December 7, 2010

T-shirt slogans and vocations

"Being pro-choice is not being pro-abortion.  Being pro-choice is trusting the individual to make the right decision for herself and her family."  ~Hillary Clinton.  This is what my new, purple t-shirt says.  


The national conference for Med Students for Choice was this weekend in Chicago.


I sat at a round table after breakfast and listened, along with over four hundred other people, to Dr. Rachel Phelps give the keynote speech of the conference.  She spoke on the current barriers to women's access to contraception, reproductive health care, and abortion services.  Her words would have been depressing, if I had focused on the current undermining that is occurring across the entire United States.  As I listened to her speech, I could feel my heart beating forcefully in my chest.  I could feel a rising sensation in my gut, a feeling that spread and took hold around my heart and squeezed painfully so that the air I drew in to breathe made my chest ache with tension.  My heart literally ached at what Dr. Phelps described.  


She spoke of the laws and restrictions that make it ever more difficult to obtain an abortion.
She spoke of physician-only laws, of 24-hour waiting period-laws, of parental involvement laws.
She spoke of the violence that has been done to physicians who provide abortions.


She spoke of the women that she sees in her work: white, black, Asian, rich, poor, educated, ignorant, young, old, middle-aged, married, single, mothers, first-pregnancies.  She spoke of the women who had been yearning for a child but found out that their fetus had such a severe chromosomal abnormality that it was incompatible with life.  She spoke of women who already had several children and loved them dearly, but simply could not afford either the money or especially the time and energy to have another child so close the others.


She spoke of how often she saw women whose contraceptive method had failed.
She spoke of how often she saw women whose doctors had misunderstood their birth control methods or needs, of how often their doctors had taken them off birth control or refused them an appropriate method because they did not have the right information about different methods.
She spoke of how few hours medical schools spend on an aspect of health which touches nearly all of our female patients, of how little time is spent on the methods of birth control, of how few residencies related to women's health even talked about contraception or abortion.
She spoke of how often her patients thanked her for making a decision bearable that was so hard for them.
She spoke of how 1.5 million abortions happened last year alone in the United States.
She spoke of how 1 in 3 women will have an abortion.
She spoke of the 1800 doctors who currently provide abortions and how they are aging and retiring with no one to take their place.


I felt my heart constrict, I felt a band of resonant pain around my chest as I listened.  As Dr. Phelps talked, I realized that this, this was something that mattered to me, deeply.  I realized that, no matter how much I try to say that I am open-minded about what I want my specialty to be, this called to me.  If I truly wanted to help those who cannot help themselves, this was my calling.


Life is too precious for it to be undertaken lightly, and no woman should be forced to bear a child she does not want.


I want to be an obstetrician/gynecologist.  I want to help my patients with anything related to their reproductive health.  I want to help them bear the children they want, and I want to be able to help them when they face a pregnancy they cannot continue.  I want to be there for my patients for the joyous births, but I also want to be there for them when they face the deepest sorrow, or fear, or uncertainty.


I want to honor women's ability to make their own decisions.  


I want to be an abortion provider.

December 2, 2010

In Memoriam

We are privileged to have spent an entire semester examining the bodies of our donors. We have sliced them open, separated skin from muscle and muscle from bone; we have laid bare the inner structures of brain and lung and heart and gut. In many ways, we know our body donors much more intimately than we may ever know another patient: we have seen the ravages of age and disease not only from the outside but from the inside, from the discolorations that betray a bruise or internal bleeding and from the calcification of arteries. As we moved from the arm to the head to the chest and abdomen and now move on to the hips and legs, we have learned the secrets that a lifetime compiles in the flesh. Here, one donor had an appendix in a highly atypical position, on his left side. There, a donor died of cirrhosis of the liver and as a result, his entire preserved body turned a pale chartreuse. Our donors, unlike patients, cannot hide things from us: we can see the extent of a disease's path, the traces of malignancy or self-destructive behavior which have writ large upon the organs their telltale signs.

We know so much, and yet so little.

Who was this person who lies here on the table in front of us? Was he kind? well-liked? despised by one and all? Did she have many children? and did they give her grandchildren? Was his life happy, or shot through with sorrow? Did her family mourn her passing, or was it a blessing in its mercy? What convinced them to donate their bodies so that we might learn?

It is these questions which we push aside or ignore, because these are the questions we cannot answer. In some ways, it is helpful not to know. The distance that we are given by the sheer anonymity of donation allows us to ignore the fact that here before us lies the body of a human being. To ignore the humanity of our donors, though, is to deny our purpose here--to learn to help the living through the sacrifices of the dead.

Many of us have grown attached to our cadavers. In a strange way, they are our labmates, no different from the students standing across the table from us. As a mark of affection, we named our donor Betty Jo. Her name engendered a heated discussion. We debated several names, trying to find one that fit our impressions of our donor the best. In the absence of a true history, we created one for her. Betty Jo, we decided, was clearly someone's grandma. She was the warm and fuzzy grandma archetype, with a checked apron and a plate of cookies straight out of the 1950s. Even though we had no way of knowing if “Betty Jo” was anything like our imaginary patient, by giving her a name, we included her more in our dissection. After her christening, we tended to refer to her by her name, or even talk to her a bit. When the dissection was difficult, we were upset with her; when we found an interesting structure, we gave her praise.

As we draw near the finish of our anatomy course--and as we come ever closer to day when we must bid our body donors goodbye--today is a chance to take a moment and reflect on their gift to us. Without their donation, anatomy would be purely abstract, rooted in the fictions of Netter's atlas. Instead, our knowledge is concrete, tied to specific donors and the structures we saw and identified there. In tracing the nerves and vessels within the body itself, we have created our own maps of anatomy that will guide us in our future careers as physicians.

For this, we must be grateful. It is only fitting that we honor our body donors here today, that we take a moment to thank them with our hearts for the knowledge we have gained at their sides. As future physicians, our privilege to know the intimate secrets of other people has already begun; let us remember our body donors as we go out into clinics and use that which we have gained to learn the private information of other patients' lives.


Delivered at the MCW Body Donor Memorial service, 12-1-10.

November 23, 2010

Almost vacation

It is Monday and I am drunk.  I read pyjeon's blog and wrote him a crazy email because I am drunk.  My friend NS and I finished a bottle of wine between the two of us and had two huge bowls of popcorn and a pomegranate, then watched Mean Girls and reveled in the high school pettiness.  Then I gchatted an old friend and found myself truly inebriated, judging by the difficulty of typing correctly.  This is a good beginning to Thanksgiving week.

November 16, 2010

Sanctuary

The entryway is the hiss of gas and the whump! of the flame.  Next is the metal on metal clang and a high-pitched shhhhh of a pat of butter foaming up.  The knife makes the wooden cutting board resound with a thunk, and the cuts it makes crackle through the crisp flesh of an onion.  The orchestra is rounded out with a bubbling pot of water, percolating and agitating air from the heated bottom of the pan so that it rises and bursts at the surface.

The sounds give way to smells that permeate the air: garlic, onion, tomatoes in a percussive dance of flavor.  The swirl of evaporating, starchy pasta water smells like comfort.

When the pasta drains, there's a cloud that rises from the sink, vaporized spaghetti particles floating on salted air.

The act is one of mindless submission to technique and action: chopping, stirring, tending--none of it requires human development or a knowledge of anatomy if I choose not to use it.  In the space between the counter and the stove, I can create a measure of comfort and sustenance that is fulfilling and nourishing.  The food itself is filling--but the act of creation, more so.

October 27, 2010

Trial by...?

This somewhat follows my previous entry, "Reincarnation."  Intrinsic to the idea of reincarnation is the concept of being born anew on a different plane of existence. It is not simply living another life, but ultimately the goal is to learn something from what had happened before and use this in the next life.

Part of medical school is remaking yourself on a different plane of existence, this time on a different social plane. As a doctor, you are expected to transcend social niceties because it suddenly is your job to worry about someone you've never met's sexual history and practice; suddenly you are remiss if you do not inquire into drug use or marital status or infections previously endured. In a way, this is why we need the socialization and the standards of professionalism written into our curricula: our teachers are there for us to model ourselves after, so that we can learn to properly guard this trust given us by virtue of our position, by virtue of our profession.

There are few other relationships held as sacrosanct as that between a physician and her patient; those that come to mind are lawyer-client and parishioner-priest. In the same way, the physician guards secrets and knowledge and intimacies that even couples do not share with one another.

This was particularly on my mind last week--the things that must remain unspoken after the visit is over, after the examination. In some ways, this is a paradox: the physician should keep careful notes of what she observed, what the patient said, how the patient felt, what findings can be cobbled together to support a diagnosis of the etiology of the complaint. At the same time, however, for the nascent physician--more specifically, the medical student--there are things which are not considered.

