Unshrunk

Issue 12 | Summer 2024 |

 

 

Gretchen was a formality. In 1991, responsible endocrinologists would not put eleven-year-olds on insulin pumps without a prior psychiatric evaluation.

I was delighted by the prospect. I had been my mother’s appendage from Psychology 101 through graduate school. We learned about authoritative parenting and Californians who thought they were Christ. I told my playground compatriots that they had multiple intelligences. We assessed the Jungian archetypes of Hobbit characters. We confirmed that Saruman was also a sociopath.

My mother’s homework was my hobby. My heart leapt when she lugged home another suitcase of practice tests. I described Rorschach butterflies and answered questions about whether I had contemplated violence against myself or others. I learned that I was in the ninety-ninth percentile for verbal reasoning. I learned that I was on the opposite shore of spatial reasoning. I learned that it was not advisable to pursue a career operating machinery. I learned that I was not a sociopath.

Psychology was delicious. Psychiatry added fancy ganache. Although my father said the only difference was a few letters after the name, I was excited to meet Gretchen.

“Do you think she’ll know things about me?” I asked.

“She’s not a shaman,” my mother chided. “You know who you are. This is just checking off a box.”

I was disappointed. I wanted to know if there were jaguars in my jungle. “So, you think I’ll pass?”

“It’s not a question of passing.”

Gretchen had curls the color of processed cheese. She wore a caftan fit for the wall of a castle. She wrapped both hands around mine in a welcome sandwich.

“It’s nice to meet you, Dr. Holman!” I meant it.

“Call me Gretchen. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Angie.”

Her office was overrun with cats, ceramic and pewter behind long lashes. They were the topic of our first twenty minutes. I wondered when she was going to ask about my dream patterns and my mother.

When it seemed she would never get around to diabetes, I offered my assistance. I made her snort with laughter when I explained that my pet cat was the “booby prize” for my diagnosis.

“I always wanted a cat, but my parents said we had enough hamsters and hermit crabs. The hamsters kept having more hamsters.”

“Hamsters will do that,” she acknowledged.

“It was sad. Some of them weren’t ready to be mothers. One of them even ate her babies.”

“That’s terrible.”

“But I needed a cat.” I knew she would understand. I imagined every porcelain cat in the office was a golem of a real-world equivalent. “It was time for desperate measures.”

“Diabetes?”

“Yep. Once they heard I would need shots forever, and no more gingersnaps, I got my cat.”

“You probably could have asked for a rhinoceros,” Gretchen noted.

I showed her pictures of Fig Newton, which I carried in the ID window of my pink wallet. “We call him Figgy.”

We talked about Figgy and confirmed that orange tabbies are underrated psychologists. We talked about my mother and confirmed that school psychologists are heroes. I told her my mother had a pager just in case I had a diabetic emergency, although we were on the ball, so that would never happen.

We talked about the tricolor pasta that had stopped speaking to me. Three bites, and my blood sugar vaulted off the bell curve. The red, white, and green pieces all tasted the same, anyway. It was a small price to pay for cats. I told Gretchen that more good than bad came from diabetes.

Like my mother said, we would dance when the music was playing.

We talked about my mother’s charts, spaghetti models of cause and effect. There was no correlation. I remembered that “correlation is not causation.”

When we watched CNN, my Dad compared it to my pancreas. The insulin was doing its best to negotiate with carbohydrate terrorists, but the bastards – he used that word! – would not release my blood glucose.

The endocrinologist tore up my mother’s charts. He said I was “brittle.” My mother interrupted and said I was “titanium.” My mother informed him I was in the ninety-ninth percentile.

Everyone agreed I was a good candidate for an insulin pump.

Gretchen asked if anyone at school gave me “flack” for having diabetes. I did not know that word. I interrupted to make her snort again by disclosing that my mother sang loudly with Roberta Flack in the car. Gretchen explained flack.

No, actually everybody at school was sweet to me. Since I got sick? No, always. Maybe a little more since diabetes. I wasn’t sure. I loved school. I thought Pakanasink Elementary should win awards for having the best teachers. I was doing a research project on cheetahs. Mrs. Lesick said I was one of her favorite living writers. I told Gretchen that my mother was not just a psychologist, but a poet.

Gretchen noted that I looked like my mother.

“That’s my favorite thing that anyone could say about me.”

“But you’re also your own young woman.” Gretchen said things my mother said.

“Yes.”

“You’re a writer, you’re an animal advocate, and you love people.”

“That’s true.”

“Do you think you’re pretty?”

What a funny question. I didn’t know how to answer. I told Gretchen I was grateful to be smart, and I tried to be sweet. No pun intended. My mother said, “To whom much is given, of them much is asked.” I knew most people didn’t have parents like mine. I knew my “noggin” was a gift. I was physically average. I wasn’t blonde, but that was okay.

“Do you ever get angry at your body?”

Who thought like that? I mean, some nights I got cranky when my sugars just wouldn’t come down. Dr. Pipo said I had to drink a gallon of water an hour when I had ketones, and that—

“—that sucks.” She used that word!

Well, yeah. But I didn’t really get angry.

“Ever?”

I got sad.

“That’s not the same thing.”

Maybe I just wasn’t an angry girl.

“Every girl is allowed to be angry.”

I told her I was excited to get a “pager” – after all, that’s what everyone would think my insulin pump was. I had already picked out a name for it, “Marcia Bainbridge.” I had a purple case with Velcro. I wouldn’t try to hide it under clothes. I would wear it right there on my belt. If it showed under my dresses, like some rectangular tumor, I would tell people I was the “bionic woman.” My Dad came up with that. Wasn’t that great?

I didn’t think anyone would give me “flack.” And now all the spaghettis should calm down and curve wherever the insulin sent them. I was fortunate to be born in the age of insulin pumps. Like my mother always said, “The best is yet to come.”

Gretchen looked me in the eyes. I could tell she liked me. I had learned that I had an affection for “authority figures,” all the doctors and pastors and principals. That was not a bad thing. But who wouldn’t? If you worked hard and asked about their lives, they liked you, too. Sometimes they even loved you. Besides, Gretchen wasn’t exactly an authority figure, although I was sorry this would be our only fifty-minute session.

Gretchen searched the room, landing on a bookcase. She extracted a white cat covered in daisies. “I want you to have her.”

“What’s her name?”

“That’s up to you. I know you’ll choose well.”

I looked at the cat. She was smiling, not like all those stuffed animals with upside-down-V frowns. Why did they always make them so solemn?

I had to ask. “Did I pass?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, are you going to vote for me to get the pump?”

Gretchen snorted. “Oh, Angela. I think I would vote for you for president.”

“Maybe when I turn thirty-five. That’s the minimum age, you know.”

“And it’s a damn shame.” She winked. “You’re going to be fine.” She put on an English accent. “And pahdon me, but I have one psychiatric recommendation for you.”

It was the most exciting moment of the fifty minutes. “Yes!”

Her crinkle-fry bangs fell across her face. I still saw her eyes. She whispered, “Get really, really pissed off.”

She used that word!