Thoughts of an Author in Training
My cousin Stan got married in Grand Junction Colorado, I was four-years-old. My aunt Terri took a turn in attending to my four-year-old needs and took me to the bathroom. She let me use the restroom stall by myself where I proceeded to strip off all my clothes. My dress, underwear, socks and shoes were all scattered on the tile in my stall. My aunt asked me if I was alright and I proceeded to yell, “Aunt Terri I’m naked in here.”
I heard this story quite a bit growing up. Always from aunt Terri with a giggle as she politely put her hand to her mouth to try and hide her laughter. My fascination with being naked while I went to the bathroom happened throughout my early childhood, my mother encountering similar instances to my wedding debut.
It proved a very time consuming effort just to relieve my bowels. In the winter time I couldn’t strip away my long johns and stockings quick enough and had to multitask on the toilet. It wasn’t something I was proud of and I grew in to feelings of shame against the act of pooping. Of course as I grew in to school years, I couldn’t strip naked in the bathroom stalls. So I settled with taking off my socks and shoes. Silent in the last stall, barefoot I could poop in peace.
In my seventh grade history class we were discussing the brutality of slavery and the transportation from Africa when I felt the urge to go to the bathroom for the fourth time that morning.
My teacher was very animated, older with a large belly. He looked like he dreamt of history and longed to be born during the Civil war era. His hair was gray and his glasses had the effect of making his eyes very large and his stare focused. I wasn’t big on history, straight A student but I just got really good at memorizing what I needed to and writing was always easy. I didn’t want to interrupt his intense discussion on slavery to run to the bathroom so I crossed my legs.
“They dragged them away from Africa,” Mr. Dewitt said. “Of course the land had been colonized so the white man felt entitled. They loaded men, women and children on to the ships. They were packed in to the bottom of the ship.”
I looked up at the power point to see a drawing of humans wedged in between two boards that were supposed to be for sleeping. There was no room for movement, uncomfortable and disassociated they looked miserable.
“Most of the cargo made it alive. But if a passenger were to die the most common affliction of death was called the bloody flux.”
Our faces cringed a little at the name. Some of the boys were intrigued by the nature of the title and the way our teacher emphasized the name. Like a grand story teller he waited for our attention, held us in suspense to guess where the blood would stream from.
“Their intestines would deteriorate, weak and infected with the dirty nature of their environment,” he said. “Being slaves they didn’t have the fortune of having their waste basket emptied every day. The smell and mold from their feces made the environment toxic, it caused infections. They would bleed from the inside and it would come out when they had a bowel movement,” he paused. “There was no cure. The cure was death.”
The class winced and ewwed, but I couldn’t breathe. He had described exactly what my body had been doing. I had the bloody flux. It had been over a year now and I thought it was normal. I swallowed hard, repeating the words he had said. The cure was death. Death. How long did I have to live?
After leaving class to go to the restroom I spent the rest of the day panicked and quiet. I couldn’t go back to class. I looked at each of my friends like it was the last time I would see them, savored my food like it was the last time I would eat and cried in front of my mother because it was all I could manage when she picked me up after school.
“What’s wrong?” my mother said.
“Mom,” I waited for the moment to build. “I’m going to die.”
Not the ideal words you want to hear your child say. But there was comfort in the arrangement of the words. It wasn’t ‘I want to die’ but it also wasn’t the light hearted dramatics of ‘I’m so dead,’ because you think you’re in trouble. My mother waited for my explanation while I waited for her to break out in hysterics and freak out because her youngest child was going to die.
“In class today they talked about this disease that the slaves got when they came to America. It’s really horrible, you die from it. It’s called the Bloody Flux,” I said. “Mom, I have it. I have the damn Bloody Flux,” I felt a little ashamed having never sworn in front of my mother before, but it was a necessary emphasis.
She was uncomfortable to say the least. The education system had crammed some crazy hysteria in to my head and she wasn’t quite sure how to handle this one.
When we got home I headed to the bathroom. At least 15 times a day I pooped and directly after every meal. My mother lightly knocked on the door while I was on the toilet. She asked if I wouldn’t flush so she could see what I was referring to.
It was a strange phenomenon leaving my poop piled up and swirling with red color in the porcelain. I washed my hands and then opened the door for my mother to come in. I didn’t look at her, it was too weird being 13 and your parents checking your poop like you were a toddler. I glanced at her through the mirror. She was a mother alright. She got right up to the bowl and took a long gander before calmly flushing the toilet and calling the doctor.
The months to follow were endless appointments, continuous doctors that couldn’t clarify what was going on. They made me list my symptoms over and over, listened to my stomach with a stealth scope and finally deduced that they would need a sample. I’m empathetic for all the poor hands that carried my poop samples through the US Postal Service without a clue that their hands had forever been contaminated by my dirty envelopes. It was a strange feeling staring at a small wooden stick knowing that I either had to hold it appropriately to be pooped on, or I had to stare in to the bowl and find the right area to swab.
I’d never heard the word poop referred to in so many ways: poop, feces, bowel movements, number two, or simply referring to the bathroom. There was a whole color scheme involved as well. Was it green, yellow, a light brown, how much red or pink was in the toilet? I became more and more accustomed to the conversations revolving around my bottom the more drugs they prescribed me. I had gone from barely handling swallowing pain relievers to taking ten hoarse-like-pills a day.
The steroids were the worst. They came after my first colonoscopy, a vulnerable experience for someone young, someone not used to being violated by things going in to their body. They found a highly inflamed area of my small intestine, soars and ulcers that had been bleeding for some time. The lining of the intestinal wall was deteriorating from specific bacteria attacking the wall. The steroids were meant to help my body fight back, to stabilize the condition but all I noticed was gaining weight right before eighth grade. All the weight was in my face, my cheeks swelled up like tiny balloons that forced my eyes to work hard to stay open.
I remember one night my father was sitting on the back porch reading the IBD pamphlet. I could see him through the window reading intently. After each page he would look out in to nothing and inhale his cigarette.
The doctor gave us a straight forward answer that the disease was hereditary. I was puzzled looking to my mother for answers and she was confused in figuring out where this made its way in to my genetics. But looking at my father on the back porch I was curious if he knew. He had never invested this much interest in my personal life. Not that he was a bad father, he just didn’t ask questions beyond the surface level unless I brought it up, which I usually didn’t. So I took a seat next to him on the porch and asked what he was thinking. He wasn’t quick to answer and he simply shrugged and asked how I was feeling. I took this opportunity to wine about my symptoms, how I hated taking the steroids, that kids at school called me chipmunk, that my stomach constantly kicked from the inside, and that I wished it would go away. He answered with condolences and told me I was lucky that they found it while I was young.
“Dad,” I said. “They told me that it’s hereditary,” I waited to see the expression on his face. “Mom can’t pin point any one on her side of the family.” The question was already implied without asking.
He finished his cigarette smothering the butt in to the ash tray on the left side of his chair. “Like I said you’re lucky they found it while you were young.” He gave me a small smile and patted me on the shoulder before going inside to use the restroom.
My father is a strong man both physically and emotionally. He’s gentle in human nature, kind to others, widely intelligent, and laughs abundantly at himself. But he’s cautious in matters of crudeness and functions of the human body. I remembered now how my brother and I always giggled at my father because he was constantly flagellant. Landing on the couch, bending over even walking sometimes we could hear a string of farts left behind. He was constantly in the bathroom after meals and recently it had been the two of us who occupied the household bathrooms right after dinner, destroying the innocence of the toilet.
He looked almost guilty when I had asked him the hereditary question. Like he felt it was all his fault that I was in pain. I wanted to hear him say it, hear him confide in me that we were both destined to the same intestinal fate but he wouldn’t. It wasn’t in his nature to talk about pain though I knew he was constantly feeling it. The pamphlet had given his irregular body functions a name, an identity that he hadn’t known until it showed up in 12 point font in front of him. He admitted to my mother that he might be feeling some of the symptoms of IBD but upon my mother’s request to go see a doctor, he changed his mind and brushed it off.
A few years after my diagnosis I was finally in remission abusing my childhood like any other normal teenager and watching television during the day. My father came to sit next to me on the couch grabbing the remote to take control of the channel because I was watching during his time. A commercial came on in the top right screen of the TV guide. It was for IBD. My father clicked out of the guide menu and quietly we watched the medical commercial.
After countless doctor appointments where the medical staff couldn’t even begin to describe my diagnosis, here was a commercial years later reveling to the world that there were people like us. I couldn’t help but smile. There it was on the TV uniting a strange identity in the bathroom dwellers of America, trying to make us feel normal sending us an endless message of ‘you’re not alone.’
I giggled and then looked at my dad. He was like me and I was positively his daughter, we were not alone, but certainly not normal. We both were doomed to a cureless pooping disease and now the world could see us for who we really were, awkwardly human.