Thursday, July 31, 2008

We are a strange, sad species. Heavied by the burden of our bodies, our appetites, our impulses, our thirsts. We sit on either side of the sharp line, each of us equally mortal, all of us driven by our own quiet fires. 

In the conference room on the sixth floor of the east wing at the top level, down the glass halls and past the big windows, we gather in disorderly array. Along the wall there are gleaming sliver crafts of coffee, ceramic pitchers of cream, flakey pastries, sweet muffins, powdered donuts, bowls of sugar. Crowded around the bounty we fill ourselves with heavy cream and light conversation until we begin to spill over a little on the edges, insatiable.

Sitting in on the weekly Cardiology mortality report, listening to the case, viewing the real time images, clutching at my own hard beating heart, I look around through the darkness at those around me. We all sit in unison, nod our heads, dissent or agree, interjecting the supporting evidence of the obvious risk factors (he was a smoker, his cholesterol was 318, he never achieved adequate blood pressure control, his diabetes was untreated for years), dividing our attention between the screen and our bellies, casually discussing the death of a stranger while earnestly shaping our own. 

I am sent to the clinic to admit my patient, a man in his late fifties, referred to us by his doctor three hours away, he has been having chest pain for days. His EKG shows some startling changes, his cardiac enzymes confirm a small attack and his medical history betrays a relatively short life of hard living. We sit in the cheery clinic room, me on the stool, he and his wife on chairs in front of me. I take them in as a contiguous unit, two humans who have shared thirty years with each other. He is a little ashen, surprisingly thin. She sits next to him, bearing the betrayal of her expansive body, weighted down by an anarchy of cells. We discuss the obvious: the smoking, the drinking, the cholesterol, the fats. He tells me he won't do needles, insulin is out. He tells me we keep giving him his blood pressure medication but he doesn't take it, he feels fine. Even now, he tells me, I feel fine. I don't have chest pain any longer, I want to go home. 

She sits beside him, wheezing ever so slightly, looking up at the ceiling, at the posters behind me, anywhere, everywhere else but me. I want to turn my attention to her, now that he is safely within the parameters of our ability, on his way to broader arteries, his life extended by as little much as we can give him. I want to reach out and touch her arm, contact her, connect. Shifting herself on the small plastic chair in front of me I can taste her discomfort, feel her anxiety, her presumption that I am here to judge, scold, chastise, scoff. 

There is no way that I know of yet to sometimes be good to both the body and the mind. There is no way that I know of yet to save us from our own appetites, the fire to feed. There is no way that I know of yet to explain fully, in human form, the betray that crosses from body to mind. There is no way that I know of yet to understand what it is to loose a battle brought onto you by your own cells and tissues, by your own cross-wired mind. 

Monday, July 28, 2008

Driving home along the narrow green roads, past the white clapboard houses and the big red barns, past the tall slanted shed by the road with Blueberries For Sale and the old coffee tin filled with money, past the pond and the creek and the chickens in the road, driving home in my right now today this song comes up in the shuffle and in a rush I am lean and brown and young again, dizzy for a bad boy with good credentials who lived in a small cabin on a tall mountain in the back roads of Big Sur. And just like that I'm driving in the grey light of dawn and fog and ocean, my hair unwashed and knotted, putting my face up against my palms, pressing into the smell of his skin. And just like that I can remember everything: driving home in my little black Jetta, the sound of his mandolin, the intoxication of a terminal love affair, lying on our backs in the cold wet of March, the sting of whiskey, a million stars.

We grow so myopic so quickly so unsettlingly soon. Sometimes all it takes is the smell of pine trees or the light on the water and I am back again and suddenly someone long ago from today. Sometimes all it takes is the curve of the road, a few chords of guitar and I am 28 years old: ferociously in love with a blue eyed boy, starving to the bone, carrying enough love for both of us, going at it alone. Sometimes I wonder if everyone lives a little like this, looking backward from the freight train, scratching our heads, wondering how time goes for so long so quickly, or when we'll ever catch up.

looking glass
I stare into the mirror under the flood of hundred watts bulbs, inspecting my face, my skin, my wrinkles, my age. I can count the light brown spots now as if they were rings of bark, trace the thin skin around my eyes, the lines around my mouth, my testaments. I see myself in every elderly woman I pass, recognizing my legs or my hair or my shoulders, wondering how I, too, will age. Wondering how the insides of time work, how life ticks by, endless and instant and jumbled together.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


We are living off dial up, fanning the wind power of some very narrow bandwidth. I have two hours of life at home: one hour before work and one hour after, the remaining bits used up at the hospital or traveling to it. In the mornings, with coffee and milk and two lumps of sugar, I give myself 42 minutes to tend to the neglected, pixelated portions of my life. Cluttered inboxes of spam, emails to friends, unenthusiastic job queries. In the 42 minutes allotted I can usually download about 5 pages, more if I don't actually read any of them.

And so I've been left without the cantilever---reading, writing, communing, conversing in my small little community of bloggerly women---nascently assembled to steady the scales.

