This little critter motored all the way up Jesus Ditch in about 2 minutes, parents in hot pursuit…. oh, babies!
I’ve spent the better part of a week traipsing across all the known universe to assemble basic ingredients for what I think of as normal meals. Guess what was the hardest to locate? Peanuts. Imagine.
Late last week I received a letter from the primary school my child attends informing that, despite a planned national strike action, our teachers had independently decided to keep the facility open. I went reeling around the sidewalk in astonishment and horror, then exclaimed Fuck that! at an indecent decibel level.
Looking about for a comrade who might share my anger I found only complacent posh faces who claim no historic or current affiliation with trade unionism (until the day they find they’ve given away too much, and that realization will be selfish at best).
I marched away, muttering under my breath that no child of mine will cross a picket line, even if metaphorically.
Every morning I call in his absence with the stated reason On strike. Then we wander around the city doing educational, wholesome things while I lecture at length about collective action.
The headline in the Times catches exactly what is wrong with the public debate over this issue: “Striking teachers ‘feel no guilt’ over disruption”
Why should they feel guilt? Teachers deserve secure contracts and a reasonable standard of living. They look after our children!
The first mail I opened this morning was from a prestigious research facility in California. They would like my participation in a trial to determine whether a medication approved by the FDA for other purposes can prevent and treat skin cancer.
This is the second request from the team this year because, as the letter stated, the first study ended in December when the report of possible adverse side effects in patients became known.
Oh, what a surprise. I’ve lost track of how many times research scientists have asked me to participate in similar efforts, going way back to 1984, when they offered to burn my entire epidermis off with massive doses of chemicals even then suspected of causing birth defects. Did they? Why yes!
These proposals are always phrased to inspire my spirit of public service, with a small nod toward economic reward – they’ll pay travel plus thirteen hundred dollars for my time.
Presuming, of course, I take the drugs as directed and provide tissue samples.
How does the value of my tumors compare to the current cost of oil, or gold?
How do I reconcile the fact that no study conducted to date has made any progress whatsoever in treating my disease, and all have caused deleterious side-effects?
I possess the most severe recorded case of this particular genetic cancer syndrome. The tumors were visible at age three and I had between three and four hundred removed before age sixteen (I got bored and stopped counting after awhile).
But even with so many scars I have zero interest in the these research studies. Sure, the biopsies have been an unwelcome and sometimes horrifying element of my life. Many of the scars (particularly those on my face) are disfiguring.
However: when the alternative is untested chemicals that can ruin my health in a hundred unknown ways, guess what?
I choose the scars. I choose mutilation.
I would rather be cut than cursed.
Yesterday my son came home from school with a plain, unmarked envelope containing a pamphlet titled Why Your Child’s Weight Matters and a permission slip to put him on a scale. We’re not being specifically targeted; this is an NHS public health initiative aimed at collecting data on every single eleven year old child in the land.
The enclosed literature starts with the assertion Evidence suggests overweight children are highly likely to become overweight adults, with health problems getting worse as they get older.
Six additional pages drone on about obesity, bullying, and healthy eating habits. This might seem innocuous but, check it, the entire thing presumes that all families receiving the circular have a problem.
They offer assurances that the tests will be performed privately (admittedly a big upgrade over stateside scoliosis screening which if memory serves was conducted cattle-call style), but I am incensed at the fundamental view of the literature. And you know what? I’m allowed. Why? Because, aside from being a parent and a wayward pundit specializing in the politics of family life, I also have an advanced degree and whole early career doing this kind of policy analysis.
The best of these sorts of studies are conducted in neutral terms, implying zero judgment. You can’t say “We’re just wondering about the statistics!” while also serving up several pages worth of exercise tips.
On a very simple level I am tempted to refuse permission for a different reason: my son would skew the record. Quite apart from the fact that he is not British, the boy is a rangy bean pole of a kid, the youngest in his class and the tallest in the school. He is easily four inches taller than the headmistress, for goodness sake.
