November 28, 2008

It’s a Long, Smelly Life

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.”

“Poor David.”

“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!”

“That’s bullshit.”

“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.

November 4, 2008

Sarah Gottlieb, Wellness Trainer

She was Jen’s closest friend since their freshman year. I’d known Jen almost as long, but I’d never met Sarah, or any of Jen’s other friends. Jen had kept me away from them, maybe because of the 16 year age difference. Our infrequent intimacies have stayed between the two of us. And though I’ve bragged about Jen to my equally middle-aged friends, they’ve never seen her either and some don’t even believe she exists.

But tonight I was going with Jen to meet Sarah at The Spoke, a pizza pub in the tiny Vermont town where I had met Jen years before, when we were neighbors one summer and she was still in college. She had just turned 21 and the sultry ruralness of the town had turned me into someone almost younger than she was. I had become a hiker in cut-off jeans and I mooched meals from the art colony in town. It was a warm summer — there was a drought, actually. The daylight was soft. Wildflowers filled the ditches on the sides of the dirt roads. I would pick some for Jen and leave them on her doorstep.

Sarah was already sitting at a table when we walked in. Even from across the room, her eyes — manic, searching, wide — told me that she was a lunatic. A glorious one, though. The kind of woman who made you feel alive while she crushed you.

For some reason, she didn’t wait for us to sit with her. Instead, she stood and came over. She smiled at me in a warm, slightly demented way and then she wrapped her arms around me in a deep, pulling hug. Then she kissed my cheek.

“It’s so good to meet you.”

Then she turned to Jen and hugged her, too. And I saw that for a split-second Jen rolled her eyes.

I sat across from the two of them. Sarah had already finished a glass of wine. Maybe more than one.

“So how long have you known our Jen?” she asked.

“Years. Like six years.”

“We met right here in this town,” said Jen. Recently, she had given up her dreadlocks and now looked respectable; she wore her hair soccer mom style.

Sarah looked up in that sharp, sudden way of a cat that’s just heard something small and mammalian creep nearby.

“He’s the one?” I assumed that meant, He’s the old one?

Jen nodded.

“I’ve heard about you,” Sarah said.

Then Sarah and Jen caught up. Sarah did most of the talking.

“That Corina, she’s crazy.”

“She’s nuts.”

“We were out last night in Burlington and she got really drunk and then she grabbed my vagina and my breasts.”

“Nuts.”

“So he’s the one,” Sarah said again.

“The old guy,” I said. “You can say it.”

“No, but I’ve just been hearing about you for years.”

They talk a little more. They were both having men troubles. Sarah couldn’t stop sleeping with different ones. She had been engaged but then broke it off after a fling in Costa Rica with a 19 year old. So we weren’t so different, she and I.

“All I think about is sex now. I just want to have sex all the time.” She looked from boy to boy. “That one. That one. That one. I think there’s something wrong with me. I just want to fuck.”

“What do you do?” I asked stupidly.

“I’m a wellness instructor.”

“Really?”

“A fitness trainer, more actually.”

“Like at the gym?”

“A kind of wellness, fitness trainer. On a personal level.”

“I bet. I need one of those.”

“Oh, and a wilderness first responder.”

“What’s that? Like if there’s a forest fire, you go in there and rescue people?”

“I can do first aid in remote situations. Like deal with wounds.”

In some theatrical way, Sarah and I connected. It may have been for Jen’s benefit, to show her that her friends could get along. She gave me her card. Sarah Gottlieb. So she was Jewish. I should have known. I had sworn them off. But they kept on finding me. I just wanted a nice, quiet Christian girl. The siege mentality of Jews meant endless drama. There should be only one in any relationship.

“What about David?” said Jen, inexplicably laughing.

“What do you mean?” Sarah asked.

“To have sex with.”

Since I wanted to rescue Sarah from embarrassment and myself from public rejection, I said, “There might be a personality conflict.”

“Yeah,” Sarah said, also inexplicably laughing.

“I need a wife. That’s what I really need. Find me a wife, Sarah.”

“Ok, I’ll totally do that. That won’t be hard.”

“Really, because I’m feeling sorry for myself.”

“It’ll be easy. You’ve got a great personality. You’re funny. You’re extremely attractive–”

“–I am?”

“Completely.”

Maybe we would have sex one day. She was only — let’s see — 15 years younger than me. And I still hadn’t grown up. Maybe we would have a baby. She would become one of those annoying, loudly overprotective moms. We would live here in Vermont, in some old house. Sarah would batter me into a sniveling mouse and probably cheat on me, but in the end, we would still curl up together in front of the fireplace.

The wine came. The wings came. The salads came. And then the pizza came. Then I got tired, I couldn’t drink anymore. But Jen and Sarah, they kept going. After a while, I could barely keep my eyes open. I had to leave. I couldn’t keep up with them. I went home and crawled into bed, a tired old man.