Binge

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Do other people read because they’re lonely? They must. I wonder if there’s a point where this is not okay. If it can be too much, an excess, unhealthy. If books are a way to avoid the mess of human interaction. I’ve read 12 books in the 4 weeks since my surgery. 12 books is more than I read the entire year before I started my MFA. I attach myself to characters. Not mistaking them for real, but often allowing myself to like them more than people. In fact, I like them better because they’re not. They require only observation.

Reading as meditation: It’s tough to sit still. It’s tough to ignore the phone, the hope that someone is thinking of you. It’s tough not to check Facebook. (Facebook is good for making yourself feel busy, loved, important.) But it gets easier to read for long periods of time if you do it every day. My mornings alone on the couch in the dark with a book and a cup of coffee and a flannel quilt bring me peace. They make me feel comfort within my own frame. A churchly calm. An ease of breath that is too often a struggle to find.

Reading as chore: Tell me I have to read it and I will hate the text. Try to trick me into learning something—something prescribed, clever, something that’s about your box of crayons rather than me being able to feel the book in my own colors, the way I know sunshine, or sadness, or the taste of homemade jam—and I will hate you.

Reading as rebellion: I can read anything I want. I say what it means. My authority comes only from my having read, my perspective is only as relevant as my own voice. (Ridiculous, meaningless, intoxicating and terrifying power, our voices.)

Reading as Invisibility Cloak: Don’t bother me, I’m reading.

Reading as shared suffering: File under: College Prep English Anthology, 11th grade (Colonial American Stories That Teenagers Will Not Enjoy). See also: Textbooks, Teacher Preparation Programs.

Is there a way to abuse books? To use books as a crutch? I’ve gotten so good at inserting them into the pauses between activities in my life that I find it difficult right now to be alone with this much time. Difficult to not read. To stop the frenetic tumble of words. I find it challenging to sit still, to heal after my surgery. I am lonely, but I don’t want to reach out. So I read and read and read, and in this way, am I’m more than alone, choosing characters over even my own company? I’m gulping down other people’s words, filling myself with things I can’t possibly digest.

Reading as a way to document experience: The books I remember best are the ones I can place in space and time. I listened to A Tale for the Time Being on the train in France. I read The Grapes of Wrath by the pool in Rancho Mirage. I read Middlesex at my parents’ while the kids were swimming. I read Gone with the Wind in the window of a hotel café next door to a teachers’ conference I was enrolled in, but ditching. I read John Adams in the car, at the public pool. Dichotomy of content and place make the reading even better.

Reading as physical act of love: The comfortable space between you and your spouse as you sit near each other, lost in stories.

Reading as impossible dream: The more you read, the more there is that you haven’t read.

The mannerisms of my reading are ridiculous, even when I read for fun. I’ve stopped pretending I want to read like normal people; I indulge my weirdness. I fold down the corner of every 50th page before I start. One hour of reading, each, a way to know how much is left. I read with my pen in my right hand, and I chew on the cap or scrape it gently against my lips. I read with discipline that’s almost militaristic, each hour allotted by to the teal blocks of time on my calendar, but this structure allows to indulge myself. My process of understanding what a book means is very woo-woo, very feely. As I’m reading I’m often more aware of the thing of the book than the detail. Embarrassingly so. I will forget dates. I will forget names—I often have to underline these for myself several times until they stick, check them three times before I submit a review—but the thing of the story comes to me like the steady time signature underneath the music. (Alternately, this is sometimes the cacophony of a discordant narrative.) The thing is like a waking dream, an exchange between me the person who wrote it. And maybe that’s just crap I tell myself, and maybe the thing has nothing to do with the thing they wrote. But I don’t question it. I just let it be, let it be something I feel. And then I type the quotes and then I really know. And I write it, or I try to get as close as possible. That thing.

Reading as a way to spy: How many times have I tried to see into the people I admire by trying to absorb their words? Both those they put down and those they pick up: equally enlightening.

Reading as marathon: A little a day actually makes significant progress. I am always shocked and pleased to find myself at the end.

Reading as sleep aid: When I read at night, I get sleepy in the background. I can’t help it. I’m too much in the story and my body quits. Every time. I should read more at night since I’m a terrible sleeper. I should let it happen. But I resist it, almost because I know it works so well.

Reading as currency, status, course of study: Resume.

The more I read, the less I feel purpose in my teaching job. Or more accurately, the less I believe in how it’s been defined in practice. The more I read, the less I think you can make someone read or deceive them into caring about a book or writing down what it means in a way that fits into a box. What I like, I like. What I don’t like, nobody can change. In fact, searching out more of what I like and defining what I don’t has made every book I read more pleasurable. Even the ones I hate. But we (English teachers, high school, mostly) don’t generally allow kids to hate the thing they read, or we haven’t given them the tools to hate a book and still read it. To hate it and to know why. So many people in my profession are afraid of what will happen if we let kids admit that a book for the class is boring. It goes against everything we need to tell ourselves.

I’m not sure how long I will keep up my reading sprint this summer. Maybe this is some kind of training I need so I can come out on the other side with a skill, a realization. Maybe it’s just filler, the carrot onstage in Waiting for Godot. But it’s eating at me.

Two Weeks Later

Two weeks ago I had my uterus removed. LAVH, which means I had small incisions by my hips and navel, the doctor filled my belly with gas and poked around with tubey cameras to make incisions, then removed my uterus, fallopian tubes, and cervix through an incision in the birth canal.

At least, that’s about as much of it as I can stand to Google. It grosses me out to think about the last part, and while I’m all for knowing what’s happening to my body, I’ve been unable to calm the queasiness that comes every time I read the details of this operation. Since I had both my kids via c section, the idea of delivering my uterus strikes me as ironic. Or odd, at least.

