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Glumps of Tissue

The silent waiting room to which I returned fifteen minutes after I’d left it – remained silent.

“Wait. Seriously?” I said to no one in particular because I totally could not contain myself. “That’s what a mammogram is?”

There were four women in the room and all of them looked up at me at once from their various articles about Jennifer Anniston’s relationship at various levels of happiness. Then they quickly looked at each other – because, was the question rhetorical? Because if not, how could they know? Maybe it was a mammogram and maybe, judging from the level of my indignation, that was an alien rectal-probe. They couldn’t know for sure. They hadn’t left the room with me. So I eased up.

“That was my first mammogram,” I said, “- and wow. I cannot believe that’s really what they’ve come with – even though, between Avon, Revlon, Susan G. Komen and Forest Gump, a lot of people have collectively circumnavigated the planet a lot of times in the name of boobies.” That’s a rough quote. I don’t think I said “boobies.”

And then it was like a floodgate burst forth. And those four silent women, each of whom bore a surprising resemblance to my mother in one way or another, suddenly started nodding, smiling vigorously and talking in unison.

“Can you imagine anyone letting his penis get smooshed in that thing?”

“Are you kidding? If mammogram’s were a man’s test they’d be heavily sedated and lying down.”

“My 90-year-old mother had to have one a few weeks ago and she cried.”

“Oh, I’ve cried.”

“Me too. These new ones aren’t as bad.”

“Wait,” I stopped them, “you mean there’s a worse version? What do they do, flay off the skin first with a butter knife?”

Everyone nodded and in unison said some version of, “Oy vey you’re not kidding.”

Then we all just shook our heads.

I had come in for a routine mammogram – having been told since I was 25 I’d need to start getting them by 35 since my mother had had pre-menopausal breast cancer in the 1990’s – and I was now pushing 39. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what a mammogram was – I just didn’t know, you know? Like you can’t totally know what a bullet feels like before you’ve been shot, or the crushing pain of an avalanche…that lands on your breasts.

Now I don’t want to give short-shrift to this life-saving test or undermine it’s importance. I know there are a lot of things we do in spite of discomfort for the sake of health and wellness – We go to the dentist, we eat Quinoa, we pretend to care about jazz music, art museums and public television – so I will say with absolute clarity, that even after having seen the dark side of this statement – if you are at an age where they recommend you get a mammogram – GO GET A MAMMOGRAM!

But just so you are prepared, I will tell you what it will be like:
1. You walk in. Right out of the gate, before you are plied with  bottle of Pinot, you will be asked to take off everything from the waist up. Bare-breasted in broad daylight with a stranger you will awkwardly cover your boobs with your arms. Then you will say something to break up the total weirdness like, “This is nothing to you ,right? You must see so many breasts…” to which your technician will reply, “Ohmygod, totally. They’re like glumps of tissue – just big glumps.”

And you will be distracted by the non-word “glump” when used as a descriptor for a part of your body.

2. Your technician will affix small nipple size stickers onto your nipples. You will not find tassels on them although you will look.

3. You will be walked over to a twelve foot tall machine with large plastic trays that look very like printer trays, but that you will soon learn possess the power of evil.

4. You will be positioned by the technician, and by “positioned” I mean, your arm will be flung backward, you will be told to move your stomach, although you won’t be sure where to move it since she has your breast in her hand and is hamburgering it between the two plastic claws of insanity. She will simultaneously knee your thighs toward the machine while telling you to move your head, “up.” Then she will tell you to hold your breath, as if there was another option.

5. You will incur 6 more of these “positions.”

6. You will start saying the word “fuck” a lot, like, “If men had to have this fucking test you can bet they’d have the fucking plastic plates lined with fucking ferret fur and squeezing would be replaced with cradling and there would be fucking candy!” and then you will apologize for swearing because it isn’t her fault Seimen’s hasn’t worked out a better plan – and she’ll go- because she’s heard it all before, including 90-year-old women crying, “Whatever gets you through.”

Tonight, I am glad I had a mammogram. Everything checked out and now I have a baseline understanding of what is happening in my at-risk breast tissue – Plus the mind forgets pain.

But let’s just say I looked up screening for testicular cancer and nowhere did I read “unmedicated, willful squashing of the testes in a vice while contorting in award-winning acrobatic positions and possibly crying.”

Because, no fucking way.

 

 

 



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Jetta: A Car’s Story

Jetta. A dog’s best friend.

