I’m a special kind of hypochondriac. The self-aware hypochondriac. Unlike your typical hypochondriac, when I die, people won’t have the slightest clue the kind of personal struggle I endured my entire life. I internalize. I know I’m dying; I know there isn’t much time, but I also know that no one likes a hypochondriac. So I sit there, focusing so intensely on my pending fate that I begin to twitch slightly. It’s age old. First-time-parent syndrome. You take the baby to the hospital every time looks funny, but eventually you realize that the hospital staff is judging you. So you stop going. Fuck the baby.
When I was in the second grade, my brother told me that the US Government owned a little company called “Hefty.” Hefty bags were not bags at all, but in fact miniature parachutes that this government agency “Hefty” produced out of the left over materials used for larger projects– paratrooping gear and the like. “think about it,” he told me “what sort of company would be named ‘Hefty’ and not be part of the government?”
The logic was infallible. It was not out of disagreement that I tested one of the mini chutes, but rather and genuine excitement over the possibilities. For less than four dollars I could jump off pretty much anything I wanted.
When I hit the ground (seconds after leaping off of the tree house roof–not the the gentle glide I had been anticipating) I knew immediately that I was crippled, if not paralyzed. My brother turned and ran, leaving me to army-crawl across an acorn laden yard. I knew what was going to happen. My mother, a woman who had hardened to the cries of her children over the years, was going to tell me I was fine. She would probably make me stand-up, just to prove how wrong I was.
It occurred to me, sprawled out on the grass, crumpled mini-chute in hand, that I had “screwed the pooch” so to speak. I wished to take back all the times I pretended to be sick, lied about throat aches, put soap in my “allergy eyes.” In that moment I wished that I was named Cindy Lou Who, and that I was a small child– maybe malnourished looking, the kind of doe-eyed child who never peeped, or complained. If I was all of those things, a different version of my mother would open the screen door. There, towering above my expiring body would be the glowing face of compassion, a face tinged with panicked concern over my well-being. There would be ice chips and soda and gifts abounding.
But there she was. The poster mother for the phrase “man up.” I would have felt better, being blonde and blue-eyed, had Hitler opened the screen door. At least he would have directed me to the infirmary without question. She just told me to stand up.
Like many children of my age, I had learned to employ a certain amount of diplomacy in very serious situations. I thought that if i spoke calmly, explaining my awareness of my previous “false alarms,” she would see that even though I had been confused in the past, I had learned, and this time I was serious.
“no, seriously, mom. i get it. i know. no. seriously. seriously, mom. i want to get up. i actually wish i could get up. but seriously mom, no seriously, im not kidding. i cannot get up. im hurt. for real. i dont even want a cast anymore. that was last year, and it was only because hailey made it sound like it was uncool not to have one, but i get it mom. seriously. seriously, listen. im sorry about all that, but i need you to listen to me. trust me. seriously.”
She seriously didn’t care. It was not until days later when an anonymous caller threatened to call CSS that I was allowed to go to the hospital to have my broken foot, all ten of its broken toes, and its fractured shin put into a cast. But I didn’t blame my mother. She had learned. Going to the hospital was a business decision, one that I had previously entered into hastily, and she was not going to go down that road again. Who cared if I lost a foot. What, was I going to grow up to be a runway model?
That was when I became an internal hypochondriac. The emotional scarring, and physical deformation of my pinky toe, led me to believe that one extreme was better than the other. Chest pain, limb numbness, loss of appetite, hair loss, severe vomiting, wonky limb– silently suffer the knowledge that death is at my doorstep, but try not to bother people with it.
So what if I die? What if a third party rushes me to the hospital in the 11th hour only to learn that I have been suffering silently for all these years? Well, you’ll know what to etch on my stone.
“She probably knew.”