I've begun a project - mostly autobiographical, but not entirely - and was hoping for some feedback when you get a chance. Let me know what you think!! :)
"I'm worried again."
I quietly sighed, not wanting to look at her. The strain of worry in her voice was palpable, but getting old; it was something I heard multiple times a day.
"Why are you worried."
I could hear her shift her weight from one foot to another. She always stood in front of me when she was scared, but I wasn't giving in. I wouldn't look at her.
"I just peed."
I rolled my eyes. "So." Only statements, I vowed. If I kept a caring tone, I would sound interested, and she might want to continue the conversation. Statements only. Eyes down, focusing on the project of beating dough, flattening it between my palms.
"It's a lot of pee. More than I should be peeing."
"You just had coffee," I said, trying valiantly to keep the annoyance out of my voice. "I just saw you."
She was wringing her hands, I could sense it. I flipped over the dough, using my palms to flatten it out - I couldn't find the rolling pin.
"I know, but --" She stopped. "It's stupid, I know."
"And a diet coke before that." Another flip. "You know it's stupid, honey, why do you keep thinking this way?"
"I don't know," she said, her voice tinged with tears. "I don't know, and I want to stop it, but I can't."
At this, I look up with the sternest face I can imagine, trying hard to keep it tender around the edges. She is an adult, but so infuriatingly much like a child, and I don't want to hurt her.
There is a lot I want to say to her, mostly to point out how stupid she's being, but she knows already - that's what makes it difficult. She has always been a hypochondriac, and has irrationally assumed she has had every disease under the sun - the ones she has read about, anyway. Sometimes symptoms appear with her fears, which only encourages more paranoia. When she feared she had mono, she would become so lethargic it was hard to pull her from her bed in the mornings before school; when she thought it was [a rash], she wouldn't stop scratching herself, and so huge red welts developed in thick red streaks from her elbows to her wrists. Our family had hoped for years she would never hear of really disgusting things: malaria, Montezuma's Revenge, dysentery; who knows what symptoms she would have tried to exhibit within herself as proof. When she was twelve, she heard for the first time about AIDS, and for three months was convinced she had it, even though she had never come into contact with anything resembling drugs, sex, or any type of fluid that didn't belong to her.
One Christmas someone foolish gave her the gift of the medical encyclopedia. I promptly threw it away with the next day's garbage. "Who gives the medical encyclopedia as a Christmas gift?" I asked incredulously as it fell on the massive pile of wrapping paper. She stood behind me, shivering in the cold, and I passed her as I turned to walk away. "Hey," I called, "Let's go."
To be fair, though, she is not without trouble. She does have real medical afflictions, but it seems as though she has chosen the most difficult to deal with: depression and an eating disorder, the two so intertwined it is hard to tell which caused which. And they're not that obvious, either - when she is not busy worrying herself into an early grave, she's actually quite amiable and almost outgoing, depending on the company; and she is within a normal weight range for her height, so she doesn't fit the textbook image of Hollywood stars who have thinned themselves into a thin cigarette-smoke plume of air. At first I thought I was imagining that as well, but it was impossible for me not to see her not eating at mealtimes, or cutting her food into impossible-sized pieces, or using her excuses of not feeling well or not being hungry, or any of the other million things she would say, using her mouth for talking and not for eating.
So I gave her that. And although it concerned me, I felt just as helpless as she did. I would try to soothe her, calm her down, be the voice of rationality in her life she was sorely lacking.
I put down the dough I was working on and ran a hand across my forehead to brush away my hair, trying to listen to what she was saying.
"It's just that that's one of the signs, you know?" she nervously squeaked out, biting her right thumbnail. "Peeing a lot."
"Uh huh." I might as well encourage her to continue; who knows, maybe she'll talk it out of herself - she does do that sometimes, use logic like a normal person.
"And, you know - I know exactly when I ovulate. I keep a calendar, and I thought I was okay the last time I was at Jack's because it had just finished my last period, and so, you know eggs don't really travel that fast, and -"
I put my hand up. I draw the line at eggs. And Jack too, because he only adds to the problem. "You know what you need to do," I told her as the phone rang on the wall above the small microwave. I reached for it. "You need to tell Jack that you're nervous."
"He already knows," she said hurriedly. "I think he's annoyed at me for bringing it up so much."
That makes two of us, I thought, as I brought the pale yellow receiver to my ear. "Hello?"
It was Mom. "Hey, Mom," I said.
"I don't want to talk to her," she said, mouthing the words and making a fence with her hands as if to shield herself. I rolled my eyes and kept the phone with me. She never talks to Mom, hasn't said a word to her in years; and although Mom has shared her hurt with me, she's dealt with it as best she could. She doesn't even ask for her anymore. "Yep, I'm good, just baking today. Yeah, yeah. Blueberry. The store ran out of fresh blueberries, so I'm using the kind in the can - yeah, so far so good I think. Doesn't look bad for my first pie."
As I'm talking she's walking away from me and goes to sit in the living room, where I can still see her. She looks out the window, then down at her feet. She picks her toenails as my mother's voice drones like a hive of bees into the phone.
"Okay. Definitely Mom, yeah - next week for sure. See you then. Love you. Bye."
She walks back into the room. "How's Mom doing?"
"Fine," I say, "Just fine."
"So about the peeing," she brings up again. But I can't hold it in any longer, and so I finally say something.
"Look," I start. "I'm sorry if you think you're peeing more. I really am. But you're not pregnant. And I know you haven't drank that much. I know you had two cups of tea at work and coffee and a diet coke. That's not enough to be symptomatic, and you know that."
She is quiet, and hurt; she stares at me, but I don't let her speak. I can't, anymore.
"And you know when you ovulated and you know when you saw Jack last. So talk to him about it."
There is a heavy pause.
"I can't," she says, and I believe her.
I believe her because I am her.