When I moved back from Prague in 2000, eleven months after Y2K panic subsided and eleven months before airplanes struck the Trade Centers and the Pentagon, I bought my first car. It was a brand new, “Blue Lagoon” colored Jetta – purchased at a maximum during the Christmastime rush. I did not get a deal. But I loved that car. From the minute I sat on the black leather seat – that conveniently included a butt warmer – and pushed the button that launched two impossibly durable, but flimsy-looking cup holders, I was sold. Turned on the dashboard which lit up in the reds and blues of an airport runway and I was in love.

Not so much a car enthusiast as a “girl,” I fell for the aesthetics  The colors, the flash, the warm ass…But I fell hard.

The other day I traded in Jetta at what was decidedly the end of her long and loyal life. The final blow, a reversal of her polarity during a routine jumping (she was old and often needed a little help) – when a well-intentioned neighbor reattached the jumper cables incorrectly.

Jetta hobbled into the Honda dealership and netted us a cool $950, her bright blueberry blue gleaming in the sporadic May sun. This entry will feature her highlights – and a few of her lows – as I bid good-bye to an old friend.

Jetta, this is for you.

Road trip with Amy.

Cue Babs.

January, 2001: Jason Evege and I drive from Columbus, Ohio, south to Arkansas – get mildly freaked out in Texarkana, get lost in Texas, drive through a wall of fog, visit my grandparents in Phoenix, stop at a cousin’s in LA, and finally arrive with my “belongings” at my new home in San Francisco. Jetta’s one and only year with a garage.

July, 2002: A guy I’m dating projectile vomits in Jetta on the Bay Bridge. He spends the next day teaching me about “detailing a car.”

April, 2002: Jetta takes me to Cochella in Joshua Tree. 1) A coyote gets a little too close. 2) Joshua Tree has the kind of empty silences that hurt your ears. 3) Cochella is a rip off. I run out of money and have to drink water from a hose behind the bathroom tents. (That wasn’t about the car, but I just wanted to mention it…)

2001-2003: Drive bi-monthly up and down the California coast to sell clothes for Evege Studios. I know nothing about fashion. Jetta never judges even if most of the boutique owners do. Other weeks I drive north to Oregon. My car and my therapist are my only friends for about 3 lonely years of poor dating choices .

June, 2003: Cross country move from San Francisco to New York means Jetta is left at my sister’s house.

Winter, 2003-4: Jetta languishes on a driveway.

The mechanic did this and then repaired it for free – because he did it in the first place.

Summer, 2005: Fan belt breaks on a routine drive around the block. Jetta moves to Brooklyn.

Spring, 2006: My new boyfriend Aaron cracks Jetta’s spoiler on a Brooklyn curb, gives me a new spoiler (not attached to the car) as my very first Christmikkah present from him which leads to several moments of confusion over why I’ve been handed a body-sized, indistinguishable piece of black plastic. To this day that brand new spoiler lives in the basement. Sledding anyone?

Summer, 2006: Jetta suffers a gash in the hood during yet another repair. See photo caption.

July 2008: Driving to the beach with a group of girlfriends, Jetta breaks down on the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel in heavy traffic. I ride with the tow truck back to Queens. They rent a car and go on to the beach. I curse my car.

Spring, 2009:Jetta is hit by a large truck while I am standing still at a red light and has a wheel well gouged and a mirror knocked off. I learn that New York is a no fault state which means Jetta never gets fixed and proceeds to scratch legs and arms pretty good in subsequent years making us look either hardcore or very clumsy.

On the way home from our wedding. In the tow truck. Jetta is behind us in this photo.

Summer, 2010: My love proposes to me in that Jetta, in gear, foot on break, outside the post office after picking up a package of “Pickles” from his “mother”. Although I mock him later for his choice of venue and the phrase, “Doyouwantapickle?Doyouwanttogetmarried?”, I secretly couldn’t imagine a better place or phrase. And Jetta becomes immortalized as a testament to our love.

July, 2011:I marry Aaron Fannin in Massachusetts. To celebrate our love, Jetta breaks down at a gas station off the Taconic filled with all of our presents on our way home.

Jetta Linder: Bought in Columbus, moves to California, moves to New York. Drives through almost every state in the union at least once, sees all kinds of crazy weather and listens to a LOT of Broadway showtunes. It is a car for the ages. 130,000 miles. And a whole lotta love. Jetta, I’ll never forget you.

