To my credit, I did wait until the woman who glared at my wailing toddler while throwing hastily packed handleless paper bags into our cart was out of earshot.
I assure you that the feeling was mutual.
My meltdown had been brewing for weeks, but in a single moment, this mostly innocent stranger had handed me the perfect excuse. As soon as that sticky cart burst through the sliding doors and into the August humidity I let loose a string of expletives I’m sure that Frida will repeat any day now. All at once my mother and I were transported back to the decade when our household was simultaneously enduring puberty and menopause, scream-whispering at each other in the blazing grocery store parking lot.
I was back in New England long enough to remember why I left. There’s something about returning to the scene of my high school misadventures that awakens every latent family dynamic I thought I’d abandoned long ago. Sure, at home my mothers live in my backyard. But in Seattle, our separate dwellings keep the bickering to a minimum. In their salty cottage by the sea, a reverse seasonal depression overwhelms me and suddenly I feel 17 again, sweating through yet another waitressing job and moping over crusty boys who smell like Nag Champa and Marlboro Reds.
Except that in reality I’m 35, married, unemployed, and breastfeeding a 16-month-old with nine and a half teeth.
If I were funnier I’d say I was allergic to vacation, but really, my body is allergic to me. And possibly Massachusetts. The beasts of New England are buzzing and prehistoric. Turkeys roam through the front yard every morning. Mosquitos attack every night. So when I noticed a mysterious rash on my lower half I assumed that yet another cursed member of the region’s flora or fauna had sought revenge on me.
Reader, the call was coming from inside the house. The call is always coming from inside the house.
Because I am the designated ER visitor of my family, the other members of the compound didn’t blink an eye when I shuffled out of urgent care with a shingles diagnosis. But I shouldn’t blame New England for my nerve pain and subsequent Valtrex prescription.
As is our custom, Jacob and I consciously turned the whole ordeal into an adventure. An adventure that included a walking tour of my high school CVS before stopping for bagels, but my husband is already keenly aware that my guide to Cape Cod is unorthodox and slightly disappointing. Everything is informed by my greatest hits and misses between the ages of 14-22:
- Here is the beach parking lot where my friends and I spent endless hours doing absolutely nothing.
- Here is where I witnessed my boss drop a breakfast burrito on the floor and re-wrap it in a new tortilla to serve to customers.
- Here is the cemetery where I peed my pants after doing mushrooms for the first time.
Shingles is a complicated animal. It lies dormant in the body for years and then pops up when you least expect it. When your immune system has been gutted. When you’re emotional or stressed.
What I’m saying is that I really should’ve been prepared.
The perfect moments are too difficult to write about without sounding like I’m composing Dawson’s Creek: The Midlife Years fan fiction.
- One day the humidity finally breaks and three generations swim in the pond, passing the baby back and forth until we get goosebumps under the late-summer sun.
- Every morning I stand in the outdoor shower looking up at the trees, the breeze rushing through every space between each wooden slat.
- Frida naps under a fan, her little limbs tan and chubby and sprawled, not quite a baby but hardly a kid.
We’re home now, both families situated side by side in our own respective pods. The rain has arrived and the citizens of Seattle are firing up their Seasonal Affective Disorder lamps. Every so often a burning pain inches its way up my legs, the lingering ghost of my latest ordeal.
There’s a Flannery O’Connor quote that keeps floating around in my anxious brain: “If it is presumptuous to think that faith will stay with you forever, it is just as presumptuous to think that unbelief will.” Perhaps it is just as crazy to think of myself as permanently ill as it is for someone else to take their health for granted, but so far I haven’t found any evidence to the contrary.
To have faith in your body is to possess grand illusions or no illusions at all.
Frida points to pictures of the beach in her books and then back at herself. She points at her belly button and says “mama,” which either means nothing or is too complicated to even unpack. I tell her that’s where we were attached and she giggles, showing me all nine and a half of her teeth.
For the tenth time today I decide that this is my favorite adventure.