Pucker Up, Buttercup

balloon-knot

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.

 

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Thanksgiving

To follow up on my last post and its little cliffhanger:

I made the call and left a voicemail. He called back. We talked. He was funny! We made a date. I went on the date.

I can’t tell you about it, though, because that’s a story for First-Date Fridays, and I have two dozen first dates–plus a few aborted attempts–stacked up in the queue ahead of this one.

Patience.

As I have said to a couple of broken-hearted friends lately, no one knows how their story will end. We don’t even know where we are in the story, or who will–and won’t–be on the next page. Including loved ones, including ourselves. We can look back on what’s already been written, and we can seek to understand it, but we can’t change what’s done and gone. We can also wonder about the blank pages to come. Where will I be? What will I be doing? Who will be with me? And, taking nothing for granted, how many more pages are there anyway?

Four days ago, I would have loved to learn that I was merely living in a short story, and it would all be over soon. I am feeling better today, so I’m thinking I might be able to tolerate a novella or even a full-length book. If I could fall in love, find happiness in my work, and (or?) have my loneliness assuaged, I might someday desire to live an anthology!

But that is mere anticipation. All I can live is the present page, in the little spaces between the letters and words that write my life. I am glad to be here. Four days ago, I was in a hole so deep I could barely see the sky. I am grateful for the sky. I am also grateful for the hole. But I am most grateful for the page on which it has all been written.

Later today, when we go around the table and account for that which we are thankful, I will adhere to the script and reply, “My family and friends,  my job, the dog.”

But I will be thinking: me.