(I’m actually tearing up…)

 



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On My Friend’s Blog About Bravery and Popcorn With Butter

Almost 30 years ago my father was ill. It’s been more than 80 years since the first person got sick. Have we learned nothing?

Maybe that is all any bravery is, a stronger fear of not being brave. –Audre Lorde

I wrote that Audre Lorde quote down in a book in high school. I had a book of quotes I kept. It wasn’t academic in any way. There were drawings of flowers and every quote had to be in a different color and writing style. There was an alarmingly disproportionate number of James Taylor/Simon and Garfunkel quotes in there as well – because apparently having a friend or feeling like a rock or an island respectively was a big theme for me. But I often thought about that Audre Lorde quote because I believe it’s true – at least at first. When you are a child, if there is an expectation that you will be brave in a crisis – say…with a spider in the room – you will figure out a way to be brave, scoop the thing in between a glass and a book and walk it outside – like my ever-brave husband.

But if you are a girl, and a youngest, the expectations in 1970’s and 80’s America were such that I never had to do more than scream an alarm and someone else, someone of whom it was expected would come and do the bravery, while I sat there expecting it of them.

This all comes up because yesterday two things happened.

1. My friend Luke wrote this amazing blog about bravery and illness.

And 2. I decided to fire my medical team.

After a recent treatment failed for a condition that is slowly taking over the vascular system in my body (or something…it’s vague and no one really knows…), something weird happened. I decided I was going to die. It was actually pretty simple. I considered the situation and it sort of came over me in this incredibly lucid way that there was nothing more to be done but sit and wait it out as things progressed and worsened. I gave myself 5 years, which may or may not be pushing it.

The weirdest part is that I actually have been sort of blissed-out with the feeling. I am going to die. It is going to be amazing!

Maybe these guys can help!

More than that there has been a tremendous feeling of relief. To finally know! To no longer speculate on how or when death will happen to me! It’s kind of magical. Woody Allen is sooo jealous!

I started to plot out a timeline. We would need a new mattress ASAP because fuck sleeping on a sagging one. Trips are planned, drives with my dogs out of the city have become a first and repeating order of business, shopping at the expensive market with the better cuts of beef – check, etc.

Then last week, after 20 years I spoke to the man who was my father’s physician during the last few months of his life. My father had died of the very gene that has become active in me now. The mutation was in his grandmother. Only 14 people have had or have it. So statistically there are no real solid statistics. His physician was animated and borderline brilliant as he recalled items from my father’s chart he hadn’t seen in 20 years. One thing was certain: He was still pissed he never figured out why my father died.

He’s retired now, but he said he’d be interested in looking into my condition and those of others of my family members who are similarly plagued. But he lives in another state. And did I mention he’s retired?

So yesterday I went to my doctor –  He’s a liver specialist. One thing we know for certain, hepatically, I’m gorgeous. Literally. I’ve been told I have a “gorgeous liver,” and frankly thank the universe, because I seriously couldn’t handle this without the red wine. My doctor is a brilliant doctor and the #1 liver transplant specialist in the country. He’s very very into statistics. Which is only one of about EVERYTHING that is wrong with that last sentence. I don’t need a liver transplant. I don’t need someone who likes statistics. I need someone who likes puzzles.

But I believe he cares about me because he has fielded a few late night hysterical phone calls and the notes in my chart all indicate that he really thinks I’m a nice girl. So when I went in I was all excited to start the process of spit balling – throwing out some ideas from the conversation with my dad’s doctor about what could be going wrong and what we could do.

For example, I said, “What about vascular swelling?” and he said, “No.” So I tried, “Well could it be a pump issue? Could the walls of the veins be breaking down?”

And he shrugged but said, “No.”

This happened for a total of five minutes. A few times I asked a follow up, “Why not?” and he seemed to have a sort of non-answer each time. “I think you have a clotting condition,” he’d say, so I’d reply, “No, I’ve been tested for every type of clotting condition ever in the history of the world, and I don’t think I have a clotting condition.” And this is where it would get weirder. He’d go, “Really?” And then change the subject.

And we’d end each time with, “You will eventually start bleeding. You will become very sick, and then I will embolize your spleen – cutting off circulation to it to lessen the pressure in your digestive track.”

So, the plan is not to have a plan. The plan is to anticipate major illness for a while – maybe a week, maybe a month, maybe five years – he and I will sit together watch my condition deteriorate – and then he will try some stuff.