I was shadowing a geriatrician last week, and a patient came in complaining of persistent diarrhea. The doctor examined the patient in many typical ways, but he also decided to examine the woman's rectum. He put on a pair of gloves and used a little lubricant to test for the tone of the woman's sphincter, to make sure there was no damage there. He then told me to put on a glove so that I, too, could examine the woman.

I did as he asked.  He squirted a dab of lube on my finger, and I rubbed it around to spread it across my finger.  I gently probed the patient and felt her muscles tighten around my finger.  I quickly withdrew and stripped the glove away.  

Several thoughts went through my mind at once as I was doing this.  First, I was surprised by the willingness of the patient to let me do what the doctor was doing.  Second, I was surprised by the fact that I was able to do this without an outward reaction (with the possible exception of tearing off the cuff of my glove as I was putting it on).  Third, I felt guilty, as if I were violating this woman because I didn't actually know what "normal" would be--so my attempt at the exam was really just me prodding and poking at things I had no knowledge of.  Her trust in me, a medical student, told me more about the position I had come into than anything abstract ever could.

I have yet to tell any of my M1 friends at school about this; many of them have shadowed one or another physician here (lots of them our psychiatry professor who works with veterans).  But somehow, this seems too personal, as if I shouldn't talk about it.  I don't know if that says more about my relationship with my classmates or more about how I feel about the experience.

October 21, 2010

NaNoWriMo = Yes or No?

So there's this website called onepageperday.com.  And I decided to use it and write something every day.  But while exploring the site, I realized that National Novel Writing Month starts on November 1st, and suddenly I have been stricken with a desire to participate.

Hmm.  50,000 words in 30 days?  That's...slightly less than 1700 words a day.  I just wrote an entry for 406 words in about ten or fifteen minutes....so that's not too bad, right? Less than an hour a day...(but biochem! anatomy! development! showering!  All important, time-consuming things...)

Also, I don't know if I have an idea yet.  Maybe I will wait and see if one pops up before November 1st.

October 20, 2010

Reincarnation

Med school is like reincarnation.  Today, as part of our psych education, we had a developmental interview with a classmate's wife and 10 month old baby.  She's still in the phase of exploring the world around her--or really not even quite there yet.  She's looking around, crawling, peeking into places and trying new things, but she's certainly not very secure.

In the shower just now, I realized that as a medical student I'm doing the same thing the baby was doing.  Medicine is like starting a new life as a baby: you have to learn to communicate, to use your senses to decipher what is going on around you, and eventually you work your way up to manipulating your world (i.e. patients) and participating in it.  Especially on my mind was the fact that I will be shadowing a geriatrician tomorrow as part of my mentor class.  I will just be observing--or maybe, he will let me talk to the patients a little.  I probably won't know very much about what is going on with their health conditions, but I hope to learn something while I'm there.  I have my own "toy"--a stethoscope--which I may get to use, but I still don't quite know what I'm listening to.

I was also thinking about what I should wear tomorrow, and it occurred to me that just as a little girl tries on her mother's heels, jewelry, and makeup, so too have I noticed myself observing the unwritten codes of appropriate, professional dress.  The clothes themselves aren't really an issue, but I am definitely curious about shoes.  Men are so lucky, their shoes seem to be for the most part comfortable and serviceable and definitely useful for walking.  Women's shoes are either pretty or useful, but rarely both.  I have a pair of low, sling-back heels that I'll have to wear tomorrow, but honestly they're a little worn and I need to go shoe-shopping.  So, what to buy?  I have already deduced that Dansko shoes are the way to go: neutral colors of classy footwear designed for professionals to wear yet built for standing and walking.

In keeping with the "infant" M1 status, I also learned two suture stitches today.  I feel inordinately proud of myself but at the same time, I still feel a little like I'm pretending.  When does that feeling go away, I wonder?  After your fourth year?  After your intern year?  After residency?

October 19, 2010

Fall shenanigans

Last week was insane.

Five exams in five days--the M2s warned us that block 2 was the hardest, and they were right.  Not that the next two blocks will be that much easier, but there was just so much to know.

On the bright side, I passed all tests and did well on anatomy.  No honors this time around but that's okay.

Friday, we went apple picking in Fond du Lac.*  They also had a corn maze!

Saturday, I chopped a peck of apples and made apple butter all night (well, I didn't really do that much.  The crock pot did all the work).

Saturday night some of my classmates went down to the Chancery.  There was some low-key frivolity but it eventually ramped up into carousing.  There were blue liquids in shot glasses.  I drank a beer with a pickle in it, which was salty and tart and improved the way Miller Lite tasted.  Plus I got to eat the pickle after.

Sunday, I canned the apple butter.  This was exciting.  I've helped my mom can apple butter before--almost every year when I was little up through high school--but I'd never done it all by myself.  Even last year, when the girls and I made apple butter, we just put it in small tupperwares because we knew we'd eat it before it needed to be kept from spoiling.

I did the whole shebang: boiling the jars and lids, emptying them out, filling them with a little head space, then processing them for ten minutes.  I left the jars upside down for a day to help the seal form (I think everything's gone well!  I guess I won't know for a while).

My friend ER came over and we made apple bread/muffins with MORE apples that we had picked on Friday.  It was a pretty apple-tastic day.

I rounded out the weekend with a nice dinner (risotto and a glass of wine), a leisurely bath and plenty of watching Weeds.



*NB: Unlike in Missouri, here in Wisconsin all the French names are actually pronounced somewhat close to their intended pronunciation.  Sure, Wisconsinites tend to say "Prairie du Chien" as if it were "prairie du chine" and "Fond du Lac" as if it were Fond de Lac, but hey! I'm excited they have the nasal sound going on.  I mean, come on, Missouri, we really have a town pronounced "Vur-sails" and spelled Versailles?**

**Using NB for nota bene always makes me think of orgo and dear old Vlad.  Also, I've been using it a lot in my biochem notes recently.

October 10, 2010

10 things about 10/10/10

1. It was unseasonably warm today--80 degrees!
2. I studied in the park and watched highlighter-yellow leaves on the trees.
3. I actually got things done in studying for my week of exams that starts tomorrow.
4. On my way home from the park, I stopped at the Spice House and bought sweet smoked Spanish paprika.
5. I made a delicious curry-roasted cauliflower & yellow split pea soup for dinner.
6. Gomer the cat sat on my lap while I studied and purred at me.
7. I got to sleep in this morning!
8. I've been watching Weeds, which is ridiculously addicting and is impeding my studying a little.
9. I just took a multiple intelligences survey that told me my top three strengths are Musical, Linguistic, and Spatial learning.
10. I am feeling really optimistic with regard to my exams and life this week.

Overall, a good day!

September 23, 2010

Why, gas stove, why?

Apparently, underneath the stovetop part of gas stoves, there is this thing called a pilot light.  And apparently, that means that when you're trying to clean up the sauce that spilled right there next to the metal burner-part using your finger as a scrubby, you're going to get a burn.  A very small, painful burn right next to your fingernail.

September 22, 2010

Pregnant dreams

Last night, I dreamed that I was pregnant.

I have had this dream once before, but this was different.  I was in our kitchen at home, talking to my mom.  We were talking about nothing in particular.  I felt my water break and realized that I was pregnant--I hadn't known before.  There was some discussion about how it was that I came to be pregnant--I didn't know.  I couldn't think who the father was, or even how it had happened.  I remember patting my belly, which was not taut the way pregnant bellies look with their hidden-basketball roundness, but rather much the way it normally looks (soft and squishy and nondescript).

The dream did not include birth, but suddenly I was presented with a tiny baby, purple-mauve with curled arms and legs and a scrunched-up face.  My whole body suffused with joy as I looked down at this infant cradled against my chest and I had the thought "skin on skin contact."  I thought it was a girl but then saw that it was a boy.

Next, I was at home again, in a La-Z-Boy recliner, like the blue cloth one we had when my brother was new.  My baby was fussing a little, and I held him and pushed out the recliner to tilt horizontally.  A vaguely defined male was standing over us and drew a blanket over me, tucking us in, and I curled up on my side in the chair around the baby.

I woke up curled in the same position and diffusely content, though a little weirded out.

September 15, 2010

Cause of Death

"The list is up!"
"What list?"
"How our donors died.  You can see how old they were and everything!"

