When I was 24, a woman I worked with went home with news of her son having been sent home from school with the chicken pox.
Within two hours, I had developed itching, raised red dots on my belly and went home, too.
Except I wasn’t really sick.
I’m a compassionate – if paranoid – person. I listen to troubled friends, I nod solemnly to the ranting of the wild-eyed, and I will develop a case of faux chicken pox with the merest suggestion.
I’m here for ya, baby.
I did not have the chicken pox that day (although I did cop a day off even after the doctor pronounced the itching red dots “hives”). I was concerned for my work mate, however; and, perhaps more importantly, I was concerned for myself; for while I’ve been vaccinated, as my friend Mary would say, “like a mo-fackey”, I’ve yet to have even one childhood illness.
Some may call it “hysterical”. I prefer to think of it as “empathetic”.
The body, after all, speaks. Sometimes our legs feel leaden: our body says “don’t go forward”. Sometimes our mouths drop open, aghast: our body says “there’s nothing to say”.
I once almost had a gallbladder removed because of my speaking body.
The pain! The doctor pushed and palpated, scratched himself under the chin and proclaimed that while it didn’t appear to be overly inflamed it was certainly behaving as if it should come out.
“So what’s the downside to not having a gallbladder?” I asked.
“None really,” he said. “And you won’t have the pain any more. Of course, you won’t be able to eat spicy foods…”
I stopped listening after that. A buzz had started up in my ears… No spicy foods? Wait. What? No spicy foods?
No. No, no, no.
I drove away thinking of a life without jalapenos, without Thai peppers.
My phone rang.
I glanced at the screen. It was my boyfriend, a demanding man I could not please.
I didn’t answer it. “That man has become a pain in my side,” I muttered.
And my mind did a double take.
“A pain in my side?” What, not “a pain in my butt”? Not “a pain in my neck”?
No. He was a pain in my side.
I broke up with him that night. I never felt the pain in my side again, and I still have my gallbladder.
The back of my head has begun to itch. Not always. Not every day. But violently, and with increasing frequency.
I pointed it out to Donna, the woman who cuts my hair.
“What’s on the back of my head?”
She pushed the hair this way and that. “Hey, did you know you have another face back here?”
Donna and I have shared our morbid love of circus freaks.
“I do not!”
“Yeah, but if you did, think of the money you’d make.”
“Seriously. What’s on the back of my head.”
My hair was moved from one side of my head to the other. “Nothing,” she said. “I can see where you’ve been scratching at it, but I don’t see why you’ve been scratching at it...”
She shrugged. “Looks like good scalp to me.”
I showed my new doctor: “Scalp looks to be in good shape. Why are you scratching it?”
It’s my body. It’s talking again.
Only what’s it saying?