Wild Capers

TallGirl’s friend broke my heart.

“I think I’m too old to try new things. ”  She is 22.  She was talking about butternut squash.

Maybe I was particularly sensitive to the sentiment because I’d recently had an argument with a travel article titled 30 Places to Visit Before You Are 30.  If beer-bellies can yell at TV sports, dark-rims can raise their voices to a magazine.  Only fair.  I am post-30, and I can totally justify skipping Milan because I don’t own the wardrobe befitting their sidewalks.  Besides, they have a Starbucks,  so why bother?  It’s practically Parsippany, now isn’t it?  But do they mean to tell me Venice has nothing to offer now that the bloom is off my flower?  At my age, is it so hard to believe that I might appreciate the history of Budapest a little more than I would have twenty years ago when my biggest struggle was keeping up with a scrunchy?  Just kidding.  Twenty years ago, I had a toddler and my first broken marriage to navigate.  I will concede this article wasn’t written for me, or people like me at that age.  Still, I think it was a little short-sighted to write a travel article that specifically excludes me, and people like me now, who – precisely because of age, have the time and disposable income to visit the boutique hotels being shilled in the glossy pages of this magazine.  But that’s just me.

Through middle and high school, TallGirl’s friend was a frequent visitor to our dinner table.  Scratch that.  She wasn’t a visitor.  She was family; there was always a chair for her.  Without fail, every single meal, she ate something for the first time.  When we knew she was coming, it became a game of mine to guess, while I was cooking, what would follow her, I’ve never had declaration.  Sausage, chocolate chip pancakes, pork chops, broccoli with cheese.  We aren’t talking exotic fare, here.  After graduation, they chose different paths, and she is now a vestigial daughter, visiting only once or twice a year.  We miss her, and I’d forgotten her sheltered culinary life.  That she’d never had butternut squash before was only surprising in that I hadn’t even considered it before dinner was served.

But here’s my confession.  I have passed the halfway mark in my forty-second year of life and last night, I ate capers for the first time.  Ever.  I was aware of capers.  My first knowledge of them came from Heartburn, by Nora Ephron.  I read it about two decades ago, during those tumultuous, family breaking years when apparently I should have been traipsing the globe instead of potty training my beautiful daughter.  Between you and me, I made the wiser choice.  My life is rich beyond measure because she is in it, and hers is measurably improved by being potty trained.  You’re welcome, BooBoo.

Nora Ephron has been accused for years of steering women wrong by romanticizing the troubling character flaws of both women and their male counterparts in her romantic comedies.  Forget that.  Neuroses are funny to everyone (save for those closely related to the afflicted, and to a lesser extent, the afflicted themselves), and it is exceedingly difficult to move a plot along if everyone in the story behaves rationally.  She did what she had to do as a writer, and I, for one, admire both her chops and the battles she fought to be allowed to flex them.  Where I take issue with her though, God rest her soul, is the terrible advice she gave in Heartburn.  “…The truth is that any dish that tastes good with capers in it tastes even better with capers not in it.”

Living in the homogeneous suburbs of the south-east, it’s not like I had to go out of my way to avoid capers.  They were always something that existed in the world but that I would likely never try, not unlike puffer fish or haggis.  And equally, I assumed I wasn’t missing anything special; possibly, I was saving my own life by not trying them.

By the laws established by the governing body of dieters everywhere, I think I am required to tell you that I am starting the Whole30 Program.  I am probably breaking some cardinal rule by not posting Insta pictures of every meal, or talking incessantly about what I am obsessing about eating, or not eating, next.  But that’s just not who I am.  I am only telling you this now because I have a cookbook that tells me exactly what to make to stay compliant and last night’s dinner involved capers.  I considered leaving them out because Nora Ephron didn’t like them.  The ghost of Nora Ephron wasn’t even invited to dinner, so is that nuts, or what?

Nuts, by the way, are allowed on the Whole 30, but not a wise nutritional choice.  Now you know.

