A few years ago I attended a reading by fellows at the Lambda Literary retreat. Whenever they introduced a piece that included family violence, coercive sex or aggressive homophobia, they prefaced it—as one of their workshop teachers had clearly taught them—with “trigger warning.”
It struck me as odd, because that’s not really how triggers work. Death and cancer and miscarriage—my trio of connected tragedies—aren’t triggers in the abstract. I would probably find a well written story about any one of them moving and cathartic. No trigger warning necessary.
But no one is there to shout “trigger warning!” when Google Maps takes me through Beverly Hills or a chubby, laughing Persian man outside a café reminds me of my fertility doctor.
“It was just like this last year when my mom died,” she said matter-of-factly. “Cold and drizzly for days, and then, the morning she died, beautiful.”
Friday afternoon, halfway through a phone meeting about our never-quite-done grants management database, I started feeling nauseous. It might be fair to say that discussion of a grants management database alone could prompt this, but it couldn’t explain why I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening puking.
My best bet was that this was a side effect of switching from Tamoxifen (the pre-menopausal-lady cancer prevention drug) to Arimidex (the post-menopausal-lady cancer prevention drug). Because of all my ovary-related shame, Tamoxifen seemed like a fun, cool, young-person drug. Even though Arimidex was slightly more effective and nabbed me two or three much-wanted survival percentage points, taking it felt like the equivalent of wearing mom jeans or a fanny pack. So it would follow that, while Tamoxifen had had no perceptible side effects, Arimidex would make me violently ill.
And being ill is a trigger, a reminder of a time barely passed when I was needy and delicate and requiring special accommodations. A reminder of how all plans—dinner with friends on Friday, square-dancing on Saturday, not to mention cleaning the house—are subject to change.
I spent the day in bed on Saturday, watching episode after episode of Ruby, a weight-loss reality show that aired in 2009. Now it existed in the timeless no-man’s-land of Netflix, a place I seemed to live too. Ruby, who once weighed seven hundred pounds and couldn’t remember her childhood before the age of thirteen, is a riveting real-life character. As far as I can tell, she got the show when she befriended Brittany Daniel, one of the twin actresses from Sweet Valley High, when Ruby was a chatty, charmingly Southern receptionist at Brittany’s gym. Some sort of Girl, you should have your own show! conversation must have ensued. I couldn’t stop watching Ruby track down her missing memories and work through the twelve steps of Overeaters Not-So-Anonymous. She reminded me a little of my cousin Maria in the way she vacillated between little-girl innocence and sly, self-deprecating humor.
|Ruby will kick your astronaut with her catchphrases and pink boxing gloves.|
|Brittany (or the other twin) with that bitch Lila Fowler and a token cheerleader of color.|
A lot of people make psychological issues physical, but I tend to do the opposite—because I’m cerebral, I guess, and because I want my problems to be the result of something profound, existential and controllable. Versus, say, the result of needing a nap. So I was a whiny mess on Saturday morning, reliving my why-don’t-I-have-a-baby-of-some-sort crisis with renewed vigor.
That night AK and I argued mildly about the possible cause of my sickness. Her thought, dispatched from the realm of the reasonable, was that I shouldn’t take a medication that was making me throw up. Wait till Monday, call my doctor. My new theory was that this was the flu, and besides, I was a Martyr For Cancer Prevention. Maybe I would take a half dose, and experiment with taking it at night instead of in the morning, but the deal I’d made with the universe was this: I would do every possible thing to prevent a recurrence, and the universe would keep cancer at bay. Or it wouldn’t, but at least I could die with a clear conscience, knowing I hadn’t skipped my medication that one night.
I felt better Sunday morning, and, true to the first wobbly days after any round of chemo, I proceeded to overdo it, to make up for lost time. (Why didn’t I at least spend Saturday reading? What would two days of living on ginger ale and white bread do to my already-challenged mission to eat mostly kale and avocados?) So AK and I biked to CicLAvia—very good exercise, but not weight-bearing exercise, and certainly the sun wasn’t helping my predisposition to melanoma—and met up with Jennifer, Joel, Pedro and Stephen.
I ate something called Fluff Ice, which was not made of kale but didn’t make me want to puke, and looked at photos of the ranch house Jennifer and Joel had just bought in Ojai. They’d adopted two young alpacas to live there with them.
“You planned a fun day for us!” AK said on the way home, and I felt triumphant.
Then she got a flat, and her water bottle flew out of her backpack and landed in the street, where we watched a truck run over it, and it was not long before I was home again, curled up with Ruby. We both felt as deflated as her tire.