This kid was breastfed in infancy, a vegan (by his own choice) until age seven or so, and currently eats mostly vegetarian, all organic, mainly homemade meals. He is allowed sugar (unlike his sister at the same age) but only because it would be impossible to keep up with his rapid growth if I didn’t shovel in ice cream on a regular basis.
If you can imagine, watching him grow is a lot like pulling silly putty; he is a round ball for half a second then stretches and stretches and stretches. Yeah, he eats the occasional bowl of chips (in the states we know them as fries) but I’m an insufferable, annoying, wholesome food, demanding sort of mother.
We’re extremely, maniacally careful about nutrition, and judicious about exercise. We go outside to have fun; we love our walks, bike rides, skating. We don’t own a car – all transit and chores are conducted with real physical exertion.
Our life together revolves around a boat, for goodness sakes! He jumps nimbly from the roof to the lock, hauls the anchor, holds the vessel securely at the shore…. all requiring a peak condition of form that I simply see as natural.
If the NHS wants to find a group of ill-informed rubbish consumers, it would be wise to exempt us from the study. Though of course, my well-behaved public health self says we’re a diverse community and the entirety of that truth should be reflected in the statistics.
If I believed they could pull it off without shaming anyone I might even sign the forms.
…. There must be millions of aging males, now slipping into their anecdotage, who recall their Willie Baxter period with affection, and who remember some similar journey into ineptitude, in that precious, brief moment in life before love’s pages, through constant reference, had become dog-eared, and before its narrative, through sheer competence, had lost the first, wild sense of derring-do. -E.B. White
Last night I watched Stripes and found the whole thing just as silly and unbelievable and weirdly enjoyable as it was when first viewed (and whatever happened to P.J. Soles?).
This cinematic choice is likely what later kicked off a long involved dream in which one of my teenage boyfriends returned to attempt a reconciliation with the child we created. His efforts included an offer of Disney adventures, approximately ten years after such a ruse had any hope of being successful. In the dream my daughter just rolled her eyes and took off with friends, leaving me to have an awkward conversation with the estranged other parent.
Of course I am a pragmatist even in a dream state; asleep or awake, I bear no grudges, and found the encounter both creepy and hugely amusing.
Why? Because in real life he was always hilarious – one of the funniest and smartest people I’ve ever met. His youthful exploits were not just unlawful, they were genius in both scope and intent. He was also changeable, a rare trait: over the couple of months we lived together he metamorphosed from being a punk kid, the suspect or witness in several capital murder cases, to an Airborne Ranger.
Then he walked out of our shared life. Then he reinvented himself. Then he did it again. And again. And again. I wouldn’t recognize him now if we passed each other on the street.
His skills as a social chameleon are equal to my own, but I have doggedly remained true to the idealism of my youth and the commitments I made when my daughter was born. He has moved through too many different lives and political affiliations to list.
Over the couple of decades I raised my daughter he sent maybe three or four birthday presents, never called at other holidays. His absence puzzled me, but I didn’t think about it often, or talk about it at all. There was no point dwelling on the issue: it was my choice to have children. I never cared what the fathers thought about the pregnancies, so it isn’t fair to expect them to support or love the resulting offspring.
For eighteen years there was no communication. The situation was stable, and vacant.
Then, moments after my daughter became a fully and officially autonomous adult, her biological father finally wrote – not to her but to me, invoking the pet names used in the first flush of our romance.
This initial sortie proved the start of a trend: over the course of this year every single person who has ever fancied themselves in love with me has been in touch (except the one who would eat his teeth if he made the attempt – and he wrote to James, which is the same difference).
The reasons vary somewhat, but seem to be predicated on some kind of nostalgia. This mostly doesn’t bother me – I am still quite fond of a few of them. But the encounters run the range from the minor – a fellow mysteriously collected during adventures with Ana Erotica who checks in every few months to see if I’ve changed my mind about sleeping with him (and, regardless of eyewitness accounts that he has a stupendous penis and delightfully macabre hidden tattoos, no is still the answer). To the major – most worryingly, a friend who appeared to get over his infatuation more than a decade ago, but recently declared lifelong love while I stuck my fingers in my ears and hummed.