We are crowded around the paper, taped to the dry-erase board.  Our donor heads the list; our table is the first one on our wing.  She was 85 and died of several different things.  She is not alone: most of the donors are older individuals and their list of ailments runs to the end of the line.  Some entries end with commas, as if there were more but it just couldn't all fit on the line.  Some are heart-breakingly short.  Two donors on our side were young, in their fifties.  Both died of pancreatic cancer.  Someone runs their finger down the "age" column, marveling at the youngest (53) and the oldest (101).  One of my classmates speaks as if she were an authority: "Well, it's the deadliest one.  It's the fastest."  I can tell from her voice that she has no idea, that she has never known anyone with pancreatic cancer.  I try to speak up.  "It's hard, because you don't know what it is until it's too late.  And it's fast, that's true.  But it's because you don't know until it's too late."  Too late.  The words linger on my tongue.  My classmate has no idea, is not really listening, is only thinking about what she thinks she knows about pancreatic cancer.  One of my lab partners knows.  He says "Our family friend died last year from pancreatic cancer."  His grimace is brief, a shadow that passes over his face at what cannot be understood without experience, that it takes without mercy, that there is no justice in finding out a diagnosis because it is too late.  I say nothing but suddenly I am struck by the fact that my classmates have donors who could just as easily have been Dad, that they might not even have realized yet--that their body is young, much younger than our 85 year old.  They have not yet connected these dots, the ones that would have pointed to a tragic end.  I wonder if I had seen these donors (I know I have, during the practical) when I was studying.  How often had I scrutinized their brachial plexus? or turned their arm to see the posterior arm muscles? and never paused for a moment to study the body itself, to see age or barely even register sex.  As I strip off my gloves, I am grateful the lab was short today, that I am already free to go, that I can wash my hands in the gently warm water and slip out the side door without anyone noticing.

September 12, 2010

First block of exams--check!

We had our first exams last week, right after the long weekend.  I did well, so I was very content.

To celebrate, a lot of our class went out Wednesday night to do karaoke--there was beer spilled everywhere and middle school favorites sung and plenty of dancing/shout-singing along.

Friday night we had people over and watched telenovelos while making up what they were saying.  Then we went out to a bar and it was so crowded I couldn't hardly move.  At one point I was gratefully wedged into a corner by an incongruous arcade game and the side wall.  I had a jager bomb and a shot of jager later, probably trebling my jager consumption to date.  Eventually, I gave up and wove through the crowd to escape.

I was by turns elated, confused, and content for varying reasons over the course of the week.  Movies were watched, studying was done, exams were taken, drinks (and shots!) were had...crazy, good week.

August 29, 2010

HPI

Pt is a 22-year-old White female first-year medical student.  Pt has two lateral lacerations of the dorsal aspect of the fifth intermediate phalanx of the left hand.  Pt was crushing a garlic clove when the cutting board gave way and split in two, causing the knife to slip and cut the skin of the finger.  Cuts are 1/8 in. deep but were made superficially.  Lacerations were bleeding steadily for five minutes but bleeding abated with direct pressure.  Google search and a call to an EMT-friend determined that neither stitches nor a trip to the emergency room were required.  Pt will keep adhesive bandages and antibacterial ointment on lacerations until wound has healed.  Follow-up assessment and rebandaging recommended post-shower and in a.m.

--

Man, my pinkie hurts.

August 15, 2010

White Coat

We were in a performing arts center, in red velvet chairs lined up in continental seating.  Family members and friends were arrayed behind us and in the balcony.  I was separated at the last minute from my roommate and sat in the middle of one of the last rows of my class, with two people I hadn't met yet on either side.


There were speakers; the Dean and the President and several professors all gave welcoming words and admonishments as to the importance of what we were about to embark upon.  Yet somehow the ceremony did not seem quite real, quite as solemn as I had hoped.  I think I would have liked for us to recite a portion of the Hippocratic oath, or perhaps the Oath of Maimonides (one that was quoted, to great effect, in one professor's speech).  Even though we had only one role--file onstage in groups of thirteen, stand at attention and slip our arms backward into the stiff white sleeves--it was in listening to the Oath of Maimonides that I finally felt welling up within me an immense wellspring of emotion.  


The Oath of Maimonides
The eternal providence has appointed me to watch over the life and health of Thy creatures. May the love for my art actuate me at all time; may neither avarice nor miserliness, nor thirst for glory or for a great reputation engage my mind; for the enemies of truth and philanthropy could easily deceive me and make me forgetful of my lofty aim of doing good to Thy children.
May I never see in the patient anything but a fellow creature in pain.
Grant me the strength, time and opportunity always to correct what I have acquired, always to extend its domain; for knowledge is immense and the spirit of man can extend indefinitely to enrich itself daily with new requirements.
Today he can discover his errors of yesterday and tomorrow he can obtain a new light on what he thinks himself sure of today. Oh, God, Thou has appointed me to watch over the life and death of Thy creatures; here am I ready for my vocation and now I turn unto my calling.



It is strange to put words to it, exactly: I was proud to be joining this profession; I was thrilled that my life's work could be this care and love for my fellow man; there was a hint of anxiety, lest I fail in my duties to my patients and my colleagues; but above all, what struck me was the expanding love I felt for my future patients.  In that moment, listening to an oath describing the feeling I had when I thought about becoming a doctor, I felt as if now, finally, I was different and ready, that I was prepared for the personal changes that are to come.


In a way, I feel now that my self has refracted: it is as if who I was before continues to exist, but bent away from its original path.  Instead, there are other parts of me that are bent even further, the parts which will be responsible for patients, and which will be responsible for being professional, and which will call upon the rest of me to step up and do what is necessary and what is right.  I have only felt this kind of shift maybe once or twice before--after my father's funeral, and last fall when I decided to become a vegetarian.  In both cases, I felt as if something inside had simply fallen into place, and a new course was set for how my life would be.  Here, too, I feel my old self shifting to fit around the strange corner into the new me, where I have simply no choice but to change, because my new life requires a completely different approach.


Classes start tomorrow.  I'm ready.

August 10, 2010

Bank of Everywhere Else

What?

What?  This map is wrong.  Google must have messed up the search, or the scale.  

Why aren't there any banks in Wisconsin?

Why is the nearest Bank of America in Illinois?

#$@^!#%*&#@*!#$@#

Why is it called Bank of America if it isn't in every state?


August 9, 2010

I feel like a freshman, a little

It feels like gen chem.

We are two hundred and four strong, seated in a tiered, stadium seating-style lecture hall, and the chalkboards look menacingly small from where I sit.

It's different, though.  The round of introductions and welcoming remarks all begin with the same phrase: "Welcome to medical school!  Congratulations!"  Gradually, I feel a smile take over--I can't help it.  It is great to feel like yes! I have arrived here, at my destination.

Someone named Luke (Luc? who knows) doesn't pick up his name tag.  Everyone nervously looks at one another (where is he? doesn't the poor guy have a roommate, someone to call him if he overslept?  he'll lose his spot, won't he?  or does he just pay the $100 late registration fee?) but gradually, as he fails to appear, he becomes a running joke, a point for the speakers to refer to and something that already ties us together.

Introductions aside, the day slides sideways into boredom via reality-driven sessions on financial aid, government loans, repayment plans, and computer systems.  Public safety talks to us about security and using our key cards. A terrible presenter stalls through a presentation that is supposed to give us study tips and strategies for this new, challenging volume of coursework that we will be doing.

After the day's assigned activities, the Dean holds a reception in a large room.  For some reason, the walls are lined with chairs, Regency ballroom-style, and the first few students in the door quickly fill up the seats.  The rest of us look around, unsure if we need to find a partner for the waltz or if we should just congregate awkwardly while clutching our free shoulder bags and plates full of cheese cubes and raw vegetables.  My roommate and I take refuge with a few others in the balcony of the room and watch the rest of our class mill around.

On the upside, meeting new people was not as scary as it felt it would be yesterday.  My class is 54% men.  And best of all, I ran into most of the people that I already know here: a girl I knew in Nice, the people from undergrad, and even better a few people from my interview day that live right down the street.

Who knew doing nothing could be so exhausting?

August 4, 2010

Spotted Cow is delicious

Yesterday, Ben wanted to get a nice seafood dinner since Milwaukee is on a Great Lake.  Since Mom said we could use the credit card, and because he was nice enough to come be free moving labor, we went out to eat.  The waitress recommended Spotted Cow as a local beer.  It was light and slightly fruity and wonderful--it reminded me of Blue Moon but I think I liked it even more.

When we got back to the apartment, we decided we wanted more of the beer so I ran out to get some.  It was 8:45pm when I left--and apparently, in Wisconsin they stop selling alcohol at 9pm.  Luckily, we live about three minutes from a grocery store.  I made it through the line with five minutes to spare.

Today, though, I made my first meals in my new home.

Breakfast: soft-boiled eggs and a tomato, sliced, all with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and washed down with a cup of tea.  One of the eggs cracked as I dropped it in the water and the white ballooned outside the shell.  Surprisingly, some of the yolk escaped, too, but the center was still slightly creamy--a bit more done than I like.  The other one was a little under done.  The microwave didn't have a timer that I could find!  Who ever heard of such a thing--a microwave without a timer?!

I took Ben to the airport so he could go home.  I went to two different grocery stores and Walgreens but I still forgot to get plain oatmeal.

