Expiration Dates

Years ago, a Ouija board told me I would die at 17. I was able to use the board alone, so no one had seen that answer spell itself out, and I told no one. I was 15, in the 10th grade. The idea of dying at 17 seemed both crazy and entirely possible and believable. What purpose could the spirit on that board have for lying about such a thing? So, I believed it. Two years to live.

Believing I knew I was dying didn’t change anything in the way I went through my life. I thought about it, but I didn’t do anything about it or do anything because of knowing it. The board had said I’d die of leukemia, which should have given me the idea of seeing my doctor. But I didn’t, and I didn’t spend any time in the reference section of the library reading up on the disease I was supposed to be dying from. I did nothing.

Except tell a friend, maybe two. Whoever I told didn’t hold onto my secret, and soon a lot of people knew – more of my friends, other kids at school, their parents, my mother.

My mother came home from some parent meeting asking questions. The next day in social studies, a girl sneered as she passed my desk and said, “That was some leukemia you had, huh?”

The scandal of being revealed as a liar blew over ridiculously quickly. My nonsense was news for perhaps the span of a class period. At home, I told my mother where my diagnosis had come from, and she promptly revoked my Ouija board privileges. End of story.

But I never actually stopped believing I was dying. My mother telling the moms at the PTA meeting that I didn’t have leukemia didn’t mean I wasn’t about to be stricken with the disease and go into rapid decline. I stopped talking about my soon-coming death but held onto the certainty of it.

Until I forgot about it. I finished high school. I went to college. During the summer of my junior year, on a train through the Pyrenees, it dawned on me that I was twenty years old, three years past the age I was supposed to have died.

 

Why was it so easy for me to believe some random hocus pocus about having a disease I would surely have been aware of having? Leukemia is no silent killer, sneaking up on its victims and snatching them in an instant. How could I convince myself I was sick when there was nothing abnormal happening in my body? I must have wanted to believe it, or it wouldn’t have been such an easy sell. What made me want to believe such a thing?

And how did I then just forget, move on as if nothing had happened and only years later realize I’d lived past my deadline?

 

In my late 30s, I needed fibroid surgery. Nine years earlier, I’d had a batch of tumors excised from my abdomen. My experience with that first surgery had been difficult, but I’d come through swimmingly. The closer I got to the second surgery, however, the more convinced I became that I wouldn’t survive. There was no reason for my certainty, but I was frozen by it. I could barely function for thinking about my soon-coming death. I never knew I had such a terror of dying until that summer.

When I was at the point of canceling the surgery, I told my sister. I told her because I wanted her to help me prepare for death, for what would happen after I was gone. I wanted her to promise to go through my apartment and clear out things I didn’t want my mother to have to see or deal with in her grief – my journals, my sex toys, etc.

My sister agreed to do a pre-parent sweep of my house. She suggested a handy system for me to use for organizing her sweep: put a sticky note on anything I wanted thrown out, and she’d take care of it. She didn’t spend a lot of time trying to convince me I was going to be fine. She assured me that the sticky-note plan wouldn’t be necessary, but she also immediately agreed to help me. Together, we would spare my mother learning things about me it would hurt or sadden her to know.

I started tacking notes to things around the house, but I didn’t get far. Somehow, as improbable as it still seems to me, my sister’s participation in my planning was exactly what I needed. I started labeling my belongings and then, almost immediately, I forgot about it, and forgot about my impending demise.

I had my surgery. It went perfectly well. I recuperated.  I went back to my day-to-day. About a year later I was hunting through an old journal hunting up a story-start I wanted to flesh out, and I found the plan I’d written out for my funeral – what songs to play, who I hoped would speak, what I didn’t want folks to do. I didn’t remember having sketched it out, had entirely forgotten my certainty that the surgery would be the end of me.

 

Twice in my life, I have been entirely convinced that I was soon to die … and just as quickly, I have completely forgotten about my impending death and blithely moved on to some other thing. How is that possible? What is that?


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Train to CreepyTown — SOLS 16

I got on the A train the other night and slid into an empty seat … next to a ventriloquist. Why would that be necessary? Why, of all the people I could sit beside, would I have to find the one over-chatty ventriloquist? I was so with the young man at the end of the car who announced loudly: “Do NOT take that dummy out.” But of course, as soon as he said that, our friend the ventriloquist opened his case and pulled out a dummy.

I don’t hate ventriloquists. Not really. And he was talented. But really. They’re creepy, ventriloquists and their dummies. Creepy.

Let’s pause here. You may agree with me about the creepiness of ventriloquists and their dummies. You may not, but you may know someone else who finds them creepy. Fine. But I have to be clear. My feelings on this subject go deep, deeper, deepest. I so totally have pupaphobia. My puppet fear traces back in a perfect straight line to the movie Lili. No, seriously. That dream sequence scarred me. The only silver lining of this horror is the discovery of “automatonophobia” … which, really, is a way better word than pupaphobia.

