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Female Troubles

Maybe there is such a thing as womens’ work.

I had a doctor’s appointment recently—a long overdue physical at my Pasadena-based internist’s. It’s not a great practice, and the doctor, a broad, pink man of great bulk and humorlessness, is far from a whiz at his job. But it’s clean, convenient, and suffices for my basic check-ups.

In the past, the female nurse practitioner there performed any PAP smears I’d needed. I hadn’t had one last time, though, and I knew I couldn’t put it off again.

So, when the rest of my exam was done, I told Dr. Bland as much.

He was facing away from me at the moment, putting an instrument away. I thought I saw his back, clad in a white medical jacket, twitch. For a moment he froze, then he turned and said,

“A —I’m sorry?”

“A PAP smear. You do those, right?”

He hesitated, his expression fixed. “The nurse isn’t here today. Can you come back when she is?”

I frowned. This place was sort of far. I really didn’t want to make another trip.

“I’d prefer to do it now. Is that—can you do it?”

There was a beat. He cocked his head in an odd way, as if he was trying to recall a long-lost song lyric, then said “Sure.”

He told me he’d be right back. His large body moved with surprising swiftness as he left the examination room.

I leaned over and grabbed my phone out of my purse, my paper dress susurrating against my arms. I’d barely begun to check my texts when the doctor was back, a female receptionist in tow.

“Oh, hi,” I said to her, like it was a question.

“She’s here to observe,” the doctor said gruffly as he rooted in a drawer for a speculum. “Or help. Abby, we’re going to try…a….PAP smear, here.”

I shot Abby a glance. She smiled wanly and looked down at her feet.

“Is everything OK?” I asked the room in general. Neither of them would make eye contact with me.

Abby reached over and pulled the stirrups out of the table with a clang.

“It’s fine,” she said.

Dr. Bland strode across the room and yanked a tissue from a dispenser. Folding it carefully, he used it to mop his brow, then dropped it into a sterile bin.

“Right, here we go,” he said, in a falsely jovial tone. “I said a little prayer out there, so it’s all going to be OK.”

I half sat up, which isn’t easy when your feet are in stirrups. “You what?”

He chuckled. “I had to pray. I haven’t done one of these in a while. Maybe a year or two. And I’ve got these darn new glasses. The distance…well, the cervix sits right in the blurry spot.”

The blurry spot.

“But we’ll be fine.”

He pulled on a rubber glove with a snap.

I know. That was when I should have left. But when your feet are in stirrups and two strangers are staring into your “blurry spot” it’s hard to make good choices.

I leaned back slowly and tried to relax as the doctor first lubricated and then inserted the speculum. It felt normal, which is to say, weird and extremely uncomfortable.

Abby watched quietly, shifting from foot to foot, as Dr. Bland adjusted the instrument. I would’ve killed to know what she was thinking. Or maybe not.

Moving his face down to the speculum, Dr. Bland peered in. There was a long silence. I winced slightly as it moved, shifted once more, and then opened. It’s a yucky feeling that you never quite get used to; fortunately it’s over quickly.

Usually, that is. But not this time. The seconds ticked by, and then the minutes, and the room remained completely, funereally quiet. Abby stared at her arm hairs. I stared at the ceiling. Dr. Bland stared at my groin.

Finally I couldn’t take it. I crooked my head up again. “How’s it going down there?”

He grunted. “I’m just—“ the speculum shifted again, and I gasped slightly. “Sorry, sorry. I’ve almost…got it….”

Again, the silence. Craning my neck, I could see sweat droplets forming on the doctor’s head. It was cold in the room. I lay my head back, resigned. I’d never leave this table. We were here forever, the doctor, Abby, and me. Like “No Exit,” but with cramping.

And then, all in one quick movement, Dr. Bland withdrew the speculum. He straightened his posture and looked at me sheepishly.

“I’m sorry,” he said, shaking his head. ” You’ll have to come back when the nurse is here.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Why?”

“I couldn’t find it.”

“Find what?”

“Your cervix,” he said apologetically. “It’s doing something strange.”

I scratched my head. There was an awkward pause. “That’s odd.”

“I found part of it…” he said, as if this should console me.

