A very efficient woman buzzes around me, her motherly gray bangs swaying with every maneuver. “Considering your age, we’re going to perform the scan, as well as an ultrasound.” You’d think she was twittering around the kitchen, baking cookies for her grandkids. Instead, she’s buffing the space-age machine that towers imposingly over us. High technology that cows me into submission. My kaleidoscopic internal world is irrelevant in this sterile, colorless examination room.
I’m standing topless, hands behind my back. A mannequin with foldable, poseable limbs. Expert hands guide the lead apron across my lower body. She manipulates me, tucking my breasts between the plates. The top plate is transparent, and she sends it down with a tap of her foot. My glands, impossibly flat.
No joy, sensuality, life. Still youthful and pert, they haven’t yet known the searching mouth of a suckling baby. They’ve never produced milk, never given life. Under this fluorescent light, they’re no longer fleshly beautiful symbols of my femininity or fertility. Here, they’re just a piece of meat, in a clinical setting. Like a sample in a petri dish, ready for fastidious, detached scientific observation.
Next room, another machine. Doctor enters. Arms up, supine. The ultrasound wand glides over my sore mountains. He stares at the screen, and I twist my neck up to watch along. He pauses at the sight of each furry black cloud. Two clicks measure them. Glide, click-click.
“You have benign cysts. It’s common, one in three women has them. They may get inflamed and sore, so we’ll keep an eye on them. There is nothing cancerous here.”
He wishes me a good-day, and doesn’t even shake my hand. I suppose it’s not medical protocol to shake a patient’s hand after you’ve prodded about and scrutinized the ins and outs of her funbags.
White coattails flap crisply out the door. I scrape the viscous gel off my chest and dress myself. Strange. Just beyond that door, I’m expected to observe a modicum of physical modesty, yet my rainbow voice can come back. Here, I am reticent in my nudity.
Back into the clean, fluorescent lobby, where I melt into a bucket chair. Vacant. Depleted.
The secretary mispronounces my name, and I answer anyway.
I take my charts, and the smile I give her feels awkwardly distorted.
I step out of the cool white clinic and back into the searing, chartreuse summer air. Breathe deep, hiccup. Sweet tears of relief. My weak protest mantra “I’m too young for this” that had marched so defiantly through my head has dissolved, overtaken by my mother’s insistent wisdom: “Check yourself regularly!”
I’m glad I listened.
Memories, circa 1995.
I had an “overactive imagination” that fed ravenously on anything mysterious or taboo.
I was morbidly fascinated by the true-crime and conspiracy programs my dad would watch late at night. I’d sneak out of bed and get a peek of the television; wide-eyed, I’d take mental notes about potential warning signs: creepy white guys and alien tracks were at the top of my list. Did you know that a distinctive stone is produced in the spot where an alien falls to the ground?
(I just tried Googling “alien leaves stone on ground where it falls on its butt” to find the original clip on Youtube. No luck.)
I would get a cold thrill when I heard the dramatic music of America’s Most Wanted. John Walsh’s composed newscaster-like persona told sinister murder stories with a detached, factual demeanor that totally creeped me out. I was haunted by the composite sketches and mugshots they’d display at the end of every dramatized murder re-enactment.
Immediately thereafter, I’d run to the bay window overlooking our front yard and rip open the heavy curtains to look outside. All I would see was the same orange streetlight glow reflecting off car windshields. Quiet suburbia. A little too quiet, if you asked me.
Thus was born the conspiracy-driven investigative fixation of my childhood.
I was ever-vigilant, on the lookout for crazed murderers in our suburban cul-de-sac. I also set intricate traps in my bedroom to thwart potential extra-terrestrial room invaders. Webs of yarn strung like a spiderweb, marbles on the carpet to make an intruder slip and fall, my toys placed with painstaking precision so I’d spot any slight disturbance or irregularity in their arrangement. The only intruders I ever caught were my poor parents trying to tuck me in.
Fast-forward to adulthood.
I’m a notorious fraidy cat. I don’t enjoy watching horror films, or any media with extreme, graphic violence. However, I’m still fascinated by grisly stories, true-crime cases, and creepy unsolved mysteries.
Hearing a true scary story around a campfire is way creepier than watching fictional dramatized storytelling on a big screen. A mental image is vibrant enough, and even more terrifying than someone’s attempt to visualize a “scary” image. Our imagination fills in the dark cracks with those terribly personal innermost fears, those secret things that take hold of us in our nightmares. Our own intimate fear triggers that make our pulse quicken and give us chills when we’re alone in the dark of night.
As for me, I don’t set alien traps or supervise neighborhood surveillance anymore. But I always lock my doors, keep my eyes open, and take an extra cautionary peek over my shoulder. Just in case.
