(This is the second in a short series of posts).

You’re not family orientated, Paul tells me, You don’t like babies; you don’t like kids.

I begin to question everything I think I know about myself.

Things move at a snail’s pace, and also, quickly.

Pete stabilises somewhat; is moved from White Plains to Mt. Sinai in the city. December drags on. I see a lot of Lady H; JRA. Christmas rolls around and I meet JRA at the hospital to drive back with her to Scarsdale for Christmas eve, only to have a car pick me up and take me to JFK from their house.

Christmas Eve and the first night of Hanukkah are the same, so we eat fish that Papa cooks, and we light the menorah and we listen to Jewish acapella groups on YouTube singing catchy songs about the Macabees. Grandma and Lady H ask me what my favourite Hanukkah song is and I confess that I know zero Hanukkah songs.

You didn’t even learn any in school? they ask, incredulous.

No. I grew up in California, I say, as if that explains it. I know one song, about a dreidel, but I can’t remember any of the lyrics and of all the holiday songs I know, it is probably the one I like the least. Merry Christmas, Darling, is decidedly not an Hanukkah song.

I have so much to learn.

But then my car arrives, and I have to cut my Christmas Eve dinner with them short and head to the airport. I am not going to Ireland. I am going to Argentina; Brazil.

The Christmas Eve airport is surprisingly painless, and I board my flight quickly. As soon as we are airborne, I take a Benadryl and put in earplugs, and tune out the world until I land in Buenos Aires on Christmas Morning.

After nearly a decade of avoiding family Christmases, the last few years have been chilly family holidays in Dublin. Paul and I would fight, and the holiday always ended with me in bed, watching The Sound of Music on my iPad, after having pretended to have eaten dinner. He would be furious at me about needing to eat on a regular schedule; I would be jetlagged and cold – desperate for my days of spending untethered holiday seasons in sunnier climes.

I reach passport control in Argentina and I feel nothing but relief – no anger; no sadness – that my invitation to family Christmas has been revoked. I continue onward – across Buenos Aires to the domestic airport – and on to a flight to Iguazu Falls. I’ve hired a driver to meet me at the airport, and take me across the border to the Brazilian side.

I am happiest when I am free, I think. I am happiest when I am on an adventure. When Paul and I first started dating, I’d said: Let’s go to Japan! And we did, early in our relationship, on a whim. I thought that he was as free-spirited as I was – ready to tackle new countries and challenges – but it turned out that he loved adventure only to a point, which became clear when we got lost in Rappongi and couldn’t find the restaurant we were looking for, and no one spoke English, and everything was broken, and it was boiling hot outside even at 10pm, and we stood in the middle of a busy street screaming at each other. 

I realised a long time ago that he is so successful in his life because he sets goals; sticks to them; never deviates. Even his adventures have all been carefully orchestrated – by assistants, and travel agents, and tour companies – and he sticks steadfastly to his itineraries. Rappongi was an aberration, and Paul wasn’t Andrew – who could be counted on to quickly remake every plan on the fly, even when his remakes were as terrible as the situations themselves.

With Paul, I had had to become the logistics person. Which I did willingly until I began to resent it.

I realised, more specifically and to my dismay, that when we got married we were on a different kind of adventure – one that ended with me quitting my job, and becoming a mother, and with the world eventually becoming smaller and smaller – first London, then Dublin, and then a small subsection of North Dublin called Dublin 4, where his entire family lived within actual sight of each other. Success could only be measured by achieving Those Things, and failure was not an option.

I never wanted any of that – and I had always been transparent about it. My world was very big, and the thing I loved most about myself was my crazy ability to pick up and pop up somewhere weird; to cherish my family from a distance; to look stupid with someone. I wasn’t afraid of failure anymore.

I reach the hotel in Brazil and it is situated on the edge of Iguazu Falls. The mist makes a rainbow into the sunset, and it is stunning and I am happy.

I call my family and wish them a Merry Christmas. I tell them I love them; they ask about Paul. I lie. I have no idea what he is doing, so I make something up. I do not tell them that three days before Christmas he served me with a Notice of Separation Event under the terms of our prenuptial agreement. I don’t tell them that no one will ever love me because I’ve had two husbands, or that if I just felt less guilty about the monsters in my genes, maybe I could make this all go away.