I nodded, waiting for more. Had the other half gone missing? Maybe eloped with one of my ovaries?

He pulled off his gloves and tossed them in the trash.“I got almost all the way there, but…no. Not close enough. You’ll have to come back.”

It was quiet again. I could tell he was embarrassed; I didn’t want to make him feel worse. Plus, we women are at such a disadvantage in these situations. Privates front and center. We can’t exactly get sassy.

I pulled my feet out of the stirrups and swung my legs off the table.

“I’ll make an appointment with the nurse,” I said evenly, smoothing the paper across my knees.

“Good idea. Sorry again,” Dr. Bland said, as he shot me a grimace and lumbered out of the room.

I turned to look at Abby, hoping, perhaps, for a moment of solidarity. No such luck. The receptionist busied herself tidying, then muttered “I’ll get your bill ready” and hurried out of the room.

As I got dressed, I wondered what on earth I had been thinking. I should have fled at the first moment of weirdness. From now on I’d only go to women for this woman’s job.

And a week or two later I made an appointment at a birthing center, where a young, knowledgeable midwife not only found my cervix, but showed it to me in a mirror. Perhaps, having heard my story, she wanted to prove it was there. I felt like taking a picture of it for Dr. Bland.  I could post it on Yelp. Next to his no-star review.

Going forward I’m voting with my dollars. I’m switching to a doctor who knows female anatomy. So birthing center? I’ll be back. Dr. Bland? Only in my nightmares.

By the way, the first thing that midwife said to me when I lay down on the examination table in her pretty pastel office?

“We don’t do stirrups here—I hope that’s OK.”

I knew right then I was home.

Fear Factor

Not to be a spoil sport, but I’m glad Halloween is over. There’s too much fear in the air as it is, without adding zombies, vampires, and a bunch of homemade Pikachus to the mix. Not to mention the scarier stuff, like the slasher victims, Evil Clowns, and Headless Men. I mean, Jesus. When did Halloween get so dark? And I’m not talking Daylight Savings, either. It’s starting to feel like a low budget horror film out there. With a bunch of overly zealous production designers and waaaaay too many extras.

Or maybe it’s the same as always, and I’m just seeing it through my kid’s eyes. MJ hates scary stuff. She was a Mermaid this year. Mermaids don’t kill anything. Except for maybe fish, and that’s debatable. They’ve got to live on something, I suppose, but seaweed probably suffices, as long as they chew it really well.

Whatever the case, my daughter’s Mermaid was definitely of the non-violent type. She had a beautiful, high crown, shells on her “bra,” and a long, shiny, blue fin. No fangs, no blood, no entrails. When MJ marched in her school’s Halloween parade she looked many things—proud, happy, slightly clumsy—but scary wasn’t one of them. Unless you were kelp.

In other years she’s chosen equally harmless costumes: a horseshoe crab, a puppy, a skunk. (OK, skunks aren’t harmless, per se, but as long as you give them space they’re fine. Not something you can say about Jason or Freddy.) Once she was a Nature Fairy and  looked disturbing, but that was because she painted herself green, like a flu victim.

I wish I’d told MJ’s teacher about her fear-averse nature before Halloween came around. She decided to kick October off with a reading of “age appropriate” ghost stories. One of them, a tale of a girl with a severed head held on by a purple ribbon, sent MJ into paroxysms of fear. She cried for hours after hearing it, and hasn’t been able to sleep well since.

“I keep seeing those pictures in my mind,” she’ll say to me at three in the morning when she calls me from my room.

“What pictures, my love?” I ask, whispering hoarsely.

“Of the ribbon girl.”

I inwardly curse her teacher, like an underslept sailor, and imagine, for one moment, beating her on the head and shoulders with her “age appropriate book.”

Then I take a breath. “There’s no ribbon girl. That story is made up. Those things don’t happen.” I try to sound cheerful, without being unduly perky. It is, after all, three AM.

Myra-Jean clings to me pathetically. She cries some more. And then ends up in our bed.

If only we could afford private school.

Anyway, I’m thrilled to see November come. No more cockroaches, nor falcon parties, no decapitated lasses trussed like chickens…

Except…oh, God. In six days…deep breaths. Deep breaths.