The halls are immaculate. Everything is put into place. Above and below, the whole huge hulking thing feels like a solarium, an open aviary completely devoid of fluorescence and decay. The business of medicine hums along uneventfully, a well oiled machine of laptops and templates and accessible resources. Printers are abundant and centrally located, shelves of supplies tucked away neatly, obediently, without chaos. Nothing, it seems, is left to need or neglect.

I follow him around, from room to room, for ten, sometimes eleven, hours a day. Occasionally he has me go in, talk, gather a history, perform a minor, perfunctory exam. Invariably we go back in together, me behind him, dutifully, and then I am shuttled quietly into the corner by the sink to sit in silence so he can complete the decisions. It is hard to determine if it's chauvinism, egotism, mistrust or laziness but it is, without a doubt, a most expensive and worthless use of my time. Following him around, from room to room to office, sitting behind him, watching him write a note, answer an email, occasionally privy to some varnished clinical pearls, my resentment and boredom accumulating into a thing of its own, I have mentally departed. He tells me I will never get a job in this town, nonetheless here. I keep quiet and dress conservatively, searching my closet for clothes that do not betray me, inside or out.

To be fair he is mostly the minority and I am not stuck with him exclusively. It is rare but not uncommon to be subjected to his conversations about hunting in excess and for sheer pleasure, his views on homosexuality, gender or politics. I smile and bite down, willfully silent and clearly outnumbered.

second sex
It's not that I'm so much unattractive but rather that I never quite learned how to play my sex. It's not that I'm not feminine as much as that I am headstrong and obstinate and I walk with my shoulders, not with my hips. It's not that I'm not a girl, it's just that I never quite learned how to be expectedly frilly and silly and soft and pink. It's not that I'm unkind, it's just that you would never describe me as sweet. It's not that I'm disrespectful, it's just that I never learned that I should quietly defer to men. It's not that I'm aggressive, it's just that I had to learn how to do it alone. It's not that I didn't have a father so much as it is that I never had a daddy. It's not that I'm ugly, it's just that I know that pretty is what I am not. It's not that I'm unpretty, it's just that people are often surprised to realize it.

It's not that I'm surprised to find that I can be taken seriously here as sex or intellect, it's just that I've never been told so overtly to choose.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

family reserve                                                                                                                                         
My mom has come and gone, leaving behind a thin line of ash, smoldering a silent advance between us. 

She arrives in the July heat of summer on my stoop in Brooklyn--laden with luggage, dressed in khakis and a visor--and my heart presses against the kind of dense and difficult love a now grown person has for their own, aging parents. In my apartment, inside the small structures of me, we are fine. I am still enough of the daughter she remembers, the daughter she needs me to be, the daughter she wants to keep the groundswell at bay. She eyes my dining room table, asks is this one that (my mother in law) bought you? and I say yes, it is, biting back from wanting to remind her that she’s seen the summer before. Her hands glide over it slowly and she breathes in deeply, looking up and around and I see, for a miniscule moment, the resentment wedging itself quietly in.

Later on, in the Hamptons, at my mother in law’s house, things fall apart. My mother in law is buying us furniture for our house--beautiful, stunning, priced astoundingly--and we are solidifying the order. As I sit on the phone with the office back in New York I watch my mom leafing through the pieces we are ordering, her eyes a hard mixture of envy and awe and I suck my own air in quickly, trying only to straddle the line with grace.

We fight like I am once again a child, a teenager, as she can render me fourteen again with one look. On Long Island, in the lush country of New York’s elite, she becomes sullen, quiet, pouting and passive. By the time we migrate to New Hampshire she is piecing and biting, tossing angry interjections with the deft flick of her voice--though she will admit to nothing, proclaim vehemently that it's all in my head (I’m not angry, you’re angry! I’m not upset, you’re upset!) and that nothing (nothing!) is wrong, she is fine, FINE. I’m fine. I don’t want to talk about it. I’m fine. Nothing, from my likely choice to have prenatal ultrasounds during my theoretical pregnancy to the way I fold and put away my sheets, escapes her disapproval. Willow comes two days later to save me, her own mom in tow, and we sit up late at night, toes touching, talking about the enormous and searing sadness only our moms can make in us. I am thankful for the dilution they bring into the concentration of contempt as much as I am to have another witness to the event, a ballast against the wind.

