure it’s exactly half and half. Half Pomegranate, half Original flavor. Last time it was 3/4 pomegranate. And go to the Pinkberry on Montana Ave, it’s the only one I trust.”
“My new Ferragamo loafers have to be dropped off at Roberto’s, he needs to put a protective sole on them. You do that with expensive shoes. But I guess you wouldn’t know that, you wear Nine West, I mean no offence, but…”
“Non taken.” you privileged narcissist bitch
“At Whole Foods get me the snap peas and sesame tofu and a ginger kombucha. And Jett needs to eat too…maybe the barbecue chicken, potato salad and some kind of cupcake. Large containers for him, small containers for me.”
“Can I get you anything else while I’m out?”
“No that’s all. Except gas, you know I always like my gas topped up to 100% full.”
“I sure do.” you freak
In the Range Rover Emily cranked KCRW then let out a death-metal loud scream:
She chewed CBD gummies as she ran errands in Santa Monica. Using voice memo she left notes for herself for the screenplay she was working on. It was about a personal assistant who falls in love with her boss’s 18 year old son and the two of them plot to kill his mother.
Her phone rang.
“And it goes without saying don’t forget to pick up Jett from school at 3:00. I gave you snacks for him, they’re already in the car. Gotta go, my acupuncturist is here.”
God it would be so fun to stick needles in you
“I’m on my way to pick him up now.”
“Get in loser we’re going to Taco Bell. I mean unless you want this rotting apple, melted cheese sticks and nuts that you mother packed for you.”
“Why the fuck does she pack me the same snack every single day?”
“And the nuts are always from Starbucks.”
They laughed as they pulled into Taco Bell’s drive-thru.
“How do you eat this five days a week? It’s gnarly.”
“How do you work for my mom five days a week? SHE’s gnarly.”
They drove a couple blocks and stopped at a park where Jett liked to eat outside so he could smoke a little weed before going home.
“So was school scintillating today? Did you finally talk to Ben? Are you guys ever going to get together?”
“We hung out for like a minute at lunch. His parents are going away this weekend so he’s having a party. I’m gonna feel the vibe out then.”
“Cool. But just be careful and safe and all that shit. Your crowd is wild, you know that right?”
“Don’t worry Mama Emily, I won’t do anything other than weed, I never do. It’ll just be dope to spend some time with Ben. It’s not like I can have him over to the house, Mom would lose her shit.”
“Honestly Jett, I don’t think she would. Your mom fucking loves you. I mean she packs you after-school snacks every damn day and she does it herself. I know she drives you nuts, she drives me nuts too. But when it comes to Ben she would be okay, trust me on this one.”
“Ok, I’ll think about it…want some? Jett offered Emily his joint.
“No, I’m good. I gotta get you home and we need to pick up Pinkberry for your mom.”
He took a final drag and tossed his Taco Bell wrappers in the garbage.
In the car Jett blasted Led Zeppelin, they were his newest obsession. They drove with the windows down with Jett’s right leg sticking out and his shoelace blowing in the breeze.
“Want anything at Pinkberry’s?”
“Maybe like a bowl of those rainbow colored toppings, no yogurt, just the toppings and some gummy bears and chocolate chips too.”
“Can’t tell that you’re high at all.”
Jett gave her the peace sign, put on his Warby Parkers and turned up the music.
“I love living in Southern California” said Jett as he ate his bowl of Pinkberry toppings. “But like when I go to college, I want to go far away. I guess like New York? I mean where else is there to go?”
“Don’t be so elitist.”
“What do you mean? I’m not elistist. I feed the homeless once a month.”
“Los Angeles and Manhattan are not the only cool, interesting cities in the U.S. Think outside the box. Maybe The University of Texas in Austin. Austin is super cool and liberal. Plus, I think it would drive your parents crazy if you went to college in Texas, so there’s that added bonus.”
“Love that idea, gonna research it tonight, thx Em. By the way, what happened with that guy Ron?”
“His name is Jon and I’m not dating him anymore.”
“Why? He sounded like halfway cool.”
“He has a pet rabbit.”
“What? Who the fuck has a pet rabbit?!”
“But wait, there’s more. We were watching Netflix and the rabbit, whose name is Stacey, sat next to him the whole time on the couch. And he petted her over and over and over. Like OCD petting. Like I’m surprised she has any hair left petting.”