From what I can gather this sort of thing is happening to lots of my age peers, to varying degrees. I suspect it is the same urge that takes people to their twentieth high school reunions: just something developmental that creeps up when youth finally vanishes and it is time to review the choices that were made. But, you know, the choices were made.
Nobody has ever broken up with me, so it isn’t really my brief to claim superior moral ground. My exes could provide endless lists of my callousness, usually taking the form of clear-eyed and preternaturally chipper investigations, complete with notebook.
The fact that I ended a marriage with the calmly stated but flippant advice that the young man in question should consider reading a self-help book seems, even to me, both eerie and cruel.
Though what else was I supposed to say? I was twenty years old, sick of being married to someone who lived two thousand miles away, and not even remotely distressed; if anything, I felt dizzy anticipation of a freedom I would instantly squander.
The end of a relationship is in some sense a small death, because the bond between two people has its own strange and tenuous existence independent of each individual. Growing up sick I learned caution, to keep something of myself always reserved for the next crisis. I’ve never had a crush on anyone, never experienced unrequited love, never fallen in love before the other party fell in love with me – and I doubt that I ever could.
I’ve never had my heart broken, no matter how extreme the circumstances, no matter how much I mourned a loss, though I know that I have broken hearts, inadvertently but also on purpose. If I had the choice I would not be a creature of such extremes, but my DNA dictates that this life will be perilous and short. This doesn’t bother me – I do not lament what cannot be changed – but it scares the shit out of everyone who has ever ventured close enough to see the facts clearly.
When I was younger this element of my life was scourge, anathema – youth prefers immortality, and I represented the opposite. I broke up with most of the exes when I realized they would never be able to handle a true crisis. In the case of my first husband, it was very clear – he took off at the first hint of the illness that nearly killed me in 1989. He wasn’t there for any of the gruesome medical drama, or the birth of his child.
Whereas my first sort-of-accidental date with the second husband involved a ride to the hospital, where I had radioactive isotope tests. Then we went to see Malcolm X. Romantic? No. Realistic? Yes.
People in their late thirties and early forties get at least a hint of mortality, and plenty of people have encountered incontrovertible proof. They have lost parents, peers, been sick, cared and grieved sufficiently to finally understand. Unfortunately, I never had the gift of ignorance.
All these years, through all this trouble, I have understood exactly what was happening. I see, and I remember, and I use the raw materials to build something new and different.
A couple of people who claimed to love me admitted that they wandered away out of fear – that I would die, or that it was too difficult to parent my eccentric offspring, or that they could not have my attention in exactly the way they wished.
The latter is quite perceptive; I am not an attainable goal. I am a person, with lots of problems, and a primary stated allegiance to my children. The depth of that commitment is the element that will never change. I have my priorities sorted.
When the ex-husband sent a message last year I was appalled and erased it without reply. Not because I have any personal problem with him. No, something else: I erased the message, deleted his address, because he had a whole lifetime to establish a relationship with the baby he never knew. That was his prerogative – eighteen years ago.
I’ve loved and raised the girl no matter what the challenge or consequence, and if he wants to know me again, he will have to find his way through her. Furthermore, he will have to be accountable to her grown-up self, and answer her questions. They’re harder now than they were at age five.
Hence the dream. I have a remarkably high tolerance for chaos and a sincere love of excessive behavior. My expectations are consequently low (obviously, I would not expect saintly conduct from a person picked up in criminal court) but my ambitions are huge. I know that people can do all sorts of surprising things, can reinvent themselves, can create wonder out of horror.
Perhaps the brown-eyed boy I loved before I was grown enough to understand the consequences will find his way back to us. Maybe not. I really don’t care, one way or the other. I honor what we had together, and what came from it. My daughter is my physical clone but she has the strange humor and eccentric intellect of the man who did not raise her.
