Sunday, October 28, 2012


I’m driving to campus on a Saturday for work, mentally scoffing at the people who think online instructors have it easy.  Idiots, I think.  They don’t even know.  But I’m in a happy frame of mind because I love what I do for a living, so this is more like fun anyway.

My happy frame widens to allow an unhappy thought in: it came to me yesterday that two men have told me this year that they didn’t want to see me anymore because I envisioned a future with them.  They didn’t actually say, “I don’t want to see you anymore,” but I got it.  They did actually say, “because you envision a future with me,” when I asked.  Their responses gave me the chills each time, making the hair on my arms stand up, because they were so right.

How did they know that in my mind, we were already retired and living in Northern Arizona?  How did they know I had already planned a Mediterranean cruise with hospice care available for our fiftieth wedding anniversary?  They were such opposite extremes too, like cowboys and Indians.

Ever since yesterday, I’ve been dwelling on how these two men had figured me out, and suddenly it comes to me that it doesn’t matter.  I’m sure I said and did things that came from that place of acute fondness, very close to love in the spectrum, but what can I say: I want to marry everything.  I see everything in my future.

I pull into my school’s nearly empty parking lot and park.  I turn off the engine and sit.  My gaze fixes on a cement curb with “employees only” painted on it in yellow; this quiets my rush of thoughts.  I know very well that it’s not been right of me to hold these little grudges.  I think they call it being butt hurt these days.  I know it is.  I have been butt hurt that these men didn’t envision a future with me.  My bad.  I wanted to start my own church once too, but nobody would join.  I think I was ten.

I give my butt-hurtedness up to my higher power as I continue to stare at the yellow “employees only” sign: Here ya go, HP—put this wherever you put all my other garbage.  I’m sorry.  I’ll try to loosen up.  Talk to you later.

But now a light bulb is on: I don’t have to envision a future with those men, either.  And that would be okay.  My brow furrows, as much as it can. Is this about human touch?  That all people need to be touched…including me?  Even if it’s more about pleasures of the flesh for the other person?  

Could it be more about pleasures of the flesh for me? 

My gaze at the yellow employee sign breaks naturally, and I look elsewhere through my windshield.  It’s time to go inside and get to work.  My heart does a little flip-flop as if I’m falling in love with my job again, like my job can go on a cruise, or retire with me in northern Arizona.

I’m giving up a good part of Saturday for this, and I’ll have no regrets.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Fairy Spatula Method

Five months ago I found a small bump the size of a pea behind my ear, under my skin, a few inches back in my hair.  I discovered it much like I did the hominy-sized wood tick engorged with blood behind my ear in fourth grade: by fiddling around with myself. 

Unlike the wood tick, which I pried off and threw alive and waving into the gray metal trash bin next to the teacher’s desk, my head bump was underneath the skin, not on top.  No amount of self-torture was going to make it explode—no sticking pins into it, no squeezing it to death, no waiting a few weeks before launching another surprise attack—so I finally went to my dermatologist. 

She told me it was a small cyst, and that I could either have it removed or leave it alone. 

One way to divide the world is by all the Have It Removed people vs. all the Leave It Alone people.  I am a Have-It –Removed-aholic, extremely averse to sporting anything directly on or under my skin that grows there against my will. I could write an entire book on emotions associated with growths and zits.  Therefore, it’s no surprise that just a few days ago, I found myself face-down on an exam table in my dermatologist’s procedure room, my long hair taped back and snipped to the skin behind my ear, my scalp numb.

I lay there, feeling a little Auschwitzian.  I hoped everything went smoothly.  Sometimes it didn’t: 

Many years ago I had what you might consider a beauty mark—a tiny flat brown spot—on the white of my breast.  It had come to my attention over time, and I decided to have it removed.  I thought perhaps the dermatologist would come in with an appropriately tiny metal spatula and gently rub the edge of it over the slightly raised nub of the little brown mark that surfed my whitecaps.  The dark cells would quickly surrender, but they would tug on my skin a little as they left, a last goodbye.  

What I thought was going to be a fairy spatula turned out to be a large drill of some kind. I was fascinated and stunned with the amount of flesh that was taken from me without my consent, a tube of my flesh cored out.  That time there were no stitches; the doctor pulled the edges of my new breast cavity together and taped it shut.  You can still go in there.

This time there were nine stitches: five on top, and four more deep down in my scalp fat, plus the shaved head. 

