Hysteronia

The whole family started acting weird. They weren’t sick, like with the flu or whatever, just pained and hobbled and whiny, Donna said. Like they’d all caught the menopause.

Funny.

Not when you hear how it ends.

She told you this at work?

In the lunchroom. Donna said it started with the woman’s own decay, which happened like that [snaps fingers]. “Imagine a needle scraping across your greatest hits,” Donna said, “and then, boom! It’s over. The only sound is….” Wait, I gotta get this right: “The fulsome circling around the dusty finish.” Scritch, scritch, scritch.

Did Donna make that sound?

That’s the record player sound.

You added that part.

You wanna argue sound credits or hear the rest of the story?

OK… complex record-player metaphor, sick family. Go.

She and Donna met and shared an apartment at university. They partied, lived on processed cheese and cheap draft, graduated together. They’ve been close ever since, even live in the same neighbourhood. Donna told me once, “Picture yourself at a rock show at midnight, standing in front of the stage with cowboy boots on and a drink in each hand, cheering and spilling and going deaf.” That’s basically how the woman lived her life.

Basically, not literally.

Well, d’uh! The spirit of that, though. Living in the moment type deal, full of risk and audacious energy.

Audacious energy?

You don’t deserve to hear this story, Anusha.

I’m listening!

So outta the blue, the woman starts, well, aging. One day she’s out for a long run, uphill both ways, with zero stretching or anti-inflammatories. Next day she wakes up and her bedside table is covered with pill bottles and cross-stitch and self-helpy books. She gets up, achy, sweaty, exhausted. Tries to get dressed but nothing fits because overnight, she got fat!

What do you mean “overnight?”

Overnight.

OK, because before you were being metaphorical.

No, literally.

How old is she?

I don’t know, like… ten, fifteen years older than us?

Early fifties.

Around that. So this woman is totally baffled.

And delusional.

No, no. Donna’s known the woman since forever. The woman told her it felt like someone was playing a trick on her, like she was starring in some reality show about old women.

Weird.

Gets weirder. The woman wanted to ask her husband what the hell was going on but he was in the basement huffing and puffing on his stair-climber fitness thingy.

Elliptical?

Yeah. I’ve never tried it.

Great exercise and easy on your hips and knees. Apparently, if the tension’s right, you can get the same workout as running.

You an elliptical saleswoman now?

Just passing on gym scuttlebutt, Marie.

Anyway, woman puts on an old pregnancy skirt and oversized concert T-shirt and sits on the bed confused and sleep deprived. Then bingo, she figures it out: she’s menopausing.

More like meno-fastforwarding.

Haha. Right?

Did she have a dry vagina?

What?

I hear your vagina dries out in the menopause.

Jesus, I don’t know! Donna didn’t say.

Anyway, you started by talking about the family getting sick.

Well, if you’d let me continue! So her mind starts racing. What’s next, the woman wonders. Sweater vests? Polident? Sunday morning aquafit?

Thick ankles. Age spots. Downgrading your investment risk.

Right? So all these horrifying things are coiling in her head when her uterus starts cramping like the devil himself is trying to squeeze out one last period. She starts weeping, partly because the best years of her life are over and partly because the pain feels like a sucker punch to her empty ovaries. Ovaries like compost bins for dying strands of DNA. Surprise! the punch says. Remember when you were lusty and fertile? Me neither!

That’s a lot to unpack.

Absolutely. So she’s wiping away tears when her daughter knocks on the door, also crying, because, guess what? She just started her period!

Like, first time ever?

First time. So, despite the strange coincidence and her own suffering, the woman shifts into mother mode and tells the daughter it’s normal and has to be endured and offers the girl a pill.

A painkiller.

What other pill’s she gonna give her, heroin?

I don’t think heroin comes in pills.

Oh for Crissakes!

I’m sorry! If you’re gonna use examples, be accurate.

The girl can’t take a painkiller because, remember? When you’re a kid it seems impossible. Like you’ll choke and suffocate. So the woman crushes the painkiller in peanut butter, feeds it to the girl and sends her off.

Is the peanut butter relevant?

Try to keep up Anusha, OK? The mother’s own cramps are getting worse—tells Donna it feels like her uterus is being corroded with acid. So she reaches for the painkillers and, oh shit! Her shoulder!

What!?

Shooting pain like she’s being stabbed by a shaft filled with molten lava.

Isn’t all lava molten? Isn’t that the definition of lava—molten rock?