You can’t separate one from another – she exists as the product of everything, and nothing. She is extraordinary.
It was a privilege to know her as she grew.
Yesterday one of my friends commented about the new Rock Camp documentary, with the note that she had a crush on STS. I replied that STS is definitely crush worthy, then wandered off without any further reflection.
Somewhere in the night my sub-conscious took up the issue, and I had a long unwieldy dream about trying to get to a show featuring The Haggard, the Curse, Harum Scarum and (a little off in geographical terms but I’ve only seen them play in Portland) Submission Hold.
Now that would be a show – though in real life I would probably be drafted to run the merch tables as opposed to, say, dance in the front row. She-Mo is much more my speed (along with being a favorite of my son) and I was at their last surprise performance in a basement a couple of years ago, but for the most part I avoid live music.
In the dream the effort to get to the concert was epic, and never realized – always just a bit further, later, beyond. When I woke up this morning I was in a funky mood, missing Portland and my friends. Though the dream itself was fairly accurate – STS and I mostly share missed connections and notes left next to breakfast plates at the 19th Street House, always promising next time.
I keep her zine on the boat, the only remnant of that life to have made the cut aside from the latest Craphound (thank you, Chloe) and a few of Stella’s cards. Not much to show for six years in a city, but then again, it has been six years since I left.
The tonic for homesickness is obviously a trip home, but this time the cure is beyond reach. Onward.
Today should be interesting – dinner with locals – and I need to ponder the etiquette of whether or not to take wine.
I just don’t understand the rules here.
Earlier this week my kid went on a field trip to the Houses of Parliament. The class was scheduled to be back at six in the afternoon, and since they are always late and I am always early I took up a perch at the pub across the street to wait.
I was minding my own business and reading a newspaper when one of the other parents from the school materialized at my left elbow to invite me to join a group of folks waiting for their children. Mystified, I followed her to the other room, where I found myself ensconced in a merry little scene lasting no more than fifteen minutes and including all manner of bewildering exchanges, not least the fact that these people talked to me.
For the first time ever.
When the children arrived all the parents rushed away except the one who had extended the initial invite. I must have looked as baffled as I felt because she turned to me and said Those are the most standoffish people I’ve ever met in my life.
I laughed and said I thought the aloofness of the crew was down to their being British, but she shook her head and pointed out she shares that characteristic but still manages to be polite and friendly.
This presented an etiquette problem; how to discuss the fact that the other parents have often been quite rude, when I did not know the woman I was speaking to? The problem was solved by the person in question reciting a list of grievances against the culture of the school – a very nice place for the children but wintry and vicious for many of the parents.
I spent a lot of time shaking my head in wonder; she assured me that even after the pub invitation, nobody would look me in the eye let alone talk to me next morning at the school gate.
Of course, she was right – back to being a pariah instantly, hurray!
I’ve really appreciated this aspect of life in the UK; back in the states people always expected me to, you know, stage fundraisers or run the school or whatever. Here everyone thinks I’m suspect (and dirty) and subsequently I have lots more spare time. Though the pub encounter has had one unexpected side-effect: I seem to have made a friend. She even invited me over for dinner this weekend.
This is the very first time a non-academic local has extended such a courtesy. What a peculiar town.
Of course on the other end of the friendship spectrum there are those who are much beloved and faraway. Between the rushing about, administrative imbroglios, and allergies, I have been sadly neglectful of some correspondence.
I apologized to Mark Mitchell, who objected to the way I characterized my lack of attention: You’re never a bad Bee. You’ve made everyone agree that whatever you want to do is the thing to do! I’m glad your family harasses you, or you’d be impossible!
Sniff. I miss him quite dreadfully – and the rest of the crew – and the Bus Stop (RIP) – and my house on Beacon Hill – and the mountains and water and and and…..
I do not regret moving away, but I miss Seattle intensely. Four years later, I’m more homesick than ever.