And you know what?  I loved them.  I loved them so much that I want to invite TallGirl’s friend over for dinner, even though TallGirl is still away at school, and make her eat them with me.

wildcapers
Oh, the capers these walls have seen!

Last spring I was in Rome.  I don’t know if that is a city on that stupid 30 Before 30 list, but I can tell you, no matter how old you are, get there.  Our apartment backed up to the Aurelian Walls, and there were lush, green cascades of vegetation with pretty, wispy, white flowers growing freely from the cracks in the ancient brick.  I asked a local what they were, and she thought a moment as she consulted her English vocabulary.  More like a question of her own than an answer to mine, she said, “Wild capers?”

Because of the way she wrinkled her nose when she said it, and because of my Ephron association with the little beasts, I agreed with her that yes, those must be wild capers.  I probably even wrinkled my own nose in solidarity.

 

I consider myself to be adventurous, but just like TallGirl’s friend, even I sometimes forego new experiences due to preconceived notions, or have those intrusive thoughts that I might be too told to try a new thing.  I’ll try harder to recognize them, and nip them in the bud.

We are never too old for wild capers.

As a cautionary side, Whole30 was a terrible time to try capers.  They have the same effect on my breath as a pickled garlic-onion might, and gum – all gum – is forbidden.  If I accidentally breathe on you this month, I apologize in advance.

 

 

Perspective


I am looking at a dark, pear shaped planet. That’s how I describe my mammogram image to Mike this morning. A mesh of lighted corridors lead, eventually, to a colony settled in the north east.

“Plymouth Rock?” He asks.

“Jersey Shore,” I correct his idea of both the location and the intensity.

“The Situation…” He texts me.

I remind him, and me, that it’s likely nothing more than a Snooki.

There is no history of cancer-of-the-anything in my family.  When my benign ovarian tumor was removed two years ago,  I was tested for the BRCA mutations – just in case.  I’m clean.  This was routine; no reason to worry.

On three occasions in the last two years I’ve sat down for dinner with girlfriends.  They’ve waited until our drinks are ordered to tell me, as if reading from the same script, “I don’t want you to freak out, but I have breast cancer.”

Only now that each of them is safely on this side of their different treatments,  has it occurred to me to wonder why they’d worry about me freaking out.  That’s not me.  Is it?

Probably no.  On Valentines day I accompanied another friend to her biopsy.  Her routine, then follow up mammogram and ultrasound indicated it might be a good idea to get a closer look at one area.   I held her hand and rubbed her back until I was kicked out of the room for the procedure.  See, I am not the freaker-outer.

It wasn’t losing her breasts that scared her,  she tearily confided.  It was her hair.  She shored up her own courage by deciding that, if worse came to worse, she’d get bright, rainbow mermaid hair before it all fell out.

The next morning, as fate would have it, I was scheduled for my annual mammogram.  I said a little prayer to the gods of radiology for my friend and they were answered.   It was benign.  But I bet, and this is just between you and me, now that the idea of mermaid hair has grabbed her she won’t wait until tragedy.  Perspective, once found,  can be a real bitch to shake.  Once we’ve realized that there are no points for self-denial just for the sake of self-denial, there is no end to what a woman might do for herself.

A week later, it is my turn in the hot seat.   There was a spot on my right breast. I found myself sitting in a waiting room appointed in the most annoying shade of pink, skipping ahead in my mind and wondering about my hair.  I’d shave it,  I decided, and send it to a wig maker.  I could still wear my own hair, right?  Or maybe I’d just stay bald.  There’s so much beauty in loss.

In this manner, I’ve already found my perspective.   My summer in Italy is my friend’s mermaid hair.  It’s the thing I am doing when I literally have nothing left to lose; the thing I wonder why I waited so long to stop making excuses not to do.  It’s the thing,  I suddenly worry, that a breast cancer diagnosis could really muck up right now.

