Reflective

Central Park duck pond

“He had an awful lot to say about you.” 

I steeled myself for what was to come. I had no idea how physicians in the group I left perceived me now, almost eight years later.

Eight years? Had it really been that long?

She laughed heartily.

I relaxed.

Her dentist, apparently good friends with the other provider, referred her there for a work up for bone loss he had picked up on dental X-rays. I stumbled upon the visit in her medical record in the EHR when she requested a refill on one of her medications. Aside from the fact that it was a work up I could have easily done and referring her to another primary care provider when she had one already was itself a bit unprofessional, I did not know if she would make her way back to me or stick with him. Patients always loved him. 

So I waited.

“I told him you were my favorite doctor ever. He said you had to be right about everything but he missed working with you.”

Right about everything? Really?

Admittedly there are certain things I do not compromise on. You routinely lose my patient’s vaginal specimens and I will insist that you come and spread your legs for a speculum exam as punishment. Ok, not really that drastic but I take that sort of thing very seriously. Pelvic exams are not just physically uncomfortable, they are emotionally uncomfortable for patients and saying, “just have them come back for a repeat” is not an adequate response when I am dealing with a lost specimen for the fifth time in as many months. I will raise holy hell if I have to. But I am rambling….

It is interesting sometimes to see what people remember or think about me. Sometimes it hurts, though, and most of the time I would just rather not know. Is needing to being right about everything what I wanted to leave him with? 

No. 

Not really.

But it could have been worse. At the end of my tenure at that office there was all sorts of drama, he had been involved in some of that, and I was glad to leave it all behind when I left.

A few weeks later I ran into that same former partner at a restaurant. I was there with my kids to get something to eat after a long, tough Friday. They were beat. So was I. 

He saw me and walked over say to say hello. We chatted for a few minutes about how his kids were all grown up now.

“I used to work with your mom,” he said to my son and daughter. “Do you know what she did?” 

My kids swung their tired eyes over to him and focused on his face, warily. He was a stranger. They were used to strangers addressing their mom in public but were not used to being addressed directly themselves. I again braced myself, not knowing what he would say. 

“She told a bunch of kids at an office picnic that she would pay them $5 if any of them hit me with a raw egg. All of a sudden this whole herd of kids was running at me with eggs in their hands.” My son snickered. “So do you know what I did?” They shook their heads, leaning in close to get the scoop. “I told them I would pay $10 if any of them got her with an egg. They chased her all over that park.”

“Did they get her?” My son asked eagerly.

“Sure did.”

I interjected here. “With ONE egg, alright? Just one.” I held one single finger up for emphasis.

Now? I am a legend as far as my kids are concerned. My son in particular loves pranks. He loves knowing mom does, too. I am grateful to my former partner for giving us that.

Time passes, doesn’t it?

Time heals wounds by bending memories. It tempers recollections and feelings until sometimes bygones truly can be bygones. 

I haven’t played a good prank in years, though. That is drawback to the passage of time. I am getting so awfully dang old!

What Is Left

Submarine hatch
“What are you doing to me?” he asked sharply. 

I shoved a pair of new pajamas into the drawer and closed it, turning around to face him.

He sat on the edge of the bed. A once tall and proud man, he was now withered and shrunken. His eyes accused me. Of what, he was no longer certain, but he was absolutely sure I was guilty.

He was right.

“This isn’t a cruise ship is it?” I shook my head. “I lost my wallet and haven’t got any money.” The anger in his voice was replaced by fear.

I patted his hand reassuringly. “It’s rehab, hon. You’ll be back home before you know it.” The lie burned my throat as I said it but it mollified him for the moment.

The roommate sat across the room watching our exchange silently from his wheelchair, wrapped in a plaid robe with white socks pulled up to his knees. His grizzly, stubbled face showed no sign of recognition or understanding but his eyes followed me suspiciously about the room. 

“I’ll see you tomorrow.” I bent low, kissing the wrinkled forehead, and squeezing his hand. He smiled weakly. 

I’d loved him. Once. 

Now someone else was living in this body of his. There was distance between us that stretched much father than the few inches apparent to the casual observer. I felt nothing for this interloper, but still there were social expectations that had to be met, guilt that must be assuaged.

How often must I visit him to keep from being ostracized by friends and family?

Somehow I deserved this, I had no doubt, but he did not.

I understood now, I realized, as I walked down the corridor for the hundredth time. This must have been how Prometheus felt.

Hanging Out

Old Ferris wheel in black and white

I find that I am more and more conscious of my own nose hair. What is interesting about this is that I never, ever notice the nose hair of other people and if I did happen to see some bits poking out of a nostril it would not gross me out. So WHY on Earth do I care about my own nostril hair? 

