Like a Pill (#208)

I had headaches most of my childhood. Maybe it was my poor eyesight. Maybe it was bad nutrition. Maybe it was the stress of divorces, remarrying parents, and more siblings. I tried all the drugs in various parents’ medicine cabinets, to no avail. I learned to power through head-pounding misery.

I worked as a cashier in high school. An assistant manager noticed one night that I was more sullen than usual. She asked if I was okay. I explained that I had a headache.

She said, “I have something that will fix that right up.”

“It won’t work,” I told her. “I’ve tried aspirin, Tylenol, Excedrin. Nothing helps.”

“Give it a shot,” she said, handing me a maroonish, brownish pill with “Advil” written on it.

Twenty minutes later, my headache was gone. I turned cartwheels and called it a miracle.

I’ve worshipped at the altar of Advil ever since. Or at least until the generic version of ibuprofen came out, because that is way cheaper. If I feel a headache coming on and I can get to ibuprofen fast enough, I can prevent migraines, even the ones with nausea and stabbing pain in my eye.

I carry a bottle in my purse, my gym bag, and my backpack. I’ve taken it for the flu and torn muscles. Ibuprofen was the only pain reliever that made menstrual cramps bearable until I went on birth control pills in my twenties.

But you know what? When you’re trying to get pregnant, ibuprofen is forbidden. Early in pregnancy, it can cause a miscarriage. Later, a fetal heart defect.

When my gynecologist broke the news, I let out an involuntary moan. Okay, maybe it was more like a loud shriek. A nurse poked her head into the room to ask if everything was okay.

“NO!” I howled. “The mean doctor says I can’t take ibuprofen while trying to get pregnant or being pregnant! And it’s the only thing that works!”

The nurse clucked sympathetically and left.

“You can take Tylenol,” the doctor said.

“Oh, yay,” I told her. “I’ll take it with some fairy dust and foo cha tea and I’m sure any headache will disappear immediately.”

“Some of my clients swear by acupuncture,” she offered.

“That’ll go great with my vasovagal response to needles,” I shot back. “We’ll get to spend a lot of quality time together in the Emergency Room after I pass out.”

“Essential oils—”

“Essentially useless!”

“Then you’re down to icepacks and moist heat on your forehead. Good luck and take your prenatal vitamins.”

*****

My luck lasted three weeks.

I missed my ibuprofen the day after a grueling volleyball tournament, but the hot tub at the Y and some stretching got me through.

When a loose pit bull mix went after my dogs on a walk, I got knocked down and dragged before my ferocious Fey sent him on his way (with scabs). I pined for my ibuprofen that afternoon as I covered my bruises with ice packs.

Then came the evening when my forehead started to throb. My stomach grew queasy. The pain spread over my head, down to my neck. I lay in a dark room for a while before crawling to the bathroom.

“Want me to get anything?” Andy called out. “Some ice?”

After I finished retching, I weakly called back, “A gun. So you can shoot me.”

Bastard only brought me a pillow and a blanket, though.

I fell asleep some time before dawn, and woke up pain-free.

I repeatedly congratulated myself on surviving a migraine without ibuprofen throughout the day.

The next day I got my period.

And I cursed. I could have taken ibuprofen and spared myself all that misery because there was no fetus in danger of being miscarried, damn it.

I called Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister and bitched. “I can’t believe it. I was so sure I’d get pregnant right away!”

“You might be lucky you didn’t. There’s no official stats on it, but when I was working my OB rotation, this one super experienced obstetrician talked about how she’d just seen too many weird pregnancies with multiple embryos and complications when her patients got pregnant on their first cycle after going off the pill. She always advised at least one regular menstrual cycle before attempting to get pregnant.”

“Huh. I didn’t know that.”

“It’s just anecdotal,” Dr. Sis said. “It’s not like there’s any research to back it up.” Dr. Sis is a mega-fan of peer-reviewed studies and has killed no small number of mice in her own research. “But I found it moderately interesting. And hey, how are you enjoying your first period off the pill?”

“Oh, it’s fabulous.”

“Really?”

