Railway Bum

My favorite coffee shop is right next to the railroad tracks— freight tracks, that run past the airport and see trains passing for most of the day and into the night. I like getting close to those tracks as the train sweeps by, even though I know a loose tie strap could whip through my body and split me wide at those speeds. Even though I know that sparks and flying debris could hit me, blind me, concuss me, kill me. It doesn’t matter. I love the rumble of the earth as the train trundles by. I love the sound of the bells as the cross bars drop, and the way the train’s sound drowns out all others.

I like to pretend I was born in the wrong time. That’s easy to do: romanticize an era long gone, when thousands took to the rails to look for work, to get to greener pastures and places where there’d be food or a roof. I pretend I know what it’s like to be roofless… but couch-surfing homeless and sky-sheltered homeless are two different beasts. I pretend I want to know what it’s like to dodge bulls at the station. I pretend a lot. But that’s what happens with the past, isn’t it? Denizens of better days or uncertain futures, we gild the long-gone, and hold it up as an ideal. I know better, or at least, I should.

Still, there’s something about the trains. Something that pulls me to their graffitied box cars and shipping containers, their rust and rumble. How many miles of track still exist in the U.S.? How many miles have been torn up and away? My fingers itch, and I find myself calculating jumps, trajectories, speeds. But instead of hopping on and letting the rails take me north to stops unknown, I crouch close, camera in hand, and snap away.

It’s almost enough, sometimes.

Perspectives on (Not) Procreating

I have for years known that I don’t want kids. I have for years whined, moaned, complained, and griped about the injustice of the medical industry, denying the agency of women who want sterilization under the pretense of “oh, you’ll change your mind.” Only for women under a certain age. Because it’s for their own good. Because, y’know, they’ll regret it. And thus, I have for years gone to many a doctor, asked about tubal ligation, and been laughed at (literally), patted on the head (metaphorically), and told that I don’t know what I’m talking about (literally).

Then this magical thing happened. I hit 30. I went to see the doctor yesterday. And I discovered that all the resistance had melted away. 30 is apparently that special the age when women become adults.

The doctor didn’t ask me about why I wanted to be sterile. He didn’t ask if I had a boyfriend or a husband, or what I would do if I changed my mind. He just assumed I knew my mind. This was novel.

I’d say that maybe this isn’t so much a case of age-based discrimination, that maybe I’d just found the right doctor, except… he had that cringing look on his face when he thought I was in my 20s. Except I brought up that I had wanted the procedure for 10 years, and he replied that the resistance was likely because there is such a high rate of patient regret. Except on my way out he made a comment, a joke, about me being 30 meant I was a grown-up now.

Now I’ve done my research. Regret? I’ve seen widely varying numbers, but even the highest (see the section on “Long-Term Complications”) have it only at about 1/4 of patients expressing regret, with the average being closer to 1/10, controlling for all factors.

And the adulthood joke? Harder to interpret. I have to admit, it was well-placed, as jokes go. I’d like to look at it as a comment on how our society views younger folk as kids. In a lot of ways, American culture doesn’t let people grow up until our 30s, anyway. 25? You’re still just a kid. A kid who can legally enter contracts, mind you, but a kid all the same.

I know that when I was 25, I knew my birth control options. I knew oral contraceptives worked my system over in the worst way, and that doctors wouldn’t put an IUD in for me. I knew that Depo Provera was scary being yet another hormonal birth control, and one I wouldn’t be able to discontinue if I had the same problems that presented themselves while taking oral contraceptives. And then there was the fact that no one would believe: that I knew I didn’t ever want kids.

Well, I am finally getting my way. By my next post, I will be well on my way to having occluded fallopian tubes, scar tissue forming blockages due to feathery little inserts in tiny cages in what look like coiled metal springs. Yay, Essure! Yay, technology!

But it feels like a pyrrhic victory. I still had to wait. And wait. All those pregnancy scares, all those horrid hormones placed in my body to finally get to this point. It doesn’t seem fair, especially not when I knew what the outcome would be 10 years ago. I was sure then, too.

Unknowing

There was a call.

“Your blood panel came back. We need you to come in for more testing.”

I had just gotten off from work. I was tired. I was hungry. I didn’t recognize the number of my doctor’s office at first, because I was a new patient.

“Can you come in tomorrow?”

“I work tomorrow, and I cycle everywhere. It’s kinda hard to get there. I know I have another appointment Tuesday. Can it be done then?”

“We need to see you as soon as possible.”

“Can you tell me anything more? I mean, what’s gone wrong?”

Blood panel results. This wasn’t anything related to a specific disease, then, a yes/no proposition, tested-for and known. This was some other kind of indicator, something off or odd, something like a clue to a bigger thing looming in the dark.