Just lava then, OK brainiac? So she sits on the side of the tub and is practically hysterical at this point. I told Donna that’s funny because in the olden days, they used to call menopausing women hysterical. It comes from the Latin word … hysteronia I think, meaning insufferable, middle-aged woman.

Hystera you mean.

What?

Embroidery by Natalia Tjiang with the words Happy Wife, Happy Life

Happy Wife, Happy Life by Tali Tjiang

From the Greek, hystera, meaning uterus.

Whatever! Did you know women in the really olden days never went through menopause.

What are you talking about?

They died before it happened.

Ha! The blessings of a short life expectancy.

Totally. You know, some women bleed non-stop when they’re menopausing.

You’d die if you bled non-stop.

Not literally!

Literally. Not literally. Make up your mind!

You want more coffee?

Love some.

Aaaanyway … after a short pity party in the bathroom, the woman stands up to wash her face and when she looks in the mirror, she sees movement on her head, like she’s got lice or something.

Ewww! You didn’t tell me there was lice in the story! You know I have a thing!

Calm down. It wasn’t lice. It was just grey hairs blooming from the part in her hair. She told Donna they looked like “dusty wires pushing through drywall.”

Speaking of drywall, we just renovated our bathroom.

Oh yeah? Nice.

Wait, she could actually see grey hairs growing?

Before her very eyes. But she told Donna no point wallowing. Menopausing didn’t magically erase all the stuff a mother has to do right? So off she goes to wake her son for school.

He older?

Younger. Like eight or something. Boy says, “Please don’t make me go to school.” “What? Are you sick?” she asks. “No, it’s my shoulder,” he says. “There’s a pain when I try to lift my arm, like a hot poker stabbing me.”

Same pain as mom.

Same.

Is Donna sure this woman isn’t suffering from Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy?

The hell is that?

You know, when a parent ascribes fake symptoms to a child, pretends they’re sick when they’re not.

That’s messed up. No this sounds legit. Donna says the woman’s son explained the pain in detail and it was the exact same symptoms she had. So, mothering kicks in again. She swallows her own pain and they do some stretching thing together but it was too painful so she rubs the boy’s shoulder with a topical ointment.

Those creams are useless.

Waste of money. So she says to the boy, “Go eat your breakfast and you’ll be fine.” Then she goes to the basement to find her husband but he’d already left for work.

What’s he do?

Insurance broker, apparently. So the woman gets the kids out the door and decides to do laundry before tackling a report she’s been working on. She’s a graphic designer, works from home. The cat comes into the laundry room to use the litter box but it’s acting funny. Walking in circles, eyes kinda milky, lame back paw, stomach dragging on the floor. Cat’s barely two years old!

And?

It was like the cat was menopausing too!

C’mon! This is a joke, right? Punchline coming?

Donna swears it’s all true.

I don’t know about this Donna.

She’s the head of HR. Masters in social work. Comes to work in pant suits. Volunteers at an animal shelter. Not the embellishing type.

I don’t know what to say.

Good! Just listen then. The woman’s on her way up the stairs to her office but has to stop and sit because she’s so tired, seeing white spots floating before her eyes like she might faint.

Drop in blood pressure.

When she goes to stand up, holy dyin’ she falls back down!

What now?

Her hip! Donna says she got a sharp pain like her hip just cracked.

Like the head of the femur or further down?

How should I know?

Is that part of menopausing?

Oh yeah. Bones crack like toothpicks.

Awful!

So the woman scoots her way downstairs on her ass and crawls to the living room couch where she sits, weeping and looking through old photo albums of when she was young and beautiful: hiking up mountains, dancing at Burning Man, swimming in the ocean, stage diving at The Ramones.

Why doesn’t she call an ambulance?!

I know! That’s what I said. But Donna said she just hates to make a fuss or be a burden. After a cup of tea and rest, she hangs the laundry, finishes the report, makes a double batch of blueberry muffins—her daughter’s favourite.

So, slacks off, in other words.

Haha. Yeah, unbelievable.

This coffee is great by the way.

Thanks. It’s from that fair-trade place in Little Italy. Hipster hellhole but great coffee. So… as the day goes on, the woman’s condition worsens. Her head gets super heavy and starts sinking toward the ground, rounding her spine like a fish hook.

How does Donna know all this?

I guess the old photos made her nostalgic and she called Donna late that afternoon and told her everything. Donna freaked and told her to go to emergency—even offered to take her—but the woman refused. Said she had too much to do.

