Monday, April 29, 2019

Check up

I’ve been meaning to change the oil in my car for months. For so many months, in fact, that I’ve now reached the point in the calendar when I should be getting the NEXT oil change. The check engine light came during the evening, so I drove exactly ten miles under the speed limit for the whole drive home. I wake up an hour and a half early the next day to stop by Jiffy Lube on my way to work.

I’m groggier than usual as I stumble out of the shower. I lift my arms to apply deodorant and notice a dark spot on the bottom of my right breast. I lift my skin to look closer. Slightly rough. Irregular shape. A mole? A dry patch? It’s small, a scaly spot of brown. How long has that been there? I don’t often notice the underside of my breasts.

I rub sunscreen onto my face, brush on mascara. If I have breast cancer, maybe I’ll just have one breast cut off. An Amazon woman. I’ll learn how to shoot a bow and arrow. I’ll wear bikinis that show off my survival and pose for empowering nude photos, a clean thick scar across my chest.

It’s probably nothing.

I blow dry my hair. Glance at the moles and freckles that dot my skin. What if this is the time that it’s not nothing?

I don’t have time for this.

At Jiffy Lube, they remind me that I’m overdue for a transmission service, a radiator flush, and an air filter replacement. They also recommend a headlight cleaning and new wiper blades. I tell the woman at the counter that I’ll get new wiper blades if she gives me $10 off. She agrees.

Yes, I know I have an oil leak. Yes, I know about the check engine light.

In the lobby, I open my phone and Google “dry scaly patch on breast.” The results are what I expected. A mixed bag of internet diagnostic horror and benign skin conditions. Planned Parenthood does breast exams, right? Friday. It will have to be Friday.

Maybe I should go to the University of Utah. A full mammogram, instead of just an exam. Huntsman Cancer Center is right there.

Just in case. I make a mental note to check if they take my insurance.

I feel an oppressive sense of calm about my mortality this week. I was almost hit by a car on Monday. Not that my car was almost hit by another car. My person, scurrying through the crosswalk after hearing the crunch of metal and shatter of tail lights, a white Suburban hurtling towards me. Sitting on a curb and filling out paperwork, a plastic clipboard that a police officer handed me resting on my knees. Date. Time. Cross streets.

I imagine my breasts being pressed between two plates, flashes of light in an office. Waiting.

* * * * *

My check engine light is still on. So it wasn’t the oil. Somewhere else in this complex system, something is wrong. I feel like I should know what it is. But it takes years of training to make a diagnosis. You have to rely on the expertise of others. Maybe it’s a $15 filter, a $50 repair, a benign anomaly.

And maybe this is it. The transmission shot, the radiator cracked, some piston beyond repair. Days in the shop, thousands of dollars sunk into this goddamn thing that’s absolutely necessary for me to navigate my life.

Either way, it will have to wait until next week.

* * * * *

University of Utah only does mammograms if a doctor requests it. Planned Parenthood can’t fit me in until the week after next. By this time, the check engine light has turned off in my car, and I’m hoping it’s a sign that all is well elsewhere. I sit in the exam room of the clinic for forty-five minutes, wearing a pink paper vest, and reading a book, telling myself that everything is fine.

The nurse practitioner makes polite conversation as she presses and wiggles into each breast, up, down, around. Her gloved hand takes a moment to examine the dry scaly patch that brought me here.

Everything looks perfectly fine.

She tells me to visit a dermatologist if it gets bigger or darker, and answers my questions about long-term Zoloft use and fertility, and I put on my shirt and walk back to my car.

* * * * *

After the car accident on Monday, I sat on the curb and watched the tow truck pull up. The woman from the vehicle at fault stood watching next to me, answered her phone when it rang. A short, polite conversation. Thank you. Have a nice day. She sighed. “Well, the good news is that I don’t have cancer.” We all laughed. “At least that’s one good thing today.”

When I finally got to the theatre that night, two hours after the accident, I sat down and was suddenly flooded with what had just happened. It was so close. I’m only 33. It feels wildly unfair, beyond acceptance that my life would end at 33. I sat, shaking, breathing.