I mixed up a batch of No-Knead bread.  I get to bake it tomorrow morning.

Dinner was whole wheat pasta with a quick ragout I made myself: mushrooms and zucchini sautéed in butter with garlic, salt and pepper.  At the last minute I decided I wanted something more and threw in a diced tomato, which cooked up deliciously.  I threw the pasta on top of the sauce in a bowl-plate and sprinkled on some parmesan cheese.

I would say the kitchen is now properly inaugurated!

Ten hours is a lot of driving

Saturday was packing day.  My family went out to breakfast with my uncle and his wife, and then we picked up the Uhaul truck afterward.  I had reserved a 10' truck to move all of my belongings to Wisconsin--bed, table and chairs, desk, clothes, worldly belongings, kitchen implements--and as of Saturday morning, I had not yet begun to pack.

We moved large items first (logical and necessary).  They took about an hour and a half of maneuvering, mainly because I was taking my brother's comfy, soft mattress and switching it out with the one I was sleeping on, a rock-solid lump that had been giving me a backache all summer.  The big items were actually the easiest to finish.  The rest of the afternoon was spent sorting clothes, sifting through the boxes of junk I had brought home from college, finding the useful items and tossing lots of odds and ends that should have been thrown away when I moved out of St. Louis.  I surprised myself by ending up with a mere two tubs of kitchen supplies.  By nightfall, I was exhausted but the truck was packed.  I would say it was packed to the gills but honestly, I could have stuffed more in there.  It wasn't particularly efficiently packed but it was packed enough.

That night, I couldn't sleep.  First, because I had no place to sleep, I shared a bed with Mom, something I hadn't done in years.  In sleepover fashion, we were talking even after we turned out the lights.  Before I even knew it, it was one o'clock and I was getting up at six to be on the road early.

Six came like a poke in the gut--not as harsh as a slap to the face but painful and leaving a tender spot behind.  There were toiletries to pack, my face to wash, coffee to gulp.  I gave my mom one last hug and it didn't even seem as poignant as it probably should have--at that point, I was ready to be on the road, anxious to get started, and exhausted still from the full day of packing.  Ben clambered into the Uhaul and we rolled away down the road.

Twenty minutes into our trip, we stopped at a McDonald's to meet with an old family friend of my roommate.  He had been in town to visit family and was hitching a ride with us toward the Great White North.  It was surprisingly easy company--not as fun as the When Harry Met Sally scenario I had envisioned, but that was probably because he was my mother's age and not mine.  Ben caught a break when we stopped in Des Moines, because the man drove the truck for a while and Ben got to nap in my car.

The trip was fairly uneventful.  There was a bit of a toll problem: it was one of those bucket tolls, a pull-off-here-and-throw-in-change-til-it-says-go kind of toll.  Ben had no change, so after I went through I then had to back up to give him coins.  Finally we were on our way again, having stopped up the entire line of traffic down the exit ramp.

Entering Milwaukee was like swallowing something delicious that starts writhing in your stomach.  I was excited but nervous, too.  When I saw the sign for my exit, I could hardly stand it--and right off the ramp was the med school campus.  I almost cried as I passed it--I felt this rush of pride and a sudden knowledge that I was going to be a part of that complex, that this would be my world.

The apartment was easy to find.  Having Google-toured my own neighborhood, I knew it on sight as I pulled up to the corner.  The truck was unloaded pretty quickly--in an hour and a half we were sweaty and tired but the truck was empty.  Dinner was Noodles & Co and then it was time to settle in and do domestic things, like make my bed and put my clothes in my closet and take a shower.

By nine, I was ready to fall fast asleep.  Bed never felt so good as when I peeled back my new quilt lovingly centered over my bed and slid in between the sheets before turning out the light.  I slept for hours upon hours.

August 2, 2010

Summer camp

It almost wouldn't feel like summer if I didn't make the trek three hours south to work at the same summer camp I attended as a middle schooler.  For the seventh year, I packed too many things and moved into a dorm room for two and a half weeks.  Note that four of those years, I was there to participate, not supervise.  There is something in the air around camp that makes it feel like home to me: walking up the sidewalk toward the late-sixties yellow brick dorm, with its capital-I shape and three stories, I feel the way I did when I walked up the very first time.  I'm nervous, excited, with mice in my stomach; but it also feels the way it did the second time, and the third, and the fourth: tingly, warm, nostalgia mixed with anticipation so strong it could be as thick as the humidity in the southern Missouri air.

As a counselor, camp is maybe even more fun.  It sounds strange, contradictory even, but some of the best parts of camp are the planning times while the kids are at their classes during the day.  We get to decide what the events will be like: what the Messy Olympics tasks will be, what the trivia questions are, what the theme for camp is and how it will all play out in the ultimate team challenge we plan for later in the week (appropriately, Midnight Madness is sheer Madness to plan; inappropriately, it starts after dinner, like all the other activities).  Probably the best part is coming up with a back story for the Madness event: always, the camp is to be rallied toward a common goal--saving the camp from intruders or dictatorial interests, uniting to train their latent super powers, fighting another camp faction for gold and glory--all with a final challenge for the winning group.  The back story is a creative work that I definitely relish.  It's a bit like the exquisite corpse prompts we used in fiction class: use one each of all these different elements, tie them together, and make them convincing and enthralling (and filmable).  Then, too--being a counselor is also about getting to play dress-up almost every day, for no reason at all except to amuse the campers, and getting paid for it!

Despite all the crazy things that happened this year, I think it was my favorite year so far with my actual campers.  The air conditioning didn't work, we had a flood (literally a flood, Noah would've been inside his ark at the sight of it) in one of the suites, and we had impromptu location changes to avoid the sweltering heat inside the dorm.  But in spite of that, my house group was wonderful--fourteen girls going into eighth or ninth grade, all of them sweet and sassy in their particular way, all of them fabulous to talk to at the end of the day when I'd ask how their days turned out.  Among the other campers, it seemed like there were more gems than usual.  One boy wore an explorer's safari hat everywhere.  When we asked if he was in the geocaching class, he startled us when he replied, "Nope!  I'm in both of the movie classes!"  Another was so absolutely soft-spoken, it was astonishing to see him come out of his shell and play a pivotal role in his group's skit--a creature half pterodactyl, half robot.

I think a lot of it has to do with how much difference previous experience can make.  Having two years under my belt already meant that most challenges we had seen before (or a variation on that theme); it had become second nature to give positive directions ("Walk!") instead of negative ones ("Don't run!"); and instead of worrying about whether I was doing my job, I could just sit back and enjoy the quirkiness of all the campers all around me.

Ah, camp--heaven!

July 3, 2010

Violette

This story was written by IO and myself on the train.  Inspired by a real person's name but not by real events.


Violette sat on the train. Her hat was purple, her shoes were red, and her cardigan was snowy and soft as goosedown.  The man behind her thought she smelled like gardenias (he was wrong, it was freesias).

She stood up to stretch for a few minutes before her stop when a cramp behind her knee collpased her back into her seat. She fanned her brow, where a thin sweat had broken out in response to the pain.

The man sitting behind her peered over the top of his Russian novel with an interested eyebrow. He was wearing a fedora flat on his head, but this did not detract from his devilish attractiveness. He did not have a goatee, but rather a pleasantly scruffy five o'clock shadow.

Violette gripped the seat and forced herself to stand again. She reached overhead for her pink giraffe-print suitcase but it slid just beyond er fingertips.

Ted cocked his eyebrow higher and put down the Dostoyevsky. He rose with a pewter, panther-like grace. Quickly he extended his arm and looped two fingers through the handle. He pulled it toward him and gently eased it over the luggage rack railing, setting it beside Violette.

Flustered, she raised her eyes to his face with it's sharp, masculine lines and strong features. She murmured a "thank you" and looked away shyly, like her namesake. Ted smiled faintly and sat down, his eyes never leaving her as she left the train.

One stop later, he too got up to leave, pulling his fedora low over his eyes. Hands in his pockets, he set off into the tarnishing gold of the evening with a spring in his step.
-
Violette ran her hand through her hair. It was the color most often referred to as mouse-brown, subtly imparting a meek, scurrying nature to it's owner. When she thought about it at all, which was rare, she told herself it was latte-colored, which sounded sophisticated and delicious. She shrugged out of her cardigan and draped it over a chair, pulling a bottle of Pinot grigio from the fridge and grabbing a glass before heading upstairs. While the bathtub filled, she uncorked the wine and let it flow nearly to the brim beforeshe tilted the bottle back to vertical.

She sank into the tub and felt the warmth seep into her muscles. The wine and the bath put her gently into a meditative calm that deepened into the breathing patterns of sleep.

The steam curled into the air and condensed against the October-cooled window. Ted cursed silently. He could only barely make out the piled-up hair on top of Violette's head, it's loose tendrils snaking down against her nape. He pushed against the brick toe-hold and inched higher, focusing completely on the bathing woman's motionless form.

