Pucker Up, Buttercup


Happy Thanksgiving! What are you thankful for?

Today, I am thankful for anal sphincters. As we learned in my Anatomy & Physiology class this week, we all have two of them–an internal and an external–and relaxation of both is [usually] required for defecation. The internal anal sphincter is made of smooth muscle and relaxes involuntarily in response to signals from the parasympathetic nervous system. Even if your brain decides it’s time to poop, you won’t until you consciously relax the skeletal muscle of the external anal sphincter. Since potty training, we’ve all relied on this two-step method to keep us tidy. And boy, do we take it for granted!

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh has this bit about a toothache, how when you have a toothache, happiness = not having a toothache. But during all the other moments in our lives, when we do not have a toothache, do we equate this state with happiness?

At 5 AM this morning, I came to appreciate Hanh’s wisdom in a new way, when I awoke with tremendous intestinal distress. I never realized the beauty of those little sphincters and the happiness I enjoy when everything works flawlessly. What a flood they can contain!

Until they can’t.

This morning I shit my own bed. Just a little, but still. It was awful and humiliating and just a fraction of the malevolence my body experienced in the grip of this…food poisoning, norovirus, or whatever. I will never take those sphincters for granted again.

I ended up spending Thanksgiving Day in bed with my dog. It made me sad, watching friends post photos of Turkey Trots and get-togethers on Facebook. I was supposed to be at my sister’s house, where the presence of her fun in-laws would have provided a buffer for our usual family nonsense. And I wanted to hang with my niece, who has finally become a consistent and loving part of my life now that she’s old enough for me to communicate with directly. I eat all but a handful of meals alone every month, and I was really looking forward to a collective dinner experience. Plus I’m a shit cook, so I was psyched about eating a really great meal.

Instead, my “Thanksgiving dinner” was an egg and some applesauce when I finally felt like I could keep something down. Or rather…in.

In some ways, though, I am grateful for the intestinal intervention. My sister terrifies me, and it was a virtual certainty that I would do or say, or not do or not say, something that would incur her wrath–if not now, then passive aggressively months in the future. I was nervous about the day going well, which probably did not help my digestion–or the terrible food choices I made yesterday, when I was stress eating. This GI situation was a blessing in disguise.

A very, very clever toilet-paper disguise.

I am acutely aware that, even with poop on my sheets, this year’s Thanksgiving was better than last year’s. Last year, in the middle of dinner, my nephew made a fat joke at my expense. His comment hurt less than the fact that it was met with stony silence from the four adults–his parents and my parents–who also heard it. Not one of them stood up for me or took him to task in any way. There was just a slight pause, then everyone went back to eating. When I consider how my sister and I were reared, and the emphasis our parents placed on manners and deference to adults, their silence was shocking. Essentially, the message delivered to my nephew that day was, “Even though you are a child, you are not obliged to respect your aunt. Say whatever cruel things you want, we don’t care. She does not have our respect, and she doesn’t merit yours.”

It was humiliating. More humiliating, even, than being sick and getting poop on my sheets and having no one to help me clean it up.

So, this Thanksgiving will not go down as the worst in my life, because there is more to holidays than dress-up clothes and savory dishes and white linen tablecloths.

Just like there is more to dignity than successfully containing your poop. Not much more, but more: I took care of myself, I took care of my dog, and I didn’t hurt anyone. I did the best I could in a shitty (!) situation, just like those little sphincters. We’ll bounce back, all of us, and contain the flood another day.

Nobody wins ’em all.


2 thoughts on “Pucker Up, Buttercup

  1. Pucker Up, Buttercup has a meaningful illustration; I knew before setting eyes on the first words of the post it was about ass holes and assholes. During a feast I pulled together for my husband and I it was obvious we were best off on our own.

    Thanksgiving and other ”family holidays” undoubtedly suck for many of us. My husband and I were left alone by relatives. I was spared having to decline invites as they never arrived. My closest blood relatives are an hour away, none of which have made an effort to see me in over 2 years. My husband’s did as much to connect with us. When they do, visits are served up on a platter of bitterness and indifference. We might as well be flies on the wall or a carpet stain, it does not matter to any of them if we are there or not.

    My family has come to terrify me, too. My sister retains sibling rivalry towards me I have never been able to pole vault past. Her husband criticizes the relatives not in his immediate presence to entertain, no doubt doing the same to us when we are not around. Our absence gives less fuel to the fire they set at our feet. Maybe some day the need to execute us and others will go out. We can hope, for the sake of humanity.

    About a week prior to our National Holiday I moped around in my head, aching to be included. I told a friend who would have included us had she not been going out of town it was embarrassing to be left out of the gatherings. She did me a solid, responding thus: “You shouldn’t feel embarrassed, what they are doing is an insult.”

    Your body did you a favor. It saved you the torment of those who should love and respect you most. In truth, they don’t deserve you. They haven’t taught respect to your nephew as they do not respect themselves.

    You won.


  2. I love your ability to find humor in even the “shittiest” situations! My Thanksgiving has also been incredibly lackluster, due to being in a country where I haven’t made friends yet, that doesn’t celebrate the holiday, and that is 13 hours ahead of my family. Thanksgiving was looking at an emailed picture of my family enjoying a dinner together while I groggily sipped my instant coffee. (Not that I don’t have things to be thankful for… I’m very thankful that my husband and I were able to escape from the (unbeknownst to us) illegal rental we were in three days ago and move to a place that hopefully won’t be raided by foreign government agents…)

    Liked by 1 person

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s