I’m a bit of a hypochondriac. This truth may be due to the fact that I was born a sick baby to be stuck into an incubator the moment I took my breath, or the fact that I had a fibroadenoma removed last autumn, or just simply the fact that I try to find the answers to everything.
I will try not to divulge all sorts of intimate details, but sometimes, you — my dear reader — must indulge me.
I spent five years of my childhood in Northeast Texas in a little town (now a federally established city) called Van. I remember when the new grocery store opened adjacent to the cube that was Austin Bank. I remember when it snowed for the first time in ten years. I remember the elementary school that was built to emulate the Alamo. The architects fooling the children with their cunning chicanery, I remember entering that school building feeling valorous, the straps of my cerulean backpack slung across my shoulders, walking fearlessly into the Homeric battle that was math class.
My family worked with a charity organization, so we were always moving. We — to this day — have never owned a home. This was the cause of much of our chagrin but also much of our delight. Just in Van, we lived in four different houses. While many other half-pint gals were collecting Cabbage Patch Kids birth certificates, I was adding to my list of sundry street names. I would write the titles on Manila paper, makes designs with Elmer’s glue, and glitter that damn thing ’til kingdom come. The papers heavy from embellishment would boast in their prismatic glory: “West Virgina,” “Pecan,” “North Palm,” “Country Road”*. And it was on Country Road I began my hypochondriacal journey.
*I just realized how John Denver these sound.
Red Bud Ranch, Country Road. It truly was a beautiful house. Antiquated and creaking though it was, the house emanated an alluring charm with its cobblestone path up to the house, its six sexy cats, its ivy everywhere, its round gravel driveway, and its breathless sophistication. It was at this house that the snow fell and boy, was it enchanting. The lofty trees that encompassed the house caved in to create the effect of being in a giant green igloo. That’s not all. To the right of the house was an extensive field with two horses, Skeeter and Shorty. Horses. Did my little eight-year-old heart burst? Nearly.
I spent hours and hours on the slate-blue deck that encircled the whole house, sighing with pleasure, gazing at the beautiful beasts prancing about on the beige dirt. My mum would bring out a basket — yes a basket lined with plaid fabric — of carrots and apple cores, celery and lumps of sugar. On this particular sunny day, I forgot — as I always would — the warmheartedness of my mother in my elation and took handfuls of the horse-treats with superhuman speed. My greedy, peewee fingers barely containing the carrots and celery, I warily crept to the wooden fence where the great beasts were grazing. At the approach of my gaudy red coat with the Tweety Bird embroidery, they gracefully raised their heads, wordlessly investigating the churlish intruder. Attentive not to make any sudden movements, I reached out my hand. Shorty, whose name was more than accurate, chomped thanklessly on the carrot I’d bestowed upon him. I was tinkled as pink as a baby’s bottom. I produced even more divine nibbles for them to wolf down. Saccharine sugar! Sweet celery! Crunchy carrots! Oh how they chewed and chomped! I ran back for the last few carrots, mad with the euphoria of catering. Skeeter burrowed into my palm, my hands too slow to pull back from his assemblage of rectangular, yellow teeth.
Then I was on the ground. Spots were in my eyes. I could only see the looming silhouette of the varmint that was once cherubic. I looked down at my hand. While the rest of my hand was pale from the winter wind, there was a fine line of deep red and violet across my palm. That ass had bitten me all right, but the skin was not broken. My heartbeat started to accelerate. I couldn’t even bear to look down at my poor, poor hand again. I had rabies. I was sure of it.
The next day I went to school, knowing that in a few weeks, I would be dead. I asked my teachers about squirrels and dogs and their relative death-dealing diseases. I smiled hopelessly at my friends who wanted to play four-square. I thanked my teacher for their altruism. I went to the library and skimmed my hands over the books I loved so much. Quentin Blake’s illustrations from the Dahl covers grinned at me, unaware of my woebegone fate. My father picked me up from school and inquired after my wretchéd visage: “Hey babe, why the long face?” The “long face” would call to mind the bloodthirsty villains who had bestowed the premature demise upon my pitiable soul, and I would be again plunged into ineffable desolation.
But I didn’t die. In a fortnight or so, the ominous, mortal line had vanished and with it went the anguish of losing my life. Oh the glee that overtook me! I would survive the terrible brute’s sting of death! I vowed to never feed horses again — what would possess me to put my mind through such havoc another time? I would be careful. No more cracks that broke mothers’ backs. No more red M&Ms. No more standing next to microwaves. I would wash my hands at least ten times a day.
I once forgot how to spell the word “hypochondriac.” I was writing a short story about a couple named Greg and Lucy, the latter being a woman who constantly feared for her health. I paused to put my fingers to my temples, rubbing in small circles to push out the Writer’s Block. My thought was: “Goodness, I don’t remember how to spell the word ‘hypochondriac.’ What’s wrong with me?” I stopped and reiterated my thought.
Then I laughed. I laughed; I guffawed; I bellowed; I cackled. I remembered Skeeter and his terrorizing demeanor. I remember when we found mice in one of our transient homes and looking up “Black Death” in the World Book encyclopedia. I remember my infected knee scrape in fifth grade that made me fear amputation. I remember losing quite a bit of cheek-fat while growing taller and consequently researching the Banded Bolivian Tapeworm.
My father always taught me that not knowing (ignorance) was often the cure. Then I remember my fibroadenoma I thought was nothing that culminated into surgery that required a full-body anesthetic. I don’t know if I’ll die of a disease. I don’t know if I’ll die a natural death. I don’t know if I’ll get hit by a car and bleed to death. I don’t know how I’ll die. And as morbid as thinking of death may seem, it’s really just another musing among my thousands. I’ll die. We’ll all die. But what’s the use in shaking in our boots about that process of death?
I want to be happy. I want to stay happy.
And so, I will continue feeding Skeeter. I will continue feeding Shorty. Perhaps I’ll get a few more bites, and some of those bites might open up and bleed. Some of those bites might cut my whole hand or even my whole arm off.
But I’ll be left with the sweet memory of feeding those daggone horses. And that’s enough for me.
[On: Fleet Foxes by Fleet Foxes]