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What I’m not feeling right now is any kind of sadness about my uterus being gone. I’d read a lot about women who didn’t feel as feminine because they lost that part of themselves. I didn’t know if I’d feel that after it was gone. Not so far. But I never liked my uterus. It’s been a shitty relationship for 23 years, and even when it gave me those two amazing children, it was still a huge, uncomfortable and awkward pain. I never had easy periods or pregnancies, so I can’t say I feel a sense of loss about that part of my body. I am sure when I’m not having to miss work or spend days in bed every month I’ll be even more glad. Adios.

I do feel a loss of possibility, even though the rational part of me knows that the possibility was already gone, since several years ago Eric and I decided we were done having kids. We figured out that we didn’t need new babies, just missed was our two as little ones. No amount of hanging on, martyring myself with a busted, miserable uterus was going to make that possible. Right now the worries I have about the space where my uterus was are about complications in the future. In a fit of pain and sleeplessness the other night, I started Googling what can go wrong after a hysterectomy, and that was a bad, bad idea. It will take a while for me to forget some of those words.

If I’m honest, my overwhelming feeling right now is fear of aging. Fear of living in a body that’s declining in performance rather than one that bursts with possibility. My hysterectomy underscored my mortality. And while I don’t feel old, or bad, or sad, I know I’m constantly checking my watch at the party. This is fun, but I know someday it will end. Have you read Sharon Olds’ poem, “35/10”? At our house it’s 36/12, but the sentiment is the same. Time is passing, man.

So. Recovery. It’s going, but it’s going so much slower than I had hoped. So here are some details (none of them more disgusting than anything you’ve already read, if you’re still with me). AKA: What I wish someone had told me about LAVH.

I was in and out of the hospital in one day–checked in at about 6:30 and home before 3:00. My doctor told me the requirement to leave and go home sans catheter was that I had to pee on my own, so I spent one very drowsy and determined half hour in the bathroom immediately after surgery. Once I proved myself, I was released and I was home in my bed. Not to be outdone, Henry came up with a sudden case of the stomach flu at school that day, so I didn’t see the kids a lot until we were sure I wouldn’t catch whatever thing he had.

One of the doctors told me I’d be nauseous when I got home, and they gave me multiple meds to combat it. What I didn’t do was read the side effects of the pain or nausea pills they gave me. If I would have, I would have known that they caused blurry vision and dizziness. Maybe I wouldn’t have fallen down on my way back to bed from the bathroom that night, hitting my head on the door frame and cutting my cheek on the dresser. Two days later I also discovered that the splitting headache I had was from the same medicine. I felt a lot better once I was off that and the Norco.

The worst pain for the first five days–and it was awful–was from the gas they used to inflate my abdomen so they could see with the cameras. I know, you’re like haha gas. Not that kind of gas, because that kind of gas lives in your digestive tract and no matter how bad it is on a scale of one to fire sauce burrito, you know it’s going to eventually exit. Not this gas. This gas is just in the space outside your organs, and it can’t leave. Every time you move, it makes you want to die. Stabbing, shooting pain in your shoulders. Roiling bubbles across your guts. Pressure and discomfort like you wouldn’t believe. My doctor told me my shoulders would hurt (“don’t call us if you have shoulder pain,” she said), but this was so bad and so painful that I am still having trouble finding the words to describe it. In the first week my incision felt fine and I wasn’t really moving around so gravity had yet to have her way with me, but the gas? GOD DAMN, YOU GUYS. I’m just keeping it real. I wished I could cut a hole in my side to let it out.

It took me four days to leave my bed and get to my couch. It took me a week and a half to feel strong enough to walk past my mailbox. I just started driving again yesterday. I feel good and stronger every day, but I feel sore and tired. Gravity doesn’t help, especially the area surrounding the internal incisions. My ex-cervix. The longer I stand, the more unbearable that feels, but the pain seems to migrate to different areas of my stomach, depending on the day. My ab muscles feel weak and I am sure this contributes to not feeling like I can stand up for a long period of time. I miss being strong, feeling like my body can move with a semblance of agility and fortitude. I feel stupid fragile.

Before the surgery I told myself this would be no big deal because I’d had two caesarians and I knew what that was and that I could do that, not sleep, feed a baby and still manage to move around. I have not been handling this as well as the caesarians, and either this means a) I am a weak soul, a shivering baby bird of a person, or b) it’s just different. I am trying to convince myself that it’s b. Am I glad I did it? Not today. Today I feel pissed off that I’m wasting my summer, and angry that I can’t really leave the house for any period of time that amounts to anything. It’s been hard to ask for what I need constantly, and hard to rely on other people for so long. I think I’ll eventually be glad I did this, but I’m not there yet.

I have eaten the full gamut of Things Heather Loves, from peanut butter M&Ms to Cheetos to ICEEs to gummy bears and two kinds of Oreos. I am glad I lost 18 pounds before surgery, because post-op, I wanted comfort foods, and my comfort foods skew decidedly lowbrow and high sugar. Eric has been so good to me, taking care of every single thing I needed. My friend Kitty stopped by with something for me every day, sat with me and talked so I’d feel like a real person. My sister scooped my kids up and delivered dinners without making me ask for anything at all. My parents, my grandparents, everyone has sent food and love and hugs. My room looked like a florist’s shop. It is good to be loved and cared for. It’s only hard to be a patient patient.

Henry said I’m different since my surgery. When I asked him how, he said “well, when the doctors removed the part of your body where a baby grows, I think they also took out the part of you that makes you embarrassed to talk about poop.”

So there you go, Internet.

Here are some pictures of what I’ve been up to. Spoiler alert: not much.

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