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SACRAMENTO, CA-

I’ve noticed lately that I think a lot more about my health in real terms.

I don’t just think about the cold I have or the weird pains in my legs as something that will cure themselves in the next couple days. Instead I find myself wondering what the cause is, what it means in the long term.

Most of the weird things I see happening to my body lately can be traced directly back to birth control pills. The pain in my legs, which I swear is hypertension or blood clotting, is listed as a possible side effect of the pill. So is the melasma, or sunspot, found on my upper lip that makes me look like I have a mustache.

Maybe these things are also just caused by a poor diet and general aging. I’m not so sure though, so I’ve decided to do an experiment. I’ve decided to go off the pill. And in this decision I realized that, holy cow!, I’ve been taking birth control for nearly 10 years. No wonder the “possible” side effects are becoming a reality.

When I was 18 and started taking birth control to regulate my menstrual cycle I didn’t think anything about it. After all, my doctor wouldn’t prescribe me something that could hurt me, would she?

But today, I find myself questioning medication more and more often.

I’m very skeptical of the pharmaceutical industry. Whatever happened to trying to live a healthy life, rather than trying to medicate yourself to health?

I’m especially skeptical of medication taken to “prevent” anything. Why medicate yourself when you’re perfectly healthy? I feel like all of this medication is actually making us weaker and more dependent on medication than if we just let our bodies work it out like nature intended. But then I worry that I sound like some crazy herbalist fanatic.

I’m just saying I’m skeptical.

Medication

Let me give you a for instance: Tamoxifen.

I’ve been doing research for an article about medications to treat and prevent breast cancer. Tamoxifen has been the longest standing competitor in this field, having been used since the 1970s to treat breast cancer. The problem now is it’s being used to “prevent” breast cancer in women age 35 and older with a 1.67 percent risk of getting breast cancer.

One of the most common side effects in women who take Tamoxifen is uterian cancer. Although the risks of getting this cancer are low, I’m not sure I’d like to trade in my 1.67 percent chance of getting one cancer for the risk of another cancer. How about you show me my cancer before you start giving me dangerous medications to treat it?

I don’t see doctors offering chemotherapy to “at risk” patients. But because something can be taken in a pill form it’s somehow deemed less dangerous.

This is where my new aversion for the birth control pill comes in. I’m already seeing weird side effects and I’m only 27 years old. New studies show that the pill doesn’t contribute to any kind of cancer, but older studies state the opposite. Having a history of cancer in my family, with both my paternal grandfather and grandmother having had cancer, I’m just not willing to take the chance that the new studies (probably paid for by the manufactures of the pill) are wrong.

Our food already has enough hormones, antibiotics, and other chemicals in it, do I really need to be adding more?

My biggest hope though is that this experiment turns out to be beneficial. I hope the damage from the pill isn’t permanent. I want to be able to sit in a car for an hour and not have my legs feel like they’re going to explode. And I really want this damn sun spot on my face to go away. If these things continue however, I’ll have to admit that it wasn’t the birth control pill after all, which means admitting I’m wrong. And I hate admitting I’m wrong.

One last thing and then I’ll shut up. I was telling a couple of my friends about this the other day and both of them said they recently went off the pill for similar reasons. It made me feel less weird and less worried about doing it. Weird that at this age we’re all starting to feel/see/imagine the effects of what we’ve done to our bodies in the past. Next thing I know we’re all going to be health food freaks, eating flaxseed with everything …

The Bus

By Zoe Brock

Writing

It’s rush hour.

The bus is crowded and sweet-salty-humid with the airborne sweat of human secretions. The blood in my veins feels lethargic and viscous, greasy and sticky like spilled motor oil. It’s going nowhere. My heart beats dangerously slow but with tremendous force, a slow, throbbing, near-cardiac arrest as it tries to pump hot-wet-red stuff through the million minuscule tubes of my body. Boom. Boom. Boom. I feel obvious and naked. I am bruised, raw and bloodied.

And I am not alone.

I face someone. A man. Taller than me, lean and long and lanky. A three day beard shadows a strong jaw. Kind green eyes watch me, seeing past my inane, protective facades, melting me. He is beautiful, and he is no stranger.