I don’t know exactly what I thought my current dermatologist would do to remove the cyst.  I’d had some ideas along the lines of the fairy spatula method, but of course they paled in comparison to what actually happened: My dermatologist walked into the room, put on her gloves, and then—unbeknownst to me at the time—cut a piece of meat out of my head.  Later I saw that she had removed such a large piece that it had fat on it.  I didn’t even know I had head fat until I got up afterwards and saw a chunk of my bloody flesh floating in a clear plastic cup.  It had hair too.

It was dying.

What are you doing in there? I wanted to ask. Get back inside me.  I had only wanted the cyst out, not my good parts.  I already missed my fat and my stubble, everybody bobbing in the cup together.  I put my hand to my head and pressed on my fresh wound, as if this had all been a dream and the missing piece of me was still there.  But no, this was real.  That piece of me was gone.
You think you’re in charge of your own flesh, when you’re awake at least (you obviously can’t help what happens to you when you’re unconscious, good or bad), and suddenly, a noticeably large part of you is missing.  A chunk of your flesh.  It lets itself be taken from you, sometimes like it was never attached at all, and suddenly there you are on the inside looking out at your finger on the floor, your organ on a plate, your hairline in a cup.

Goodbye, body part, my little honeybee. I’ll tell everyone you looked like me.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Bi No More

I am sitting in my optometrist’s chair, waiting for my mini-exam.  It’s a mini because I had my annual just a few weeks ago, the result of which was a pair of $500 bifocals that I don’t need.  I have worn the bifocals as instructed, I have given them my best try, but the fact is that I see better with my old glasses.  

Now I am blind and mad.

My optometrist comes in quickly; he doesn’t want to make me wait today.  He knows about the acid trip I’ve been on ever since he sold me the bifocals.  He knows I’m not happy.  When he closes the cheap hollow door behind him—a door I have disliked for 17 years, the length of time I have been seeing my optometrist—he says, “Hi Kathy,” even though my name isn’t Kathy, never was, and never will be.

“Hi,” I say.  He gets on his swivel chair and slides over to his desk, opening my file.

“Let’s…see…here,” he says. “It seems that the bifocals are not quite helping the way we thought they would.”  Without looking at me, he asks, “What are your main complaints?”

I’ve been waiting for this man to ask me that question for a very long time.  I sit quietly in the chair and stare at the back of his head, his hair slicked back with too much product.  He didn’t have any gray when we first met 17 years ago, but he does now.  So do I.

My complaints, you ask?  For one, this is the only place I come where I get treated like a child.  I walk in here feeling like a grown-up and I leave feeling like I’m five.  Do you get frustrated with kids, too, when they can’t read the chart?  Do you force kids to spit out a letter—“ANY LETTER! JUST GUESS!”—like you do to me?  

People like to get things right, ya know.  

Also, I’ve noticed that you don’t like to explain your job.  One time I asked, “Why do people have to get their eyes checked every year?” and you looked at me like I was questioning the validity of your very existence.  You responded with a condensed World History of Optometry, then turned the lights out and waited for me to make a mistake.

Finally, you’re obviously ticked off every year when I ask for my prescription to go.  You want me to buy the overpriced frames in your office, not the less expensive ones at Costco.  Every year I ask you for a copy of my prescription to take with me, and every year you rip the prescription from the pad like it’s a hundred dollar bill you’re just giving away.  You don’t even look me in the eye; you are that annoyed that I’m taking my business elsewhere.

So those are my complaints.

He hits the lights, and the mini-exam begins.

Ten minutes later, the lights come up.  I have been my best eye-patient self, firing off L’s and E’s and O’s.  My optometrist has been his best doctor-self, keeping his voice well-modulated throughout the exam even though he had to flip the little thingy eight or nine times before I could really say for sure which was darker, the 6 on the left or the 6 on the right.

After a few calculations and scribbles at his desk, my doctor swivels to face me again.  “Well,” he says, “you were right.”

“About what?”

“You were right when you said you saw better with your old glasses than you do with these new ones.”  There’s a strange tone to his voice, like he can’t decide if he’s talking to a child or an adult.  “I over-corrected for a problem that wasn’t that bad of a problem,” he warbles on. “And I apologize.”

This is the first time in 17 years that my optometrist has admitted a mistake around me, let alone apologized.  I can hardly believe it.  It’s the “I’m sorry” I’m looking for from another man right now, but this one will do.

He walks me out to the front desk and the manager, Selena, calls after him before he leaves, “Doctor, are we going with office policy on this?”  

I gather “office policy” will not be in my favor, that she will soon be telling me how much I won’t be getting back for my $500 fully refundable bifocals.  My doctor interrupts these thoughts with, “No.  I’ll take full responsibility.”  

With that, he turns away and closes the hollow door behind him.