Even as it unends me I know many things and all of them at once. I know that when she comes to me like this I am not an adult of my own, I am once again fourteen and raging against my curfew, her choice to ground me, her chronic disapproval. I know that she is a human made up of much envy and regret, that she tends to see in sharp focus her own collection of dissatisfaction. I know that she always wanted the life I have stumbled into, that she always thought she would marry an Ivy League professor, have a warm wooden house, living and breathing, as she sees, so easily. I know that all she wants in life is her own house, her own yard, and that bringing her to mine is cruel in a strange and unspeakable fashion. I know that she could never admit that what she is really thinking is that she deserves more, more than what she’s capable of seeing her life as, more than she has, more more more. I know that she is grappling with sharp and untenable emotions that she is not proud of. I know that somewhere, hidden up and folded inside, she is happy for me--relieved--that I have landed on such solid footing. I know that my own, intimate insight into those darker pieces should galvanize me against some of her more caustic tendencies. I know that I should be the adult I am every elsewhere when I am with her. But instead when she is with me she will always and only be my mom, that I will always and only want to her to be proud of me, happy for me, uncomplicated, just like that. I know that I want her to not be her own, actual messy human self; that this is impossible, unfair. I know that, despite all I know, I too want more.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Yesterday I drove to work. In a car. In my car. Alone. Drinking my coffee, listening to NPR. Without anyone stepping on my feet, farting behind me or leaning against my shoulder. No one pushing me into the standclearoftheclosing doors, swaying like cattle, lurching lonely through the darkness. 

My preceptor is older than I expected, jocular. He has a bumper sticker at his desk for the presidential candidate I am decidedly not voting for and I am surprised to see that his car keys belong to a Japanese import. On his walls are autographed pictures two former presidents of the eighties, a calendar of ducks and several snap shots of dead animals on proud display. 

We talk briefly about New York, about my new community, this quiet place; we steer clear of politics, he makes a careful comment about the "certain kinds of people" you find in places "like that" and a small, confusing anger bubbles up from below. Sitting in the clear light of morning, waiting for the day to begin, I am suddenly and at once awkward and dubious, wondering how I will pass these next few weeks, his eyes flickering slightly, subtly, repeatedly, below the neckline of my coat. 

big fish
The day is benign, boring. I follow him from room to room, listening in on the discussions that ensue about osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease. He asks little of me yet I get the distinct impression I have failed to leave a good mark. After these months of palpable pathology and extreme abnormalities I am woefully bereft in my knowledge of the mundane. And suddenly, swiftly, I feel very much a small fish in the glowing, gilded fish bowl of Ivy League medicine. 

Thursday, July 10, 2008

stage fright                                                                                                   

I am unaccustomed to writing for an audience--real or imagined. I have had a small collection of amazing women who have haunted these pages for the last handful of months, a scattered cropping of lurkers and an easy arena of comfort from which to dwell. These humans have brought me immeasurable joy and sanity and have often set the other side of the scale in my altogether lopsided life. At many times along the short and narrow path of this space I've reevaluated, reassessed and redefined what the F I was trying to do here in the first place.  As a non-mom and a reluctant blogger usually I felt a bit like I was elbowing my way into something in which I did not fit. Reviewing the ways I've used this space myself over the last smattering of months I've often thought there is something distinctly schizophrenic about it, a sticky stack of polaroids capturing my best and worst angles.  I had no idea if I would keep writing once I left the broken up anguish of New York City. I had no idea what I would say any longer, now that I've left that dirty dirty hard hard fast sharp city behind. There much inside to process I'm certain, there is much of it still stuck inside; and yet my day to day life in a loud speaker is over and part of me has always wondered what will happen here, in this pixelated place, in the aftermath. A newer, awkward, skittering part of me hopes that those who have come here recently will not then, in turn, leave disappointed. 

And so, it is unnerving, reassuring, validating and terrifying to have you all here--real or imagined. Thank you, every one of you, immensely and unendingly, for your kind comments, for even coming here at all. I have been woefully remiss, stuck up in a dial up connection, a house full of boxes and a very nosey mother. 

However, there is a kind of quiet here that is weathered and well worn, a space that begs a laptop and a mug of coffee; a space every bit as important and necessary as my sinking ship in the city. I am not a writer. I do not have stories to tell, dialogue in place, characters inside of me. All I can do it witness and observe, record and tabulate. New York was easy on the keyboard, hard on the heart. I wonder now, now that I am gone, what will become of this space? What will happen here now that I can finally and again breathe easily?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

wherein I proclaim my utter astonishment and shamelessly beg you all to stay

Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness my. And by that I mean, jesus *%$#$@*# christo, holy friggen crap. Hi guys. (!) I had no idea. I had no idea that Kristin came here much (or at all)--Kristin whose writing makes me feel like we would somehow be very good friends, Kristin who often says the very things that kick around the cluttered corners of my mind, Kristin who is inevitably the second blog I click to every morning without fail, Kristin who had dinner with Dooce Kristin--none the less that she would or did or actually has said something about this little jumble I sometimes think of as my life in typeset. But I guess she did. She has. And you all came here. And I'm so shocked and amazed and grateful and kind of mortified because this has been a real f-er of a week and I haven't written and all of my last posts have been pretty much wah me and well, I sort of feel like you caught me with my pants down, but hey, erm, welcome! Really. 

Okay, now I have to go lock myself up in a closet and squeal in disbelief.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

true to light

For those of you who are wondering, no, this is not my hospital. And yes, I am (horrifically) not very surprised. 

It is, indeed, time to go.