The other night I went out with David, back in town to work on his dissertation. The chosen venue (selected by some of his mates) was for some obscure reason B Bar. Otherwise known as the local meat market – hookup central – a venue I had never planned to visit.
Why? It is hard to accurately explain or describe. I’ve been to dive bars, glam bars, gay bars, every sort of elite or reckless establishment you could possibly imagine, and can say authoritatively that B Bar is the trashiest place I’ve ever been. In fact I would wager money there is nothing like it in America. The experience does not translate.
B Bar is brazenly, brilliantly Z list British – the Britain of Jade Goody, Kerry Katona, Celebrity Big Brother, and binge drinking. My impression was of a sea of fake breasts randomly attached to hair extensions and spray tanned bodies, actively and creepily ogled by bald blokes on the pull. There might have been pheromones in the air but it was impossible to know given the fog of cheap perfume and aftershave that made me sneeze over and over again.
David is a fine upstanding family man and also currently enslaved to a thesis, so he sat with his back to the room as we caught up and ignored the antics of the people we were meeting. Once the other academics absconded our remaining companion listed sideways in a fugue state of over-stimulation, nearly lodging himself in the cleavage of a girl at the next table.
We west coast refugees exited the building in a state of shock, only to be confronted by the red velvet ropes at the Fez. In a word, no. Local lore says what happens at the Fez stays at the Fez and as far as I’m concerned this translates to a permanent injunction against attendance.
It might appear from recent posts that my entire life is just one long party interspersed with the occasional boating adventure but that is far from the truth. The most exciting events of my week? I consulted a tax accountant about the returns that need to be filed in two different nations.
Then, check it: I interviewed immigration attorneys – and hired one. It is a sick truth that I was endlessly thrilled by these bureaucratic encounters. Next up: I need to account for every single day I’ve been away from the United Kingdom over the course of four years.
No problem. In fact, this is my favorite sort of task – how fun!
I rushed back from London earlier than planned to meet a friend flying in from Italy.
When last seen, Dani was a Portland based projectionist, Chorus member, one of the hosts of the annual Pisces party; she was still dating Mickey (the filmmaker, not my cousin).
Before that we both went to Evergreen and our years overlapped – she even worked at the child care center, though we don’t remember each other. We both lived in the same NW scenes for years, and moved away around the same time, never keeping track of each other but somehow often ending up in the same place.
Back then it would never have occurred to me that any of my friends would veer from the ethos of that time and place, let alone appear one day as newly minted PhD student from an Italian university visiting the Cambridge History of Science Department.
Her particular research topic concerns trans identity and she was inevitably disappointed at the doctrinaire opinions expressed by some (obviously, not all) local experts, because, essentially, they don’t get it.
I was not surprised; I’m definitely the freakiest thing going in this town, which is idiotic, and the only person I know who actively talks about queer culture. Even as an observer – and yes, this is ironic given my lifelong refusal to admit to any identity whatsoever.
It is just the nature of the place – I would never bother elsewhere – consider my efforts taking it for the team. Plus nobody can take my kids away now; one is grown-up, the other too old to be at risk if my opinions are deemed scandalous. Hurray for us. That, however, is not the point, and it was incredibly satisfying to hang out with an old friend after a too-long hiatus.
The visit was brief but filled to bursting with enormously enlightening talks about our beloved former North Portland homes, the anti-intellectualism of that community, the good bad and painful process of leaving. It wasn’t all heavy discussions – we went through the inevitable list of food we never knew we would miss, things we’ve had to learn to cook, ingredients that are impossible to source.
We talked about the various sorts of annoyances unique to traveling as a woman in Europe (the attention is quite horrifying if you are accustomed to living in a place where people don’t make eye contact). The smallest things become enormous when you leave home – we’re both the sort who saunter forth with ripped clothing, in cultures where that does not translate.
At one point we were in a pub with a bunch of academics including a super macho dude I met in Spain last year. Dani and I created a little oasis of conversation in the middle of the academic chatter, ranging over all the juicy stories from home (and they can be quite shocking, even in a group of people who pride themselves on not caring), presuming that nobody nearby would hear or care.