“Of course not, Dr. Sadist! It’s come back with interest or a vengeance. I felt like there was a knife in my gut and now I’m bleeding like there’s a knife in my gut.”

“You don’t sound that bad.”

“Of course not,” I told her.

“Because I already took four ibuprofen.”

Color Me What? (#199)

My mother was blonde when I was a little girl – courtesy of Clairol. She had been white-blonde as a child, but her hair darkened as she aged. I don’t know whether she was dirty blonde or chestnut, though, underneath her cheap, brassy dye. Everyone assumed blonde was her natural color, however, since she was always surrounded by a horde of screaming towheaded children. We were the perfect camouflage for her unnatural hair.

I hated her dye job. I harangued her about being a natural brunette incessantly. She ignored me. I swore I would never, ever color my own hair, even though my own locks were brown by Junior High.

You know what’s coming, right?

Hellloooo, irony.

When I was sixteen, a friend French-braiding my hair stopped mid-plait. “No way,” she breathed. “Autumn, you’re not going to believe this.”

“It’s not lice, is it?!” I shrieked. “Tell me it’s not lice!” Lice in a household with five daughters and ten feet of hair is a goddamned nightmare, and one my family went through at least four times. If I brought home lice, I was toast.

“No, no, nothing like that. It’s just…I think you have a grey hair.”

“What? No. Can’t be. It’s a leftover blonde one from my childhood.”

“Nope, it’s definitely not blonde. It’s kinda silvery, actually. Catches the light—”

“PULL IT OUT!”

She did, handing it to me immediately. Sure enough, it was a silvery grey hair.

I shared my news at the dinner table that night. “Can you believe this? Who gets grey hair at sixteen?”

Future Doctor Sister snickered. “Too bad. Grey will really show up with your hair being so dark.” She smugly patted her own golden locks.

Stepmother #1 tried to be comforting, saying, “I’m sure it’s just an aberration. You probably won’t get anymore until you’re forty.”

My dad cleared his throat. “Well, actually, she will. It’s genetic.”

“Is this why Mom dyed her hair?” Mom had died two years earlier, or I’d have run howling to her first.

Dad shook his head. “Much as I’d like to blame your mother for this,” which was true, Dad blamed his first ex-wife for everything from crap contraception to crap car selection, “it’s not her genes. My mom was completely grey by the time she was forty.” And then Dad smiled, like he was all proud of those prematurely old genes.

For the next several years, my mischievous baby siblings taunted me mercilessly about going grey.

When I turned twenty-one, my OCD boyfriend pulled out fifty silvery hairs before I insisted he stop.

When I was twenty-five, guys I met on the dance floor were guessing I was at least thirty.

After a particularly bad breakup, I decided to dye my hair. The stylist said, “What color? You’ve got some red highlights naturally, but blonde would be perfect– ”

I said, “Not blonde!”

Courtesy of Maryah Lily’s amazing updos/ before & after Instagram — SweetnDandyHair. (Yes, this is a “before” picture!)

“Then red,” the stylist told me. “It’ll be stunning with your green eyes.”

I became a redhead, which turned out to trickier than the stylist thought. Grey hair likes to grab the orange in most dyes, but orange highlights are only attractive on clowns (and even that’s kind of dubious). My original stylist had to hand me and my orange hair over to a master colorist. It took the master colorist several attempts to turn the orange into a more sedate auburn.

My red hair must have been a pretty good fit, because everyone I met as a redhead assumed it was my natural color.

As my hair got greyer, though, it got harder to keep the orange out. So I went brunette. My grey hair still tried to grab the orange, but my long-suffering stylist eventually tamed my hair to a nice light brown.

But as the grey won the scalp domination war, I wound up with stripe of silver roots between colorings — expensive colorings.

So I gritted my teeth and took the stylist’s suggestion.

I went blonde, which hides my silvery roots better, longer, and cheaper.

I’m an atheist, but you know what?

I still think Mom is laughing her brassy blonde head off somewhere.

The Boyfriend Thieves (#194)

Being an Amazonian brunette sandwiched between prettier, blonder, more petite sisters sucks. More than one guy ditched me after meeting my sisters.