Okay, back to business. You know how, if you don’t like cats or are allergic to cats and you go to a house that has cats, they come for you? They could have been asleep at the back of the hidden closet three floors away in the attic, and they come down and come running, looking for your lap? Yes, ventriloquists are the same. Because when that man on the train opened his dummy case, did he try to interact with the people who’d begged him to take out the dummy? No, he turned to me

Puppet Master: Say hi to the nice lady.

Creepy-ass Puppet: She don’t wanna talk to me.

Puppet Master: She’ll talk to you if you say hi. Say, “Hi, pretty lady.”

Creepy-ass Puppet: You think she pretty?

Puppet Master: She’s pretty.

Creepy-ass Puppet: She aight.

Yes, because not only do I have to be accosted by ventriloquism when I was just trying to get home for the night, I get a puppet who has what to say about how attractive I am or am not. Good times.

#NoThanks #NotHereForThis #CREEPY


It’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge! Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see what the rest of the slicers are up to … and to post the link to your own slice!

SOL image 2014

One veggie sandwich, please.

A fellow slicer posted on Monday about the busy-ness of her day, and one of the entries in her post mentioned walking to the corner health food store … and I was reminded of a health food store near an old job of mine.

In the early 90s I taught at an adult education program in the South Bronx.  I was already living in Brooklyn, so my commute was a long one.  Sometimes I had to rush for the train before having time to throw together something to pack for lunch, and there weren’t a ton of good options for quick and inexpensive lunches near the school.

On one of those rush-out-without-lunch days, I noticed an option I hadn’t seen before.  On my walk from the train to work I saw a small health food store, and decided to head back there at lunch time.

I walked in and immediately started to doubt my choice. There were hardly any products on the shelves, and the few items in view were old and sun bleached and none of them made sense for a health food store: cans of condensed milk, a box or two of corn flakes, chips, soda.

But I was undeterred.  I walked toward the window at the back of the shop.  There were a couple of men ahead of me, but they stepped aside and let me take their places at the window.  Okay, weird, but maybe also just absurdly courteous, right?  I ordered the veggie sandwich.  The man behind the counter looked at me a long time, looked at the men who were waiting off to the side, looked back at me and nodded, told me it would be a minute.

The men and I stood around waiting.  None of us spoke, I studied the shelves a little more — a dusty box of saltines, some canned chicken noodle soup — and wondered how serious my sandwich must be to take so much time.

Finally the man came back to the window, took my money and handed me a brown paper bag.

When I started in on my perfectly yummy sandwich, everyone wanted to know where I’d gotten it.  I told them, and they all looked at me as if I’d said something outrageous.

“Stacie, that’s a drug store.” This from my co-teacher.

“No it’s a health food place.  Middle of the block.”

“Stacie,” — my supervisor, ” it’s a drug store.”

“No really, it’s not.”

“Stacie,” — still my supervisor.  “Did you notice that they don’t have much to sell?”

I laughed.  “Sure, their stock is pretty pathetic, but this sandwich is great.  It did take him an awfully long time to make it, though.”

“Because he probably went out the back to another shop and bought it for you.” This from the writing tutor.

“And I’ll bet they were surprised to see you.”  My supervisor again.

“I guess they were a bit surprised.” … and the light bulb of my brain began to come on slowly, still very much on the bottom end of the dimmer switch … “Wait.  when you say it’s a drug store, you mean –”

“That it’s a drug store.” (At this point, surely my supervisor was wondering how she could have hired someone so dense.) ” A place to buy drugs. Not medicine, not prescriptions. Drugs.  You should never go there.”

I looked at my lunch.  “But this sandwich –”

“Is an interesting outcome.”

Yeah.  I kept my next thoughts to myself: how could it be a shop where you just walk in and buy drugs?  That wasn’t actually possible, was it?

But that sandwich … was delicious.  Pollyanna signing off now.

_____

You can find more worldly and intelligent slices over at Two Writing Teachers.

SOL image 2014

SOL — Heart in My Throat

It’s not a thing I say often. It doesn’t occur to me, even when I have the feelings I associate with the phrase.

But tonight. Tonight I took a cab home from work. I had a big package to carry, and it would have been hard to manage the subway, the bus, and the walk to my door.  So I took a cab.  And I was lucky enough to have a driver who seemed never to have learned the purpose of side mirrors, who seemed to think that switching on his blinker magically opened a path for him. I stopped counting near misses after the tenth one and just closed my eyes and decided to trust — in fate, in divine intervention, in the thing my sister used to say whenever we found ourselves in dicey situations: “Mommy didn’t have us to die like this.”