Ted's fingers gripped the ledge as he lowered himself to the ground, only the barest twitch of sound hinting that his feet had settled onto the mulch of the planting bed. He drew in a breath and counted to twelve, then exhaled to twenty-four. His terapist had recommended breathing exercises to calm the voices in his head, after all the generic and name-brand and even experimental medicines had proven ineffective.

Ted blinked. He saw before him Violette's back door, a flimsy screen and sliding affair that was easily pried open. He saw himself from above as he slipped through the kitchen and living room and eased noiselessly up the stairs.

On the fourth stair from the top, the wood step moaned, a baritone giving way to a creak with his weight. He paused. There was not a single sound in the house above the distant throb of the refrigerator down below.

Violette's eyes flew open. She was still in the tub. She closed them again and relaxed her neck against the back of the tub.

A rough hand covered her mouth. Her eyes burst open and she saw a man who looked faintly familiar standing over her. She pushed at his arm but he was strong as his hands forced her shoulders down into the steamy water, covering her head so that when she blinked wildly she looked like a fish. She thrashed for a few minutes but her movements stopped as her eyes closed, defeated. She did not see the tears drip off of Ted's chin onto the surface of the bath, his mouth moving in an "I'm sorry" as he held her there.

Adventures on Trains

I have now spent nearly twenty-four hours of this week on (various) trains.

Tuesday, I got up early to take two trains to Chicago.  The Missouri River Runner* got me to STL, where I got to switch trains and stretch, and walk around Union Station for a bit in a two-hour layover.  The Lincoln service took me up to Chicago, and after thirteen hours of traveling I finally was done with being on trains.  CB, her dad, and IO picked me up and we went back to CB's house.

Then, it was s'mores!  C's dad made a fire in this weird, grate-tent fire pit thing on their patio and we roasted CB's homemade marshmallows (because she's that cool.  She makes her own marshmallows.  The peppermint ones are awesome in hot chocolate!).  We also drank cherry wine and threw things like grapes and cherry pits and pennies into the fire.  "We're doing science!"

We all slept in, IO and I sharing the guest bed, which was ocean-sized. (I mean, king sized.  There would have been room for at least an army of other people in that bed!)  We took the commuter train into the city and wandered around Lincoln Park.  CB had found a cute cupcake shop she wanted to go to, so we went and had outrageous cupcakes (peach cobbler; some kind of peanut butter-chocolate contraption; chocolate mint).  Our next destination was a tropical flower exhibit but on the way, we were sidetracked by "Pocket Puppies Boutique," a store that not only sold adorably tiny dog outfits but also adorably tiny puppies.  We sat and held a yorkie puppy for about twenty minutes before we knew we had to leave, or we would be lost causes.

CB's dad cooked us an amazing dinner, grilled scallions and asparagus, salmon and this delicious mushroom appetizer:

1) grill 1 to 1 1/2 in. slices of bread.  Also grill several types of mushrooms, like oyster, shiitake, and portobello, lightly oiled and salt-and-peppered.

2) lightly scrub a raw clove of garlic onto the bread.  Brush with oil.  Top with mushrooms of your choice.  Consume as much as desired.

Then, we girls went to see Eclipse.  This was terrible.  Actually, no, it wasn't.  What was terrible was that we all had the intention of going in to make scathing remarks at the corniness of it all (the way we enjoyed the first two).  But this one was different, they've switched directors and it actually was believable (all but two or three scenes, which is pretty good for Twilight!).  I think CB and IO remained a little more skeptical, but I have to be honest and admit that I was grinning absurdly with delight for most of the movie.

Thursday, we ventured into the city by car to have brunch.  RB joined us after getting her fingerprints taken at a gun shop, all part of her pre-UIC enrollment chores.  We wandered around and went to this used-book store where the books went floor to ceiling and the aisles were so close you couldn't really pass someone, you just had to move around like those little tiled puzzles where one's missing and you have to unscramble it into a picture.  I found a book of argot (French slang) and dirty words called "Merde!" that had to come home with me.  CB found a book from the late 1890s called The Sky Pilot, complete with an inscription "to uncle Kurt, wishing him a Merry Christmas from , 1905."

Then it was a parting of the ways, as RB went one direction and the rest of us went to Union Station.  IO and I caught the train back to STL but not before I sent a postcard and we had smoothies.

The train to STL was by far the best leg of the trip.  We each made up a tiny scavenger hunt for the other and took turns going up and down the train, surreptitiously studying people's shoes and luggage for specific items. The conductor called one of the passengers down to give her some message; her name was Summer Violet.  We thought it might have been a joke, but she was a real person.  We were inspired to write a story about her on the nice, almost-cottony snack-car napkin and we left it in the seat pouch for someone else to find.

In STL, we took the metro to the CWE and I got to see IO's apartment.  Verdict: really cute! and conveniently located.  We put our luggage down and walked to Schnucks, even though it was almost midnight, for provisions.  IO had literally been out of the country for the last three weeks, so there wasn't much to eat if we didn't go to get something.  We got some basics but especially some ramen noodles, a late night staple.

In the morning, we slept in and then went to lunch at India's Rasoi (soooooooo delicious), then just digested back at her apartment while we watched Bones episodes, our favorite pasttime.  She took the metro with me to the Amtrak station and waited til I boarded.

The River Runner back to KC was awful.  Not inherently, but by virtue of being hours 18-24 of my week that were being spent on a train.  I couldn't get comfortable; there were tiny kids having high-pitched conversations that, while cute, also involved kicking my seat almost continuously.  I ended up giving up my book for a book-on-podcast while I knit, which was soothing (as something to do) and mind-consuming at the same time.

The requisite embarrassing episode was when I stood up to get my knitting from my bag overhead.  I hadn't been paying attention and somehow my arm swept outward and struck the bottom of a girl's cardboard tray she was carrying from the snack car back to her seat.  Suddenly, ice was everywhere and I was convinced I'd just scared the girl out of her wits.  Who am I kidding?  I scared myself out of my wits.  She went back for more ice while I tried to salvage my dignity by picking up the ice cubes all over the aisle.

Mom and Ben were there to pick me up, Ben having driven my new car (oh, the agony in that decision! Ultimately, it was the goal of getting to drive myself home in my car that made me let him drive it).  Mom was definitely back to her old self: critical of anything and everything, particularly my driving (some things never change).  Ben seemed in a surprisingly good mood, so things must have gone well in my absence.

Back home, safe and sound.  We even have 4th of July plans: a patriotic celebration of the 2nd amendment in the form of target practice at the shooting range where my uncle works.  Should be fun: crack shot-ery runs in my family (seriously).

___
*Side note: The River Runner is the name of the KC-STL trains but I'm pretty sure this is a new development.  Freshman year, when I took the train home for winter break, the same itinerary went by the name Missouri Mule**.  I think this is part of Missouri's plan to encourage Amtrak usage instead of taking the highway.  On the other hand, both times on the River Runner it felt fast, because we got in five or ten minutes earlier than scheduled.
**Further side note:  This isn't as insulting as it sounds.  The mule is the Missouri state animal, I'm pretty sure.  Tells you a lot about us, doesn't it?  Along with our nickname, the "Show Me" state: we're stubborn as hell and are going to insist on seeing convincing evidence before we believe you.  Sorry for copying pyjeon's use of footnotes.

June 29, 2010

Drunk as a skunk

My brother has discovered alcohol.  I mean, he had already discovered alcohol last summer, which got him into trouble.  Now, however, he's decided he can be a Class-A jerk about it and flaunt his consumption.  He walked into the house with cases of beer and a fifth of whiskey, and is recalcitrant to any suggestions of moderation.

Today, despite being "grounded,' he was allowed to go hang out with some friends.  He came home hours later in a strange, giggly-irritable mood and had had fourteen beers on little to no food.

Being inexperienced, he didn't recognize a good thing when he saw it, namely the glass of water I got him or the crackers I tried to convince him to eat.  Even drunk, he maintains his neurosis that I am out to get him and only exist to tell him what to do and pretend to be his mom.  Too bad for him, I am turning into our mother...and he needs all the parental attention he can get, with his foul mouth and fouler moods.

I'm starting to think my mother's refrain is the best one:

"He just needs to go to school.  He just HAS. TO. GO."

June 28, 2010

So am I Thelma or Louise?

My mom had her knee replaced about two weeks ago.  She's been having a lot of pain in it over the last few years, probably even the whole time I was in college, and she had arrived at the point of being unable to bend her knee and as a result, hobbling around like a pirate with a peg leg, her right leg swinging out and around to the side with every step.

When she was wheeled into her room on the ninth floor, we were already there waiting for her (having marginally beaten her up the elevator).  My brother, my mom's brother and his wife, and my dad's sister--all of us waiting to welcome her back from her anesthetized journey into the operating room.