Take the Boy Next Door. I pined after him for the entirety of seventh grade. He finally asked me to the last dance before school ended. Then Older Sister, who lived with Dad (I lived with our Mom) came for the summer. The Boy Next Door told me we were done, because he was in love with Older Sister. Continue reading The Boyfriend Thieves (#194)

Stocking Savior (#164)

My family collects college degrees. We have some BAs, a lot of BS, an MD, a JD, an MBA, a MSW, an MFA, and a Masters of Education. Big Brother added second MBA when he married. Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister married a second lawyer. I brought the most, though, when I added Andy — a Masters of Engineering AND a Masters in Cyber Security (so, HA, you Russian hackers, give up attacking my website already).

I think the only degree we missed was a PhD. Bummer. Continue reading Stocking Savior (#164)

A Walgreens Christmas (#162)

When Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister settled down with Georgia Boy, I thought they were doomed. Dr. Sis typical of our overachieving white family: type A squared, super competent, goal-oriented, impatient, and INCREDIBLY judgmental. She worked hard for her full scholarship to college, she won her medical school graduation, she kicked ass in her residency, and she destroyed her oncology fellowship at MD Anderson while coping with a difficult pregnancy. (For five months, Dr. Sis operated on patients while wearing a shitload of icepacks to stay conscious.)

Georgia Boy, well, as Dr. Sis put it, “fell into every bit of good luck possible.” Continue reading A Walgreens Christmas (#162)

Countdown to Christmas (#161)

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When I was a little girl, I couldn’t wait for December 2nd. Not December 1st, not December 25th, but December 2nd.

That was my day to open a window on the Christmas Advent Calendar.

For my heathen readers and fellow atheists, Advent Calendars have numbered windows. On the first day of December, you open window #1. You might see a Bible verse, or the first line of The Night Before Christmas. There’s a window to open every day until Christmas Day, when you will have plenty of presents to open instead. Continue reading Countdown to Christmas (#161)

Ice, Dance, and Drama (#112)

Maia and Alex Shibutani in 2011
Maia and Alex Shibutani on the podium in 2011- Wikipedia.

When my parents divorced, my dad got the TV. I lived with my mother, TV-less, for several years. (And half of my American readers thought I was kidding about being a poor and hungry child. Nothing like the lack of a TV to really bring poverty home, right?) But don’t pity me. Sure, I totally suck at pop culture references in Trivia games, but I discovered books. I lived on the prairie with Laura Ingalls and on the Island with Anne Shirley. Life was good. Continue reading Ice, Dance, and Drama (#112)

Sunny Daze (#109)

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My new, China-born mother-in-law had cornered me in the guest bedroom. She’d told her son that she wanted to have a talk with me about “woman” stuff. He couldn’t get out of the room fast enough. Possibly because Andy’s father had already subjected him to the “Ultimate Over-sharing Sex Talk, Given Fifteen Years Too Late.”

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The original cover of Our Bodies, Ourselves. Courtesy of their awesome and useful website.

Well, if Sunny thought she was going to intimidate educate me with some superstitious old world sex misinformation, she thought wrong. Continue reading Sunny Daze (#109)

The North Polar Bear (#105)

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When my elementary school classmates found out my parents were divorcing, they showered me with horrified questions.

“Are you mad?’

“Are you sad?”

“Are you going to try and get them back together? Like The Parent Trap?”

That last one was clearly from a naïve only child in a loving home. (The Parent Trap is the stupidest movie ever, BTW. Yes, both times.) I heaped scorn on her, of course. “No way! They should never, ever live in the same house AGAIN!” Continue reading The North Polar Bear (#105)

Curfew (#102)

How late was your curfew?
How late was your curfew?

When Andy stayed with my family the Christmas before we got married, he was shocked by how late my Baby Sister came home. She was my last sibling in high school. Her boyfriend dropped her off about 1:31 AM. We, of course, were still awake, thanks to the three-hour time difference between LA and New Hampshire. Andy strained chicken stock while I frosted cream cheese sugar cookies. Baby Sister told us good-night and helped herself to a cookie on the way upstairs.

After she went up to bed, Andy said, “Isn’t it kind of late?” Continue reading Curfew (#102)