Much later I learned that macho dude was listening, and quite improbably knows the punks in a certain eastern city (who are of course intertwined with PDX). I should have reflected on my surroundings and remembered the saying Loose Lips Sink Ships. Though I doubt he could have kept track of the names – half those we were talking about have transitioned to a different gender since we first met.
Beyond that I have probably solidified my (false!) local reputation as a femme fatale, which is neither desirable nor deserved. The fact that I lack mainstream aesthetics does not mean I want anyone to hit on me. Especially here. Ick.
To avoid future entanglements, I have officially decided never to go out again. Though that pledge might only last as long as, well, tomorrow.
Talking to Dani was the most amazing tonic – a strange but hugely nourishing combination of here, there, then, now, next. In my life there have been very few people who have understood exactly where I’m coming from, what I’m talking about, what I can’t quite articulate.
This sort of mutuality is not the result of love, friendship, congenial companionship – people have loved me hugely without ever understanding anything about me. It is something else, a similar set of views, an historical understanding of various cultural threads, with some kind of edge, like the tearaway spirit that can fling a person far from everything they once knew. Just because they want to see what happens.
I wasn’t expecting much from the visit but Danny has officially become My New Favorite Person (I’ve Known Ten Years).
Yesterday I started my annual effort to plant a garden, which despite my name and a long line of maternal gardening experts, is always ineffective – to the point of slaughter.
I never know exactly what I do wrong; I start with such good intentions, and everything goes awry.
In Portland I chalked it up to the alkaline nature of the soil, or too much shade, or… something… but the very same garden that never thrived under my care is flourishing for Danielle and Gabriel. In fact, they are such good caretakers, I left all of my houseplants with them too – and the last time I visited Danielle warned me off even petting them! I am a notorious plant killer.
Yet still I try; yesterday this included a long bike ride out to the big block stores to purchase compost and a happy afternoon sitting on the banks of the river potting an assortment of shrubs. I went with sturdy things in the hopes that they will be impervious to my attentions: a lavender bush, some heather, a weird one I’ve never heard of with red blossoms. There are still violas, and trailing lobelia, which should last at least a few weeks (crossing fingers).
When I bought the boat oh so many years ago the previous owner agreed to leave his big planter if I kept growing what he had established: a lawn. This was easy, since it just meant ignoring the grass as it died off and grew back. But now it is choked with too many roots and needs a proper clean-up.
When I asked my kid what we should grow to replace it, he replied a new lawn, of course – so I guess I’ll have to go out in search of grass seed. Maybe this year will prove more productive than others.
Though I dare not purchase those tomato seedlings I’ve been eyeing – that just wouldn’t be nice. For the plants.
I’ve been felled by a dread curse: seasonal allergies. Oh, woe is me!
This happened around the same time last year, and it was eventually so bad the British anesthesiologist I was partying with in Asbury Park NJ diagnosed me with asthma and spent the weekend sternly ordering me to stop laughing. As if I could; life is far too amusing, even when my brain has been replaced by green goo!
The cocktail of drugs keeping me alive is incompatible with sinus meds, and no certified herbalist has come up with a safe effective solution, so I will just trudge forward, wheezing.
If memory serves I was quite unexpectedly cured once when I wandered off to New Mexico, but my next planned trip to a hot climate is Andalucia in June. That trip will be great fun, not least because I just learned that Natalia and Javi (you might remember them from the Himsa crew) are moving to Cadiz next month. Friends from home, a short flight away, hurray!
Oh, and Cambridge offers this brilliant consolation – swans nesting, and the first ducklings of the year:
During the trip to London I had dinner with the East London Massive and we hatched hectic secret schemes of a scientific nature that will unfurl across the next decade – watch this space.