There was a shuffling, a moment’s hold, and one of the doctors was on the line.

“Is there anything you can tell me over the phone?”

“We found some dangerous abnormalities and need you to come in for more testing.”

“Okay,” I said. I knew saying that was a mistake— that word, “dangerous.” One doesn’t say things like that without a resolution, more information. Dissolve the narrative tension. But this was a new doctor there, a likable guy, obviously learning.

I am a creature prone to infections of the nighttime whatifs. Shel Silverstein observed them well: “Whatif I flunk that test?/ Whatif green hair grows on my chest?/ Whatif nobody likes me?/ Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?” My ears crawled with them. Night was not friendly.

I woke one final time at 8:15am, and took a shower. A very long shower, and my stomach lay at the bottom of the tub, the hot water unable to ease its knots. So I sat next to my stomach on the floor, letting the water run over me, long after I had finished washing.

“Okay,” I toweled off and said to my cat. “Okay, I should go.” She looked up at me with her green eyes and petted my leg with her paw while I pulled pants on. And I went.

The road shoulder along my southbound path was littered with debris. The first pop made me worry for my tires. The next pop made me look harder, and then there was a third, a seventh, a tenth.

They were snails. Hundreds and hundreds of snails, covering the bike lane, the white lines, trails glimmering their mucous glitter.

Pop. Pop pop pop.

My passing was a massacre, my bike wheels heavier than my worry. If there had been anything in my stomach, I’d have been sick.

By the time I arrived at the doctor’s, my tires were with slick with the corpses of snails, and there was no more weight of guilt or fear.

“How are you feeling today?” asked the receptionist.

“I’ll live,” I said. “Until I don’t.”

Epilogue

Narrative tension should be dissolved. High potassium was the test result. Everything else was normal, including my heart. Retesting was ordered.

Something to be monitored. Something that could be bad. Something that might be explainable by my water consumption habits (or lack thereof). Maybe. Maybe.

But maybe is enough of a flashlight, and I’m used to a number of uncertainties.

With, Without

I am no Luddite, but I’m not a tech slut, either. Having just moved, I have been doing without something I used to hold very dear: my own internet connection. It is a financial sacrifice. It is a strange inconvenience.

So many writers make a big deal about experiments in doing without. This trend vaguely annoys me. Every day, all of us make choices, sacrifices, clean-living pacts. Change like this is ordinary. So what’s the big deal?

Well, you notice things. Like how much harder it is to be social and arrange things when I have to hop online only at the library and coffee shops. Like how much more care and timing I have to put into my submissions. Like how much less I dick around online, and how many little projects I am more likely to complete, whether they be repairs, artistic little things, or making utilitarian items (like the origami crane catnip toys; a friend had recently told me about it, so I set out to make my own… hey were loved and shredded).

The root of it, I think, is that we marvel at how one break from our routines can change so much. It changes everything. We make a spectacle of our transformations, write about them, film them, document them not so much because we’re peacocks preening in the public eye (though I won’t deny that may be a part of it), but because it astounds us what a simple change can do, and we are wont to share tales of strange journeys… even small journeys through our everyday.

I am getting used to this internet-less state. I am building new routines around it. I like how I’ve had to adapt. I think I might just keep it this way a bit longer.

Love and Library Shelves

The library is under construction. There are barriers set up in every direction, turning the open layout into a mouse-maze, with a reward greater than most that I know: books.

Everyone knows what a book hound I am. I make no secret of it. I take full advantage of inter-library loans, World Cat, borrowing from research libraries. Access. Academia. A merry-go-round of graphic novels and craft books, novels I’ve waiting years to read. But Broward’s Main Library blows me away.

Years ago, I’d come here, took out books on my boyfriend’s card, children’s books in French. Today, I have my own card, and the stacks seem vaster than the public libraries I’ve known in New York. I fell in love with the libraries of New York, paging through copies of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, lolling through older editions of Tolkien. Here? There are floors and floors and just as many spines to run my fingers along.

This, and everywhere ants. Not insects, but workers… construction, hard hats: ants. The fountains are silent and the escalators are stopped. I am in the bowels of a beast rebuilding itself, scaffolding enfolding terraces, cranes still as wading birds rising high into the sky. The shelves have been shuffled in order to allow the workers passage.

I like the feeling of incompleteness this creates. I like the sense of movement and renewal. I like that the open floor plan with seven landings to look over allows me to see it all in progress; five foot cubicle dividers can’t hide the bustle and shift when I’m peering down from two floors up.

I can’t wait until it’s finished. I never want it to be complete.