Jen’s only 26 and she has the stomach problems of an old Jew. I should know: I’m an old Jew. Ask any one of us and we’ll tell you. Colitis. Crohn’s disease. Acid reflux. Gas. Bloating. Constipation. Diarrhea. Constipation and diarrhea. If you’re a Jew, chances are you suffer from one of these afflictions. Non-Jews call it IBS. We call it life. Jen’s not a Jew, but she took laxatives for a long time to keep down her weight and now she’s paying for it.
We were talking about all this in the way that only two people can when they’ve broken down all the barriers.
I said, “I hardly ever go out any more. Really. I’m a shut-in. I can’t be with people. My stomach.”
“So wait, what’s the problem, exactly?”
“Bloating, gas. Ever since the surgery. And it’s getting worse.”
“You have no idea,” I moaned. “My life is ruined. My life as I know it is over. Career? Forget it. And who’s going to go out with a gassy 43 year old?”
“Someone will fall in love with you who won’t care.”
“But they need to fall in love me before they know about it.”
“Look, let me tell you something. I can’t go to the bathroom unless I drink milk of magnesia.”
I’d always known that Jen had some digestive problems. She’d told me about the laxatives for her weight. She used to complain about getting the runs more often than most people I know. She’d never order food with cream sauce.
“Milk of magnesia?”
“I’m constipated all the time, David, so I have to drink milk of magnesia and then I literally run to the bathroom. And I’m only 26!”
“What are we going to do?”
We were quiet for a bit.
Then Jen said, “You should know that when we’re together, I’ve never, like, smelled any of your farts.”
I had to laugh.
“You wouldn’t believe what it’s like going out on a date,” I said, bitterly. “I’m literally clutching my stomach in pain. I’ve become a woman, a pregnant woman.”
“I’m completely paranoid my boyfriend’s going to notice.”
“He doesn’t know? You can hide it from him?”
“Mostly. I’m always trying to hide my farts from him.”
“Welcome to my world.”
“He’s like the super healthy type. I think he gets weirded out when he’s around people with medical issues.”
“That’s not nice.”
“Also, sometimes when I’m running, I shit my pants. Listen David, you can fart as much as you want around me if you don’t mind hearing me have loud diarrhea in the bathroom.”
“Yo, it’s a deal.”
The more you talk about terrible little personal anxieties that involve digestion, the more you learn how many people have terrible personal anxieties that involve digestion.
Except, of course for Diana, who merrily announced that she farts all the time.
“Constantly,” she said. “At home, at the office. In the morning, it’s like this really long, loud one. Almost like a trumpet. And they don’t smell!”
“I’m telling you, they don’t. Not a bit.”
“Well, it’s probably mostly swallowed air. But it still has to smell a bit.”
“It doesn’t. I’m serious.”
But when she couldn’t tell that my cat had gone in his litter box, we realized that Diana’s sense of smell might be weak.
“Uh oh,” she said.
And all this made me feel a little bad and a little sad for Becky, a girlfriend from before the surgery. She was an unglamorous and down-to-earth girl. Kind of perfect. Naturally, I did what I could to drive her away. I used to get annoyed at her for farting. She didn’t care to hold back. Her farts smelled like potato chips.
Like most afflictions, even this comparatively little one, it changes you, distorts your personality. It’s ruined my social life in many ways, but it also has made me a little humbler and, paradoxically, a little more open to people and to moments, even as it shuts down parts of me. I’m now available to people’s mercies.
But it would be nice to go out with Becky again and to just not worry about it anymore.