At the end I didn’t even blink over the fact that the meal cost approximately what I would have spent on six months rent back in grad school. England has finally broken me – I don’t even do the mental exchange rate any longer! Also, I didn’t pay for the dinner, so whatever:
One night a dozen or so friends gathered to celebrate a birthday. We were at Jaguar Shoes for a few hours and this year there were no ice throwing incidents, and (as far as I know) no sketchy hookups – mostly because the ratio of North American to British was skewed toward people who have passports in this nation.
Though someone did confide that they’d once had sex in the toilet at one of my parties; c’mon, people! Toilet sex is nasty in a bad way!
Later my glamorous and gorgeous literary agent aka Susan turned up and informed me that she has given up chastising me about work. I laughed and apologized for not earning her more money, before pointing out that my stuff is destined to remain forever underground. Lucky she likes me as a person, eh? Other agents would drop my contrary self but she just sighs and strokes my hair.
The bar was a crush of Shoreditch hipsters packed in so tight we took up a defensive position against one wall, where I was extremely pleased to catch up with Xtina. She is one of the only people I know who can listen to me rattle on about creepy medical procedures without being at all fazed – a rare and immeasurably valuable trait. Plus she is hilarious, hugely talented, and has the best hair ever. What more could you ask for in a friend?
Most of the group vanished around midnight, when D’s smoking hot Not Girlfriend (the “not” qualifier before girlfriend is his preferred description, emphasized with waving arms) showed up. There is a whole rash of this going around in my social world lately, and I remain puzzled.
If you sleep with a person, spend all of your spare time with a person, and (in this case) live with a person, surely there is a word to describe the connection?
With the teenagers it makes sense, since their lives are so confusing: I’m sure they have no relative clue of what they are doing. With this guy, not so much, except maybe insofar as he doesn’t want me to tell whoever he is hitting on that he has a girlfriend. This is not especially well reasoned, since I will then refer to her as That Girl You Are Fucking.
Susan and I were highly amused to watch as the Not Girlfriend flirted with Byron, while the Not Boyfriend lurked about looking distressed.
The presence of the girl clearly inhibited D’s normal routine of trawling the crowd, but with her attention distracted by My Actual Husband, he had nothing better to do except once again attempt to talk to me about literature. This never goes well.
Later Byron claimed that he had not been flirting, and Susan and I shrieked with laughter. I replied At least you acted better than last year!
Byron asked What happened last year?
Susan replied You picked me up and rocked me and sang a lullaby!
Byron was astonished, but yes, it is true – yet another reason why other agents would steer clear of my company: I exert no control over the antics of the mad scientists. In fact, I find them amusing.
The evening mutated once again and I found myself dragged through the vomit-steaked streets of the city to one club after another, where, mysterious and surprising above all things, to go dancing.
Guess where I went yesterday? To a faraway riverside marina next to a pub founded hundreds of years before my country of birth, to pick up my boat! Oh, how I missed her!
The trip started at the confluence of the rivers Cam and Great Ouse and proceeded at an orderly five miles per hour back to the city:
Last week was marked out by a cascade of critical tasks like obtaining a boat safety certificate, mooring permit, and waterways license – all coagulating with the same deadline (as two agencies simultaneously required the original and only aforesaid certificate).
On top of all that it became urgently necessary to reduce all the storage I have not looked at since moving here – quite an enormous and humbling task for many reasons, not least the fact that cleaning is not within my repertoire. I can unpack, organize, and assemble, but am never inclined to throw anything away if it might someday prove useful.
That is why, opening boxes, I found (amongst other things) a yellow scarf purchased at a thrift store on South Tacoma Way in the late seventies and worn exactly once. And the shirt I wore the first time I pitched to VC. And boxes upon boxes of clothing discarded by various people – in many cases, not even people I know.
Purging was necessary but also entirely stressful. Finding my old journals just underscored the fact; Paris, Rome, Tallinn, Helsinki, Trento, Venice, Nice, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Granada, looping jaunts through the United States and United Kingdom, the occasional and always bizarre stay in Canada: my life over the last six years has been at best frenetic.