Feeling the weight of my chest rise and fall.

Monday, April 15, 2019

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight

There are few who know that emotions are tangible.

I know because I am filled with them. Humans have breathed life into my paint and foundation and flooring. I wasn’t born from a womb. All of humanity is my mother, and I become a mother to them, a womb to shelter them.

Within a few short millennia, humans have leapt into the skies and plunged into the oceans, photographed particles, measured the speed of light, split atoms, cured diseases. It will only be a few more years until their instruments are fine-tuned enough to measure the matter of feeling that permeates everything around us. A fine mist of pollen, an ethereal smoke, that floats through the air and settles into the walls and carpets. Here, feel the hum of fear in these walls. Here, the golden orange light of joy courses through the glass of the windows. It will straighten your spine if you sit near. Here, your feet will drag in the concrete sludge of sorrow left in the floorboards. I am what you make me.

I have heard whispers of houses where men re-arranged the insides in fury, drove nails into them as if their wooden flesh were a threat. The crash of porcelain echoed within those places, and the whip and crack of punishment, and the roar of disdain. The unshed tears of women and children seeped into the floorboards, a continuous, incomplete baptism. A sea that would not part.

In houses like that, after the terror is over, the weight of everything left becomes a grindstone. A house cannot help but let out some of what it carries. It bleeds from the walls, gathering in unseen beads that slowly drip towards the carpet and make the family dog whimper. It slips out in little ways…a creak on the stairs, a door that closes on its own. Sometimes it comes in gusts, bursts of wrath that topple books from shelves, send pictures flying from the walls, and make lights flicker and pop. Sometimes the memory of a man’s voice, his agony and fury, flies from the rafters, his words ricocheting from floor to ceiling. The neighborhood children would speak of it in whispers.

Perhaps I could have been a theatre. Never quiet places, where feelings upon feelings upon feelings bump and tumble and multiply, knocking props off from shelves and popping lights in the rafters. If I were a theatre, they would leave a light on within me, to appease the ghosts.

Or else maybe I could have been a museum, where every stroke of paint is buzzing with feeling, where stone and wood and metal and cloth are alive with it, and the air vibrates with what is left behind after people stand in awe and clutch their hearts.

But I am not a museum, or a theatre, or a house. I am a church. For some, God is just a word, but within my walls, reverence is tangible. There is a beauty to that uniquely human emotion. Other animals do not seem to worship. Humans look upwards and ache with hope. It fills the stained glass windows. Every beam of wood and every stone is weighted with meaning. “This is important,” each of them says. “I am made beautiful by your hope.”

In older places, the hope and sorrow and joy and fear of centuries make each room feel bigger than it looks. Feelings compound upon themselves, multiplying over time. At first, there is reverence and wonder and awe at the way the light shifts, at the coolness of stones, at the bend of wood. But that wonder seeps back into the light and stones and wood, until even people who believe only in what they can measure sense the weight of that wonder.

The stones do not matter only because they are carved. The wood does not matter only because it’s old. The glass does not matter only because it bends the light. Their power is in what they contain, in the fine matter of what was felt there. The word God alone does not make this place sacred. It is sacred because a woman came to that place and mourned the loss of a child. Because a man came to that place and thanked Something Bigger to be alive. Because a child came to that place and hoped for something they could not name.

Come, walk among my ruins. There is wonder here, a looking upwards and upwards. The acidic burn of hatred hissing in corners. Hope against hope. Whispered prayers, whispered sins. Tonight, the memories of these feelings taste of ashes.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Between the Quotebook Lines

“Between the Quotebook Lines”

A short play in one act, combining Liz’s idea of doing a play exclusively using lines from The Quotebook and the improv game “Between the Lines,” in which one actor can say whatever they want, and the other two actors must only speak lines from the scripts they hold in their hands. The result is a somewhat non-sensical but otherwise delightful exercise in creativity.

Police Captain Rogers
Officer Bolton (whose lines are all excerpts from Liz’s Quotebook)
Officer Donahue (whose lines are also all excerpts from Liz’s Quotebook)

The police station in the fictional town of Pleasant Park, Michigan.

