Yellow Leaves

I am looking out at the yellow leaves above my car. I am in pain today. Head pain. Sometimes back pain. Mostly head pain. And I am not alowed to take advil or aleve. Only Tylenol. Which I took about an hour ago and it did nothing, and so now I am having an internal debate about taking more because what the hell, my liver is shot anyway with all the medication I have been on for the last few years, so who cares if I have to filter Wal-Lynol through it just so I can stop feeling like my eyes are going to push through my sockets for a few brief hours.

I have had a headache for a few days now. I hate them. They make me moody and tired and foul and angry. My neck hurts, and I can just see all the fluid that is supposed to be cushioning my brain and my spine blocked up in my neck and I imagine that if I were to drink Draino that I would fix the clog that has caused this headache and I wouldn’t have to take so much Wal-Lynol, and have a debate about taking Vicodin after that and then have a debate about smoking weed after that. Because all I really want to do is make a loaf of pumpkin chocolate chip bread and watch The Shining and then maybe finish the book I am reading, called The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night Time. But all of these plans seem so tiring that instead I am imagining the clog in my head, and my neck as the pipe they show in the old Draino commercials, and am willing the hair ball or the cat toy or whatever that’s stuck in there to just dissolve away.

Except what’s stuck in there is my brain, and nothing is going to fix is except a surgeon, and that’s two weeks away.

I go back to looking at the leaves outside. And I see the painting I started three weeks ago, which is a nice blue green color. It’s got a thick coat of acrylic paint on it. I like when paintings have thick paint on it. I got an urge to do it. Just like I got an urge to start a scarf, which is sitting under my bed right now, sometimes chewed upon by the puppy. Just like I got an urge to start sewing. I get all sorts of urges to do something artistic but then I remember how I am not creative or artistic so I have all sorts of half-finished projects all over the house, like abandoned children, reminding me of the under-developed parts of my ego.

I wish I were an artist, or a scientist, or a good cook, or an academic, or a vegan, or a an animal rights advocate. I wish I were something that had a clear label, something that boxed me in, in a certain way. Something that was defined, so that when people said my name, they thought of one thing that clearly meant, Me. But I’m amorphous. A cloud. A mist. A fog. I am undefined. The unknown quantity, X.

I keep thinking, I am having brain surgery. People “find” themselves after brain surgery. You always pick up People magazine, or Reader’s Digest, or hear on Dateline about the people who have recovered from some strange illness, or overcome immense odds, and then they climb Mt. Everest, or go on to found a charity. If they are a woman, they will help other women like them. Of course it is gendered. That is besides the point. The point is, people are supposed to have their head cut open and then do magical things. Like ride around on unicorns, or change water to wine. Maybe they will lose a thousand pounds, and resolve to live a life of salvation. They are transformed, humbled, never the same. This is what we expect from people who have lived through major illness. They are suddenly defined by their illness, and their subsequent non-illness.

But what if that does not happen to me? What if things just go on the same? When I get home, what if I am still looking at the same yellow leaves? What if I don’t get magically better, and I am a case that requires more brain surgery, a shunt in my back? What if I am not the miracle, and the unicorns don’t come, and the wine truly has run out at the party? What if I just am sick for good this time?

What then?

And what if I just don’t feel any different in my heart, and I don’t go on to lose a thousand pounds, live a reformed life, do anything any different, and all that’s changed is I have a big scar on my head and I’m not in pain? Will I be a disappointment? I feel a pressure to be something other than I am now. A mandatory shapeshifter. What if I don’t want to do that? What if I can’t? What if I want to look at the yellow leaves outside my window, because all I want is for things to be the same?

I don’t know what it means to be: That girl who had brain surgery. I don’t know if I want to know. Do I? I have struggled for definition my whole life, and now this? This is it? This will be THE thing that people remember me for? As the girl with the scar on her head and neck? What does that mean?

In the quietude of my apartment, yellow leaves falling madly while autumn marches on, I am forgetting those questions for this brief moment.

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In the mirror.

I am learning new things about my body, now that I am thisclose to having my head cut open.

For instance, today I feel very secure and warm in my body, and it’s all because of the clothes I am wearing. The jeans are long enough and stretchy enough, the sweater is soft and hits at the right places. There are problems: not enough contrasting color, too plain, not funky enough. But overall, my body feels warm and soft, so I can overlook the nagging voice in my head that is telling me how bad I look. Feel trumps look.

I have this thing, this problem, this obssession with what I am wearing. Every year it gets worse. I have spent a fortune on clothing trying to fix my flaws, trying to get the perfect wardrobe so that I will feel just right every single day, so that I can make the voice in my head that tells me how bad I look every day to shut the fuck up for once. I imagine that every single person is zeroing in on the things I see in the mirror: hips that are too wide, thighs that are massive, legs that are vein-y and repulsive. My current obssession, outside of fixing my hips and thighs: eyebrows. Past obssessions: maintaining perfect hair, having a perfect pedicure, masking my double chin, and hiding my upper arms. These things can become so overwhelming I spend every portion of my day that is not occupied with something else worrying about how to manage my body. Busyness with something else is my respite: work, school, the dog, cleaning the house: I welcome these distractions. Otherwise, the anxiety about my body is there, waiting in the shadows.

Clothes may not pinch. They may not be too tight, nor too loose. Pants may not be too short, or too skinny at the ankle. Shirts may not ride up in the back. Shirts may not be higher than my belt in the front. I always wear a belt if there are belt loops on my pants. I almost never buy pants without belt loops, because then I cannot wear a belt, which means you could see that my waistband does not lay flat against my stomach, because my stomach is not flat, and that means I am fat. That really doesn’t matter because I have to wear shirts that are longer than where my belt hits, but it is still the rule, and a rule is a rule, so there.