I brought up her luggage and mine, too--we were both there to stay.  I put things away, trying for a bit of a homey touch but honestly, putting a few pairs of underwear in a cabinet and hanging an outfit from a hanger doesn't really add that much to the ambiance of a hospital room.

The whole first day, she does really pretty well: her leg is swaddled hip to toe in an enormous ace bandage, adding three inches to her leg's diameter.  She has a continuous passive motion machine that moves her leg from extended to a set number of degrees of flexion.  More importantly, she has a happy button, a self-medication switch that allows her to dispense morphine as needed (within safe limits) in order to monitor her pain.

The first night is restless and neither of us get much sleep.  The nurses and techs come in and out almost on the hour, checking her incision drain, her vital signs, the CPM.  The next morning, I get dressed and go to the cafeteria to forage for food once Mom has eaten.  I stay with her all day but by the afternoon I feel smelly and exhausted.  My friends are going to see Karate Kid and she encourages me to go.   I leave as she is napping to go home, soak in the tub, have dinner and see the movie.

When I get to the hospital, the pavilion doors are locked because it's after 10:30pm.  Not just on the second floor, in the skyway bridge to the parking garage--the ones on the ground floor are locked, too.  I slip inside when a woman in pink scrubs walks out.

Wednesday, Mom decides to wash her hair.  It is an ordeal.  Once she comes back upstairs from her physical therapy session, while she is already in the wheelchair we decide to go on an adventure.  I think by now, the nurses and techs have realized that a) Mom is stubborn and determined to do things perhaps ahead of schedule and b) I am her dedicated accomplice.  I wheel her down the hall, her shampoo travel bottle wedged in my pocket and a towel over my shoulder.  We overshoot the right room and ask a nicely dressed woman in an office where the beauty-shop chair is (it is in the shower room).  She holds the door as I wheel Mom in, and we quickly realize this is impossible for me alone to help her do.  Our tech comes and apparently the woman was her boss.  She says she was scolded for losing her patient, and calls us Thelma and Louise.  We decide that Mom can just stand at the sink while I help her scrub and rinse her hair.

Back in the hospital bed, Mom can blowdry her hair and it is obvious that she is pleased by this small accomplishment.  That night, I go home to sleep and it is blessedly restful.  In the morning, I bring real coffee and the crossword puzzle and Mom knows we just have to get through Thursday, the last day, all the way through before she can come home to her own bed.

The worst part was the steps up to her bedroom.  Seventeen of them, my hand on the small of her back but with my fingers curled around the gait belt; she, inching upwards, one step at a time, and I, praying that she doesn't lose her balance because despite using the belt correctly I am sure that I would not be able to support her.

We make it up the stairs, no problem.

June 12, 2010

New

This has been a pretty new summer.  New car, new school, new apartment, new places, new experiences, new responsibilities.  They merited a new blog design, and since Blogger lets you design your own template now, I thought I'd tweak one of the ones they had available for this nice, summery one!

I'm still getting used to my new car.  My van was old, not really past its prime per se but definitely on the decline.  I think it would qualify as a senior citizen.  If every human year is supposedly seven dog years, how many car years is it?  Maybe four or five?  Let's see...the minivan was eighteen...that's aged seventy-two to ninety, somewhere in there.  Definitely qualifying for Medicare and the Senior discount at twenty-four hour breakfast chain restaurants.  My car is "Barcelona Red Metallic" and my toenail polish matches (I'll admit it, I did it on purpose.  It's a nice color).  It has a sun roof and air conditioning, dark gray leather interior, and it gets fifty miles to the gallon.  Wait, what?  I own a car that gets fifty miles to the gallon?  I can't believe it either.  That's probably a full three times better than the van.

Something about all these new things feels really good.  I have this sense that I can start over, do whatever I want, reinvent myself if I want to, decide again how I will be perceived, reform myself and in general, improve.  It's a little scary, but it's an exciting kind of scary.  Like when you watch a really good scary movie and you're ready to freak out, and you drive home with the dome lights on in your car, but then for weeks afterward you remember how awesome the movie was.

At the same time, though, I was just reminded of how good old things can be, too.  In the past twenty-four hours I've finally seen and hung out with two of my best friends from high school: it's odd how we just pick up like before, as if we haven't parted ways or as if it hasn't been months since we saw each other last.  Seeing them makes me feel settled in my own skin, the way you feel when you wake up and it's just cool enough in the room for the warm cocoon of blankets to feel delicious wrapped around you, and you snuggle in and luxuriate in being wrapped up in a perfect, you-sized wallow in the bed.

June 4, 2010

Green Smoothie

My mom got a super-fancy blender like chefs use that's really a high-powered turbo food processor in the body of a blender.  As a result, I've been drinking tons of smoothies and making lots of purees.  I've been making green smoothies as a way to get more veggies (yay, spinach!), and usually they're delicious and you don't even taste the spinach if you make a mixed-berry smoothie with a splash of OJ or a little yogurt.

Today, however, I made the first green smoothie which I have not enjoyed.  Beware, ye of many vegetables!  The way to a terrible-tasting green smoothie is:

1/3 c. very ripe cantaloupe
juice of 1/2 a lime
4-5 chunks of pineapple with 1-2 T juice
a large handful of spinach, washed
a large handful of ice
3 large spoonfuls of yogurt

I think it was the cantaloupe, or maybe the cantaloupe + yogurt combination.  Or maybe it was slightly too much yogurt overall.  The smoothie wasn't inedible (I drank it) but it made me think slightly of spinach dip, or creamed spinach.  Not a good smoothie flavor...

May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

This year, our family celebrates Memorial Day the way we usually do, by trekking across the state to my grandma's house, my mother's hometown.  GrandDad wants to visit old family graves, his first time doing so since Grandmother passed away in February.  We all pile into the car, backtracking back along the highway for an hour to the tiny towns and tinier cemeteries where our relatives lie under rampant May grass.

Mom, slightly more familiar with these names and histories, takes photos of the headstones and the silk flowers we brought to stick in the ground.  I use my phone to take notes, writing down who is buried where in each cemetery we visit.  I make sure to write down how they are related to GrandDad, because the names are already confusing and intertwined with nicknames that Mom and GrandDad use interchangeably.  We stop by old houses where some of these people used to live: all of them aging, past their prime, no longer maintained.

At one cemetery, we turn off a paved county road for a gravel one.  The abandoned church here is the provenance of the church pew in our basement.  Leaving, we continue down the gravel road in a brief detour.  GrandDad tells the story of his uncle Hurley, or one of his acquaintances, who couldn't make it up the steeply inclined hill in his Model T and slid all the way down to the bottom.  I realize that when GrandDad says Model T, he means "as in one of the oldest versions of the car" Model T.

We move on.  Another small, abandoned church and its churchyard.  Here, an immense oak and equally ancient hickory tree stand sentry over the graves, and surprisingly we are not the only car here to visit these plots.  Some of the headstones have only dates from the nineteenth century.  I stand in front of a reddish granite marker with my great-great-great-grandparents' names, GrandDad's grandparents.  The church is locked only with a hook and eye closure, and inside it is undisturbed from apparently the last time it had a service.  The Bible lies open on the lectern; a hymnal is open on the piano and my mother sight-reads old devotions with open chords.  On a side table, a ledger has the offerings collected from the 1960s and 70s; if this is the most recent ledger, the church has been undisturbed since 1978.  On the back wall, a plan of the grave plots has family names penned into tiny rectangles.

When we turn around and head back toward Hannibal and supper, we decide to go to one last place.  Grand View Burial Park hugs the highway, and the entrances are guarded by American flags on tilted white poles.  We reach our part of the cemetery, toward the eastern edge, where our family's plot is.  Mom and I arrange the Hobby Lobby silk flowers in Dad's vase, adding them to the white rose bouquet that Grandma and Grandpa left on their way back from graduation.  We admire Grandmother's plaque, a double-wide with GrandDad's name already inscribed next to her, something that strikes me as a bit morbid but also strangely practical.  I take photos of the graves, angling the camera and crouching on the ground to get the perfect shot of my aunt's flower arrangement draping gracefully over the marble and brass designs.

I remember.

May 29, 2010

So ends four years

What am I supposed to write here?  I feel obliged to put forth some sort of thought on this transition: the walking across the stage for the Arts & Sciences recognition ceremony, the procession behind the ArtSci banner in full regalia to a peppy, baroque or perhaps classical air into the quad--and yet, despite feeling like I should feel more, I think I have already felt it.  This transition from undergraduate to graduate, student to alumna, has taken the entire semester, if not the entire year.

