You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

February 22, 2013 § 1 Comment

My Gigi read playing cards, even though occasionally she remembered she was Baptist and found the devil in them. Usually, she was what I like to call a Spiritualist. She came by it honest; the belief in inherited mystical ability and guilt run deep in my family. She learned it all from her grandmother. That just means we’re Appalachian, I think.

My mom would go to psychics when I was a kid. She and my grandmother took lots of things for omens. One time, the psychic told my mom that the kid with my birthday would make a lot of money. “Maybe she’s off on the dates,” Mom said. “She must mean Jenny.” My sister Jenny’s birthday is two weeks before mine, though she was born with a giant magnet inside her that pulls you in, while I have a small one that pulls me into myself. I’m not complaining. We are who we were born to be. Really, I agree with mom on that one. We’re both still waiting for our cash, though.

By the time I was a teenager, I had a deck of tarot cards, Rider-Waite design, the classics, which the all-knowing Internet tells me, was designed by Pamela Colman Smith, who shares my birthday. I was supposed to wrap them in a red cloth, Leigh Ann told me. The only red cloth I could find was a polyester half-slip that belonged to my mother. It would have to do.  We tried our hand at divining through the cards, but I was too impatient to study it. Maybe it had something to do with the slip? I keep going to psychics, though. Every time, I shake a little, nervous and excited about what my future might hold. Often, they knew things they cannot know, things I’ve never seen.

Last weekend, I talked to a psychic, in the corner of a local restaurant. This one was a medium—she plays the middleman between the living and the dead. According to her, my dad and grandfather were there. According to her, my iron is low. I won’t tell the other things she said, though she knew things she could not have known. She didn’t say anything about a whole lot of money, though. Some people try to figure out how she does it, where the smoke and mirrors are. I choose to believe her. I bought some iron pills.  I just figure, if life does go into some great beyond, there ought to be some kind of way to get a long distance call out there. If, as I heard on Terry Gross’s interview with a scientist in resuscitation medicine, dead is not really dead at first, who’s to say we aren’t transmitting messages  like some old radio wave, back and forth, for year and years, to those we miss and love?


You Say it’s Your Birthday?

February 15, 2013 § 2 Comments

This weekend, I’ll celebrate my twenty-eighth birthday, or at least the anniversary of my twenty-eighth birthday. When you think of the word, which of course I do, the emphasis is on the birth. So, I keep thinking about my birth-day, and how it was my parents’ birth-day too. They never talked about many details of that February day, and who can blame them? Five births, four in winter, must have quickly morphed into one. My sisters were six, four, and two, so they can’t tell me too much. I’ve never thought about it from my parents’ point of view until now:

I think of the fact that my mom had been in a car accident and had her appendix removed while pregnant with me. That’s why they nicknamed me “Tuffy.”  I think of how they must’ve worried that I would not be right, that I wouldn’t live. I was fine, despite some jaundice, so they put me under the lights. I pinked up. Tuffy.

I think of all my sisters, waiting at home with the baby sitter, maybe Roberta? Maybe my Grandmother, but I have no idea if she was there. I think of what my grandfather said to my mother, that he wished she’d have a hard time, so she wouldn’t have so many children, that she was just like a cat having kittens–disgraceful! She didn’t have a hard time, with me, before me, or the next time. She passed that gift onto me, it seems.

I think about how it was more their day than mine, my first day, and I like to think they were happy and relieved, and that they couldn’t believe I had such tiny fingers and toes. I think how young they were: twenty-five and thirty, and how with me as the fourth child, they were already running a zone defense. I think of the three of us maybe cuddled in the hospital room, and how my dad’s colleagues must have come by to see if I was a boy. Bets were surely paid off. Jokes were undoubtedly made.

I wonder if it was snowing, and if they watched it fall through the hospital window, and if they passed me back and forth, careful to cup the back of my head. I wonder if they felt their world had changed and wondered what I might be like at say, twenty-eight?


Happy to Be at Your Cervix

February 8, 2013 § 9 Comments

I’ve been driving around for about a month with a Rubbermaid box full of specula in my trunk. Just in case you’ve never been to a gynecologist, here’s a definition:

  1. A metal or plastic instrument that is used to dilate an orifice or canal in the body to allow inspection.
  2. A bright patch of plumage on the wings of certain birds, esp. a strip of metallic sheen on the secondary flight feathers of many ducks.