“Jett, I shit you not. That damn rabbit sat with us for two episodes of Designated Survivor and I swear to God she was giving me side-eye the whole time, like “get away from my man” kind of energy. So so epically creepy.”
“That’s wack and you can never ever see him again. That dude would for sure chop you up and feed you to Stacey and then mom would have to hire a new personal assistant.”
“Thanks for the love Jett.”
“Alright, let’s do this, pop some gum because you smell like hot sauce.”
“I’m on it.”
“Emily where have you been? You’re late! We’ve got to go over next week’s calendar before you leave. Next week is challenging. I’m hosting a small dinner which I forgot to tell you about. I’ll pay you time and a half of course. Jett did you eat your snack? How was school? How was that wretched Mrs. Taylor? I’m going to talk with your principal if she doesn’t start treating you better.”
“Hey mom, what’s up? Mrs. Taylor is all good man, nada to worry about.”
“Half hour of video games then homework. I don’t want you up half the night finishing your math. And call your father. You didn’t call him yesterday and he was livid. Livid.”
“My yogurt is melting, give it to me Emily. After you put everything away meet me in my office. I am just so stressed. I mean I just have too much on my plate, what with hosting dinners and appointments and Jett and planning the new guest cottage. It’s simply too much. Women are expected to do too much in our society, it’s not fair. And bring me a glass of Rose, there’s a bottle chilling in the fridge, I need something to take the edge off.”
Wow. Just wow.
“Okay, I’ll be right there.”
After putting the groceries away Emily went into Mrs. Jeffries’ Birkin, grabbed a few Ativan and slipped them in her pocket. Then she poured her a glass of wine, taking a few sips for herself first.
The city of Toronto is run by raccoons. We have north, south, east and west-side gangster raccoons. They are afraid of no one and do as they please. One summer we could barely use our deck due to an east-side family having taken up residence there.
The raccoons are the reason I currently have two metal pins sticking out of my ring finger. Two weeks ago I took our dog Lexie out for a midnight pee. A massive pandemic-fat raccoon named Fred was perched on our backyard fence. All 34 pounds of Lexie went ballistic. But Fred didn’t move an inch, he just stared at us with a look that said, “you are inferior to me, go away.” Lexie wanted to battle Fred over her turf, but instead I dragged her down the alley and around to our front door.
Turns out that during the drama Lexie had, on her adrenaline high, pulled me quite hard. My ring finger was swelling quickly and turning black and blue.
“I’ll just ice it with some peas, it’ll be fine,” I told my partner as I grabbed the frozen bag. He eyed my finger, then eyed me like I was completely nuts.
“Your finger is twisted, you probably fractured it.”
“It’s fine. It doesn’t even hurt, these peas are already working.”
The next day, after emailing finger photos to my doctor, (by then even I had to admit it looked a bit crooked), she immediately sent me to get x-rayed. After x-raying me the technician said:
“Ya, it’s totally fractured, go to the hospital right now.”
Yay, it was only fractured, I thought, not realizing that fractured was the same thing as broken, (I have zero excuse for not knowing what fractured meant.) A couple of days later I was operated on by a lovely plastic surgeon, awaking from surgery to find two metal pins sticking out of my finger. I also had a large cast that because of the anaesthetic felt like a 100 pound salami.
Throughout the week as I became accustomed to the cast, (I’ve never broken a bone before), I started doing more things. I decided that my lockdown-hair, (Ontario has been in lockdown for a thousand years), needed to be twisted up in a bun. I almost had the bun complete, though to be fair it wasn’t the chic-est of buns, when I realized that my hair was caught on the two pins sticking out of my finger.
“What did you do now?” my partner asked.
I walked over to him with my arm stuck to the top of my head.
“What the hell were you thinking?”
“I just wanted to put my hair up in a bun, I…”
He carefully extricated my hair from the pins without having to cut my hair (though to be honest a little haircut wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world). He sighed deeply.
“Can you please just take it easy, this thing needs to heal, it’s serious.”
“I know it’s serious. It’s just that, what am I supposed to do with my hair? I look like Crystal Gayle from the seventies. Remember how long her hair was?”
“For the love of God. I’m going to Costco. Don’t touch your hair while I’m out.”
“Let’s have you pee in a bed pan today!” My nurse exclaimed with an air of excitement, like we were about to go see our favorite band.