I went through all the stages of grieving: Denial, with a brief Angry interlude directly following, when graduation seemed aeons away from the present moment and the only thing I was concerned with was finishing my thesis (was I even going to do so?!) and turning in lab reports; Then, Bargaining, where I tried to reason that graduating would mean nothing, that it would be fine, that I would not lose touch with those I care about or that Milwaukee was not so far away or so cold that no one would ever want to visit me; next, Depression, which came in vast, heaving waves to cover me with paralyzing malaise and unsettled ill will, a roller coaster ride of manic depressiveness where the cramming in of last-minute fun took place side by side with a desire to simply be in the presence of my friends, doing what we always do and simply existing; and finally, Acceptance, which came like a gift on the actual day of Commencement, during the ceremony, where instead of crying (as I had mentally prepared myself to do, despite inadvisedly wearing mascara) I found myself enthralled by the speaker, feeling uplifted and carried forward into the future, this time willingly, this time looking the future in the face and seeing what it is I would become, realizing for not the first time but the first full time that I have, to this point, achieved what I set out to do in my undergraduate career.  All of this took months, and did not pass in a day; and so, as I thought about what it has meant to finish my degree and to be accepted to medical school and to know that I am leaving one place (no, two places--St. Louis as my new-found home and Missouri as my ancestral one) for a completely new locale--I did not know what to say.

Even the goodbyes, such as they were, felt surreal and fake.  A brief hug, a last look at one another, the shrug and the quick upturn of the mouth and the "we'll keep in touch" and "of course I'll visit!" and the wavering suspicion (or fear) that none of us will have time to return to the past to reminisce but must instead move forward to new circles of acquaintances--all of this in the few small instants before the crowds separated everyone, scattering us the way our new lives will do, strangely causing some of us to collide and say goodbye multiple times (I said goodbye twice to Pygeon but it seemed like a waste not to do so and yet also ridiculous, because the other option was to pretend like we hadn't seen one another as we desperately looked for that one last person or group of friends to say goodbye to).  I'd like to think that the fakeness of the goodbyes can be attributed to the sincerity of the friendship: that true friends never really say goodbye but only part ways for a while, but I am pragmatic enough to doubt that kind of optimism (even while my optimistic half certainly wishes it were true).

And then, the chore of packing.  In a way, packing up and the annoyance of sorting through belongings that have been jumbled together for four years already (always in the same general disarray, carefully preserved from year to year and transferred from desk drawer to desk drawer)--this annoyance makes parting all the easier.  When you're grimy and a bit sweaty and tired from sorting through junk that you'll just have to re-sort once you're home, and once you've taken down the posters and the curtains and sold your futon--suddenly the room resembles what it is, a sterile enclosure, one of many nearly identical to it along the hallway, only rented to you for nine months and change.  Then, moving out is a blessing, the carrying of boxes and bags and the flinging of them into the back of the car is cathartic, the labor in itself a cleansing rite, the exercise and the strain a physical meditation, a mental separation of past and present that is essentially completed with that last dropping of the key into the little slot, secure in its envelope.

As always, though, there are lingering goodbyes, a last-ditch attempt to see someone before you go away perhaps forever, an almost panicky desperation carefully concealed despite your roughened voice and chirpy optimism.

And then, with a rush, you are away down the parkway toward the highway, and you realize you didn't even turn to look one last time at the sign that says the name of your university or take one last circuit around the campus, because after all of those chores of packing up and goodbye-saying you were simply ready to get on the road because it's a four hour drive for home and you're already stuck in rush-hour weekend traffic.

When you pull into the driveway, and yank the parking break into position, and stumble a bit as your stiff legs swing out of the car, everything is dark and as you walk into the kitchen from the garage you realize that you are home again, but this time it feels stranger than usual and you sort of want a stiff drink but fear that might make you an alcoholic, and besides, your little brother and his friend are there and probably shouldn't be watching you drink (or at the least, shouldn't know where you keep the alcohol).  And then you take a shower, and climb into the guest bed which is now pseudo-yours, and lie awake staring at your eyelids and let the pure exhaustion wipe away whatever sentiments you might have about being graduated, because you feel the same way you did two days ago only more fatigued and in a different bed.

May 28, 2010

Au revoir is not Adieu

J’aurais dû, j’aurais dû, j’aurais dû faire des milliers des choses : t’embrasser, à la point de notre « au revoir », te dire « je t’aime » ou « je t’adore », te prendre par les épaules pour te faire savoir—toutes ces choses que j’aurais dû faire, me restent comme des souvenirs à me plaire, me tourmentent dans mes rêves, me reprochent de ma lâcheté, ma peur.

Mais, au moins on s’est dit « au revoir » au lieu d’ « adieu. »  Entre les amis, les bien aimés, « adieu » ne se dit jamais.  On a parlé des vacances de printemps mais je ne sais pas si ça va être réelle ou pas : je dois une visite aussi à mes amies de toujours, à Chicago ou quelque part.  C’est ridicule de les abandonner pour toi—sauf si nous allons développer cette petite amitié entre nous, pour qu’elle devient plus grande, pour qu’elle soit ouverte comme une fleur sous le soleil en plein air, en plein printemps—

Au moins le français nous reste, notre langue secrète, notre langue d’amitié et d’amour, la langue qui nous lie même de l’un côté du pays à l’autre—


May 15, 2010

In which an alcohol-provoked text message receives a surprisingly good response

Mon cœur était un papillon, tout entouré de soie, mais dès qu’on m’a envoyé ces mots le papillon s’est révélé, tout neuf, tout jeune, comme la plus petite joie qui naquît pour la première fois dans mon esprit.

But with graduation in a week, it's a bit like the goldfish they gave out freshman year at First Friday, where everyone was amused and enjoying the pretty fish and then three days later it starved from having no food and  no place to swim and it died in the bathroom sink, a victim of circumstances beyond its control.

May 10, 2010

Merry Month of May

This is the urge I get in May.

When the sun shines warm against my back, the cotton t-shirt heating like an electric blanket at just the right setting--the temperature seems destined to induce drowsiness and molasses-slowness.  I want to lie in the sun and bask, sun myself and absorb the light and let my skin produce vitamin D.  I want to let go and just be, forget what is around me, to observe but not participate.

May makes me think of solitude, of lying in the grass and reading and sleeping all day and waiting for grief to dissipate like the drops of condensation on a glass of iced tea.  Letting the sun warm up my outsides while my insides are cool, like cucumber and mint and unsweet tea with its mouth-drying tannins.

The sun in May is bright, especially in the crisply springish air, enough humidity to make the air soft but not enough to blunt the sharp blades of light that pierce tree canopies to strobe against the sidewalk.

The urge to write is like a natural spring inside, welling up with a pastoral longing, to describe the way the air feels against my cheeks, my eyelids, the way the world has decided to be green again and is just stepping into the deeply shaded emeralds of summer foliage speckled still with spring's peridot buds.

I wax poetic in my mind and try to decide if this is good or bad, but finally decide that I can't help it, that spring is like a diving board, a Spring board, propelling my spirits upward and out, making me feel magnanimous and caring and in love with the world again.

April 30, 2010

Anti-climax

It hasn't really sunk in yet.

I had my last class as an undergraduate today: a women and gender studies/anthropology seminar class.  We got out a few minutes early, and because I was in a hurry to watch IO in her dance class showcase, I nearly ran out of the room.

I still don't feel anything.  Maybe it's because I still have an exam? and a lab report, and a term paper to turn in?  I don't feel nostalgic, only excited for the next few weeks and ready for the end of summer already, when I will be settling into a new city, with new people to meet and new classes to attend and maybe even a dog.

In my fiction class, everyone recommended a book for the class, and now I have a ready-made summer reading list.  I've also borrowed a book from PJ of Lorrie Moore's short stories, Birds of America.

Everything is rolling downhill, gathering speed and moving quickly toward the end.

April 17, 2010

This is what I wrote about




This word cloud is based on the introduction and conclusion of my senior thesis.  

March 28, 2010

Nostalgia

I feel strangely nostalgic.

I hung out with CB & IO for a little, then we and GP went over to visit the boys + A at their apartment.  We didn't really do anything, sat around a little, watched Terminator 2 and had WS explain the intricate plot development of the Terminator series.

This afternoon, I went to the Science Center with new members & the exec from AED.  The new kids did a scavenger hunt while the exec sat around and had lunch at the overpriced cafe.  We chose prizes for the winners and a consolation prize for the not-winners.  The best prize was for the winners: a clear plastic egg with an innocuous-looking volcano, with these enticing instructions:

Fill egg with water.
When volcano eruption ceases, fill egg with fresh water.
Dinosaur will appear.
Fill egg with water again.
In 72 hours dinosaur will be full grown!

I imagined an apatosaurus popping out of the confines of the two-inch plastic shell to squish itself into my windowsill.  I bought an extra egg for me!