I’m talking about #1. Who knew about #2? You see, my dad always thought he would re-open his medical practice, but he didn’t. He had a huge capacity for hope, maybe to the point of a belief in magic. It was some kind of faith I’m not sure I have. He could not imagine himself as anything but a doctor, even though he quit practicing six or seven years before he died.  He was his best self as a doctor, I think.

As the fourth daughter of a gynecologist, this Rubbermaid box in my trunk is some sort of awkward inheritance. What do you do with a box of specula? If you say speculum, the next word that pops into people’s head is vagina, so no one wants to talk about them. Or they do, with a chuckle. First, I thought maybe I would sell the specula on the Internet. I certainly had no use for them. Then, I thought maybe scrap metal? That would be a surprise for the guys going to buy used aluminum and stolen copper wire. Now, though, I’ve decided to donate them to Planned Parenthood. That’s what they’re doing in my car. I keep forgetting about them, until I slam on my brakes and hear them rattling around in the trunk. I think there is a part of me that finds comfort in them—probably the only way to find comfort in a speculum.

When my dad was dying, that last day, a hospice nurse came to sit with us. They’re incredible people, hospice nurses. This one used to work in labor and delivery with my dad. As we watched him get whiter and whiter, this nurse kept her hand on him and told stories of working with him. She even knew he told horrible jokes, like, “Hi, I’m Dr. Wagner, happy to be at your cervix!”  She knew how compassionate he could be. This was such a gift, to see the other side of my big, looming father, whose voice could thunder through the house and shake the walls. At the funeral, more than one woman came up to us and told us my dad had saved her life. A gynecologist is like a hairdresser: if you find a good one, you keep him or her for life. Turns out, you go to their funerals too.

My dad became a gynecologist, he said, because he didn’t like hospitals and didn’t want to deal with sickness all the time.  He loved “birthing babies.” (He had a t-shirt that said, “I don’t know nothing bout birthing no babies.”) Still, he knew what women’s lives were like, and he was pro-choice. He didn’t just talk the talk, either. This conflicted him–I know, though we never talked about it–but I am so proud of him. Who knows what he saw over the years? Who knows what choices he had to make? So, I think he would approve of my decision to donate the specula to Planned Parenthood. If they won’t take them, I’ll send them to a local sliding scale clinic. I think he’d like that too.

There are a lot of babies in the world, some of them now grandparents, that my dad was the first person on Earth to touch. This awes me. Maybe that’s why he had such hope, such belief. He saw the world begin new every day. That is some kind of magic.



February 1, 2013 § 2 Comments

I am driving to work and I see this on a license plate:  :cncrsvr . You should know that North Carolina is the vanity plate capital of the world. At least, I’ve never seen more in my travels.  If you want BLUDVL or TRHELZ1, you can forget it. I’ve even seen LKRDING, which my Dutch friend, Floor, taught me to say. Lekkerding! means delicious thing! as in, “Look at that guy. Lekkerding!” It’s one of my favorite games to figure vanity plates out, even though my inner debutante thinks they’re a little tacky.

:cncrsvr, which is brilliant, I take to mean “colon cancer survivor.” My English teacher side is so pleased by the use of punctuation, by the thoughtfulness of the whole thing, and by the boldness of stamping something so tenuous in metal and putting it on your car for all the world to see. I’m also proud that I’ve figured out the code. I pass :cncrsvr  and want to wave or something, but I know :cncrsvr will have no idea why I’m waving, so I go on to work.  

My car has an empty license plate holder on the front, and it is driving Jeff crazy. “It just looks bad,” he says, ever the artist. “Let me a get you a license plate.” I resist, for the same reason I could never get a tattoo: What would be the right word or image to define me? There are way too many turtle tattoos in the world. And rabid Duke fan that I am, there are way too many Duke license plates. Finally, I remember that we found my parents’ old favorite license plate “I’d Rather Be Flying!” when we cleaned up their stuff. I don’t have it though, so Jeff gets me one that says “FLY”—you know the one that’s like a magic eye? Where you have to really look to see it? I am terrible at magic eye, but I see this. Still, I resist putting it on.

The other day, though, Leigh Ann sent me a message with one of those Internet memes she likes. Usually, I think those are a little too easy, sometimes even trite. This one says: FLY=First Love Yourself.  Ok. But then Leigh Ann says, “Too bad Mother didn’t see the word this way. Well, then again, maybe flying was the only way she did.”

Of course, I will put that license plate on my car now, so I don’t forget.  Maybe someone passing me will get it and wave.


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