I had been in the hospital for almost four weeks, (to treat Peritoneal Mesothelioma, a rare cancer), peeing through a catheter the entire time. I was game to try going on my own, but I was weak and wasn’t sure I would have the strength to pull myself up on the bed. My nurse took out my catheter then helped me into an awkward position, crouched above a cardboard pan.
The pan looked like a larger version of those biodegradable herb pots, with my vulva like an alien spacecraft hovering above the brown pebbled earth.
“I’ll give you some privacy,” said my nurse, leaving the room.
I looked out the window at the falling snow. No urine was exiting my body. “I command you to pee!” I said in a theatrical voice to an empty room. Nada. Not a drop. I was sweating and wanted to lie down, the position required too much strength to hold.
The succulent-crystal gurus say, “Ask The Universe – with love and gratitude – for what you need. Then visualize having what you need – and poof! – you will manifest it.” So I asked the universe to help me pee, in what I hoped was a loving and grateful manner. Then I visualized a long river-like flow of urine exiting my body – swoosh! I paused, ears tilted, in full manifestation mode. Nothing. Maybe the universe was busy helping people with more serious problems, like those living in war torn countries. I couldn’t blame the universe, I’d do the same thing if I had magical powers & everyone was hounding me for help.
I was sure I was due for another blast of Hydromorphone. After two surgeries and HIPEC, (hot chemo poured in the abdomen and swished around), I was ablaze with pain. I buzzed the nurse’s station:
“Hi. I can’t pee. Nothing is coming out. Also, I think I’m due for more painkillers.” My nurse responded, “be patient, keep trying, it’ll come. And no, you’re not due for more pain meds yet.”
I stared gloomily at my crotch. “I know you’re in there, come out come out wherever you are!” Still nothing. I tried reaching for my water cup and fell into the pan.
My nurse appeared, “don’t worry sweetie, your bladder is just waking up from a long sleep, we’ll try again tomorrow.”
She helped me lie down and inserted a new catheter and we chatted about her weekend plans. I loved my nurse, I loved all of my nurses – they were like athletic shoe-wearing angels tending to me with care and quiet confidence.
“I’ll see about your pain meds” she said, as she handed me a damp towel for my sweating brow.
After five weeks in the hospital – and no peeing on my own – I was transferred to a Rehab Hospital to work on regaining strength, gaining weight and learning to walk again. My left femoral nerve had conked out during surgery, (from being splayed out for so long on the operating table) and I had awoken to find that I couldn’t move my leg.
The nurses at the rehab hospital were hardcore, they were like the Marine Corp of Nurses. They immediately took out my catheter and started “bladder training.” They seemed confident that I would be peeing in no time.
I was instructed to try peeing on my own every two hours. I would slowly make my way over to the bathroom using my walker, trying my best to avoid looking at my emaciated body in the mirror. Sitting on the toilet with the sink water running, I would wait five minutes, then get up and do my haunted girl shuffle back to bed.
Bladder training required waiting six hours before being allowed to have a catheter inserted to void the urine. In between physiotherapy, sleeping and doing my laps around the floor, my bladder would fill up to the brim; it was horrible. At this point I was no longer on pain meds, but I would often sneak a Xanax from my private stash just so that I didn’t completely lose it.
The nurses were required to scan my bladder to see how much urine I was retaining before they were allowed to insert a catheter to drain me. A catheter, in this case a long rubbery one which looked like a hose, was lubed up then inserted into my urethra. The urine would then drain out into the brown organic pan – it was called doing an “in and out.”
Then came the day when one of my favorite nurses dropped a bomb: “you’ll be going home very soon and your bladder nerves are still not working. So today I’m going to start teaching you how to do your own in and outs.” Dear God, have mercy on me please.
Thus began a brief chapter in my life called “Finding Urethra.” Because if you want to drain your urine, you first need to find the hole that it comes out of. And by hole, I mean a really tiny, almost imperceptible slit that is kind of hidden by the rest of the female bits. Maybe I’m in the minority or I missed a crucial health class back in high school, but I honestly didn’t really understand where the urethra was. So I used a mirror to watch the nurse and at night, under my blankets, I examined myself by the light of my cellphone.