I am not a freaker-outer, and to continue not being a freaker-outer, I stop thinking about that and  strike up conversations with the four other women sitting with me in our front-opening hospital gowns.  One had pain and a lump she was getting checked out.  The others had been called back, like me, because of a shadow on a routine image.  The conversations between us were frank and open and if we’d been left in that room ten more minutes…well, I don’t think it’s that far fetched that we might have pulled out our boobs for comparison.  Sisterhood, I’ve found, is only ever born of perspective – and we were all there this morning to get some of that, one way or another.

Once finished with my ultrasound, the radiologist said he saw no reason for a biopsy.  I cleaned up and dressed.  On my way to check out, I looked into the unoccupied room with the mammography machine and said another little prayer to the radiology gods.  Please, don’t let these women wait too long to find their mermaid hair.

How I celebrate December 28th. Apparently.

At this time, on this date, one year ago I was running all over town looking for an open clinic or doctor’s office that could administer a tetanus shot without making me sit for hours in a waiting room full of flu-symptomed people.  I didn’t think the puncture would from my rusty screwdriver knitting accident required medical intervention, but I did think a booster was in order since eleven years had passed since my last one.  In the end,  I wound up running across the county to find a clinic that had a latex-free tetanus vaccine.

I won’t be needing another one of those for at least 9 years, or until I stab myself again (whichever comes first – I won’t be offended if you bet) so to keep the tradition of weird medical quests going, today I had to drive all the way to Clayton, North Ceyechartarolina to see an opthamologist for what I was certain was a sprained eyeball from binge-reading my Christmas presents.  More accurately, I was driven to Clayton; I can’t see very well because ‘remove your contact lenses’ seemed like the kind of internet medical advice one actually should follow.  To give you an idea how rare of a medical condition Sprained Eyeballs actually is, my optometrist still refuses to acknowledge that it’s a real thing and referred me to the opthamologist.

Now,  I know what you’re thinking.   Is Clayton, North Carolina really where you want to go for diagnosis and treatment of a rare and debilitating medical condition?  And the answer is obviously no.  But it’s a holiday week and it was either this, or wait until the literal next year.

“On a scale of one to ten, where is your pain level right now?” Sherrie the nurse-type-person asked me.

“A two.  Maybe a three.”  Now I just felt silly.  “But it’s a 2 or 3 in my eyeball, not like, a 2 or 3 on my toe.  That’s different.”

Sherrie nodded her non-judgey understanding.  I like that woman.

Soon, the younger-than-me looking doctor came in and introduced himself.  “I’m Dr. Kevin,” and he shook my hand.

“I’m patient Serena.”  Possibly patient zero for a brand new eye disease you’ve never heard of I wanted to tell him.

“It’s nice to meet you,” he said, his hand shake starting to feel uncomfortably long.  “I’m sorry it’s under these circumstances.”

“Under what other possible circumstances would meet an opthamologist?”  I blurt.

He conceded that opthamology is a bit of a dull profession and got on with his exam.

After shining a bright light into both eyeballs, which I felt was total overkill because my left one feels fine (if not a little strained from having to do all the work of the diseased right eye, too), he retrieved what looked like a piece of litmus paper from an overhead cupboard and rubbed it in my eye.

“Woah!  What is that?  And why did it make my eyeball feel better?”  I admit, I was a little disappointed to realize that if a cure was that readily available, the chances of having an eye disease named after me were dwindling.

“That was to numb your eyeball,” he answered one of my questions.

He told me that I have three white spots on my right cornea (and two, non painful ones on my left) and am suffering from something known as contact over wear.  Even though it’s not a germ-related disease, he gave me a bottle of antibacterial eye drops and wants to see me again on Thursday.

I asked him if I could also have some of that numbing stuff to take home.

“No, that stuff will melt your corneas,” he attempted to be funny.  Opthamologist humor.  Sigh.

Tomorrow I have to go shopping for a pair of glasses, and that’s going to suck a little.  But first, I really just want to stop and give a shout out to the real hero of this story.  The internet.  That internet thing has a really bad rep for doling out unsound medical advice, but today, it really came through for me.  I Googled sprained eyeballs and the internet said, “Woah, I don’t know what that is, but you should really take out your contacts.”

Good job, internet!