Is this because my nose hair is getting longer? 

Perhaps I am growing more and more sensitive about the change of appearance that comes with aging and I am finding myself more interested in controlling the things that I can have some influence over? 

And then I wonder if there are people who do care about other people’s nose hair and if so, why do they care? What else do they do in their free time?

These are the thoughts I have on a Sunday morning after yet again having one of those pesky hairs ripped from my poor tender nostril by the stupid nose hair trimmer that is supposed to CUT the stupid things. I swear, next time I may as well just tweeze them out….

A Slave to the Face

Victorian tombstone
I am going to let you in on a little secret: I own a Princess Leia slave costume. 

Yes, for those purposes. I am not going to claim that I ever looked good in it but I did purchase it and have worn it more than once. Well. Maybe more like *not worn* it….

You can say all sorts of things about sex and slavery and the subjugation of women and how wearing such a costume betrays feminism at its very core but here’s the thing: Princess Leia choked the ever lovin’ life out of Jabba the Hut while in that costume. She strangled that slimy, disgusting bastard with the chain that bound her to him while wearing a bikini. She wasn’t cowering in a corner, ashamed of how much she hated her exposed thighs. She owned that chain and she used it to her advantage. That is some kind of woman. I long for that kind of confidence.

I am not who you think I am.

You will remember in my post last year that it really bothered me how much criticism Carrie Fisher took for her appearance in The Force Awakens, how I didn’t think it was about her so much as it was about our own aging and mortality. For many of us, she was a tangible way of measuring the passage of time. Her appearance spoke to our own finite existence, our own mortality. It was like holding a mirror up to our souls and for some recognizing that we did not like what was reflected there.

She looks older. 

So do I. 

I am not what others see in me.

There was a time that I would get told by complete strangers that I looked like Nicole Kidman or Jullianne Moore or Bree from Desperate Housewives. No one says that about me now. My face and my body are changing. The days of Star Wars kink fests are over.

I am not who I think I am.

I grappled with the anxiety and panic of that for a few years. I tried laser… once. The pain from that was indescribable. And Botox… once. Let me tell you, there is nothing quite like the contortions and fasciculations from Botox wearing off. Then, I smeared the most godawful smelling stuff derived from baby foreskin on my face twice a day while choking back my own vomit.

My face is NOT all over the big screen and yet I freaked out, doing crazy stuff in a vain attempt to hold onto my youth. There was the dysphoria of not recognizing the face staring back at me from the bathroom mirror and the despair of feeling my sex appeal dwindle away.

Who am I now?

I cannot even imagine what Carrie Fisher went through in her lifetime, the tremendous courage it took for her to play the role of Leia once again decades later. As a little girl I wanted to be like Princess Leia. I wanted to learn to shoot a blaster, sure, but I also wanted to look that good in a bikini slave costume. What I did not realize at the time was that virtually all women, no matter how beautiful, suffer from a distorted image of themselves. Princess Leia suffered. Carrie Fisher suffered. Now I find that Carrie Fisher herself is my hero even more so than her character ever was. 

But then Carrie Fisher died.

So will I.

Suddenly a face seems like such a triviality. I won’t say I am completely over myself or my vanity, but I am working on it.

May we all rest in peace…

Getting Harder

Forge and anvil in black and white

“Doc, I just want to die.”

I nodded my head sympathetically. At a certain age, all patients say that. She was in her 90’s…. 

“I am so tired of hurting.”

She groaned and worked her way through her usual litany of aches and pains starting at her head and working all of the way down to her toes. She had pain medicine she could take for the arthritis so I knew that wasn’t really the issue. Not all of it, at least.

“I pray every day that the Lord just takes me away.”

She’d had a gentleman friend at the center. For a few months she positively glowed. He sent her roses for Valentine’s Day, bought treats for her little dog, left her love notes, told her she was beautiful. Never mind that he was twenty years younger than she was. 

At that age, what does twenty years mean? Nothing. It means nothing at all.

“I think they might be having sex…,” her granddaughter said. “Can’t you make them stop?”

My patient was not demented. She was not handing over her life’s savings. She was a consenting adult in an assisted living community who met another consenting adult and while there were significant physical challenges to a sexual relationship at her age if she really were having sex, who was I to meddle?

Then, he died. 

Here she was, left behind again. Sure, she had aches and pains but the real issue was this last man standing thing, or in her case last woman standing. She had already buried two husbands. Now this man. She could not bear to lose anyone else.

But what do you do? Give her a pill? Tell her to get counseling? Pat her on the hand and tell her the sun will come out tomorrow? What do you do for a grieving woman in her 90’s who wants to die but is not suicidal?

