I am not a chicken. I am not a chicken. I am not a chicken.
But the sky is falling.
I know it is because it has fallen on me before. Junebug was tucked in bed, sound asleep and in the middle of the night, she heard it falling from the room next to hers.
And then she kept looking up to see when it would fall again.
I remember sitting on the table in the examination room. I visited my allergist after a few weeks of having headaches and not feeling well. He gave me a CT Scan of my sinuses and then proceeded to freak me completely out when he explained my infection was severe and needed to be treated aggressively because sinuses are close to your brain and infections can be dangerous. He did not have the gentlest bedside manner, and I left feeling like I probably was not going to make it.
I knew it. My sky was going to fall again, and I was only 30. The doctor put me on antibiotics for six weeks, and I went home and spent hours, days and weeks on Web MD researching signs that a sinus infection had crossed the barrier into my brain, and then obsessing and analyzing my symptoms.
I felt like a chicken. I always thought this doctor’s visit was the moment in my life that I became fearful of doctors. But last week as I was getting my blood taken, I had a flashback of Junebug turning her head away just as I did at that moment. She was afraid the blood coming from her vein would be neon green or iridescent blue or any color other than red indicating something was fatally wrong.
As I sat with my arm outstretched, I wore my glittery gold “I'm not a chicken" sweater to the doctor that I bought at Zara for $10 a few months ago for inspiration. I knew with a new year approaching, after three years of avoiding doctors, it was time to go back. If it were not for my kids, I might have stayed my course, but I spent too many nights with tears quietly running down my face as I laid in bed with my kids imagining the terribly sad scene from Terms of Endearment.
I decided I could no longer be a chicken. I emailed my doctor and explained to her why I had not been in three years. I told her I wanted to come back but I needed to do it in baby steps so would it be OK if we skipped taking my blood pressure for now. I have white coat syndrome, and I thought this plan might feel a little less intiimidating. She gave me the go ahead but tears welled up in my eyes when the nurse, who must have not been given the message, took out the blood pressure cuff. I pointed to my sweater and told her the doctor said I could skip that part. I felt like a chicken.
I did not feel like a chicken when I left my appointment. I scheduled a mammogram for a few days later and went to the lab to have my blood drawn. I did feel like a chicken every time my phone rang when I jumped quickly to answer when it was a number I did not recognize. My nervous hands fumbled for the phone, and my heart raced every time I said "hello." I hoped I sounded a little non-chalant, but I guess I was not that smooth because the person calling to clean my carpets commented “wow you picked up that fast.” I was waiting for the phone call that would tell me my sky was falling. Instead, I got a letter in the mail reassurring me that the warm blue sunny Nashville sky was staying in its place for the time being.
I think back to being six when my sky did fall, and as I heard it falling in my bed, I knew I did not want to see what was happening. It’s ironic that in the weeks after, I began a nightly ritual of examining my eyes in the mirror before bed. I was afraid of going blind although turning away from what scares me is how I have coped over and over again in my life.
I turned the radio station when the traffic report came on in the morning because I was afraid I would hear Jay was in a car accident. If we went out, Jay was the one who would check in with the babysitter because I was afraid she would not answer and then my head imagined a million worst case scenarios. He even knew not to tell me when he was checking on them, but at some point in the night, he would casually lean over and say "the kids are good."
I am a chicken I said the other night as I climbed stairs to the 5th floor of St. Thomas hospital to visit my mom who was admitted for an incident that ended up being minor. I take the stairs often because I am afraid of elevators. I have asked complete strangers to ride the elevator with me or hold my hand on an airplane. I have been known to run across the street to my neighbor's house who is a doctor when the kids were younger and hurt. I could not look so I asked her.
But as much as I tell myself I am a chicken, I know I am not because I have been in the boxing ring for as long as I can remember. In one corner is FEAR OR SHAME OR SELF-DOUBT and in the other corner is ME. And just when I am down for the count, I pull myself up over and over again. While I may not float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, I know my words and truth are helping me grow stronger.
Jay offered a hand to help me get back on my feet, and he always knew to pick up the phone when I called. And he did until one day he could not. I called over and over again and soon realized my sky was falling again. But what I also discovered is the night sky can fall and with it every star that lit my way, and while I may feel terrified beyond belief, I can make it. Junebug, I say to her, it’s OK. We can peek out from under these covers and face our fears. The heavens above, and the love around us will get us through even when our sky is falling. We are not chickens, damn it.
Jack Johnson and Eddie Vedder, Constellations