At the boys' apartment, we got out the egg and took it into the kitchen.  We were all there, crouched around the sink peering intently into the egg to see if the volcano was erupting, bent at the waist and making sound effects like "crshhh krkkkk bshhh!"  It was a little anticlimactic when we realized the volcano was made of baking soda, but the tiny dinosaur made up for it.

Our conversations centered on what everyone is talking about, these days: life after graduation.  We made the inevitable rounds of "where are you going next year?" and talk turned to apartments, and moving away, and freshman floor memories, and how to choose a grad school.  Everyone is afraid of the same things.

After I dropped the girls off at their apartment, I went to the store and wandered the aisles, looking for necessities: eggs, lentils, brown rice.  Half an hour later, I finally drudged across the Forty.  In my room, I sat (sit) at the computer, looking at Facebook.  Gammy has sent me a message (probably her first ever!) and I reply excitedly, then look through my photos to suggest a profile picture for her.  I meander into photos from my phone, and then photos from my freshman year at school.  We look so young! and I hate thinking about leaving them and going away next year.

Thinking about next year feels like an adventure, but also like I'll be cheating on my friends, sharing trials and tribulations with people who may never know them and whom they may never know.  Suddenly, five weeks doesn't feel like enough time.

March 26, 2010

Completion

Today felt longer than it really was.  I got up at a reasonable time (9:45), finished a paper, then worked on what I was going to say for my thesis defense.

I got dressed in snazzy clothes (med school interview attire), put on some makeup.  I went to look for my closed-toe shoes, the low slingback heels that give me blisters on the tops of my 3rd and 4th toes but look professional, and of course I couldn't find them to save my life.

A few minutes in, and I was on my knees at the foot of my closet door, hurling items from the closet floor out into the middle of my room.  No shoes.  I found flip-flops in several colors, yellow summery shoes, warm fuzzy boots, and brown prom heels, as well as odds and ends and a pillow and papers and other debris.  No sensible shoes.  I switched to under the bed, where I found fuzzy indoor-outdoor slippers, more flip-flops in different colors, one of those spa-type sleeping masks to block out the light, endless pages of music arrangements.  No sensible shoes.  I settled on the bargain, shiny sandals I got last August, black with shiny bits on the straps.  

Outside, it was fifty degrees and raining, plus the wind was blowing really hard in every direction.  Sandals were not a good choice.

In the printing lab, someone was printing out literally a book, probably a hundred pages of nonsense.  I was going to be late for my appointment with my fiction teacher.  I tapped my fingers on the counter, my toe on the carpet, my umbrella against the desk.  Finally: my document was queuing up, printing (a thesis is long in and of itself, 73 pages all said and done).

After my meeting, in my seminar class, I struggled to pay attention.  Nerves were making it hard to draw a breath, my chest felt close and I wanted to breathe in deeply but it was definitely too hard to do.

I left early to get to the Romance Languages office early.  The door was locked, all of Ridgley empty--there was a conference going on, everyone was there.  I paced up and down the third floor hallway, practicing my opening statement like a lawyer about to close a murder trial.  It felt like extemp in debate tournaments but way more important and like I was way less prepared for what awaited me.

Just looking at Prof. M was reassuring: he literally looks like a stuffed teddy bear, round and jocose with short whitish hair on top and cheerful eyes.  Mme S was more imposing than normal; I had forgotten how smartly she dresses all the time (in her class last year, I used to always feel particularly sloppy, dressed in jeans or god forbid, sweatpants).  

It was surprisingly nice.  For une soutenance I feel like I talked very little.  My three readers asked me questions, certainly, but often it seemed to be more a discussion among themselves than questions directed at me.  Mme W came to my rescue often, I was afraid, but she told me afterwards, "Tu as bien débrouillé, tu as bien soutenu ta thèse."  And then it was over, and we shook hands, and Mme W et moi, nous nous avons fait la bise.  

I felt a little lost in Whispers, grabbing a salad (orzo with black beans--kind of icky) and a cafe au lait and going back to Ridgley to set up for cine-club and "La Haine", which was a pleasant distraction and surprisingly well-attended.

Finished.  It is finished.  I can't believe it.  I sort of want to cry (from relief?) but also I'm just tired and I feel a little empty.  

March 9, 2010

One week and counting!

I have been writing my 750 words every night.  I have an alarm on my phone that plays the harp and sounds peaceful, the way I hope to feel after writing my entry for the day.  I discovered in my second day of writing that it makes more sense to keep it personal.  I think there are plenty of things that run through my head that I should probably not publish here.  So instead, I keep them in a folder.


However, yesterday's was shareable, so here it is.



We have a crisis, early in the morning.  MC had taken her car keys with her to the airport, but we were supposed to use the car keys to take her car to the auto repair shop.  The four of us convene and I drove us to the Continental check-in desk, where a woman named Colleen is holding onto the keys and waiting for people named “C, L, I, or G” to pick them up.  GP and I stayed in the car. 

We have to take the car to the shop because IO and CB had an accident.  IO has her permit and is learning to drive on the right side of the road instead of the left.  It was in the parking lot in Schnucks.  CB told me what had happened: that she wasn’t sure how, but suddenly IO had lost control of the car and had run into the side of an old minivan.  The owner was drinking coffee inside the Einstein Bros. bagel shop.  He hurried out of the store to inspect the damage, closely followed by the owner of a shiny, fancy, brand-new SUV that was literally an inch from being touched by the displaced minivan.  The minivan needs a new axle, supposedly, even though the estimated cost provided by its owner is greater than the blue book value of the car.  We know because PH checked.

GP is worried because IO did not tell her what had happened.  GP had even asked IO the other day—four or five days after the accident—about how her driving was going, if she thought she was going to take the test over spring break, if she was feeling more comfortable.  IO’s omission lies before GP like a puzzle.  She turns her face to me and implores me with her eyes to come up with a solution, a rationalization as to why IO would have hidden this scary and life-impacting event from her.  I have nothing to say. 

After the airport, we drive straight across the mighty Mississippi to Alton, IL.  We are there to visit a restaurant supply store and go to a roadhouse bar with cheap food.  It is only eleven in the morning, so we take our time, marveling at mass quantities of spices and huge stock pots and gallons of soy sauce before moving on to the items that we would actually use, cooling racks and sieves and baking sheets and whisks and wooden spoons.  We try on aprons in crazy colors.  We wind through the tight aisles, marveling at the sheer abundance of strange implements that we had forgotten must come from somewhere.  There is a whole brand named “Carly” that sells things like salad dressing ladles, already labeled with “thousand island” or “low-cal.”  We contemplate the usefulness of an ice mold in the shape of a dolphin or a punch bowl. 

It’s only noon, and Fast Eddie’s doesn’t open until one, so we go to Dollar General.  The bargains here are equally enticing, though strange.  There are Twilight-themed sweethearts (BITE ME, and I <3 EC, and LIVE 4EVR) that are scary and hilarious at the same time.  There are Ghiradelli chocolate bars for a dollar.  GP pounces on cans of Spam for a bargain price (Spam being one of those strange things that receive adoration on Hawai’I and disgust on the mainland, much like tilapia is adored by mainland restaurants and seen as an icky bottom-feeder on the islands). 

At Fast Eddies, we are perplexed by where to go.  We head for the light, a more open-air area that is lit by transparent siding for a roof.  We order drinks.  CB has water.  IO and I—ever the mind-twins—order Blue Moon.  GP asks for a gin and tonic.  I am impressed.  Gin and tonic was my first alcoholic drink, I’m pretty sure, that I enjoyed at RP’s house during freshman winter break.  They can be strong.  Something about the lime and the gin and the tonic together make these three things—which separately can taste awful—taste perfect: refreshing, bright, clean on the tongue.

The food is delicious.  There is not really a vegetarian option.  I am glad I have made the “I eat fish” excuse for myself, because they do have shrimp (cocktail-style, boiled and held on ice, then served with cocktail sauce).  The burgers look amazing, as do the steak kebabs.  I sort of wish I weren’t a vegetarian.  After we eat, we send four puzzle-texts to WS, because it is his birthday.  Mine is the last one, it says “YOU! Love, the girls.”  The others read “Happy…” and “birthday…” and “to….”  He does not respond to this outpouring of affection. 

I drop the girls off and we agree to meet up later to watch a movie.  I am supposed to work on my thesis but I am sleepy and have a bit of a headache and when I wake up it’s ten minutes before I am supposed to meet them.  We go watch “The Crazies” which is scary but more suspenseful and thrilling than horrifying.  The scariest part is the fact that the government is behind it all. 

Afterwards we go to Uncle Bill’s Pancakes.  None of us had eaten dinner.  We order breakfast food and I get hashbrowns and eggs and pancakes and coffee, which is exactly what I wanted.  We have a sleepover at GP & IO’s place.  We play the infinitely silly Castle Crashers game, then watch Up.  I sleep in the papa-san chair, which is my favorite.  It’s like a cocoon.