I say nothing. I listen to them; I listen to the falls outside my window as the sun sets.

Water flowing underground. Same as it ever was.

SarahKatKim & I are to hosting Reverb throughout 2016 as a way to share writing prompts and providing a space for writers via our Facebook group. In December of each year, we host a prompt-a-day to provide structure and a way to close out the year.

Travel // Where did you go this year?  What was your favourite?  Where do you plan to or want to go next year?

It wasn’t The Cake that put us over the edge.

The melodrama of How We Got Here played out over many hotel rooms and many arguments over the course of the Spring, Summer, and early Fall; many long waits at Passport Control on both sides of the Atlantic.

There is no One Way things play out the way that they do.  But this is what I know:

When I was a little girl, my father would only let us bring along what we could carry. My father – famous for his Life Lessons – would tell me that someday, I’d be on my own and I’d be travelling Do you want to bring more than you can handle – Meredith Ann, you have to carry it yourself – never bring more than you can lift.

The lesson stuck.

As an adult, I am (in)famous for travelling across timezones, climates and continents with only a carryon suitcase. Notably, I once went from a nine day holiday in India, to five more days of business in London and Amsterdam, and only brought a cabin bag and a backpack – slipping a packable shoulder bag inside the carryon for the business portion of the trip. My colleagues didn’t know whether to be impressed by or suspicious of me.

But this is relevant to the problems in my marriage, I promise, which is the subject I am still discussing – which is to say, the subject of Having Children or Not – albeit in a tangential way.

I’m not going to lie: Anyone who has ever met me, ever, could tell you that while I love kids, and I’m a nurturing person, I’m probably not motherhood material. When I was a little girl, I never really had barbies or dolls – maybe She-Ra action figures, and a few Cabbage Patch kids that I played school, and realty office, and corporation with. For a long time, even into my early twenties, I never thought I’d get married, and it certainly never crossed my mind to even consider having kids.

When you’re a kid and you say things like, I don’t think I’m ever going to be a parent, people assure you that you’ll grow out of it; that it’s a phase, that you have no idea what you’re talking about. At the time I was saying it, I didn’t know what monsters were lurking in my genes. But even as a young woman, I knew that I always wanted to be alone in my own head. When you have a child, as I understand it, even if you are physically separated from your kid, you are never alone from the thinking and the worry and the concern. I was never sure I wanted someone else in my head all the time.

I was at lunch the other day with a friend/colleague who was asking me about the kids thing and I said, without going into detail of the drama of the past six, nine months; without saying anything about grim waiting rooms or not being able to commit to uncertain years of injections, and those horrendous kinds of ultrasounds where they put a condom on the wand then stick it inside of your body like its not the most violating thing in the world, and endless genetic testing and all of that bullshit: No kids right now. I just wanted to be alone in my own head for a while longer.

She agreed, saying I’ve never met a man who understands that.

We nodded at each other, and ate our sushi, and talked about Lighter Things, and that was that.

And it’s funny, because the lightest I ever feel is when I am playing with my nieces and nephews or my fairy goddaughter, Lady H, with whom I spend an inordinate amount of time; or when I am holding the perfect form of one of my friends’ new babies. I speak fluent infant; one friend used to call me the Baby Whisperer for my uncanny ability to get her kid to sleep. My friend JRA often remarks how popular I am with the under-10 set.

But I also know this: Last summer, things just got too heavy. I couldn’t stand the prospect of needles anymore after I’d finally gotten permission to chuck the sharps container that had been on my counter for a decade from the endless injections of Rheumatoid Arthritis meds where the disclaimers on TV tell you they’re not certain of the mechanism by which it works. I couldn’t fathom sitting in those segregated fertility clinic waiting rooms for the next three months, or three years, hoping for something to work out, and pinning the future of my marriage on Just That Thing.

I knew, in my heart of hearts, that I am the kind of girl who is always going to be able to live lightly; who packs a carryon suitcase. I love children; but I didn’t love the prospect of the unknown more than I loved what I had, and I hated that my spouse was hovering over me, shouting in my ear that it was now or never. Because it wasn’t; it isn’t. In the end, I couldn’t do it – I simply wasn’t prepared to carry more than I could lift.