As for my heart, I much prefer wearing it on my sleeve.

_____
It’s  almost time!  Almost time for the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Not only does this mean I’ll actually be paying attention to my blog for a change, it means there will be dozens of wonderful bloggers sharing their slices every day for the month of March.  You should join in!  This year, I’m contributing a couple of prizes, so slice every day and you could win one of them!
SOL image 2014

30 Stories in 30 Days – Day 2

Auld Lang Syne

“You were always so unsure of yourself.  It drove me crazy.”

He took a sip of wine and gave me that annoying not-quite-a-smile I remembered so well.  I refilled my own glass, held my silence.  I was still trying to fathom the coincidence of walking into a wine bar far from any place either of us had ever lived and having some random old man look up and be him, Claude.

“Look, I’m not trying to upset you, but you asked what happened with us, I’m telling you.  I wanted a strong, aware, confident woman.  At that time, you –”

“At that time, I was only twenty years old,” I said.  “A child, living away from home for the first time, certainly not needing some man twice my age coming at me with all of his needs, expecting me to be someone I wasn’t.”

“So it was my fault?”

I looked at him a long moment.  He wasn’t frail, exactly, but was on the way.  With effort, I could still see the man I’d found so dynamic.  He’d called my name when I’d walked into the bar, and it was his accent that had helped me find him in my memory, not his face.  When I’d met him almost thirty years earlier, my first thought about him was that he was so old.  How little I knew.  Then or ever.  “Some of it was your fault,” I said.

He nodded.  “And now?  We can share a bottle in this dark bar and none of that matters, right?”

I hated giving him that, but of course he was right, so what did my reluctance say about me?  I hadn’t thought about him in maybe twenty years, but I was dredging up old hurts to poke at him?  I reached out and took his hand.  “None of that matters.  It’s actually nice to see you.”

He laughed.  “You mean it’s nice to know I’m still alive.”

I smiled.  “That, too.”

(source: Photos.com)

__________

I think I need to decide what I’m doing with these stories.  Yesterday and today have been a little too random for me.  Not that random is bad.  I’m a big fan of random …  Still.  Maybe I want a theme of some kind, a thread I can follow through the month.  Maybe not.  Maybe I just need to get out of my way and write.

30 Stories in 30 Days / Facebook
30 Stories in 30 Days / Tumblr

30 Stories in 30 Days — Day 1

Yes, really.  Oh, it’s not my idea.  I stumbled onto the event page on Facebook and then found my way over to the Tumblr site.  Am I pretending to be able to do this?  Maybe.  Anything to get my pen moving, yes?

So here’s my first entry:

__________

“I wanted all of us to have something nice to remember from the trip,” Annabelle said.

Brian laughed.  “You mean other than the yelling and dad’s desperate beer runs down to the hiking lodge?”

Annabelle ignored him and kept working.  She’d spent more than an hour scrabbling through the icy creek searching out five perfect stones.  She’d polished them with oil and had set about carving hearts into each.

“You can’t make us a family with pretty rocks, little sister,” Brian said, turning from her and walking toward the cabin.

He was right, but she kept at her work.  Pretty rocks were what she had.  She couldn’t lift the ones large enough to knock any kind of sense into their hardened skulls.  River-smoothed pretty ones would have to do.

(source: Photos.com)

__________

On to the next!

That’s just the fever talking …

(Originally, this post was called, “11:44 and still no post?”  I’m sure if you dig around in a Google cache somewhere you can still find it.)

Yikes!

Isn’t that really all there is to say?

It seems clear that my illness is really only my illness, not me spreading food poisoning around to my friends.  And that makes me happy … except that I’m still sick, and that part doesn’t make me happy at all. 

Left work and put myself to bed and woke up five minutes ago.  I was wondering what made me wake up.  Were the cats making noise?  Did the phone ring?  Was I cold?  No and again no and no … I actually think the SOLS challenge woke me up!  The realization that I hadn’t posted anything.  Crazy, but maybe true.  In any case, I’m awake and it’s not midnight yet, so here I am.

And instead of yammering on about nothing for another couple hundred words, I’m going to share my latest 420-character story and put myself back to bed.  Here’s hoping I’m less sick tomorrow.

_____

The train’s white-noise rumble eased Jess’ head back, coaxed her eyes closed.  She had at least four hours before she’d need to think.  Richard understood, had stopped trying to reach her, even as her husband’s calls achieved panic status. What did she owe him, she thought as she shut off the phone. Let him worry. He’d feel vindicated when whoever was first on her trail rang the bell. Her brain shut down in sleep.

This one comes from the same “they all turn dark” place that the earlier ones came from, but with a twist.  A 420-character opening moment of a mystery film?  That’s kind of what this one sounds like to me.

Check out the rest of today’s slices at Two Writing Teachers.