I’ve handed over my shit. Not in an AA, 9th step kind of way where friends of Bill are required to spill their guts to the random (but surely capable) person they’ve chosen to sponsor their sobriety, but in a very real, very literal way. Like, I just handed a lady in a lab coat a nondescript white shopping bag filled with samples of my morning, afternoon, and evening ablutions. I’ve attempted to do this while keeping some shred of dignity, but the daily circumstance of working in a laboratory that handles all sorts of bodily functions gone south, negates this.
There are many ways to be broken, and this woman has been broken down by the perpetual handling of other people’s problems. She’s like a therapist, but for swabs of spit and semen and heaven knows what else, and her ability to nod and type with stoicism in the face of foul, is laudable.
“Oh, it’s stool,” she broadcasts with zero tonal adjustment when I inform her that I am dropping off “samples” ordered by my doctor, concerned with the fact that I’ve lost nine pounds in the last two months, grind my teeth at night, and am plagued with aches and pains becoming of a 90-year-old lady with arthritis. Except I am 29, a stone throw away from 30 and the various medical professionals in my life need to make sure that I’m not playing host to a parasite. That my intestines haven’t set out the hand-thrown ceramic plates and the linen napkins for some kind of worm making itself at home in my belly.
My conversations with women in the last couple weeks remind me of the conversations I had with women when I was 20, and was losing weight for no explicable reason. As a woman, any time you lose weight, there is another woman waiting in the wings to talk to you about it. They say men don’t notice five pounds, or ten for that matter; women take note if you’ve lost two.
“I saw Arianna take all the laxatives under the sink,” I overheard a roommate tell another girl on the phone almost a decade ago. “Surprise!” I was able to tell her a couple months later. “Didn’t take the laxatives, but I do have diabetes.”
“Arianna is wasting away,” a friend “joked” last week at a dinner party. “Surprise!” I can’t wait to inform her. “I was just playing host monkey to an 8-foot-long tapeworm.”
Except no one laughs when they accuse you of having an eating disorder and you inform them you have a disease.
Moments earlier, standing in a packed elevator, it dawned on me that no one would be laughing or carrying on business as usual if they knew that I was carrying a bag full of my excrement. “B.M” is what my mom made us say when my sisters and I were little—there was no slang in our house, and for the longest time I didn’t know B.M. was an acronym, and always thought I was asking to “take a beam.” Stool, beam— these were objects found around the house that had multiple meanings. Only when I was much older did I learn its true meaning—bowel movement, like taking a dump was some sort of a dance step or overture, but for the body.
I had stored my body’s pas de dumps in the freezer over the last two days at my doctor’s instruction.
“You have to freeze it,” she said, “otherwise, sometimes the lab won’t accept it.” She repeated this specification twice, as if I would have wanted to store it anywhere other than the freezer.
“On the cusp of 30, some women freeze their eggs,” I joked, “but you want me to freeze my shit.”
“Yes,” she said on autopilot. “Make sure you freeze it. Otherwise, sometimes the lab won’t accept it.”
There is nothing less feminine or elegant or feeling like you, yes, have your shit together, than carrying samples of it around town. Propped up in the front seat of the car. Hung on your arm like the season’s latest sh“it” bag. Nor can I imagine that there is anything that makes you wants to leave your twenties behind more than this.
“You have to do what?” my boyfriend squirmed when I told him. “In our freezer?” In the last year alone our refrigerator has played house with my urine samples, breast milk, and now this. I imagine the idea of what might come next is ferrying to him. Don’t worry, I’ll tell him around Christmas, it’s just a tampon samp.
“Yes,” I told him this time, “Otherwise, sometimes the lab won’t accept it,” understanding why in these situations it’s easier to stick to the script. Fecal matter is no fun to talk about. No sliding into first song and shimmy makes stool collection more palatable.
“I’ll give you gloves,” my doctor said. As if a thin layer of latex made all the difference.
As the elevator started and stops, floor 2, the old lady with the light blue pashmina wrapped around her head despite the 88-degree temperature steps off, floor 4, the older Chinese man in a suit who was chatting with his friend about Beastie Boys departs, floor 6, the door opens and no one moves a muscle, false alarm, floor 7, everyone else but me vacates the box, and by floor 8, mine, it does not escape me that most of us spend years of our lives running away from our shit, avoiding the doctor or uncomfortable situations, avoiding the acknowledgement that time is passing, that the elevator is in constant motion, and that no matter how much we try to freeze time, or our faces, or memories in computers, life on ice is not a reality; no cryogenics for biology, just tears when things go wrong and the perpetual lunge forward.
The starts and stops toward the eighth floor, toward 30, toward the end of it all, and whether we choose to bring our shit along for the ride, or whether we drop it off with the lady in the lab coat, is up to us. And on the precipice of the big 30, I couldn’t be happier to have dropped that bag off.