SarahKatKim & I are to hosting Reverb throughout 2016 as a way to share writing prompts and providing a space for writers via our Facebook group. In December of each year, we host a prompt-a-day to provide structure and a way to close out the year.

Holiday Eats // What dish do you look forward to each year at the Christmas party?  Share the recipe if you can!

I have told some version of this story before, but it bears retelling: Most people in my family think I cannot cook.

This is untrue, but my real skill is letting them think I cannot cook so at family holidays, I do not have to lift a finger. This played out most recently at Thanksgiving, where I voiced my preference for the Traditional Thanksgiving Vegetarian Lasagne, and crowdsourced recipes on social media. After selecting one, my mother and I went to Whole Foods to buy the ingredients, got into the Traditional Holiday Argument at the checkout stand, and went home to prepare it in advance of the main event. Since we spend our Thanksgivings in the mountains, some of the foods must be prepared in advance to save on prep and cooking time due to limited oven space.

As I anticipated, my mother cooked the entire lasagne. I did not do a thing except to make a suggestion here and there and throw shred cheese at a casserole dish when the time came. This was by design. While I am a competent and perhaps even a good cook, the myth circulating in my family is that I am rubbish at all things domestic, so expectations of me are sub-basement low. For many years, I found this insulting, and now, I find it hilarious and I find every way possible to shirk domestic duties because people expect so little of me.

With that context in mind, for many years, I used to host dinner parties where I would slave away over every detail – perhaps to compensate for my family’s low opinion of Me as a Traditional Woman. I would make fancy hors d’oeuvres and some kind of well-planned main dish. Now, when I have friends over, it’s more likely that someone insists we just order in Thai food (which, frankly, is awesome by me). But for years, I would have parties, and people would skip over all the fancy stuff and insist I make…chilli dip.

The dip came about as a variation on something a friend of my mother’s used to make – I made it once as a joke to complement a “cheesy foods” party I was hosting. There were piles of fancy cheese, and a brie en croute, and then this terrible dip. The dip is nothing more than a can of canned chilli and a brick of Velveeta melted together. That’s it. My mother’s friend served it with meat chilli and Fritos – since I don’t eat meat and I hate Fritos, I used veggie chilli and Scoops.

No one ate my fancy canapes. People ate two Costco-sized blocks of Velveeta that night. I was left with two pounds of Prima Donna Gouda that went bad in my fridge. It has been at least ten years since the first time I made chilli dip and I am still angry.

After that, at every party; every holiday – Meredith, can you please make chilli dip? Can you please melt together two horrible things in a microwave safe bowl and bring us some chilli dip, and bring it right here?

The indignity.

This is all to say, I really dislike holiday foods. I will grudgingly make you chilli dip if you ask me nicely. But wouldn’t you really rather I make something less horrible?

Or maybe we can just Seamless some Thai food instead.

Sarah, Kat, Kim & I are continuing to host Reverb through 2016 as a way to share writing prompts and providing a space for writers via our Facebook group. Here’s (a very late entry for) July’s prompt. 

July’s prompt // Freedom: What is freedom to you?  How do you celebrate freedom in your daily life?

We are in a Copenhagen bar talking about our brothers.

We have run two half marathons in two countries in two days and I am shocked that I have finished. I say that running is mostly mental for me – when I run, I think about music; my dog; kissing and being kissed; the sun setting into the Pacific Ocean; running with my brother. I think about happy, positive things, because to become tangled up in the voice of self-doubt during a race is Game Over.

But it is a lie to say that I have just run 26.2 miles in two countries in two days by the power of positive thinking. I have just had both of my hips and a knee reconstructed and been diagnosed with a serious collagen disorder – whether I admit it or not – running is intensely physical.

We are here because in December, I had messaged a group of running friends suggesting we sign up for the Copenhagen Half Marathon – Smplefy; eee; Nat, and their respective partners, Laly, E, and Fox, who would come along to Sherpa. I’m not entirely sure why I did this, but it Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time. Everyone quickly signed on to this suggestion and added another half marathon in Oslo – even the partners were keen to go (except Paul, who begged off).