I had an irrational fear of doing the procedure on my own. It’s like all my anxiety about having cancer was projected onto this one procedure and I couldn’t imagine that I would ever master the skill. I envisioned myself at home, swollen like a balloon with unreleased urine, until one day I just exploded, spraying pee everywhere.
But like anything in life, when your back is against the wall and you have no other options, you figure things out. One day, having finally located my elusive urethra, I successfully performed my own in and out! I basked in the glory of the moment, telling everyone on my floor my good news. I celebrated by eating an extra cup of ice cream (side note: the little hospital ice cream cups are, unlike all other hospital food, strangely delicious).
A few days later I was discharged from the hospital with a supply of tiny, clear catheters, lube, a giant splint on my leg, a walker, crutches and a cane. It would be six more months until my bladder woke up. Then, one day, while sitting on the toilet, I suddenly heard a beautiful noise – the swoosh of urine! The universe had finally granted me my wish.
Author’s Note: My bladder nerves only partially woke up; I still have to self-catheterize twice a day. This is what the little catheters, aka, pee sticks, look like:
It was my first time trying on skinny jeans and I was excited. My legs are stocky, inherited from my mom’s side of the family who were all strong Irish farmers. As a teenager I had yearned for my dad’s long, pole-style legs and had even asked my parents if I could get my legs stretched (I had read somewhere that a lengthening machine existed).
At forty-six years old I had long ago accepted by body, but when I slipped into a pair of size 24 skinny jeans and saw my legs looking strangely slim, suddenly my insecure teenage self reappeared and she was ecstatic. Yet the reason they looked slender was because I had lost weight due to cancer. I was newly diagnosed with Peritoneal Mesothelioma, a rare, incurable form of abdominal cancer and I was in denial. “I’ll take them,” I told the shopgirl. And though I’m ashamed to admit it, for the next few weeks I actually liked how I looked. How sick is that? Speaking of sick, during this same period I did not feel well: I had difficulty eating, major nausea and twice daily panic attacks where I felt like my throat was closing.
My cancer “de-bulking” surgery was eight hours long and included the removal of my reproductive organs, a section of my small intestine and my primary tumour which I had named Maude. It also included a treatment called HIPEC, which is essentially hot chemotherapy poured directly into the abdomen while the patient is still on the operating table, aka a chemo bath.
After several days in the ICU, I was moved to the step-down unit. It was there, ablaze with pain and high on narcotics, that I made a decision: I had suffered enough. I would run away from the hospital and fly to Oregon where I had read they had passed legislation that allowed patients to “die with dignity.” But such an escape would be impossible without my skinny jeans.
“I need my clothes,” I whispered in a raspy voice to my partner. Not wanting to upset me, but suspicious of my intentions, he retrieved my hospital bag and put it next to me on the bed. I pawed at it in a drugged-out frenzy, then passed out.
I awoke to a large tiger staring at me from across the room. And someone had brought their dog to work: “I can’t believe they let animals in the hospital!” I said to myself, horrified. My great escape would have to wait, the hospital needed me; I had to keep watch over the creatures infiltrating the building.
Also, I had a new friend whom I had become very attached to and I didn’t want to leave her. A nurse’s assistant had been placed in my room to guard me, since in my delusional state I had made several attempts to get out of bed (while attached to multiple tubes and monitors). Not understanding that she was there to keep an eye on my crazy self, I thought I had my own private nurse-friend and I adored her.
Due to a myriad of complications, I spent two months in two different hospitals. At the second one, a rehab hospital, the nurse weighed me: the scale read 94 pounds, I usually weigh 120. I had lost a great deal of muscle mass; my legs were emaciated, atrophied sticks and my bum was pancake-flat. I avoided looking at myself in the mirror, it was too upsetting. I begged God to help me gain back the weight, promising never to complain about my thick legs again.
In retrospect I think my early fixation on my legs was simply my way of avoiding the intense emotions that were surfacing. I was scared of dying, who wouldn’t be? But what really troubled me was the idea of hurting those I loved. I was blessed with a partner, family, friends and a one-eyed elderly street dog who all loved me. I didn’t want to cause them pain.
Now, two and a half years later, I am back up to 120 pounds and I’m as stocky as ever. I am extremely lucky to be alive, many people with Mesothelioma don’t live more than a year after diagnosis. And though I’m grateful, I’m also aware that I’m living on borrowed time. So now I wear skinny jeans as often as possible. It’s my way of giving cancer the middle finger.