I got diagnosed with shingles recently, which started out as a tiny cluster of red bumps on my lower back that John confidently described as the result of “some sort of bug that got you while you were sleeping” (why that specific scenario, which is basically custom designed to induce anxious thoughts of a wee-hour descension of, what, fire ants? Here I was hoping for a quick dismissal of my rash-related concern, but no, now I have to imagine the trail of ants marching to my unsuspecting snoring body then lining up, one by one, to take a bite, like the lady-slapping scene in Airplane) then rapidly expanded and crept around one side of my torso until I reluctantly went to the walk-in clinic where a way-too-excitable doctor took one look at my hiked-up shirt and said “Classic shingles. Just classic,” which initially made me weirdly proud (CLASSIC!) then I was like, wait, aren’t shingles supposed to be bad? What I knew about shingles was pretty much limited to seeing those HEY OLD PEOPLE, GET YER SHINGLES VACCINE signs outside of drugstores combined with a vague association with roofing materials but I am now deeply informed about the matter: you can get shingles after you have the chicken pox, because the chicken pox virus lays dormant in your system for thousands of years until a Mysterious Event triggers it to re-animate as the greyscale skin disease from Game of Thrones.

Okay, I might not have that 100% right — to be honest I found the explanation baffling and kind of got distracted by the fact that it’s also known as herpes zoster, which would be the worst stripper name ever — but I can tell you that shingles is pretty damn uncomfortable, although I never had the kind of crippling agony you hear about so either I have an impressive tolerance for pain (unlikely, I’m not sure I am known for my stoic endurance) (cross-reference: literally seventeen years of complaining via blog post) or I got lucky with a mild case.

I did get prescribed a round of antivirals which I took for maybe three and a half days before deciding the side effects weren’t worth it. Probably you’re not supposed to, like, just stop taking stuff, but let’s be honest, I don’t exactly have a great history with following the rules regarding self-administering medication BUT ANYWAY I feel much better now and all the rashy business has morphed into fading scabs (CLASSIC!) and there’s your PSA of the day: you can be only kind of old and still get shingles, which I will thank you not to refer to as “back herpes.”

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It’s not easy to talk about a marriage. Even if there weren’t so many slippery boundaries where yours becomes his and the territory of ours wasn’t so dependant on whose lens is doing the viewing, marriage is a living thing: changing day by day, adapting and straining and growing.

So all of this is tricky, but I want to tell you: if marriage is something like a plant, meant to creep steadily towards sunlight and withering in times of drought, mine is blooming. Against all odds, really. Exploding with quiet vitality and strength and surprise beauty. A semi-forgotten Christmas cactus awoken from dormancy, unfurling dusty leaves to reveal fire-tinged petals: You thought I was just a houseplant? Surprise, motherfucker.

This May John and I will have been married eighteen years, which is long enough to have gone through some shit. I mean, we have been chin-deep and sinking on more than one occasion, I’m trying to stay wary of what’s okay and what’s not okay to reveal but I will just say this, we have both been in the position of talking to a lawyer. That’s how close we were to sinking below the surface.

We were in a particularly tough season a relatively short time ago, when our political differences became a frigid Everest-sized space between us. That’s when you know you’re really in trouble, when the anger dies away and all that’s left is exhaustion.

I don’t know how we kept going, really, except that a family can be like life support: the machinations of a daily routine keeps a thin breath of air going in and out until the heart can maybe, just maybe, beat on its own again.

This marriage is made of so many things, memories and shared experiences and bone-deep hurts and full-bodied laughter, my greatest challenge and my greatest joy. What a gift to turn the corner and be delighted by how rich and deep and comforting and exciting a partnership can be after so many years, what an insanely lucky person I am to have found someone so confounding and bullheaded and true-hearted and deserving.

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