My stomach sinks, then jumps into my throat. I can’t breathe. Braced for impact, eyes are gritted together, and bitter tears start to eke out. Is this my fate, to die with shitty airline food in my stomach? Clutching to F’s sleeve, dampening it with my anxiety and dark imagination. I’ve lived a good life. I hope everyone knows I love them. I hope my mother-in-law doesn’t lose respect for me when she’s forced to go through my dirty laundry and bed-side table… Our plane is rocking side to side as the captain tries to land in a rainstorm. The French couple behind us sound nonplussed as they contemplate their lunch options. Two feet away, I’m having an existential crisis, regretting my shortcomings and life choices.
We finally touch ground, and the passengers give a round of applause. I’m short of breath, wiping away tears. Screw this plane, I want out!
For the second and final leg of the journey, the sun has come out.
Turns out Lady Gaga and Michael Jackson bring the funk hard enough for me to forget how much I hate takeoff. This time, I’m too busy bopping like Carlton to notice the horrible airplane engine revving. The sky is a perfect prism of rainbow, sitting above perfect Bob Ross clouds. Happy little clouds.
I’ve passed through the doom of my turbulence, and I can find humor around me once again.
I have seven hours to kill. I start by watching the people around me and judging them based on their in-flight movie choice. The dadboner to my right is cracking up at The Hangover. Hair parted down the middle, checked button-down, corduroy pants: check, check, and check. He’s taken off his shoes, and his little toesies wiggle in their comfy socks. Sitting in front of him is a nerdy scruffy dude watching Casino Royale. It’s a series of sculpted, eternally sweaty men gazing intensely at each other. So hot.
Me, I’m jamming. Lipsynching to Mariah Carey one minute, then pulling an Elvis lip when nobody’s around and I can get away with it. Hell, if everyone on this plane were asleep, I wouldn’t be against the idea of practicing my Michael Jackson flair leg kick. “Bad” comes on, and suddenly the cabin lights dim. You know I’m bad, dah, jamon! In my mind’s eye, I’m wearing a jaunty fedora. I sling a suspicious gaze at every passerby; the scowl transforms into a knowing smirk. Heh… I eat punks like you for breakfast. Then my profile slides neatly out of view. The song in my ear changes, and in my imagination I AM Lady Gaga’s background singer, wearing a velour onesie, saucily wagging my finger and hollering about my fill-in-the-blank. Yeah, if I wanted to, I could totally sing like that.
It’s a flight that arrives just in time for Christmas, and I appreciate the effort they’ve put into making it feel festive around here. Flight attendants wear earrings with Rudolph and candy canes. Buttons that read “Michief Maker.” Somehow, I doubt that. Garlands (admittedly a bit scraggly) have been hung, crookedly designating the bathrooms. One is awkwardly draped, the shape reminiscent of a middle-schooler’s tentative drawing of the road map of a woman’s reproductive system. No matter. It’s got a certain charm to it.
At the moment, we’re just off the southern coast of Greenland. Traveling back in time. We left Dublin at 3:00pm, and arrive on the East Coast just before 5:00pm. I’m almost home! I’ll be laughing about all this in no time…
About this time last year, I received a huge wake-up call.
Amid great joy at welcoming my mom to France, I got home, showed her around the house, and sighed when I saw the letter. The long-awaited letter from the French administration about my visa…
I had been denied. I was ordered to leave the country within 30 days.
In other words, I was being deported.
My chest and face felt hot, and my heart felt covered in sludge.
I felt humiliated at the rejection. I thought everything was fine, but the French administration deemed my ties to the country as insufficient. I thought I had finally found some stability in my life with my partner. But someone in an office took a cursory look at my life on paper, deemed it to be insufficient, and decided to turn me away. Whoever deemed my ties to France “insignificant” wasn’t there to see F and I, and the life we were building together. They couldn’t know that I had integrated into French life, and that I had a kick-ass community around me.
Needless to say, I was also scared shitless. This was one of my worst fears, and it had come to life.
The burning dread of deportation was softened by the steadfast support I got. I was touched and honored by the efforts of our friends, family, and community, who each contributed something to my appeal: messages, reassuring, contacting people who could help. French administration found out in short order exactly how much support I had.
In a whirlwind, the order of deportation arrived, I managed to enjoy my mother’s stay in France, we submitted my appeal, and I was finally granted my visa. In one month.
In the aftermath, I was walking on new legs. Post-rollercoaster jelly legs. I dodged a bullet and I knew it; I had begun phase two of my life in France: P.D.O. (Post-Deportation Order) And if I had learned anything, it was that my resolve to stay here was solid; I wasn’t about to go anywhere. I realized what I wanted because it had almost been taken away.
In a month, I will go back with F to submit my visa renewal application. Even if I’m confident in my case, there’s that sneaking twinge of doubt behind my ear. My chest burns again when I dare to think, “What if…?”
When dealing with someone who’s done you wrong before, you never see them the same way again. Once you get bitten by one dog, you eye all dogs with suspicion. It takes one letter to upend your life. But the road doesn’t end; you steel yourself and move forward, even if it’s one manageable baby step at a time.
Even if it’s not okay now, it will (one day) be okay again.