Haha. Of course she said that.

And now, well…. Donna’s totally beside herself with grief.

Wait, why?

A couple hours later, she called Donna again. Said her son got home from school and when she asked about his shoulder, he said he had a new pain. Guess where?

Hip.

Yup. He said when he stood up before lunch, it felt like his hip cracked. The teachers didn’t think it was serious enough to send him home but the boy was obviously distraught.

What did the woman do?

Well, by now she’s bent over like a crone, aching all over and trying to figure out what the hell’s going on. Is menopause contagious? Can kids get it? Is her pain real? Is theirs? Will she ever find relief? Apparently she handed the boy the TV remote and a bowl of chips and left him there with Netflix.

With parental controls on, obviously.

Maybe, maybe not, right? She told Donna the daughter was whining when she got home so the mom crushed another pill—painkiller—and sent her to bed with a hot water bottle. Then the husband gets home.

Finally! So…he takes her to the hospital.

Nope. Husband goes straight to the den without saying hello. The woman follows but it takes, like, a half hour to get there because she has to keep sitting on the floor so she won’t pass out. When she finally arrives at the den, husband’s got a drink in one hand and his face in the other, and he’s crying!

What?

Blubbering like a baby. When the woman asks what’s wrong, he says something about his withering male virility and the pointlessness of his monotonous job. Says he’s tired of people calling him in crisis. Says he’s depressed!

Great.

So the woman says “You can’t be depressed, I’m depressed!” And he says, “Look, I didn’t ask to feel this way.” And of course, the woman shifts into loving spouse mode and asks if he’s hungry and he says maybe some spicy dip with garlic bread would be nice and she shuffles off to make it.

The hell is wrong with this woman?

She gets to the kitchen and the cat comes in, moaning and slow blinking up at her, pawing the woman’s foot. So the woman leans over to pet her but something cracks in her back and she can’t straighten up so she just tips over and lays on the floor.

Oh my god!

She calls for help but nobody hears her so she drags herself to the phone and calls Donna.

Not 911 of course. That would be too sensible.

She tells Donna about the cat and the husband, says she’s on the floor and can’t get up. Donna says the woman was wheezy and barely audible. Donna told her she was calling 911 and coming over.

What a relief!

Donna lives a few blocks away so she arrives before the ambulance. She knocks on the front door. No answer. She goes in anyway and finds the woman….

Yes, and…?

Dead.

….

Dead-dead?

Yes.

From menopause?!

Donna screams and the family comes running. Guess what the husband says?

[?]

“Looks like I’m making supper tonight.”

Shut up!

Donna was right there!

Beyond belief. When was this again?

Couple weeks ago.

Je-sus. Funny, not funny.

Yeah.

Scary, actually.

Very.

I mean, that’s us in a few years!

Well… you sooner than me.

Ouch.

Zing.

….

You gonna finish that brownie?

No, no. You go ahead.
 

About Lisa Gregoire

Lisa Gregoire is a recovering journalist turned fiction writer. After working her way through several Canadian newspapers and magazines and earning two National Magazine Awards, she stepped away from journalism to make up stories instead, naively thinking the transition would be smooth and easy. It was neither. Humbled, she presses on, writing daily from her home in Ottawa with her writer/editor husband and twin teen daughters. Find her non-fiction in The Walrus, Canadian Geographic, Eighteen Bridges and Nunatsiaq News. Fiction published or forthcoming in Qwerty, filling Station, OnSpec, The Fabulist, Agnes and True and Luna Station Quarterly.

About Tali Tjiang

Tali Tjiang is a contemporary textile artist based in Toronto. She comes from a creative background of crafts workers and grew up in the close-knit artistic community of Warkworth, ON. Graduating from George Brown College in 2014 for fashion design she has since had her work published in Intelegance Magazine and Today’s Bride and showcased her first fashion collection in 2018. Currently focused on hand embroidery and crochet crafts, her work is a whimsical mix of colours and textures, inspired by organic forms in nature. “Growing up in an artistic community, focused on a career in the Arts, it is hard to pinpoint what I love most. Colour and design is second nature and creativity is a state of Being. The technical aspects developed as I matured into my own person. The various mediums I experimented with were my stepping-stones and creating something meaningful and practical everyday has been the ultimate life goal.”

One thought on “Hysteronia

  1. Holly Haggarty

    I was in hysteronics, reading this. Thanks.

    Reply

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