So we have each finished triumphantly, albeit for different reasons, and now we are in a bar, wearing matching shirts and our race medals, and we are talking about our brothers.

Nat’s brother died almost a year ago; Laly’s brother died about ten years ago. My brother is alive. I say this in my head, and I chew it and turn it over like a wad of gum in my mouth: My brother is alive.

It is not to diminish Matthew’s hard work to say that it is luck that he is not dead, but there is an element of happy statistics at play too. I listen to these women talk about their dead brothers, and it is real to me how close we came; how lucky we are. Sometimes, I think my parents cover up their raw memories of dread with Republican bootstraps and it was never that bad and stop being so dramatic, you weren’t here! But maybe when you’re in it, or when you’re a parent, you have to do that in order to survive what you’ve seen and how it all played out.

I listen to Nat’s grief – the depth and complexity of it; the nuances of the joy for the things that she experienced with her brother. All we can do is listen. Laly, too, knows that grief in a more intimate way than I do; I merely stood on the precipice and backed away.

It’s different when it’s your sibling, Laly says, It’s the only other person who knows the experience of growing up in your family. Also, it’s out of order.

It is out of order.

I remember my revulsion at the thought of losing the only other person who knew my family experience. He would disappear for a few days and we wouldn’t know whether he was in jail or dead – my mother would obsessively search the county jail inmate register – and I would try on the grief from thousands of miles away; seeing how that heavy suit of loss hung on my little frame.

I realise, now, that when I run, I prepare for every race with the thought of my brother’s first race – of watching him tie on the bandanna from his best friend’s funeral; of hearing his footsteps like a heartbeat beside me. I still dread phone calls after 8pm because I always used to think it was someone calling to say that my brother had died. I wonder why nobody ever dies during the day.

I look at Laly and Nat and wonder how they have borne the loss I narrowly escaped.

When Paul and I were out at the beach with my family this summer, a friend texted that he was in Atlanta with a colleague of his – a sorority sister of mine. I had been her advisor – she’d been in college when I’d taken the call that my brother was in jail and the world was about to end. I laughed and expressed my surprise – he sent me a photo of the two of them together. It was a worlds-colliding moment – strange and wonderful – a reminder of the way we are all connected; how past pain doesn’t necessarily taint future or current happiness/success. The photo came as I was driving back up the coast to see a project my brother was working on; managing in his new life as a builder. Sober eight years, he was working with a friend and he’d asked me and Paul to come see what he did for a living and switch his car back with my mother’s, which he’d borrowed earlier that day.

Paul stayed back in Oxnard, and I drove up to La Conchita to make the switch and see Matthew on the job. To travel that weird bend in the 101 where the sun sets over the coast and blinds you if you time it wrong; to see how far he’d come; we’d come.

As I am sitting in this bar in Copenhagen, thousands of miles from the depths of my brother’s addiction and from that day on the California coast, I think of that moment of seeing my brother at work; of that photo of my two friends; of the bend in the 101 where the sun sets; of the fear in the eyes of everyone around me the day I got the call that my brother was in jail. I think about how lucky I am. I hear Nat ask How do you explain this grief; this loss; to your partner? And I think you can’t explain it; I think your partner won’t ever believe it; I think about how addiction ends and loss is just a snapshot in time, but grief gets you, like a noose, and it works its way around your throat and never really lets you go, even once you are free.

 

Sarah, Kat, Kim & I are continuing to host Reverb through 2016 as a way to share writing prompts and providing a space for writers via our Facebook group. Here’s August’s prompt. 

Nostalgia // Tell us about your favourite summer memories. As the summer winds down, tell us about your favourite summer memories from this year (or any year). We want to see your freckled faces and tanned skin. Show us your summer.

I had to retire my favourite summer dress recently.

It was a strapless dress, and I’d had it for over a decade, so it was beyond salvaging. It was just an old brown dress from Ron Herman that I’d picked up on a trip back to LA after I’d sat for the Bar. I’d taken it all over the world with me; worn it to all sorts of major life events.

I’m not sure it was even attractive, but I felt good in it.

