On the last day of summer camp, I received a box. I heaved it into my arms and trudged down the hill, peering around the side to prevent myself from falling into a ditch. The box obscured my head as I lugged it into the cabin, and my roommates gathered around to ogle the mammoth package as I dumped it on the bed nearest the door. As we all stared in anticipation, my counselor grabbed a pair of scissors and sliced through the masking tape. I reached down slowly and lifted the cardboard flap. Tissues. Packs and packs of tissues. There were 16 mega packs, each with 8 packs of 10 tissues. Altogether, 1280 tissues, or enough for me to give sixteen tissues to every person at camp. My mom had gotten a little carried away.
My relationship with tissues has been a tempestuous one. I am unable to leave the house without them. At once inhibiting and comforting, colorful tissue packets follow me everywhere. There are usually four or five packets in my backpack at any given time, and they’ve also migrated to my bedside table, the pockets of my sweatshirts, and the backseat of our car. Several are currently serving as bookmarks in my physics textbook. Since I often lack pockets, I am either compelled to bring a purse everywhere or to stash tissues in unconventional locations such as my socks and in beanie hats. Though I often fear that they will fall out of these precarious places and I will have to explain why I am leaving a trail of tissue packets behind me, I never fail to pack my tissues. You see, my body is a failure.
I recall a great poem by May Swenson that begins “Body my house, my horse, my hound.” While I find her description lovely and poetic, I’m afraid that my own body fails to meet the requirements. My body is not a house. It is neither strong nor steady. It is not a horse or a hound, not obedient or loyal. My body is more like a giant wildebeest with an IQ of 2. And you know what? It has no business being so ungrateful. I do everything for my body! I feed it, I clean it, I brush its hair…okay, so maybe I shouldn’t shove a thirty pound backpack on it, and maybe I should let it sleep more than three hours a night, and maybe I should even let it get some exercise once in a while—but you know what? That’s not the point!
My body is an ingrate. I wear low heels, and it thinks I’m on stilts. I do ten minutes on the recumbent bicycle, and it thinks I’m in basic training. I skip breakfast, and it thinks I’m a prisoner of war. My body also has a terrible habit of breaking out into red blotches for no reason. I promise it’s not contagious– I’m always very careful to stay away from children with chicken pox. My body just hates me.
And I have terrible allergies. When I tell people I have terrible allergies, they say, “Oh my god, that’s horrible. I hope nothing ever happens to you,” and then they start ducking under tables to hide every time they need to eat a peanut butter sandwich. This is not what I mean by terrible allergies. I won’t get anaphylaxis. I’m not going to die. I’m just going to walk around rubbing my eyes, blowing my nose, and making alarming noises as I try to get irritants out of my throat. My allergies are like a huge swarm of chipmunks that follow me around flinging ping pong balls at my face. They’re not going to kill me, but they’re sure as hell going to piss me off.
Last year, I went to an allergist to get tested. She set up several rows of needles in a blue plastic bin, and then proceeded to insert little bits of “the enemy” into my arms in neat little lines. Dog hair. Cat hair. Dust mites. Birch. Red Birch. White Birch. Alder. Cedar. Hazelnut. Willow. Cottonwood. Juniper. Mulberry. Olive. Hornbeam. Ryegrass. Timothy. Ragweed. Nettle. Mugwort. Goosefoot. Maple. Mold. With my arms stinging, I sat in the waiting room beneath a sunny mural of happy children of all races and creeds, presumably euphoric due to their recent trip to the allergist, and wondered: “Of the twenty-two samples currently residing in my arms, surely at least one must be compatible with my existence?” Nope. Not one. My body surrenders faster than the French in World War II.
That’s why I need my tissues. I’m in perpetual fear that someday I’ll be talking to a cute guy and snot will drip down my face. And don’t tell me it wouldn’t happen. My body’s timing is worse than Carrot Top’s. I always have to sneeze at the least opportune moments: right before the punch line of a great joke, after I accidently make extended eye contact, even in the middle of a film about the Holocaust.
But that embarrassment is nothing compared to when I don’t blow my nose. First that tickling sensation, building and growing until it feels like the front of my face is about to fall off. It moves up the bridge of my nose, and I start contorting my face into strange positions to keep in the sneeze. I squeeze my eyes shut, let my mouth hang open, crinkle my chin…This is usually the moment that an attractive guy starts to talk to me.
So I carry my tissues. They’re always on my mental checklist when I leave the house. Teeth brushed, watch on, wearing pants, tissues ready. Sure, they make my sweatshirts bulgy, and when I wear them under my hat they make me look like I’m from the movie Conehead, but at least I have my tissues, hundreds of disposable safety blankets. And every time cold season comes around, I suddenly become popular.
I know that someday I’ll have to go out without tissues. I can’t spend the rest of my life being afraid of having to sneeze in the middle of a conversation. I can’t always avoid being separated from my tissues. I’ll have to walk out my door with nothing tucked into a sock or under a hat. I’ll run and hug and dance, moving until I feel my self and body click into place and become one, swinging my arms and carrying nothing. In case of emergency, there are always table napkins.
Anna Blech, Age 16, Grade 11, Hunter College High School, Silver Key