I hope he brings the popcorn. With butter. Because who cares if it’s buttered!? I’ve got five good years left! (If I’m lucky!)

Is that the weird face of someone who is dying? Well, maybe...but maybe not!

Enter Luke’s blog about bravery: Because the thing is, whether or not people who are sick are brave or just one-foot-in-front-of-the-other-ing their way through life and death, watching my illness progress without any movement in any direction is decidedly doing neither.

It is the audience at a play. We provide the occasional laughter or tear, the sporadic clap and if we’re lucky we get to stand up at the end for a show well played.

But in my case, I’ll be lucky if I can stand up at all. So frankly, Dr. S. Fuck that.

As I lay in bed this morning, I watched the dust scatter across a beam of sun for a chance at momentary gold. I thought, I like being alive. I really find it all quite dazzling.

So I decided with certainty that I cannot be the audience to my body’s breakdown. I have to find the puzzle-maker that can look at all 14 cases and come up with an answer. Or at least let me die trying. Because let’s face it. I’m not a puzzle maker. I don’t like the ones with more than 4 pieces. But if House, ER and Grey’s Anatomy have taught me anything, it’s that a lot of doctors like puzzles. And if there’s one thing I am, it’s a really good audience. So I’m going to get me a new doctor.

I don’t know if that’s brave, but it’s something.



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I Am Sarai

My gorgeous sister carrying twins.

In the bible, Sarah is the first of the three Mothers of the Old Testament. She gives birth to Isaac late in life and spoiled him as older mothers tend to do. That’s why he thought he could get away with marrying two women. But that’s another story.

Before Sarah gives birth to Isaac her story is defined by a single fact: She is barren. In fact, she transitions from Sarai “the barren” to Sarah “the fruitful” when God promises he will give her Abraham’s son, just as long as her handmaiden Hagar gets to have one of his sons first. Sarai agrees, that’s how desperate she is to become a mother.

My husband and I were never sure we wanted to have children, even before we met each other. We both grew up with some impressive examples of couples we envied whose lives seemed complete and exciting without them. But it seemed inevitable that I would one day be a mother. Maybe it’s that I played with dolls until I was so old I had to play with them in my closet. Or maybe it’s the fact that when presented with a room full of people, I gravitate almost immediately to the youngest person in the room.

But even when I had a punk-rock short hair cut and a nose piercing and would walk around going, “I’m never getting married or having kids,” people would almost always roll their eyes and reply, “Yes you will.” Meanwhile, when my cool best friend said the same thing they’d just sort of nod and shrug. 

I did end up getting married, so I suppose it goes without saying that I might begin to consider having children. For a long time I set the fall of 2012 as the deadline during which we would sit down, draw up pro/con lists, interpretive dance it out and make our final decision.

Delicious baby Addison.

As fate would have it, we skipped the reasoning portion and instead discovered that I was pregnant. But there was a caveat: I had recently been diagnosed with a series of extreme internal gastric varices – like varicose veins in your legs, only throughout your digestive tract. They were part of a bigger genetic condition that will someday end my life if the meteor doesn’t get here first – or I don’t step blindly into traffic. I was told that having the baby gave me a 40% mortality rate. The fetus didn’t have much of a fighting shot either. What’s worse, the odds were even greater that I would grow sicker more quickly, even if I survived the birth.

However, there was a little glimmer of good news winking like a hooker on Sunset suggesting that I might be eligible for a procedure that would take the pressure off those engorged veins and diminish the mortality odds significantly.

The pregnancy did not end up viable, so when I was able, I  had the surgery. I did not have it so that I could have a baby. As I mentioned, we weren’t even certain we wanted to be parents…But we wanted the choice.

That’s pretty much the thing about life. When you are told you have to go to school, there is no place you’d rather be less than school. But after you’ve graduated you consider taking evening classes, studying Spanish in your free time, listening to books-on-tape about the fall of the Roman Empire or tulips – for no other reason than that it is your choice to do so, because tulips are not that interesting.

I once co-authored a book with an expert who focused heavily on the notion of “agency” or allowing people to have a sense that they have chosen their path – be it at work or in life. It’s a fundamental tenet of happiness. When you start to feel trapped on the paths of have-to or obligated-to, misery must be close by.

This guy is the main reason I am still the luckiest girl.