Well, December could be nice.There’s Christmas to look forward to…

We’ll wrap without ribbons, of course.

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The Widening Gyre

The roaches appear to be gone. We haven’t seen one in over a week; and have begun using the dishwasher again without mishap. It’s a slow journey back to recovery for some of us–OK, for me. I still jump backwards every time I open a drawer, shriek at the stray  raisin, and squeal at every shadow, but at least I’m in the kitchen. And cooking, even. After a month of eating takeout Whole foods salads and microwaved Trader Joe’s burritos, it’s nice to have home cooked food again. Although I did enjoy the burritos profusely. I could eat one for every meal and be pretty much fine.

I’m a routine eater, like my child. Left to my own devices, I’ll eat the same thing over and over again, happily, for years on end. When Mike and I started dating I had one type of food in my kitchen: an obscure brand of organic turkey chili. Of course, I had enormous quantities of it, but that’s because I ate it for pretty much every meal. I used to clear the shelves of it at Whole Foods. Until Mike and I started dating. At that point I slowed down on my consumption, and soon after discovered that Whole Foods had stopped carrying it. I soon realized that I, and I alone, had been keeping that chili company in business. It was hard to contemplate the jobs lost, the lives disrupted, simply because my love life had taken a turn for the better, but it’s a guilt I’ve learned to live with.

I digress. The point is, I could eat TJ’s burritos for every meal, but because the roaches are gone I don’t have to. It’s luxurious to have the choice. Plus, Mike would rather shoot himself in the hand with a nail gun than eat a frozen burrito for dinner once, let alone ten times; if we’re going to dine together, I have to be willing to expand my menu.

Speaking of expanding menus, I forgot to give Mina her Frontline last month, and now she’s infested. This means that in the last month we’ve had roaches, ants, and now fleas. All of them killed with pesticides. This makes me wonder, first, if we’re going to get cancer, and second, if some new type of bug is going to come into our house to eat all of the insect corpses we’re generating. I really can’t think about this, though, because I’m too busy worrying that MJ is going to get bitten by a flea and come down with the plague.

When I don’t think about that I dwell on Donald trump and become sick with fear.

And when I’m not incapacitating myself thusly? I’m planning MJ’s 7th birthday party.

This is a source of stress, too, as she’s decided she wants to have a “falconing” theme. What this means, in her little, curious, brain, is that she and her friends will hold stuffed birds, wear gloves, and run after “flesh-colored” bags filled with “carrion candy.”

What it means to me is planning hell. Let me tell you, falcon-related party favors are not a thing. There are no falcon plates, cups, or napkins. No falcon toys. No falcon anything. Google falcon party. You’ll see. Get ready for a lot of Angry Birds.

I went to Michael’s today to find flesh colored bags. There I thought for sure I’d at least find some falcon stickers to put in with the candy. After all, Michael’s has stickers in every possible theme: beer, Ireland, dalmatians, snorkeling! But not, it turns out, a single bird sticker of any kind. Except for owls. Since bringing owl stickers to a falconing party is sort of like bringing a kielbasa to a PETA brunch that’s not going to help.

I decided to try my luck in the plastic toys section. There I found packages of dinosaurs, fish, horses, kittens, even vegetables! Vegetables? Surely there would be a falcon set. Or at least a bird of prey collection. Eagles? Birds of any kind? A god damned chicken? Nothing.

So, aside, from the “find the flesh bag” game, plus an amorphous activity called “pin the falcon on the glove,” we’ve got nothing. I did, though, find a bakery that will make me a falcon cake–for an indecent, breathtaking amount of money. The sort of John-Edward’s-Haircut amount that would quickly take down my career if I were a politician.

Other than the cake, though, this party is going to be about as falcony as a DAR potluck. Which is to say, not at all. Hopefully the kids will bring their imaginations, because they’re going to need them.

In the meantime? I am dreaming of “days after.” The day after the party, the day after the election, and maybe—should Trump win—the day after the apocalypse, when the roaches will emerge from their hiding places, nibble on falcon cake, and say “who needs a theme? We own it all!”

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The Battle of the Bosch

It’s all come down to the dishwasher.