The bus swerves. We collide into each other, pressing close to avoid contact with other humans. People Who Are Not Us.

The driver accelerates sharply to avoid a parked car and I stumble forwards, crashing into him. A shot of electricity charges through my chest, my face, between my legs. I flush. A sharp intake of breath gives me away.

“Shh”. He consoles me. “I have you.”

It is a truthful statement, in every way. He had me then, and he has me still.

When we boarded the bus there already existed a heightened sense of emotion between us. Longing, loss, love… all compounded with that other L word.

Lust.

It’d been a month since we’d ended our relationship, a month since we’d been intimate, and not a day had passed without me yearning for his touch or missing his nearness.

The bus brakes again, jamming his body closer to mine.

He holds me close, keeping me safe, preventing me from falling. Preventing me from falling physically, but, with every second we touch, sending me plummeting further into the abyss of love and want and confusion and sorrow.

With every sudden lurch and every violent braking we are jammed against each other and pulled apart. I feel as if I am drowning. The people around us are a blur, a tide of humanity that washes around us like a foaming, undulating ocean.

I close my eyes and imagine a huge neon sign above our heads that reads “THESE TWO PEOPLE WANT TO FUCK EACH OTHER”, alerting the entire, crowded vehicle to our plight.

In retrospect I don’t think a sign was necessary.

In the moment I’m convinced our energy is infecting the passengers around us. Deep desire oozes along the aisle and seeps up trousers and skirts, soaking fabric, into the souls of the commuters, causing each and every one of them to debark in a flustered hurry, to rush home to furiously masturbate, grind their pelvises against their walls and make urgent, frenetic love to their partners.

Brake. Lurch. Rev. Brake. Jolt.

I whimper. He draws me closer, pulling my head into the space between his neck and shoulder, that place I know so well and fit so perfectly. I rest there, allowing myself to drown a little, but not enough.

And then the ride is over. Suddenly, too soon, we step out into the world, still apart, still sad, still hurting.

It was a bittersweet ride, from beginning to end, and my only regret is not thanking that heavy footed bus driver for the best almost-sex I’ve ever had in my life.

Dude? If you’re reading? I fucking love the way you drive.

“Tis not the amount of stress one copes with, but the grace with which one handles it, that is the measure of a persons strength.”

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I said that!

“Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you even know you’re falling.”

I said that too!

I’m wicked fucking smart sometimes, but it’s a crying shame that I’m terrible at following my own advice.

I need a t-shirt made up with “I’m a hypocrite” on the front and “No I’m not” on the back.

In the last year I’ve felt some stress. I’ve been ripped off and lied to, manipulated and used. I’ve been broke and scared and confused and felt horribly violated. I’ve also felt loved and creative and proud and hopeful– but those are completely irrelevant and much too happy feelings at this point in the story. It’s the throbbing muck and boiling gore that we’re wallowing in here today, not fluffy bunny tails and creme caramel niceties. Today we focus on…. the shit.

Yay.

Lately I’ve been feeling stressed. Over the past few months my life somehow evolved, despite many truly beautiful things happening to me, into a threatening, malevolent entity, fangs bared, hairy arms extended, flailing and reaching for my throat.

The daunting experience of moving to a strange city with no emotional backup and no circle of friends made me feel small and frightened. Limited finances and a seemingly enormous set of insurmountable barriers made my soul shrink and my bravery vanish. Everything seemed so damn big, except for me, who became tiny and useless.

As a consequence I became vulnerable. Actually that’s a complete understatement. As a consequence I became PATHETIC. My coping mechanisms shut down and I turned into a needy, codependent, emotionally autistic, simpering twit. I turned into these things because, for the first time in ages, I could. Why? Because I had someone there to pick up my slack.

I had a lover to help carry my weight.

I had a boyfriend with broad shoulders.

I had a man to fall back on.

Sherpa

I tried to turn my Love into my Sherpa.

Sir Edmund Hillary would be appalled. So would Tenzing Norgay.

Actually Tenzing might think it was kinky in a twisted Nepalese way.

But I digress. What is it about people that makes us lean on each other when we are more than capable of leaning on ourselves?

Laziness? Luxury? Madness?

