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g r a v e l
A L I T E R A R Y J O U R N A L
It is a familiar chair in a new room with a new doctor. I know what is going to happen. The nurse turns on the machine next to me. She sticks the electrodes on my neck, then my chest. They are a familiar kind of cold. She lowers my chair and the seat reclines backward, making a humming noise until I am in place. I adjust myself, the leather squeaks. I am comfortable, but I know I will tense up before the first needle goes in, even though this is normal.
This is normal.
The nurses are always cheerful. They’re there to make you feel better, I know. But sometimes you don’t want to feel better. They ask you questions, they want to lighten the mood. You are about to get three needles in your neck. Sometimes you don’t want to answer questions and just want to get the needles.
Then silence. The nurse has run out of things to say.
The doctor and I exchange greetings. He asks a lot of questions and I know it’s because he wants to hear me talk. I know this is all just protocol and he probably doesn’t care where I live or where I work or what I am doing this weekend or if I have a roommate or--
“This started very young?”
“I was 17.”
“Yes, I see.”
It has been eight years. This is a new doctor, he does not know me. My old doctor was there from the beginning. This new one is older, he has a shiny head and a soft, Southern drawl. I like to listen to people’s voices, and voice doctors have the most interesting voices.
I am here because of the new insurance, because it’s too hard to travel eight hours round trip every few months for a few quick jabs. I am here because my life is here now, not there. Eight years. Things are different but the same. I will go on like this indefinitely.
Eight years is a lot of time. That is a lot of time to get used to needles and doctors chairs and talking and not talking and explaining and lying and living in between and living on the periphery while wanting to say more and say less at the same time.
But I smile and talk and laugh with the doctor, and I smile and talk and laugh and go on with things.
He asks how long it’s been since my last injection. Too long. I sigh. Sometimes I let it go for too long. I know, I know it will not improve once the injections wear off. But I let it go because I think, maybe I can deal with this. I don’t want the needles. No, I need them. But who wants them? Who wants needles?
I can do it. I don’t have to go.
No, but I always come back.
I ask how he does the injections – one side at a time or in one full swoop? I want to be prepared. Dr. Rosen had a consistency. Eight years for three or four times a year is a lot of time for practice.
It’s one side at a time with this doctor, too. First, the numbing medication. Just a prick. I barely feel it. This is easy. Normal. I breathe in, out. The first one comes. I feel it pierce the skin and slide in, then it is out. The other side is as quick.
Afterward, there is a yellow bruise in the middle of my neck where I swallow. There are two tiny dots of brownish red, where the blood has already dried. I like to joke with myself that they’re vampire bites.
I am already leaving, thanking the doctor, leaving the safe place. I walk outside, thinking, knowing that someone will notice the bruise. Then they will know. They won’t know about the needles, but they’ll know something is wrong. I know because they always look for a few seconds too long. The silence of other people knowing but not saying anything is worse than if they ask the wrong thing.
“Are you getting over being sick?”
Wrong. That is the wrong thing to say. I always lie. “Yes, I am. I lost my voice.”
But the second part is true.
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