Ironic that this, our highest-end appliance, the one I swore would change my life when we upgraded from our Soviet-era clunker, has become the final holdout of our entomological invaders. Bosch dishwashers may be rated four-and-a-half stars on Amazon, but it turns out they get an abysmal score for being pest-repellent. To the contrary, roaches, like everyone else, seem to prefer German design, for we are now seeing the little bastards there, and there only.

“It’s the warmth and the moisture,” Dave explained when I called him about it. “Totally normal, to be expected.”

If we live in a world where it’s normal to open the dishwasher and see roaches racing across the silverware tray then sign me up for intergalactic travel now. Because I am out of here.

We’ve stopped using the thing, of course. Except as a giant roach motel. Twice a day, now, Mike grabs a paper towel, approaches the Bosch, opens it quickly, and kills any roaches he sees. I, meanwhile, get as far across the house as I can and enter a mewling fetal position until he’s done.

“How many today?” I ask, my head still between my armpits.

Mike likes to preface his answer with the word “sadly.”

“Sadly, one,” he’ll say. Or “Sadly, two.”

We haven’t had more than that yet; he’ll have to come up with a stronger adverb if we do. “Horrifically” would work. “Catastrophically” sums it up nicely, too.

What is sad to me is that we don’t have none. Abandoning the rest of the house, the roaches have dug in to this final stronghold. Strategically speaking I suppose it’s good–we’ve got them surrounded, like the Romans were at Cannae. But our foes are better defended; the Romans weren’t encased in steel.

In my darker moments I wonder if we’ll ever get them out. Assuming this is a siege, they could go on in there for years, living off of the crumbs in the filter and the moisture in the bottom of the drain. Roaches, after all, can survive for months on a single drop of water. The average enemy can’t. We may be looking at a new Empire, here. And all run out of my long-coveted appliance!

Tomorrow, thankfully, is Corky’s follow-up visit. It can’t come soon enough. Especially since Dave won’t get on the phone with me anymore. I think he’s burning out. I know I am. I need my kitchen back. I need my dishwasher. I need my life.

And who knows? I may need siege engines.

In the meantime? We’re cleaning our plates by hand, keeping the kitchen spotless, and praying for a turn in the battle.

B-roaching the Subject

So, I’m at work today, and it’s quiet. Reeeeeally quiet. September and October are the dead season in retail. I’ve just returned from lunch at a new restaurant and I’m telling my co-worker about it. There are no customers in the store; we speak freely:

“I just ate at True Food,” I say, leaning casually against the counter.

“Yeah? ” he says, from across the room. “Was it good?”

“Very”

“Everyone says it’s fresh.” says my co-worker, straightening a jewelry form in the case. “Was it fresh?”

I cock an eyebrow at him. “Certainly.”

He keeps talking, flipping his keys in the air. “The freshest food I ever had was salmon I’d just caught. Killed it, cooked it three hours later. BLAM. Fresh.”

I shudder. Savage.

“The freshest salmon I ever had was sushi,” says my boss, entering the room from behind us. “In Hawaii. Ate it right off the boat.” She mimes a knife, presumably filleting a living fish. “Delicious.”

Jesus. I make a face, imagining this. It makes me think of–

“Did you know that roaches cannibalize each other?” I say loudly. “They even eat their own children.”

My co-workers swivel their heads towards me, clearly taken aback.

I go on. “If you poison them they crawl back to their nests to die. Then their friends eat them. Then they die. Then they get eaten. Talk about a vicious circle.”

Silence. No one’s keys are flipping now.

I feel driven to go on.”They eat defecation too. Theirs, I mean. Imagine eating your kid’s poop, then eating him. Then being eaten!”

A customer walks in. We spin towards the door and smile.

“Hello!” we all chorus.

“Just looking,” he snaps, moving past us and into the next room.

A beat. “Guess we should get back to work,” I say morosely.

“Sushi has just been ruined for me forever” my boss mutters under her breath as she walks away.

These roaches are not only going to be the death of me. They’re going to kill my job, too. And maybe my even appetite.

But hopefully they’ll keep theirs. Bon appetite, suckers!

 

 

Enc-Roached

Day 8.

