Every time I get a pap smear, I think this would be the worst time ever for an earthquake. I imagine the floor shaking, the framed poster of the female anatomy rattling, the bird mobile swaying back and forth as it clings to the ceiling. The doctor in a state of panic yells, “It’s the big one!!!!” and sprints for the door. Not the doorway, like they teach you in school but the actual door and I’m left lying spread eagle with a speculum sticking out of me. This is what you get for not having insurance, I think. Fortunately, it has yet to pass. I store this fear in my Probably it will never happen but you should have a game plan just in case file section of my brain. It sits snuggly next to What if there is a fire while I’m dying my hair and I can’t rinse for several hours?
There are certainly bigger problems in the world but I find them best left at the mercy of experts; firemen, policemen, politicians, scientists, nuns, conspiracy theorists living off the land in Montana. It’s a long list and an imperfect world. Make a lot of friends. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst. I repeated this in my head as my gynecologist asked me to scoot down the table.
“Come on,” she said. “Move your booty.” I liked her light heartedness. This was our second appointment together and the last time she assured me that my ingrown hair was not a Herpes sore or a genital wart. For this, she was my hero. I starred at the bird mobile hanging from the ceiling.
“Just breathe,” she said. “Relax.” I did as I was told. “You’re going to feel my finger and just a slight pinch.” She slid the speculum inside me.
“It’s cold,” I said. They always are but what else are you going to talk about while a stranger is examining your vagina?
“So,” she said casually. “I forget, are you from LA?”
“I’ve been here for four years,” I said. “But I grew up in Seattle.”
“Oh!” she exclaimed. “It’s pretty up there. I took a trip there in college.” I felt a swab swipe my cervix. I took a breath.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “It’s beautiful.”
“Your family still up there?”
“Yep,” I replied. “My sister and my grandma.”
“What about your mom? Is she in Seattle?”
“She passed,” I said, immediately wishing I had just nodded in agreement.
“Oh,” the doctor said. “Oh, my.”
“It was two years ago,” I added.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “Have you seen a grief counselor? How have you been dealing with it?”
“Um, no,” I said, feeling another swipe. “Not specifically a grief counselor.”
“You really should,” she advised. “I did, when my father died. Horrible car accident. I was about your age, too. What are you, twenty-seven?”
“Oh, good for you! Keep moisturizing!”
My face was getting red. The sweat from my palms had gotten the tissue paper they always line the examination table with wet and it ripped a little.
“What about your dad?” she asked. “Is he still in Seattle?”
“He died when I was sixteen,” I blurted out. I’m so used to telling the story.
“Oh, my god!” she cried.
“Oh, my god!!!” she repeated. “I’m so sorry.” She stopped the exam for a moment and looked up at me. I could see her concerned face from between my legs.
“You’re just so young to have no parents. I really hope you’re getting counseling for this. I can’t believe both of your parents are dead.”
There’s nothing like crying while your gynecologist asks you about your dead parents. Now, would be a great time for an earthquake.
“We’re all done down here,” she said, as if my vagina had whistled and we’d all be drinking tea in a minute.
“I’m going to remove the speculum now,” she said. I inhaled slowly.
“There it goes… and… it’s out.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“Well,” she started. “Everything looks good.” She took off her gloves and threw them in the trash.
“That’s good,” I said, sitting up. She handed me a tissue and gave me a worried stare.
“You want kids?” she asked.
“Maybe.” I wiped my eyes.
“Now’s the time to start thinking about these things.” She picked up her clipboard and made a note.
“I don’t even have a boyfriend,” I mumbled, standing up. I grabbed my pile of clothes, unfolded and disheveled on the chair.
“I’ll give you some privacy,” she said, closing the door. “Remember to put your urine sample on the table at the end of the hall.”
Still in my backless, paper gown, I grabbed a handful of tissues and wiped myself clean of the lubricant gel. I stepped on the small pedal, popping the garbage lid open and tossed the wad inside. I grabbed another tissue and blew my nose.
“Don’t use so much paper,” my mom would say. “It doesn’t grow on trees. Well, it does but you get the point. It isn’t cheap.”
We always had some insane amount of toilet paper on the shelves in the back hallway by the bathroom. Next to three or four 1 gallon size bottles of Listerine, it looked like we were preparing for the end of days.
The sicker my mother became, the more she hoarded.
One Christmas when I was home visiting, I opened a kitchen cupboard and found fourteen jars of olives.
“Mom-” I said. “How many olives does a person need?” I had just noticed over two hundred jigsaw puzzles stacked neatly in the living room closet and her collection of peanuts, lollipops and tootsie rolls were growing as well.
“I like olives,” she said. “They’re salty.” She had been volunteering at a local food bank and enjoying the perks of the job.
“But, Mom-” I started. Her eyes looked like wounded puppies.
“I like olives,” she repeated.
“Oh,” I said, shutting the cupboard door. “Okay. I guess I didn’t realize how much you liked them.”
I put on my jeans, buttoned my shirt, slipped my shoes on and grabbed my urine sample. I walked down the hall and placed it on the table next to the others and headed towards the lobby of the clinic. Two girls sat separately, reading magazines. A guy was filling up his water bottle from the big upside down jug. A young mom was playing count the birdies with her baby in his stroller.
“One…” She held up one finger.
“Two…” She held up two fingers.
“Three birdies are flying,” she said. She took a little toy, a small blue jay and traced figure eight’s in the air with it.
“Weeeee…… Goes the birdy!”
An earthquake must be like nothing to a bird, I thought. Buildings collapsing, trees falling down, cars being overturned while birds just circle the sky, witnessing it all from a distance, waiting it out, soaring through clouds until it’s safe and the earth is still again, as still as it ever can be.
“Four birdies…” the mother said and held up four fingers.
“Five birdies flying through the sky.”
The baby laughed. He clapped for the birdies. I smiled as I walked past them.