Whatever it is, it’s got to stop. The people we love the most should never get the worst of us. The people who love us the most deserve the sweetest sides and most gentle touches.

Receiving love is not an excuse to get weak, but a reason to feel stronger.

Why does this shit always seem easier in retrospect? Is Apple going to design us an iCrystalBall soon?

Personally I feel that a therapist, tender and passionate sex, lots of forgiveness, patience, talking, time and space can conquer anything if the love is great enough and the desire shared. But that’s just me. Not many people are as stupidly romantic and emotionally autistic as I am. Some people are more practical.

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Me? Not so much.

I tend to think that practicalities can be taught and learned, but that love cannot. To me love is the foundation of everything, practicalities are just a layer to keep the soft stuff from oozing out and staining the sheets.

It turns out that, while my lover had broad enough shoulders, he didn’t have the inclination to use them, and the weight of my load caused him to leave me on the mountain to carry my own shit. It was a good call on his behalf. That much weight isn’t good for anyone, and it wasn’t his job to carry it. In the end I decided to leave it all at base camp and carry on climbing with nothing but some extra oxygen, a warm pair of socks and this fucking flag thing that I aim to stick in the ground when I get to the top.

Climbing is fun. This mountain is huge and daunting but I’m determined. It’s sad that I have to keep climbing alone, for now…

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… because, man, this view deserves to be shared.


A man stands motionless on a street corner in single-digit morning temperatures.

He’s holding a sign that simultaneously calls the mayor of Chicago a dictator while demanding a certain FBI agent to stop raping his wife.

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The top portion of the sign reads: “FBI Agent Chris Saviano, Stop Raping My Wife!”

And the first thing you think when you read it is: “Jesus Christ! Somebody help this poor guy whose wife is God-knows-where getting raped by this FBI agent!”

And then the next day you see him, dressed as before, in the same spot holding the same signs, you think: “Fuck! It’s still happening? How is this still happening? That FBI guy should be fired and thrown in prison by now! And yeah, you know, that Mayor Daley is totally a dictator when you get down to it.”

But it’s on the third morning upon seeing him on the same corner with the same signs, you think: “Yikes. How long has this dude been out here doing this?”

You think about him – Farhad Khoiee-Abassi – and about the day he walked into a Kinko’s or a Fast Signs where he had to explain to whoever was behind the counter that he wanted these exact signs made. And you imagine how he had to explain that he really wanted the word “Raping” to be in red and a bit slanted, and how he wanted both the T’s in “Dictator” to be in capitals. He maybe said, “Oh, and let’s totally underline the word ‘DicTaTor’ and make the word ’stop’ into a stop sign. Can you guys make a stop sign? Yeah? Yeah.”

Oh, and on that third morning you totally start to think he’s schizophrenic.

I’ve worked down in the Loop on the corner of Clark and Randolph for over a year now, and Farhad Khoiee-Abassi has been there almost every morning.

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Holding those signs.

Staring straight ahead.

Oblivious to the whispers and the shaking heads.

If it’s cold, he’s bundled up in ski pants and jacket, hat, gloves.

If it’s not cold, wearing a full on suit.

The story, or so say the peoples on the ‘net, is that he has been in a long-fought legal battle with his ex-wife.

Custody rights.

Protection orders.

He’s self-representing himself after his lawyer quit.

He’s mocking the legal and political systems, standing out there day after day after day trying to bring awareness to his cause.

He’s been reported to have been seen in DC and New York City with his signs, always keeping the rape one, but substituting the Mayor Daley sing for another that says “Alberto Gonzales – Outlaw! Trial!”

Exclamation points.

He’s been doing this for years now.

It’s a pretty sad sight.

But the saddest thing to me is that he’s not really helping his cause out there.

He doesn’t acknowledge those reading his signs.

He doesn’t try to retell his story, doesn’t retell whatever drama has driven him to this.

He doesn’t ask for donations or pity.

Doesn’t verbalize his need for help.

Doesn’t seem to have any other agenda than to stand there, every morning, with those signs.

So, as it appears, Khoiee-Abassi gets up every morning headed for the Loop like so many other Chicagoans.

