Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Summer's Out Of Reach

These bizarrely cool summer days have made me want to be outside even more than usual. “More than … what?,” I can hear echoing from Memphis to Minnesota, but the reality is, I like the outdoors. I do. I like hiking and biking and swimming in natural bodies of water. I like trees and flowers and birds and fuzzy little woodland creatures. I like the idea of getting outside the house and exploring my own environment. The problem is, my mental appreciation of nature is at odds with my physical tolerance for it.

For starters, I’m allergic to outside. I have spring hay fever, fall hay fever, and intermittent spells of summer hay fever. I’m of northern European stock, and not genetically pre-disposed for year-round pollen. Worse than what reacts with my system, however, is what is attracted to my system. I am a mosquito magnet. There are people who are barely noticed by bugs, there are people who have a normal adversarial relationship with them, and then there are those of us who cannot step outside between March and November without being swarmed. If I sit on my porch for one minute, I will go back inside with no less than half a dozen fresh bites. In one DEET-soaked evening on the patio, I racked up 30 new welts, including five on my face and more than ten on my fully-clothed back. I try to suffer through it for the sake of enjoying my yard, but histamines will only be ignored so long.

The mosquitoes have a harder time getting me when I’m moving, but exercising, and especially exercising outdoors in the summer, is tough for me. Not because I’m averse to activity or too delicate to sweat, but because I actually cannot sweat. I don’t suffer from complete hydrosis, but the strange truth is, my face doesn’t sweat. At all. I could work out for an hour and there wouldn’t be a drop of perspiration on my brow. Instead, there would just be an oily sheen over my bright red face as I staggered around like a drunk arctic puffin. I actually switched to a deodorant that doesn’t contain anti-perspirant after realizing that being able to use at least one portion of my body’s natural cooling system enables me to spend a longer period in the heat without feeling like I’m going to keel over.

In tragic irony, swimsuit season is my least active time of year, as all the forces of nature push me indoors. So I’m enjoying this respite while I can – taking meals outside, walking every evening - knowing that in a matter of days, my truce with the outdoors will end.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Fate Sat Behind The Wheel

There's a small piece of glass embedded in my right arm, just above the joint of my elbow. It's a shard of car window, pushed into my skin when our Pathfinder was struck on the driver's side, a compact sedan hitting with such force that the SUV flipped completely over and landed back on its wheels. My half-open window shattered when the passenger door tipped into the street, bits of glass and Madison Avenue burying themselves in the arm that was still braced against the window frame when the horizon went vertical.

My daughter, nearly three years old then, was also in the car, strapped into the middle of the backseat. I didn't hear her make a noise when we went over, but as soon as the car stopped moving, she began shrieking to get out. I skittered over the center console to get to her. I don't remember opening the door, but somehow we got out. I can still feel the late afternoon August sun in my eyes as I stood holding her on the sidewalk, looking her over for injuries, trying to determine whose blood was whose. I clutched her to me and the full fear hit me at once. I peed right out the leg of my shorts. I barely noticed and didn't care.

The day leading up until the accident had been eventful, a mix of highs and lows. We had been to the lake, kayaking and swimming. Even though the child's energy and attitude were flagging, we decided to end the day with a trip to Baskin-Robbins. We were a block out of the parking lot when the woman in the white Taurus ran the red light. By the time I registered the sound of her brakes squealing, the impact had already occurred.

An ambulance came and the EMTs tracked the baby and me down in the Zinnie's bathroom, where we were trying to use duct tape to remove glass from our skin and clothes. They insisted on taking us to the emergency room, because they simply couldn't believe that anyone could survive that type of crash without a major injury. But after four hours sharing a bed in a very dark, curtained-off exam room in the corner of Methodist Central, we were checked out and cleared to go. When I asked about the chunk of glass they hadn't been able to irrigate from my arm, the nurse said, "Don't worry, it'll work itself out in time."

When I think of the day leading up to the accident, even the good moments are tainted by the ending. Every second led directly to that instant of disaster.

Nearly three years later, the glass is still there. I don't feel it all the time, but sometimes it aches out of nowhere, and it stings like a fresh wound if I bump it against something. Maybe it will still find its way out of me, I don't know. Maybe one day my skin will thin and soften and it will escape. Or maybe, as some morbidly suggested, it will burrow until it finds a vein and enters my bloodstream, threatening to block my heart completely. But most likely, it will stay where it is, the edges smoothing over time, less painful through the years but still reminding me of the collision, always warning me to be watchful.

When I see the scar or touch the bump beneath it, my stomach does a slight flip, a partial re-enactment. I feel like I'm right back in that out-of-control car, waiting for the spinning to stop so I can get my child to safety.