Sleeves must not ride up on my upper arm. They must not be too tight. For a long time I did not wear ruffled or flutter sleeves because that made me feel too feminine and it made my shoulders look too broad and I felt not right so it was best to forgo them lest I feel wrong all day long.

Skirts were another problem. They made my calves look too wide. Just like flats. So if I wore a skirt it had to be with wedges or heels, and the same was true of shorts, but not with capris or crops because they were almost pants and made me feel safe about how much skin I was exposing and so my ankles and calves looked normal and I could wear flats with them. The last few summers I broke these rules as I had too much running around to do and I hurt too much so practicality forced me to grit my teeth when viewing my calves in the mirror under the frill of a skirt.

Tanning took care of the veins on my calves. Living in the Midwest means my skin is a bit pasty, and I’ve inherited a tendency toward spider veins. They’ve lined my calves now for a few years. Having stood on my feet for years in countless retail and food service jobs hasn’t helped my plight, and has only added varicose veins to the mix. I see my calves as hideous blobs of moving blue cheese. I tried saving money the last two years and used self-tanning lotion. It gets expensive, all this body management.

I stare at other women, envy the way pants fit on their bodies. Other women always seem to have the perfect jeans: long enough, fit at the waist just right, flared at the ankle perfectly, a good rinse and weight. I always think: If only I had the right pants, things would be perfect. I believe this is key, the entry into the world of the privileged bodies. Thin women have so many options with their pants: different lengths, different washes, different amounts of stretch, different rises, different designers, different leg widths. Men have this luxury, too. Fat women? We get a 31 inch inseam, two rinses, and three couture designers who make two kinds of jeans a season out of last season’s scraps¬†and sell them to one store that doesn’t restock sizes so all the fat women in town fight over them. There is no choice, not really.

And so I gawk, and think: If I just had the right pants, maybe my legs would be the right legs. Maybe my ass would be the right ass. Maybe my thighs would be the right thighs. If I look in the mirror, I stare at my hips and wonder what other people see. Because¬†I think, they probably don’t see what I see in the mirror when they look at me.

An ode to brain surgery

The topic of brain surgery will create a pause in conversation like no other. Espeically when it is your brain surgery that is up for diuscussion.

I am rather sick of discussing it. Sicker of discussing it than I am sick with the cause for the brain surgery.

I don’t want to have to explain anymore terms like Chiari Malformation or Syrinx or cerebral spinal fluid or dura or posterior fossa decompression. I don’t want to make jokes anymore about how my brain is too big for my skull and we always knew you were smart, haha, so that just make all this much better. No, not really. Maybe for you it does, but I’m the one who will have a saw taken to her skull in a mere four weeks, maybe you should ask me how I feel about it instead of turning this conversation into a case of Medical Mystery.

People are not good at talking about feelings. I know this. This is why they pay therapists. To learn to talk about feelings. To have feelings. To cathart, to release, to grieve, to unrepress. I am studying the art and science of becoming a therapist, and will someday apply various theoretical practices to help people feel.

I don’t understand what is so hard about feeling. I understand about displaying too much emotion. About putting emotion in the wrong place, with the wrong person. I understand about having to hold back emotion. Like swallowing the desire to punch someone in the head because you are irritated that you have to explain, for the 50th time, that your brain is too big for your skull, and you have to laugh at that joke because clearly, it’s the first time you heard it, ha fucking ha. I understand about having to repress the emotion that comes when people pretend to care about your brain surgery, your pain that leaves you unable to do the things you could do last year at this same time. That emotion is anger. You can tell they pretend to care because they look for ways to get out of the conversation as quickly as possible. You let them, because it’s really easier for you both. Then you cry later because you’re just tired of always being the different one.

I have actually, in my old age, become repressed, and am fully aware of it, because I am playing the social role of good girl. I used to do that a lot less.

A funny thing happens when you get diagnosed with something big like a progressive illness that may leave you paralyzed, and will leave you with chronic pain for the rest of your life, and may require multiple brain surgeries. You begin to think about just saying whatever the fuck comes to your mouth. Layers of socialization start peeling away like an onion. You see them fall off and lie next to you, yellowing and thin as tracing paper. There goes my abilty to care about what professors think about me, you think. There goes my ability to give a fuck about what random people think. There goes my ability to sit through painful conversations. I’ll just get up and walk out. It’s a sort of molting.

My surgery takes place October 28. This is three days before Samhain and 10 days before my birthday. It is the new year for me in many ways. It is an oppoprtunity to be something different, be someone new. I’m not doing it on purpose. I am not trying to unveil A New Me! With More Room For My Brain! I find it is just happening. I find I have less tolerance for things I have been socialized for, have been beaten down for in the last few years. When you find out your skull will be pried open, you find not much else matters, and you just get down to business real quick. It is a death of sorts for me, these last four weeks. Parts of me are dying. There is much to be buried. This malformation — I was born with it. This is an opportunity to re-do, symbolically, life, birth to 30.

This past year, I have been disowned, disenfranchised. I have been without a home for part of the year. All because I turned queer. I have been sick. I had to find a new job. I got divorced. My life has not been easy. I’m ready to do something different now. I’m ready to stop struggling so much. I don’t identify with struggling, but it seems to identify with me. I dream that this is the pinnacle of the struggle, and I have four more weeks. I am acquiring a new attitude, I can already tell. And I am hoping, once they cut into my brain, that they will excise all the crap that I have accumulated in 30 years, so I can do something different in my life once.