He eats his breakfast, drinks his coffee, watches some ESPN or a little TODAY show action while he ties his shoelaces, he flosses, makes sure the cats have food, and then he heads out the door with his briefcase.

Just like me.

Just like you.

Just another day at the office.

But instead of a laptop or some manila folders, Khoiee-Abassi’s briefcase holds a collapsible pole and some crazy-ass signs.

And like you or me, he’s out there doing his thing, speaking as little as possible to those around him, careful not to touch anyone, careful not to be touched.

I suppose there’s nothing wrong with this.

Free speech, and all that.

He’s got his agenda.

Like you and I have ours.

But.

My.

Curiosity.

Won’t.

Subside.

Now my original plan, when I finally decided that I was going to approach him, was to hand him an envelope containing a letter about how I’d like to sit down and hear his story. Get an article out of him so that he could finally explain himself. An interview for the Chicago Reader, maybe.

My girlfriend said that was a terrible idea, and after visions of him barking in tongues in my face in front of hundreds of commuters, or another one where he tries to impale me with his collapsible pole but it keeps, well collapsing against my sternum, I reluctantly agreed with her.

Then I thought I would maybe just start off by saying “Good morning” or “‘Mornin’” or “Cold one, eh?” for a week or so, breaking down the barrier until we had a real conversation. Then a coffee sit-down. Then I could get his side of this story that unfolds before so many Chicagoans every morning.

But that was so hard to do, seeing as how he stands right across the street from my building where coworkers I know and don’t know stream past every second. I thought that being seen regularly conversing with this guy by higher-ups would be awkward and detrimental to my ladder climbing.

But.

My.

Curiosity.

All winter I almost made my move, approaching and second-guessing.

Totally pussing out, over and over.

And then on a February morning that couldn’t have been over 10 degrees, I mentally lowered my balls from my warm abdomen, and I spoke to Khoiee-Abassi.

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I approached from behind.

He stared straight ahead, focusing on nothing.

“Excuse me,” I said, also facing straight ahead, but now right next to him. “So, I work across the street.”

He says nothing.

I steal a glance and he doesn’t even blink as I say: “Yeah. I see you out here all the time and I was wondering if you would like some coffee.”

Nothing.

“Or maybe some hot water,” I said.

Then there was a quick blink, but not the kind of blink that said: “Yes, stranger. I would love a cup of hot water as I can’t feel my extremities. Thank you. You are very kind. I want to tell you all my secrets.”

Rather, it was more of a blink that said: “My eyes are dry and so I choose to refresh them with a blink.”

Nothing more.

The lights changed, people swarmed the street from both sides.

Crushed, I walked into my building without looking back.

I wonder how FBI Agent Chris Saviano, the supposed raper, handles his name being out there on the corner of Randolph and Clark.

If there even is an agent by this name, honestly.

I read that in open court, Farhad Khoiee-Abassi’s wife admitted that she has never even heard of a man with this name.

Which makes this man’s stand all the stranger.

He’s out there right now.

I just saw him.

Holding those signs.

Not saying a thing.

Dressed the same as yesterday.

And I will try leave him alone.

But, I gotta say, it sure seems more than crazy to stand out there in the freezing morning wind and not take a man up on a cup of hot water.

After all, you have to take care of yourself so that you can make it to work the next day.

The message read Feliz Navidad Guapisimo!

Spaniards toss around the word guapo/a as if it were a definite article, but the extra oomph given to any noun with -isimo/a is not to be taken lightly and should be considered serious flirtation.

The number had no name attached to it, but I assumed it was from a girl, as most men don’t call other men guapisimo unless they’re gay or being facetious.

I had just gotten through customs at Madrid’s Barajas airport on New Year’s Eve and turned on my phone.

Without even considering who it could be, I replied Feliz Año Nuevo Guapisima! in spite of my disdain for exclamation points.

Fortune and the year 2007 seemed certain.

Emerging from the metro near my home, a reply came back from the same unrecognized number. It read, Pasalo genial esta noche. Nos vemos en clase, which meant she was a student of mine and I would find out within the week who it was.

Her name turned out to be Itziar (pronounced eat-SEE-are). I love uncommon names, the rarer the better and this one topped the list of exotic names. To boot, she was easily the most physically fit and attractive one at a company of about 100 women where I taught her in class. I had even made the conscious decision at the beginning of the 2006 school year to continue teaching at that company merely to be around her.