There is something special about a favourite summer dress – mine; anyone’s. It seemed to absorb the smells of salt and sand and sunscreen over the years. The dress was constructed of a simple t-shirt fabric, and had resisted a decade-plus of spills, and tears, and subway grit, and New York City grime. I had used the dress’s length to cover up the nasty case of shingles I’d been surprised with one hot, late summer five years ago. I had sunburned the hell out of my chest while wearing it to my ex sister-in-law’s graduation. It was a sword; a shield. If you know me in person, you probably wouldn’t remember the dress offhand, but you probably have an image in your mind’s eye of me in it.

It had come with me to explore all of China, and jump fully clothed into the sea in Thailand; had travelled all over Chile and New Zealand. We had rung in the New Year in Australia together in 2012, and soaked in blue English nights over warm beer with good company.  I had worn it back to LA one warm late-winter to console my best friend after her house burned down. The dress had been my one constant over my whole tumultuous time in NYC – through husbands, and jobs; change and upheaval. No matter the circumstances or the hemisphere, I could count on slipping into my brown summer dress and feeling like myself.

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(After the fire)

A few weeks ago, I found it in the bottom of a drawer. I hadn’t been able to find it all summer, but I knew I had put somewhere last year to remind me to take it to the tailor to have the elastic around the top replaced. I obviously had tucked it away so well, it had avoided notice. The dress was getting on in years and it needed to be repaired; probably replaced, but I wasn’t sure I was ready to part with it just yet. I slipped it on anyway – wrinkled and sagging – on my way between running Summer Streets (my first outdoor run of the season!) and a hair appointment.

During the colouring process, the gown covering me slipped open, and my colourist dripped bleach on my dress. In all my years of being a bottle blonde, that has never happened. But it did, and I knew that it was the universe’s way of telling me that The Dress Was Done.

There is something funny about living in the past; about not merely breathing in the sweet summer smell of a t-shirt dress every year, but clinging to it. There’s something silly and maybe a little sad about patching up a dress that is clearly falling off your body and smells permanently of sunblock, perfume, and faintly of sweat. So when I arrived home from my hair appointment, I changed out of my dress and slipped into a different outfit before meeting some friends for Mostly Mozart that night.

I looked like myself, but different. Older, maybe.

Before I went out, I found my kitchen scissors and I quickly cut two swatches from the bottom of the dress, then binned it. I penned a letter to Jade in California, reminiscing on the night that I’d come to her house after the fire; wearing my off-season summer dress. Then I popped the note in the mail with a scrap of dress; headed off to Lincoln Center and never looked back.

In California, there is a bit of a love-hate relationship with fire. Every year, the wildfires rage and they burn the canyons near my parents’ old house; sometimes hopping the eight lanes of freeway and lapping dangerously near the pink stucco expanse of tract-homes on winding cul-de-sacs. The droughts and the ever-growing brush make this a constant threat. But farther north, the coniferous forests also need the fire to reproduce – some of the old-growth trees, like the Giant Sequoias, need fire to release their seeds from their cones. Fire is part of the renewal process. Other trees depend on periodic fires to clear the choking brush so they can grow.

Jade almost died in a fire about a decade ago; escaping at the last minute, woken up by her cat. A few years after, I dragged her into a brush fire in Yosemite Valley, deep into the Sequoia forests, to climb above the treeline; away from but still inside the inferno.

So it seemed like the right thing to do – to take the dress you wear to the water and you wore to the fire and send it back to where it came from in California.

Being a grown-up is funny, sometimes, isn’t it.

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This is the fourth in a brief series of posts. Here are the firstsecond, and third.

It is April – a week after my appointment with the geneticist, and I am meeting with the surgeon and his entourage again. I am once again standing in a pair of paper shorts and I find myself chattily filling in yet another doctor about my medical odyssey. The surgeon listens, seemingly wide-eyed, because this story is nothing if not interesting.

You’re not the typical EDS patient, the physician’s assistant, Jonathan, interrupts, With our other EDS patients, the surgeries fail. Your right hip is still intact. You had a great outcome! Anyway, I thought you had Rheumatoid Arthritis.

They think I was misdiagnosed, I say, aloud. In my head I say, Shut up, Jonathan. This is my story.

