Thursday, April 11, 2013

my repressed immune system and irrepressible anne

1. a child’s garden of viruses

I grew up hearing stories of sickly children who’d grown up to be famous writers. Unable to leave the house due to vague and romantic illnesses, they read and reread classic literature, hardbound books strewn about them on fluffy Victorian linens. Perhaps they would pause to gaze out at the lonely moors now and then.

I also liked the sick kids in books. I never wanted to be rambunctious Laura Ingalls or frolicking Heidi or sassy Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden. I wanted to be blind, well-behaved Mary Ingalls, or Clara in her antique wheelchair, or pale weak Colin. It’s easy to see why I romanticized illness and disability—these kids got to be mysterious and special, while being forgiven any shortcomings. I actually was like the talkative, mildly troublemaking protagonists—the Lauras and Heidis—who tried adults’ patience with their busy imaginations, and therefore I was totally uninterested in them.

They were always picnicking with bread and cheese in Heidi, which was also very appealing.
But despite this obvious and understandable pathology, there’s always a little part of me believes that I wished too hard to be crippled and will bring it upon myself. There was a minute when my fertility doctor thought the twins I was carrying were conjoined (the thin membrane between them wasn’t showing up on his monitor). I confessed hysterically to AK that I’d played Siamese Twins as a kid, and this must be my punishment.

I could have similar thoughts about cancer, but I’ve had a LOT of therapy between that ultrasound and now. I’m long past finding illness romantic, and almost past believing that it’s divine punishment. What it is, is really boring.

2. sick daze

As someone who has enjoyed a lifetime of good health, who used to routinely call in sick to her bookstore job so she could go out with friends, actual sickness takes me by surprise. I slept through my post-chemo weekend as predicted, but I was sidelined by a cold a couple of days later.

It was just a regular cold, and there was almost something comforting in the familiarity of a sinus headache and a runny nose, versus the weirdness of chemo symptoms—the burnt tongue, the nasty taste in my mouth, the sore quadriceps, the intangible but pervasive icky-ness. But I still felt like shit, just a day and a half after working my way back from feeling like shit.

I sort of secretly believed that sick days should be fun or productive (see bookstore job). Sure, I might not be up to go to work and build an online grant management system or grade student work—but I should at least be able to read classic literature on my beautiful Victorian linens, right?

Here’s how I actually spent my morning:

1. Sleeping.

2. Watching the reunion episode of season three of RuPaul’s Drag Race on Netflix (because I’d seen all the regular episodes of all the other seasons that were available online).

Creatively, I was a Raja fan, but my heart was with Alexis Mateo.
3. Googling drag queen subculture: “drag queens ball/pageant culture vs. nightclub,” “drag queen breast plate controversy.” Did you know that a nice pair of silicone DD’s with a Velcro neck closure that can be covered by any gaudy necklace will run you $475? Four-twenty-five for a C-cup. I also know, from previous Googling related to my YA novel, that a silicone pregnant belly is about $300. Clearly I have a preoccupation with fake girl parts.

4. Playing Words With Friends.

5. Soaking my feet in the bucket AK uses to mop the floor. If illness can’t be like a Victorian novel, I want it to be like a spa, which is why I decided to give myself a eucalyptus-oil-infused footbath. But we don’t own a foot-soaking tub or even a bathtub plug, and I didn’t want to put my feet in a food-storage Tupperware. Hence the mop bucket—which itself was a huge leap into adulthood/cleanliness, because AK decided she no longer wanted to hoist the dirty mop into the sink or a food-storage Tupperware.

3. in defense of tear-bursts

When I finally got the okay from my oncologist to take some Dayquil, I rallied a little. I read Anne of Green Gables for the YA lit class I’m teaching (classic literature! although it’s a PDF, not a clothbound edition I can toss on my cat-hair-covered made-in-China bedspread).

My mom had read a bunch of the books to me as a kid. I’m sure she saw herself and possibly me in Anne—a sometimes-lonely kid with a relentless imagination. I remember liking the books a lot, but because I related to Anne, I couldn’t find her adorable back then. I wanted to be like the people she wanted to be like, not like her. (Although I did desperately want red hair. Now I just want hair.)

Back in the day, the foster care system was worse, but the luggage was better.
Now, with a little more distance, I fell madly in love with Anne. Now I saw that she was a wonderful person to find something in common with—you have to love a girl who announces, “I’m going to burst into tears!” before bursting into tears. Or at least, I hope you do, because this whole blog is basically a chronicle of my own tear-bursts.

Anne is a drama queen. Anne would love to be quiet and mysterious, but she can’t help narrating her desire to be quiet and mysterious. Anne feels sorry for herself, but she’s also convinced something fantastic might be around any corner. She’s a testament to vulnerability over stoicism, and even though I can feel myself becoming more stoic by the day as a coping mechanism, Anne makes me love my still-alive-and-well dramatic side.

Anne is given to imagining herself into wooded fairylands or paintings of Jesus blessing children. She’s a testament to the benefits of an unstructured, under-stimulating childhood. The sick-day crank in me wondered if the Internet were killing all the would-be Annes out there, myself included. Would people who would have found solace in books and nature now just play games online and grow up to be nothing much?

Or is the whole point of Anne’s irrepressible imagination its irrepressibility? Illness can kill imagination, at least for a while, at least until the Dayquil kicks in, but not much else can. At least, that’s what I choose to imagine.

4 comments:

RT said...

I'm not sure it's the Internet as much as the relentless need to structure a child's time around other children: playdates, school activities, piano lessons, sports. Unlike the time ('70s) and place (small town PA) where I grew up, parents in West L.A. don't -- can't -- simply shoo their kids out the door in the morning and tell them to be home for lunch.

You have a typo: "adults' patients." Freudian slip, no doubt....

Finally, I'm concerned about your feet...doesn't AK use some kind of chemical cleaner to do the floors....?

Cheryl said...

Totally Freudian, and now fixed (thanks!).

Good point about the kid-centric, hyper-structured activities. I remember noticing during my camp counselor days how much more the campers got out of one hour of free time than they did from archery, swimming and cultural dance.

So you're saying Pine-Sol isn't an effective spa treatment?

Sizzle said...

I love Anne. I started buying the books for my niece who is very much like me as a kid. They really made an impression on me as a young girl!

Cheryl said...

I'm glad there's a Mini Siz out there!