The procedure to take the pressure off my insane vascular system was a failure. Two subsequent tries proved equally useless. And I found myself sullenly eating way too much green jello – Why is that a thing at hospitals? My husband and I learned that while I am not significantly worse off than I was before, I had lost the vital option to choose.

My path is now bound by the probability that I will impair my health substantially and endanger the health of a child if I try to have one the “normal way.”

It’s always best to focus on what is within your control than to rail against what you cannot have, says the universe. If I truly want a child, perhaps like Sarai, one will be granted me and then you can call me Joselah – or Joselin’s fine, maybe with some kind of jazzy arm motion.

Or maybe I’ll get my nose re-pierced and get a funky hair cut and try to believe that this is my chosen path. I have at times believed I had chosen this very one.

But I didn’t. Not anymore. Now this is and always will be the path that has forced its way beneath my feet. Now I am walking, but the roadblocks are everywhere and all I can see is where I cannot go.

 

 

 



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A Women’s War

Now that the marathon bombers have been identified, I’m sure the usual string of questions will begin popping up beginning with, What kind of person does something like this? Their religion and political affiliations will be categorically dissected, their race, explored – especially by my husband who does a really good George Carlin-esque bit about the trials and tribulations of the white man.

But one thing that I keep thinking about, one thing that is irrefutable whether the bombers turn out to be deer-eating, Monopoly-loving,  Metallica-listening junkies or yuppies – is that these people are men.

I know, I know. I love men. In fact, I have some really good friends who are men. But isn’t that the thing every time? When newscasters talk about the “men” the police are looking for, no one goes, “Why do you think it’s a man? Maybe it was a that old lady over there brandishing the machete!” Because, let’s face it. That old lady is way more likely heading out on an Amazon expedition with that machete than killing people.

There are still a few old school feminists who like everything to be all-things-equal, and will kick up a ruckus over terms like “actress” and “waitress.” But the fact is, a lot of us new school feminists like that men and women are not equal (except when it comes to getting paid. Then we don’t want equality, we want more). But in the case of Boston and in terrorist attacks worldwide – Women rarely mass murder.  Unless they are part of a larger male-lead movement that uses violence as a viable means to an end, women are just not killers in the same way that men are.

I once started a novel in the spirit of George R.R. Martin about a little boy who grows up in a tribe of 1000 women and ultimately leads them to war- a women’s war. I wanted to figure out how women, separate from men – little boy character aside – would do battle. Would they even do battle? I haven’t officially written the war yet, but one thing I wrote is that women move toward birth and life – men toward death. It is the yin and yang of everything. We are moving in different directions and therefore would always live, battle, even hope differently.

But I decided soundly that a woman’s war would be about living. It would be a quest for life and freedom – not it’s opposite, which is what this terror war is about – death and fear – forced shackles and bondage – You WILL bow down to Zod. A women’s war would be about a turning toward the light – a saving of the bad so that it turns to good. Not a destruction of the bad so that it breeds even worse.

I know how fundamentally flawed my argument sounds. On top of the fact that there isn’t enough patchouli in the world to contain this idea, of course there are women who kill. There are entire female prisons filled with these killers. It doesn’t matter that the majority are there because they were defending themselves or their families – because I’m sure a lot of them are there because they are just plain old garden-variety assholes. Just like there are plenty of men who are vegan pacifists who hate Metallica.

But the fact remains, statistically these people who bombed those kids and mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters – they were going to be men. If any of us had money on it, we weren’t gambling on a woman.

But I am hopeful, even if I hope like a woman.

I hope that every new now brings with it a chance for change, a movement toward goodness and life and light.

I hope to see women leading us all out of our sorrow, fear and devastation over this senseless attack on sweet innocence – those beautiful children, all of their families and us all.

I hope that women, every one of us, will stand up and lead our men and each other to a place of calm and love and life.

I hope that when our mourning ends, we are moving more strongly toward birth and away from death than ever before.

I hope…but I am a woman.

I hope like woman.

At the dog park this morning I was telling my friend Julie about my women’s war. She asked if I had read Y: The Last Man, a graphic novel about the world after all men but one is dead, leaving only women. She told me about one tribe that cuts off a breast in order to better aim her bow and arrow to shoot and kill.

No, I told her. I hadn’t read it. “But it’s written by a man, right?”

“Yeah,” she answered.

I think he’s wrong. Women wouldn’t getting better at killing. There are far too many things in this world to heal.

 



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