That’s the other thing about All This: I have spent ten years being told that I have RA; injecting myself with Chinese hamster ovary derivatives; taking chemotherapy drugs; doing all the weird and horrible shit RA patients are supposed to do. In the beginning, I did it with a sort of maniacal devotion to my ex husband, who told me he couldn’t love a woman with “claws.” He was so concerned about my appearance that we did everything it took to prevent my joints from ever becoming deformed. Then it just became habit – if you’ve ever sunk a syringe into your thigh, it becomes easier over time until eventually, you don’t even notice how freaked out people are by the sharps container on your kitchen counter.

Apparently, I didn’t need to do any of it. I am not suggesting I ever wanted to have RA, nor am I suggesting that I miss it, but it suddenly feels very weird to Be One Thing for a decade, and then suddenly Not Be That Thing. To have to live your life with a set of clear and somewhat onerous limitations, then poof, one day that all disappears.

The PA nods when I say I was misdiagnosed, because as he speaks, I am bending my thumb all the way back to my wrist in order to make a point.

The surgeon and I schedule a reconstruction of my left hip for Monday, May 9th, and I decide to run a 5k two weeks before surgery because I do not know if I will ever run again.

Before my first hip reconstruction, I ran the Big Sur Marathon – a bucket-list race – because the Pacific Coast was where I lived out the last days of my first marriage, and the first days of something else, and it was where I trained for the 2009 NYC Marathon. It was an incredibly stupid idea, but I figured, if I never ran another marathon, running a slow, painful race in the place where my Whole Heart resided was the way I wanted go out. My bestie eee was there, and so was Smplefy, though I barely saw either. I wanted to have Highway 1 as my Triumphant Finish, even if it meant crawling across the line (which I did).

I have no special affinity for the Jersey Shore, but it is a friend’s birthday weekend, and we are running together as a group  and having a fun dinner after. If I never run another race, I want to remember that my running career ended with my toes in the sand, on the shores of both the Pacific and the Atlantic, with the people I love all around me.  We are all confident that if it were just the hip I would be back up and running by the Autumn. But since we do not know exactly which gene is the faulty one yet, I do not want to expect to be running by September and then find that I have the type of EDS where my vascular system might rupture at any moment.

As a matter of course, I do not tell anyone I am about to have another joint surgery, except for a handful of close friends. While I know exactly what to expect with a hip repair, I do not know what I am getting myself into with The Rest of This; I barely know what EDS is. I do not have a lot of answers for myself, let alone to give other people, and I hate the idea of being challenged or grilled by well-meaning or pushy friends and family. I am dreading any/all of the following:

-This could have been prevented if you’d just stopped running!
-You shouldn’t worry about this, and you and Paul should just be focused on having a family now!
-So how did you do this to yourself?
-Why did your doctor misdiagnose you?
-Tell me more about [This Thing That I Know Little to Nothing About].

I play out each comment in my head, trying it on for size – trying to separate curiosity from blame. I am afraid of answering wrong; I am afraid of looking like a fool because for a decade, I so confidently managed the RA I thought I had, and told people how they should manage their RA. I thought I knew what I was doing.

I want to be healthy; I do not want to get hurt again.

I want you to be happy.

I want that too.

So I run the race on the Jersey Shore, and I take my shoes off in the sand, and if it is my Last Race Ever, I may not be fully satisfied, but I will be happy.

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This is the third in a brief series of posts. Here are the first and second.

It is April.

It is at this point that I see my rheumatologist, and fill him in on the medical adventure I have been on. I have known my rheumatologist for 11 years, and we are neighbours. I used to work with his college roommate. We are close. So together we brainstorm some possibilities for what caused my odd injuries.

Are you very flexible? He asks suddenly.

Yes. I can do the splits all the way down. I can bend my thumbs all the way back, too. Do you want to see? I stand up, prepared to drop into a full split on his lineoleum floor in my paper gown.

 Yes, the thumbs. That’s part of the diagnostic criteria for something. Anything else?

I can bend my legs behind my head and turn myself into a fruit basket.