Police Captain Rogers sits at her desk, reading a magazine. Officers Bolton and Carlyle walk in, and Capt Rogers looks up to address them.

CAPT ROGERS: So, boys. Any luck on the robbery case?

BOLTON: I hang out with flowers, not in gangs.

CAPT ROGERS: I appreciate your reluctance to involve yourself in the criminal underbelly of Pleasant Park, Bolton, but this is the job.

DONAHUE: This will only end in tears. And a bunch of babies.

BOLTON: (collapsing into a chair with despair) I thought we were going for the tuba player, not Stevie!

CAPT ROGERS: Whoa, easy there, Bolton.

BOLTON: (burying his head in his hands) My bee-keeping days are over!

CAPT ROGERS: (looking to Donahue for clarification) What happened out there?

DONAHUE: (patting Bolton on the back) You’re basically a horrible person, but deep down inside, there’s a soft…something.

CAPT ROGERS: Donahue, focus. What happened? Did you follow the suspect?

DONAHUE: So. After waking up in the library, I couldn’t concentrate on anything because my shoes hurt.

CAPT ROGERS: I knew it! I knew they were running their operation out of the library! Can you describe the suspect? You said his name was Stevie?

DONAHUE: He looks like a cross between my grandpa and a dinosaur.

CAPT ROGERS: And Stevie is not the tuba player. Got it. Bolton, make sure this all goes in the report. Bolton. Bolton! Look at me. I know you had a vision of nailing this gang member via an undercover beekeeping operation, but it’s too late now.

BOLTON: I just blarbled up all my words.

DONAHUE: I just wanna punch him! Pow! To the moon!

CAPT ROGERS: Me, too, Donahue. Me, too. Okay, we know he has an accomplice. Did you see him?

DONAHUE: Alex is so adorable that dolphins get tattoos of HIM on their ankles.

CAPT ROGERS: Wait. Adorable-face Alex is involved?! This thing is bigger than we thought! Bolton, this could be big. What do you think?

BOLTON: I’ve spent the last few years of my life trying to think of things other than Star Wars.

CAPT ROGERS: (sigh) Me, too, Bolton. Me, too. Okay. If Adorable-face Alex is involved, we’ve got an in. If we can get another officer to drive a surveillance vehicle, we can go undercover and bring the whole operation down.

DONAHUE: Jason is the scariest driver I’ve ever met.

BOLTON: He drives the same way that he dances.

CAPT ROGERS: That’s true! Officer Jason should be perfect! All right. You’re going undercover, fellas. Grab your stuff.

DONAHUE: I get the crocodile suitcase?! Oh, I am adventurous, aren’t I?

CAPT ROGERS: You feeling ready for this, Bolton?

BOLTON: I’m so bad at miming. Whenever I’m supposed to drink something, I inevitably end up chewing.

CAPT ROGERS: Improv classes, Bolton. I keep telling you. Improv classes.

DONAHUE: (to Bolton) You’re just supposed to be sexy, not good at walking.

BOLTON: I’m gonna go buy cheese-bread. I’m feeling rich.

CAPT ROGERS: Yes! Gangsters love cheese-bread. It will be the ideal way to get into their hideaway. Okay, you two remember the rules of going undercover?

DONAHUE: Never trust a man who gives you ice cream. Unless he’s your father.

BOLTON: Babies aren’t for biting!

DONAHUE: Science plus music equals sexiness.

BOLTON: You can sleep on the bus, but you do have to get on it.

DONAHUE: Fornicating in New York City isn’t fornicating at all.

BOLTON: Anything with an accordion in the background is funny.

DONAHUE: If you wear junior high pants, you play junior high games.

(long pause)

CAPT ROGERS: Bolton? What’s the last rule?

BOLTON: (resigned) I’m not allowed to go bowling unless I take my medication.

CAPT ROGERS: I’m proud of you, men. Be careful out there.

DONAHUE: Good night, homo sapien.

CAPT ROGERS: You’ll rock this assignment. (gives them each a high five)

BOLTON: (to Donahue, as the two of them leave the room) Can you imagine being the person who first invented the high five? It just caught the f*ck on.

The End