I went for a breast exam once. I was young and paranoid. I was not in Rhode Island, which means that it was no surprise when the technician walked in and I thought that she could just as well have been serving me hot wings at Hooters. When I untied my gown, and revealed myself from the waste up; she clapped.
"I'm so psyched!" she squealed. "You're breasts are nice and small! You're going to be so easy! The last woman I had -" she cupped her hands and let them sway and dangle around her waist, "- was, like, huge. It was a nightmare. And the woman before her was at least a C, if not a D - but yours are so nice! You made my day!"
I wondered if she said this because she really meant it, or because she felt bad in some sort of way and thought that these words would make me feel better. She obviously was not aware that I thought that I had breast cancer.
After she was finished and told me I was fine with a ridiculous smile as though she had saved the world, she sat down with a sigh.
"What's wrong?" I asked, although I really did not care.
"All of my friends are getting married…" and she trailed off and shook her head.
"Well, um… how old are you?"
"Twenty-eight! I mean! Well, how old are you?!"
"I'm nineteen. It's on my sheet… that's in your hand." I replied wondering how the HELL this woman was in charge of examining me and coming up with a diagnosis.
"Nineteen! And you're in here and, like, wanting someone to look for breast lumps?!?"
I tried to ignore her improper English.
"C'mon girl! You have your whole life ahead of you. I'm just, this old wives maid…"
I hate it when people fish for compliments. It makes me feel like a Magic 8 Ball - shake me enough, and maybe I'll give you the right answer, phrase, you are looking for.
"Nooooo, you're not an old wives maid! You're beautiful." I can't believe that I am saying this. What I wanted to say is 'no, you're not. But you are an amazing moron that has no idea what to say in a professional situation and I cant IMAGINE what you are like in public.
"You're just saying that…" as she looked away, wishing for more compliments.
"I have to go. I am sorry. Thanks for… um… checking me out."
I decided to get away. More away. It wasn't going to be the romantic getaway that I had previously wanted: a tour of the French vineyards, where a young Frenchmen says, "we enjoy ze wine now, and zen later, time for love, no?" But it was something. Something much better. A backpacking trip through Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. For many people, this would be nightmare. For me, this would be an adventure.
On the plane, I sat next to a woman in a Mandarin collared business suit with pale, chubby hands she couldn't keep still. She fiddled with several different ways to roll her blanket into a bolster that may support her back. She went through a dozen sticks of sugarless gum. She fluffed and poked at the manic, dark curls of hair that rose out of her head like flames.
The pilot introduced himself as "Capt'n Dave", He said that we should consider the crew our family in the sky. Then, what was clearly an effort to put everyone on board at ease, he launched into a rousing rendition of "Oh, Suzanna" on the harmonica.
Smiling, I said to the woman, "That was so great, wasn't it?"
She shrugged, "Yeah, I guess so. I just hope he's not drunk. You know, a lot of pilots are alcoholics."
I wanted to strangle her for saying that. Like she knew what would piss me off at that moment. Like she knew that my dad is a pilot… and that he is an alcoholic… Like she wanted to take her jagged fingernails and rip a hole in my stomach and pour salt in it and grind it with a mortar.
She must have notice my pupils shrink and eyes narrow.
"Usually, I, ah, really don't like flying. I was on a plane the day 9-11 happened."
Oh. That makes you special. It's almost like YOU WERE ON THE PLANE, right? How many people were on a plane that day? Thousands. You are pathetic, I though.
"Oh, that must have been tough." and I could tell she could sense my agitation.
"Could I have your blanket? I just can't get comfortable." She said as her eyes darted back and forth.
"Sure." and I tried to make kind eye contact as I realized that she was just an idiot and I didn't want to be mean to a stranger.
She went on to describe her many health problems she had endured over the years. They were minor things; a tipped uterus, high cholesterol, an allergy to pigeons. This was when I realized that as bad as it is to sit next to someone who wants to chat the whole flight, it's even worse to sit next to someone who, it seems, wants a hug. This poor woman, I thought, that is until she said: "Are you traveling alone too?"
And there it was: the word "too". As in "also", as in "look at what we have in common!". I wanted to say, "no no no no no, please don't try and lump us together. My compassion for you is based on pity, not on camaraderie."
"Sort of," I explained that I was beginning a backpacking trip in southeast Asia.
"You didn't want to bring a friend?" she asked, sharply.
"I wanted to go now, and I didn't want to wait."
She fluttered her eyes, "I'm sure you get this all the time too, but everyone tells me they can't understand it. They say "what is wrong with this world? How can you be single? You're a beautiful, intelligent, vivacious, sensual woman." and I say, "it's not me, it's the men out there." "Do you get that all the time too?"
At that moment, had the cockpit door not been so tightly locked, I'm sure I would have jumped.
I got to Thailand fine. I didn't jump.