Frolicking

img_4003

I gave my daughter the Lime Chiffon doll that I played with as a kid. Lime Chiffon was friends with Strawberry Shortcake, and the only doll out of that collection I ever received. Remarkably, it still has its pink shoes and green and white striped stockings still intact. My daughter carries it around with her everywhere. To the mall, to church, to the opera….

A doll that is about 35 years old.

You know what is depressing about that? A mere toy, a plastic doll for crying out loud, has held up better than I have. Just when I think I am at peace with the whole aging thing, a toy reminds me just how old I am and that I am not going to get any younger.

Would you judge me harshly for wanting to scream, “You bitch!” at the doll?

Yes?

Well, I didn’t do it. But I sure did want to.

I have some consolation, however: The doll is not likely to survive the love of this new little girl. Not for long anyway. 

Mwahahhaha!

(Death to the plastic toy!!!!! I will have my revenge…)

Now, back to the opera. Did you roll your eyes when I threw that into the opening paragraph? Did you think I was trying to be snooty? Let me say a few words about that…

I love the opera. It is a fantastic place for people watching. Generally an opera is good for a couple of entertaining scenes. The rest of the time it would be boring as hell except that the people in attendance are so much fun. I love the people who attend operas!

My kids know that mommy attends the opera from time to time and that she really dresses up for it so it holds some mystique for them. There happens to be a series of operas put on for kids so I took mine for the first time this weekend. I wasn’t sure what they would think but it thrills me to no end that I can give my kids cool experiences like that. What kind of person would I have grown up to be had I been able to go to the opera as a kid?

Um, don’t answer that…

Fortunately, this opera was only 30 minutes long. These people are not fools. They know you cannot hold a kid’s attention on opera for much longer. Bless them for that.

What did my kids think? 

They said they loved it. But turns out, it wasn’t the opera itself that they loved. Oh, no. It was the chandelier going up into the ceiling before the performance that was so frickin’ awesome. That, and the fact that we spent the entire morning of singing everything in “opera”.

Life. Life is a perpetual lesson in humility. Once you have learned that lesson, you die.

Happy Monday. 

Derelict 

My community opened a new hospital a while back. 

I live a few blocks from the old one. I chose this house for its proximity. For years I would crawl out of bed in the wee hours of the morning to go see a critical patient. I listened in the night for the helicopters and ambulance sirens, waiting for my pager to go off when I was on call. I remember the gentle sloping of the back hallway on the second floor, all of the nooks and crannies, smells, sounds. 

They are all ghosts now, as the building stands silent and empty.

I have a photography fetish. I love looking at photos of derelict, rotting buildings, imagining all of the lives that have passed through them, and I wish I were brave enough to trespass and take my own pictures. I imagine what this place will look like in a few years….

Birth. Death. Sickness and health. Love. Hate.

This building.

My son was born here. My mother got her new knees here. Who remembers these things but me? The walls do.

Those memories fade along with the building and it makes me sad. Or am I mistaking sadness for something else?

Nostalgia perhaps? 

A few decades from now there will be mold on the walls and ivy in the halls, and the place will crumble away just like me, becoming someone else’s fetish.

A Denouement (Part Four, The Final Chapter…. For Now)

“What do you tell people about me?” she asked. And more importantly, “Why does she have to hate me?”

Silence. As there should be.

As there must be.

We all rewrite our difficult pasts, rearranging until we find a version that allows us to live with ourselves.

Can she even trust her own memories now? She is not entirely sure.

More than twenty years of him.

She wonders if traces of her still live in his house.

The antique medical books. The leaflet from an illuminated book of prayers. The collection of poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The gilt copy of Tristram and Isolde. The earring she lost that he said he would keep safe for her but never gave back. The chest of drawers he bought because he thought she would like them. 

That kitchen floor.

Is his dog still alive?

Has his long appendectomy scar healed the rest of the way? Her fingers traced that line while it was still angry and red. 

Are the dishes she cooked with, the glasses she drank from still in the cabinets there? Is the dining room table still set with the same plates, still covered with its layer of dust? She used to write messages to him in that dust. 

Is the coconut rum still in the fridge with the giant bottle of lemon juice?

Is the bed the same one she slept in? The one they made their dreams in? 

The dreams that were flushed away.

Does he ever think of her now? 

Every day she wonders, some days more than others. She wishes she could be more than just a ghost. But at the end of the day there is a child in need of a father, a father in need of a child, and she cannot write herself out of that story line.

So she lets the loneliness lift from her shoulders again, knowing that after twenty years of her there will always be some part of her with him. How he feels about those bits and pieces, what they mean for him is another story. 

His story. 

Not hers

Now, she realizes, it is no longer about trying to erase the past. She is writing the future.

What is truth and what is fiction? 

Does it matter?

Only the heart knows.