The last one I say in earnest – it does not occur to me how bizarre it sounds. He ignores the Fruit Basket Comment and suggests You may have a genetic connective tissue disorder – this could be why you keep getting injured so easily. Let’s refer you to a geneticist.

I go home to Google the diagnostic code on the invoice. I have spent my life with a variety of strange, seemingly unrelated ailments that would instead seem perfectly correlated with the diagnosis he has preliminarily given me.

I call the geneticist in the morning. He is booked for 18 months. I search NYC hospitals for another one. She has retired. Another  is booked for two years. I call the foundation dedicated to this disorder, and they tell me that their genetics centre has a waiting list of five years, but would I like to donate cash? At each of these hospitals, I am told that if I were pregnant, they would see me immediately, but since the testing is for me and not a foetus, no interventions can take place.

I do not know what interventions are, but this process seems Kafkaesque.

As a last resort, I consult Dr. Google again, who refers me to a genetics centre only loosely affiliated with a hospital in Boston. After some negotiation, they offer me an appointment two weeks later if I can send them my files ASAP.

The weather has turned sharply cold after a mild winter, and I am due in Boston on a rainy Thursday. On my way to Boston, I stop by Kat’s house to see her and the new baby. I wonder if I will ever have children; if I even want to have children. As I ponder this, Baby A spits out her paci and waves her tiny fists menacingly at me.

Kat wishes me Good luck as I leave. I wonder if I will need it.

There are still dirty piles of snow on the New England ground and the rain falls in sheets as my reliable Volkswagen cuts through the midmorning traffic. I arrive in Boston in good time, and the Doctor Will See Me Now. He is an older man; South African, with one of those lilting Afrikaaner accents that at once sounds Dutch, English, and vaguely Australian. He asks me a list of questions and throughout our chat, he rolls his eyes in a way where I cannot tell if he is impatient with me, or annoyed I have come.

He asks me at length about my family history and I am as prepared as I can be. I have checked birth and death records; I have grilled family members. I have pulled as many of my own files as possible.

Do you or does anyone in your family struggle to heal from surgery? the doctor asks me as the interview portion winds down.

My mother had a sister who died at six weeks old because the surgery to correct her oesophageal atresia failed completely. 

He looks up at me, sharply. Margaret’s condition itself was incredibly rare, and the genes involved might be associated with the syndrome my doctor thinks I have. The fact that her surgery did not “take” is one more important data point towards confirming my diagnosis, and by association, hers.

Finally, after over an hour, he slams his fist down on his cluttered desk.

How did your doctors miss this? This is a textbook case of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. 

He is irritated not with me, but with other people’s failures, it seems. I have taken on the yoke of those failures; been dismissed as a hypochondriac or presumed to be a pill-seeker. As it turns out, I am Textbook.

We proceed to a physical exam where he asks me to touch my thumb to my wrist and my hands to the floor while standing. I again blurt out the fruit basket thing, and he seems unfazed by it. Instead, he asks me what I do for a living.

 I’m a lawyer, I simplify.

I love lawyers, he tells me. He gestures to the photos on his walls, These are all lawyers. Famous lawyers. Do you recognise any of them?

I squint at the walls, which are covered with pictures of the doctor and friends, some of them with a distinctive 70s vibe.

That one is me and Justice Blackmun. Very important man. Great friend, especially to a geneticist.

He finishes his exam, takes my blood for genetic testing. He is certain I have EDS, but the genetic test is important to identify which of the subtypes I have. He tells me he will also test me for being a CF carrier and SMA in the event that I want children. He explains to me the risks of childbearing with my condition. He tells me that depending on which version of the bad collagen gene I have, I shouldn’t be dissuaded from having children, but that I should be selective.

It is not until I leave the office and I get into the car to drive home that it dawns on me that Justice Blackmun authored the opinion in Roe v. Wade. I finally realise what the doctor means by selective; intervention.

More importantly, I begin to realise that none of this is my fault. This isn’t happening because I am a shitty runner or because I ran too many races trying to work out some deep childhood pain. None of it is my mother’s fault, and none of it was her mother’s fault, either.

All of this angst; all of this complex grief; all of this damage was done by a simple quirk of DNA. I do not know whether to be angry or relieved. All those years of therapy suddenly seem like a huge, expensive waste.