Remembering that fact is puzzling, and helpful. The sheer physical effort of shifting a life, however, is torture. By the end of the week this is what I looked like:
The morning after that photo I was shuffling around brushing my teeth when I looked in a mirror and dimly perceived something moving. I poked, assuming it was an optical illusion, but no – even without my glasses on I knew it was lice. I commenced hopping around shrieking in rage and horror. Byron told me to act my age.
But my advanced age does not, by default, involve bouts of head lice! Any parent who has been visited by the pestilence knows how hard it is to treat in this chemically saturated age. We’re essentially back to ye olden days of hopeless herbal remedies and tedious comb-outs.
Difficult in the best scenario, but remember, I have excessively long hair. And limited washing facilities. As I crouched dragging a metal comb through the knotty mess I cursed the laziness or whimsy that persuaded me to live without haircuts for decades. If there had been scissors within reach I would have hacked it all off right then.
But there was no time, because to round out the hideous week I had to rush off to the teaching hospital for one of my routine tests. This particular one involves a panoramic x-ray of my jaw to determine if there are tumors hidden away deep down inside. In the past these have been quite devastating, taking out large portions of bone. To date I have had perhaps six surgeries, with experts in several teaching hospitals dolefully informing me that I would need to be followed in specialized clinics the rest of my life.
These things do not upset me in principle – I am not worried about the results, fretful about the interaction with surgeons. For the most part I am laissez-faire to a fault about my health.
What I cannot stand, even now, after all these years, is the test itself. Forehead braced against a post, chin held in place with a plastic guide, teeth clenched on the bit, I am required to be still and hold my breath as the machine makes a steady perambulation of my head. It only lasts for twelve short seconds – nothing at all in the course of a life – but if you grew up in therapy culture or have post traumatic stress disorder you will probably recognize this as a trigger event.
I’m tough, I’m resilient, I can face down anything. But in those twelve seconds I relive fear, pain, loathing, humiliation, a surging wave of memories of blood, surgical dressings, vomit, infection.
The only thing that keeps my face in the grip of the machine is the knowledge that they will continue until they have a perfect image.
When the consultant called me into the examination room he pointed to the X-ray proof of devastation, still visible in shadowy traces where bone and teeth were pulverized by disease. I knew at a glance that the result was fine, no new tumors – these things are easy to read.
What was more surprising was the fact that the doctor looked from the image to my face and then said But you don’t look like someone with this syndrome.
My eyebrows went up but I resisted rolling my eyes. What did he mean by the comment? That I lack a distinctive lantern jaw found in a minority of those diagnosed, and that my original surgeons sacrificed my joints to avoid slashing my face open. The point is however mostly rhetorical since this fellow, even if a world renowned expert, has probably only met three or four other people with the syndrome. If that.
I retorted I don’t have a bifid rib either and he looked even more startled.
He recited the test results; exactly as I already knew from a cursory glance, my jaw is clear. I started to gather my things and said nonchalantly Awesome, thanks!
This was clearly not expected because he replied Erm, what?
I epated Awesome! Thanks!
He shook his head and delivered a final announcement that made me sit back down abruptly: he informed me that I no longer need to be seen in clinic.
Twenty-four years after the definitive diagnosis, seventeen years after the most recent jaw surgery, against all known medical literature and the advice of any previous clinician, I am officially – not cured, never that, but free.
Not liberated from the disease itself, but instead from the experience of being a prized specimen, at least in regards to the function of the lower half of my face. This is only one test of several, and I’ll still need to do it, but in the future I can go to the bright shiny environs of a dental office.
My stateside surgeons would be appalled, since this advice contraindicates the literature, but I am thrilled beyond measure.
There are so many things to love about this country.
My scars are visible to anyone who looks, but the people who try claim they cannot see them; whether the traces of surgery and sorrow are hidden by artifice or attitude makes no difference.
I left the hospital and raced away to London, leaving behind mess and drama, turning a damaged and hopeful face resolutely to new adventures. Oh, and I decided not to cut my hair after all: