For Jay, and for Bolfa Gorski and Harry Leggs
All the lights in the coffee shop are on; it’s getting dark at last here in Tacoma in early August, 2008. The misshapen furniture is exactly like the hippy places we used to go to in Bellingham, in high school. There’s a scent of uncleanness that’s statutory in places like this, but this isn’t a hippy crowd, or at least it isn’t anymore. By now I’m not really choosing, just reacting, and all the while inside thinking, Shut up, shut up, shut up, trying to will the audience into silence. It’s been about twenty minutes under the lights, up at the mic at a live show of “A River and Sound Review;” the crowd is chuckling, my friend’s Texas accent bellows in my ear. My other friend spots me a line in her Romanian accent, more laughter. For now, my voice flattens from the nasal cavities of who I am supposed to be, a former member of the kgb who participates in an American women’s book club. It’s a riot. “Pliiz,” I say, coins rolling from my mouth, the laughter slapping us, I feel it, in the face. The room is filled with people who love me, or, if they don’t love me, wish me well. We all wish each other well. I’ve been looking forward to our part of the show, but I’m nervous. There are a few classically-trained people in the audience who might be more on the competitive side—some will be the first, some the last to admit it—and one of them later will tell me my stand-up performance was very amusing although my Russian accent wasn’t quite accurate. I want to tell her that no one does accents better than I do but that half my tongue and jaw have been numb for twenty years after a botched molar extraction, but then I catch myself, remembering this is the kind of garbage I’m trying not to say, that I’ve been advised not to bring up in conversation anymore. I try to remember I’m avoiding bodily materialism, the collecting of tics, pains, and obscure illnesses as means of self-disclosure, though, really, in the Pacific Northwest, if you can’t talk about your health issues, it’s a bit like not wanting to talk about the weather in Nebraska, where I live. You run out of conversation a lot faster. Still, I want to tell her about my numb jaw, because I have been classically trained and I’m a touch competitive. I’m also in a lot of pain, but this does not have anything to do with my lame tongue, though my mouth tastes like quarters, and that’s a bad sign. My health issue, which I truly have been advised not to talk about, is fibromyalgia. It’s not a disease but a disorder or syndrome, and a relatively common one, although I only know one other person who has it. I was once told that with about five million sufferers, it’s considered one of the most common of rare disorders, wherein the brain doesn’t decipher normal signals of sensation, rather interpreting them as pain, sometimes mild, sometimes large. Right now, I’m fighting the large signals—coins for noise in my mouth, lights blaring in my ears—the worst signs, the ones that mean Get out of here, now. Unless you’re very different from most people who have fibromyalgia, this is the kind of signal you learn to recognize immediately and most of the time that you tend to ignore. You are usually not terribly smart to do so, but still, I know what’s happening won’t kill me—I know it isn’t killing me, I should say. Fibromyalgia has only recently—within the past ten or fifteen years, which in the medical world is fairly recent—been understood as an ailment of physical origin with measurable physical responses. Although it can be “co-morbid” (this is one of my favorite phrases on earth—as if you have a sibling and one of you is eventually going to kill the other and you are both perfectly agreeable about whomever of the two of you it turns out to be) with diseases
Featuring essays by Alice Lowe, Elizabeth Mosier, Ben Wirth, Adrian Koesters, and many others.