OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Reading my work scares me. Yes, I know I do things most people would rightly balk at – climb mountain ridges, hurl shoes, go to a NYC sex club alone. But the world doesn’t make a deodorant that can stop my sweat when reading for my peers.
I have resorted to beta-blockers. They take the edge off but I have to time for their peak dose to hit before I start and stay upright for the next three hours or my blood pressure bottoms out and I faint. Don’t worry. I have a prescription. But it is a funny image of a writer scurrying about in the dark of night going, “Beta-blocker, anyone got some beta-blockers? Got a reading tomorrow.”
Then something, a couple of things, happened. In the quest for a warm winter, I had my entire heating system replaced. Everything in my attic had to be moved out. Though a rickety ladder in the ceiling, I hauled boxes bigger than me down to the second floor.
The next step was wrenching the bits of carpet out of the attic, down the rickety steps in the attic to the dumpster outside. Holding the heavy scraps overhead as they disintegrated in my hands.
In the process, my forearm rebelled. Within 24 hours the muscles were ‘frantically searching for a painkiller’ sore. After loudly complaining about this for two months, three of my ten fingers started to go numb. I chose words without the letters Y, U, I, J, and M – could not hit those keys. This was problematic. Time to go to Urgent Care. The fairly unconcerned medical provider shot my elbow full of steroids one day after receiving a shot of steroids in my foot (unrelated injury).
Pain relief was promised but I felt decidedly funky. Not wanting to impose my funkiness on the world, I decided to stay home. Watching DVDs and eating seven chocolate bars. I sang. Cried. Even outright boohooed. Giggled like a maniac. Had insomnia and night sweats. In a lucid moment, I decided to let phone calls go to voice mail. Couldn’t feel my foot or my arm. After a couple of days, I thought maybe I should get out. It could be cabin fever, right?
At my coffee group, I sat, unable to follow conversations. Drinking caffeine, probably not what I needed.
“Are you okay?” Asked a sweet guy.
“You don’t look so good,” said an ex-lover.
I started to cry. “I can’t feel my hand. Or my foot.”
“Look she’s crying. She never does that.”
“Oh that’s not good.”
“Do you want to go for a walk?”
“Okay,” I said immediately beaming at them like one of those silly head bobbing dashboard doodads.
“She shouldn’t drive. We’ll drive you,” and with that they picked me up, buckled me into a car, and took me to the Museum of Art. We walked around. I was in awe of the textures of steel, grass, concrete, my own shoe, my friend’s hair. I was hypo-manic from the two steroid shots.
We passed a pond.
“Are those duckies?”
“Yes. They’re some form of animal floating on the water,” said my friend smiling. My ex-lover laughed and went off to call a … friend, maybe get some medical advice. He turned around just in time to grab me by the back of my jeans, aborting my move to take a closer look at the “ducky.”
“Thank you. I feel like singing,” I said and attempted yodeling ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ from ‘The Sound of Music.’ I was insulted by their laughter.
“We should feed her,” my friend said.
“Promise you won’t sing at the restaurant?”
“Maybe I need practice,” I said starting to yodel again.
“Yes you do but yodeling is inappropriate at a restaurant, especially in North Carolina,” said my ex.
“Okay dokey,” I said. We had an uneventful lunch, at least by my standards. I slept the rest of the day.
A week later, my hand still hurt. Typing hurt. My fingers were numb. Back to the orthopedist who injected more steroids into my body. Oh no! I was going to a reading group on the next night. My friend said to prepare a piece to read.
On the night of the reading, I struggled into a dress and boots, both pull-on. Turned up at the social before the event. Babbled. A friend told me to go free form.
“You’re entertaining. You don’t need a script.”
Sweet, but I thought that might create disaster. I slept with my head against a friend’s shoulder through most of the event. When my name was called, I lurched out of the chair, stumbling to the podium without my usual gazelle-like grace.
I read my piece cold, making eye contact with the audience, slowly enunciating each word, adlibbing when I lost my place, being my usual goofy self cubed. The audience laughed and applauded. Or at least that’s what I remembered.
That night’s positive feedback confirmed my dilemma. Plotched on steroids, not giving a damn, I can give a good reading. Stone cold sober or even on beta-blockers, I suck. What to do? My only answer is please, please, if I start yodeling, get me off the podium!

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