If you've recently had a baby, I'm going to ask you about it. (Did you poop on the table? I heard you poop on the table.) Vasectomy? I've got questions for you. (So, like-it's a totally different tube than the pee tube, right? But, it's all in the same spot. Right? So do you pee yourself for a little bit during recovery?) Monitor your glucose with one of those blood pricker things? (So, do you ever just poke it in random places to see what it would do? I mean, like not on your finger, but say, your elbow?) Glass eye? (Can you take it out? Can I see it? Can I tap on it with my fork?)
If it's related to the body, and I haven't experienced it, I'm deeply fascinated by it. My exploratory and sometimes socially awkward/seemingly insensitive/crowd-gasping questions are really just an indication of my curiosity. To a gay friend: "So, um, I totally get what goes on with a man and a woman, you know- with sex and all that business, but when you're on a date with a guy, and things seem to be going in that direction, do you just come out and ask who's going to be in what position, or like, do you both kind of charge and see what happens?" To someone with dentures: "So, do you really put your teeth in a glass next to your bed, or is that some horrible stereotype? Do you brush them? In or out of your mouth? Flossing? Yes? No?"
Perhaps I ask the questions other people are already thinking, but have too much tact to verbalize. I can't be the only one thinking these things. Or maybe I am. Either way, I'm fascinated.
The other night I was at a party and was seated next to a young, attractive woman who had a clear IV tube leading from the top of her shirt down to a brown purse on the floor. I'm guessing most people kind of do this: "Hi, lady. I'm going to totally NOT look at the plastic tube sticking out of your shirt and pretend like it's not there. See how accepting I can be of people with plastic tubes attached to their chest? I don't even NOTICE it!" I do notice it. Not in a bad way. In a I'd like to know more about what's going on there way.
I've been told that a gentler approach to my line of questioning might make others feel less- I don't know- like they want the ground to open up and swallow them whole. After a polite exchange of names I said, "So, do you mind if I ask about what's going on there? With the tube?" She seemed surprised, in a shy way. But willing to answer. Her body can't take in water and she has to be given IV fluids through a port in her chest throughout the day. And night, I guess. I didn't ask about that. Damn.
"So," (I'm beginning to notice that all of my questions begin with a sing-songy "Soooo.") "So, you have an IV bag right there in your purse?"
"Can I see it?"
"Um. Okay." She rummages through her brown leather purse like she's looking for car keys or a lone stick of gum, and comes out with a nearly depleted plastic bag of clear liquid. "It's almost out," she says.
"So, you have to change it?"
"And, where do you buy them? The bags, that is."
"I go down there and they give me a few at a time." I forgot to ask where there is. The hospital? The IV Shoppe?
Questioning went on in this manner. "So, do you sweat? What happens to all that water? Do you just pee it out? Can you exercise?" Somehow I ended up asking if it was possible to put solid things into the port on her chest. Pills. Or small pieces of food. "No. Um. Just liquids." Although she did tell me that drug addicts with ports have used them as a place to inject drugs right into the bloodstream.
Which reminds me about a line of questioning to an ex-heroin using acquaintance that ended up with him telling me how he used his drug stuff to crush up aspirin and cook/shoot into to his kitty when it was sick once. See? Even drug addicts have a soft spot.
Back to my IV friend.
"Well," I concluded, "I think it's nice. Not that you have it, I mean. Just like. It's like having a puppy. Only not as cute. Well, right now I'm picturing a little face on the bag in your purse, and that's kind of cute. But, you know what I mean. It's something to talk about with strangers."
"I hadn't really thought of it that way," she replied. "I'm kind of shy, so, yes- I guess it does give me something to talk about. If people ask me about it. Which doesn't happen that often."
Maybe I made the last line up. I don't remember. I was picturing the clear tube protruding from her bag to be wagging like a dog's tail.
She was a great sport.
I left the party shortly thereafter and felt like I made a new friend. I have no idea what she does for a living, what her last name is, if she is married/ever been married/has kids, if she grew up in St. Louis. But I know that it was about time to change the bag of fluids that was making her able to be out of a hospital and socialize with the rest of us. And I liked knowing this.
If I'm thinking about it, I'm probably going to ask it. "Are you afraid to die? Do you think about it?" I've asked those questions to my grandma (since deceased) and my Great Uncle Joe- Joe was in his 80s when I asked and my grandma was over 90.
I've talked about it with my fabulous Aunt Patty, after her breast cancer came back with a vengeance. Sprawled out across her bed, noticing how her once comfortably doughy frame was now small and bird-like, I asked her about it. I mean- it was there. In the room with us. Not asking her about it wasn't going to make it not happen. We weren't on her bed because she was having a sleepover. I didn't wake her up from a normal nap. She was dying, and everyone knew it at this point. I asked. "Are you afraid to die, Aunt Patty?"
"Hell, yeah, I'm afraid to die, Bridge!" Not what I expected. For once I didn't have any follow-up questions. Not "Where do you think you'll go?" or "Can you come back and do things like make my curtains move?" or "If you really do go to heaven and see famous people, who will you look for first?"
Instead, this is what happened: Our faces on the same pillow, inches apart, we stared at each other in the truth of what she had just said. We held hands and let our fat tears fall into the fabric of her new pillowcase. My questions, normally swirling around in my head, fell to the floor like a box of pins and I only had one left.
And I kept it in.