At 7:30 this morning, after doing a cursory check of the kitchen and finding it clear, I spotted a roach crawling across our dining room floor. He was aimed towards the utility room–probably heading for the the dog’s water bowl. I’m told the poison makes them very thirsty. Pitiful, really. Standing there in my robe, I had a vision of the linoleum floor as a desert, and the roach as a skinny man in ragged clothing, dragging himself across it towards a distant oasis…

I killed him with Mike’s Birkenstock.

The thing about it is, they’re spreading. This is the first non-kitchen sighting, and it’s profoundly disturbing. I’m trying not to call David over it, but it’s hard–after all, entire new avenues of therapeutic possibilities will be opened up if we start finding the bastards in other rooms.

And it’s difficult to talk to anyone else about this stuff. People fall into two camps: they’ve either never had roaches, and look at you suspiciously when they hear about yours, or they have, and are sympathetic, but seem mostly interested in regaling you with tales of the horrors they’ve endured:

“I used to live in a place on the lower East side,” one guy said kindly, as if offering solace, “where the roaches were so bad they’d crawl along the ceiling and fall into your bed in the middle of the night.”

“We had them too.” a different friend chimed in. “I used to turn out all the lights and wait in the kitchen with a can of Raid. When I heard them clicking I’d turn on the lights and gas em!”

“You should see the ones in the South,” said yet another. “They’re eight inches long. They fly at you, and bite. You can only kill them in the microwave.”

Stories like these, while meant to be encouraging, just give more fodder to my obsession. I hear a clicking sound: Is it Mina’s claws on the floor, or an army of roach reinforcements? I lie in my bed staring at the ceiling. Each crack becomes a potential attacker. I see something fly through the air; it is one of MJ’s toys, but I scream, thinking it’s a Bionic roach, come to avenge his friends.

So I’m a wreck. And now we’ve got roaches in the dining room!

I’m taking it a day at a time. A minute. A second. If I can just get to tomorrow I will allow myself one David call, and then try to get through the weekend.

We all need something to cling to.

 

The Cork is in Session

“OK, OK. Thanks for talking me down.”

It wasn’t my therapist I’d just hung up with. It was David, the Corky’s guy. This was my third time speaking to him since the spraying last week. My third time calling hysterically because we are still. Seeing. Roaches. In. The. Kitchen.

David has an easy way about him. A gentle approach. He uses the phrase “get you where you want to be” a lot.

“We’re going to get you where you want to be,” he says this morning, as he has every time we’ve spoken. “It just takes some time.”

I don’t have time. I will be in a mental hospital soon, knitting my own bathrobe, and then I’ll have time. But now? No.

“I just want them gone, David.”

“I know, Jessica.” We are on a first name basis. We could hang out. We could watch the debates together, throw orange peels at Trump. “We’re going to get you there.”

If David’s voice were an instrument, it would be a cello. He’s good at his job. He does a lot of empathizing. I wonder if he’s taken a course.

“When will we get there, though? WHEN?”

“Yup. It’s frustrating.” This doesn’t answer the question, but I am lulled by the tuneful sound of his voice. Wait. Am I?

“I need a date.”

“We’re gonna get you where you want to be.” Cue the oboes!

“A date. David. Please.”

Sotto voce, he replies.”It’s generally about two weeks after the second visit.”

The second visit. Which is at the two-week mark.  We haven’t even reached that yet.

“So a month? This whole process takes a month?”

We’ve had this conversation before. Every bit of it. It’s like Kabuki theater, but without the makeup. Still, I am not hearing what I want to hear.

“Can’t we make it faster?”

The music swells. “These things take time.”

“I hate them.”

And swells some more: “We’re gonna get you there.”

“I can’t even go in my kitchen!”

(Andante)”It’s very stressful.”(Accelerando) “We’ll get you there.”(Tenuto) “These things take more time than we’d like.”

Show over, I walk across the house to where Mike is checking his e-mail. He looks up. “Did you call them?”

I nod unhappily. “They’ll get us there.”

Mike shrugs. There is nothing more either of us can do, and we know it. Powerless in the face of these repugnant, brown interlopers, we can only wait for the mysterious spell of Corky’s to take effect.

Good thing I have David. I’m going to need him.

And he’s going to need a vacation when the month is up.