Fiction writers write made up tales. Right? That’s what fiction is. It’s all make believe. We have this ability to create worlds that aren’t real, but if we do it right, maybe the reader wonders if there is some truth hidden in the words and pages of each story. And, who are we kidding? There is some truth in every story we write. Always. Whether it is the description of the father figure and his drinking habits that match your own old man’s habits. Or a story about a one night stand – the one you never had. Or the other story about so many things that were all true.
I think what we frequently do, however, is write stories that expose our deepest fears. Maybe writing is a form of therapy for those of us fortunate enough to be able to put words together in a way that pulls a reader along. Maybe that story about a one night stand was an exploration of the reason why I never had one. Maybe Stephen King has a much more active imagination and fears things the rest of us can’t even comprehend.
One day, I started writing a story about a father who takes his young autistic son for a walk while camping. The father turns his back for two seconds and his son is gone. As I envisioned it, the son would be found several days later. Sunburned and hungry, but okay. I didn’t get very far, but I think it’s still a story I could write at some point.
One day, I started writing a story about a father with two young kids who is diagnosed with a brain tumor. As I envisioned it, the father would spend the final days and months of his life reveling in his family and the things that mattered to him. I thought the title would be something like Living Well, Dying Better. It’s kind of a play on the title of a book on Buddhism. I didn’t get very far, but I think it’s still a story I could write at some point.
You see, we write about our fears.
I have spent my adult life believing that there is a poison lurking in my body that will kill me before I am ready to go. When a friend died of a heart attack at the age of 30, I was reminded of my mortality and that I had occasional pains in my chest that I didn’t understand. And a few months later, I raced to the emergency room because the pains had changed and seemed worse. And when a co-worker died in her early 40’s from colon cancer, I was reminded of my irritable bowel syndrome and the fact that I have these symptoms that could be something, but they aren’t. They never end up being anything. But what happens when they become something and I just think they’re the nothing they have always been?
And then I turned 50 and you know you have to get a physical and do all sorts of things when you turn 50. And I didn’t want to because you know. I had that fear. Is it better to let the poison lurk and kill you slowly without knowledge? Or to find out about it and obsess over the sadness of it all? I’ve gone back and forth on that for years.
What I know is this. I have so many aches and pains and lumps and bumps and spots and splotches, and every time I have gone to the doctor for one of them, convinced I will finally get the diagnosis I have been waiting for, I don’t. It’s always nothing. Absolutely nothing. And if it’s always nothing, why bother anymore.
So, yeah, last year, I started getting this weird feeling in my tailbone. It would come and go, but it felt like I had bruised it. Only I hadn’t. It would bother me when I sat down every now and then. Just barely there. And a little bit when I stood up as well. There just enough for me to say “hmmm, my tailbone, what’s going on down there.”
I googled “sore tailbone” a few months ago. Here’s what I saw: could be an infection, could be an injury, could be a tumor. The fear settled in. Tumor? Did it have to go there?
So, yeah, I turned 50. Did I mention that already? And I knew I had to do the physical thing, but I couldn’t. Because if I went in for a physical, I’d have to talk about my tailbone and tests would be run and x-rays taken and finally the poison would be revealed. Or it would be nothing, which sometimes worse than it being something. So, I stalled for a few months.
Until I started getting this odd pain in my right hip. A little bit crampy every now and then. A little bit of pressure in my lower back right where the hip is. Not all the time. Not actually painful. Just enough pressure there every now and then that I was alerted to it.
So, yeah, weird thing with the tailbone. Weird thing with the hip.
I was 50.
I had to get a physical. It’s like a law or something, you know.
I did. Today. The doctor asked his questions. Ordered an x-ray of my coccyx and sacrum. Ordered up the whole blood test thing. And stuck his finger up my butt. Here’s a question for the ladies. Having a doctor stick his finger up the ol’ butt is probably the closest a heterosexual male will get to understanding what sex feels like for a woman. So, he’s doing his thing back there and I wondered “is this what it feels like.” Lately, I’ve read a number of things that refer to the “pain” that women experience during sex. Is it really painful? It’s one of these mysteries I’ve always wondered. What does the act of intercourse actually feel like from the woman’s perspective? So, yeah, I’m at the doctor’s office, he’s rooting around in there, and that’s what I’m thinking about. Better that than to focus on the fear.
As he wraps things up, I ask him “how’s the prostate?” He says it’s good. So I can cross that off my list of worries.
But there’s still everything else. The sore tailbone, the achy hip, the mindnumbing fatigue I experience most days. Hey, there is good news though, I haven’t experienced any sudden weight loss, or anything else as far as I can tell.
But, still. This is what I fear, but an odd thing happened over the last few weeks as I debated whether to go to the doctor. My kids are almost grown. My fear of dying before that happened is no longer valid. I started to think about whether a fatal diagnosis now would be … a death sentence. Yeah, it would be obviously, but would it be the death knell of all my hopes and dreams. And I started to question that conclusion. Yeah, I would be monumentally pissed that I would not get to enjoy the fruits of my labor – retirement and a relaxed life of a couple of decades before the really bad stuff is supposed to hit, but there was almost some peace that came to me at the idea that this could be it, if that was actually what came to pass. Maybe I’m not as afraid of it as I used to be.
It’s a good thing this is a fiction blog. If this were all true, I would have posted it on my other blog. Right?
I had a psychotic episode at the age of nineteen, so my big fear all my life is what if I have one and just stay that way…nobody can bring me back? I don’t like to go to the doctor. I don’t want to know. If I have cancer I’m not taking chemo or radiation. Put me on hospice and give me the good drugs. My grandfather lived to be 91 and never went to a doctor once in his life, or a dentist. He died with one tooth in his head. There’s a surgery that I was supposed to have had three years ago and I keep putting it off because I’m afraid there will be a life threatening complication. Funny thing is, the longer I put it off, the greater the chances of complications. I’m screwed.
That’s the conundrum. By putting it off we could very well make it worse. But getting the answer can be far too frightening.
Reminds me of that sequence in “Hannah And Her Sisters,” where the Woody Allen character thinks he’s got bad news on a CAT scan and envisions the horror of dying. Turns out, it’s nothing.
I guess we need to keep celebrating the nothing!
That’s not a bad idea.
I have that same fear. Life seems so amazingly lucky and happy, in general for me, that I suspect that some horrible comeuppance must be waiting round the corner. Especially just now when I’m enjoying the company of my beautiful man and hoping to be together for a long time, I think, right – I bet I’m going to get breast cancer any minute now. And for the record, no, sex isn’t like having a finger stuck up your butt:)
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What we define as acceptable health is altered by every year we live. Arthritis? I can live with that. Back spasms? I can live with that. But yes, some things are more than just inconvenience or pain.
Yes. I’m learning that more and more. I have always had aches and pains. Always. There are just getting to be more and more.
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So here’s my theory: those aches and pains? Maybe it’s just being fifty. (I just turned 49, so I’m right behind you, achy hips and all!) And about the sex? It feels good. That’s why we keep doing it 🙂
You may be right … about both things. Maybe I’m weird, but I’ve always wondered what it feels like for a woman. Oh well, I’ll let that go.
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