The following Friday evening I texted her a question about salsa dancing and if she knew where classes were offered. After a few back-n-forth messages, she finally sent me this bomb: I know that in Tropical House they give classes, I don’t know which day exactly. I can offer myself as a partner but what I would really like is to know if you’re doing anything this evening because you seem like a very interesting person and I would like to get to know you better and, if we end up dancing, all the better…

My pupils widened and blood rushed to my genitals. I almost dropped the phone.

I immediately canceled my other plans that evening and was over at her house within 2 hours.

She opened the door; the dream began.

She was wearing tight-yet-comfortable sweatpants and a tank top that revealed about four inches of tight skin covering muscled indentations. Her face was uncomplicated by paint and highlights. Despite her Basque name, she grew up in the Andalusian town of Malaga and appeared somewhere outside the realm of the guide book Spanish woman. That is, her hair was light brown and not raven black; her eyes were bluish-green instead of brown and her skin leaned toward a paler shade of olive. Her twenty-eight year old face maintained a simple contentment, unwrinkled by fixed expressions. She spoke very softly.

She gave me the tour of her flat, explaining that her roommate was out of town for the weekend and she had the flat all to herself.

She looked at me smiled.

Blood rushed to my face, and my genitals. I smiled and looked away.

She cooked while we talked. I kept averting extended looks, wondering to myself what I was doing in her flat. I tried to act natural and not acknowledge the fact that she revealed a midriff that sparkled a belly button ring highlighting abs that she probably spent several hours a week on. Her breasts were magazine perfect.

I understood that she was my student and this was completely outside the professional boundaries that were established by my language academy. But damn, it felt oh-so-right to be there and notions of boundaries quickly vanished in the reflection of her ab ring.

We listened to Nina Simone and ate from a full spread of tortilla, salmon and brie, croquetas and a spinach salad, washed down with a Reserva Tinto from Rioja from 1996. Good year.

Quieres salir para bailar?

Sí, bueno, si quieres.

Me visto y nos vamos – vale?

Vale.

I offered to wash up the dishes while she got ready but she insisted there was no way I was doing her dishes, that I was her guest and I should just sit down on the sofa, relax and wait. I agreed.

In the living room I perused her copy of Los Detectives Salvajes. (The Savage Detectives)

I looked at the ceiling. A huge concave indentation, like a inverted golden saucer being sucked into the upper floor, decorated the room, gave it a retro-Roman dome feel.

I took out my camera and pushed a button.

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I intended to snap a shot of her sometime that evening but opportunity and memory failed me.

She came out of her room wearing knee-high glossy boots, the same tank top and suspenders.

Women in boots always look definitely serious and unarguably sexual, but suspenders? Never had suspenders looked so alluring.

On the street, she suggested going to this club called 69 petalos. I agreed. In the club, every guy in the club looked at her, then at me. I felt somehow unworthy and worthy. The shy part felt like she was way out of my league and the arrogant part felt like, “Wait a sec…that’s right, I’m the man.” We danced to some 80s classics for about an hour and she suggested that we go. I agreed.

I agreed to everything she suggested that night: dinner, dancing, not washing her dishes and sharing her single bed overnight.

I awoke early and in the morning sunlight that layered her half-covered naked body, I saw an inch-long faint-but-noticeable scar on the lower part of her breast. As I dressed I could see a picture of her topless on a beach with breasts that weren’t nearly as round as the ones that were now attached so perfectly attached to her body.

One and one made two.

I realized I had left my scarf and, in an attempt to be poetic and romantic all at once, I sent a message to the effect of: I dreamed last night that a beautiful woman made me dinner, we went dancing and then had a wonderful night in the dark. When I awoke, I realized my scarf was missing.

She replied immediately saying that, yes, last night was something special and she would give me the scarf the next time we met, which she wanted to be that same night.

The next week in class I was a nervous, stammering twat. The class was comprised of six women and the lights in the meeting/class room were piercing and relentless. After class via text, she asked me if I was okay giving her class, if I felt comfortable. I lied and told her yes; the truth was I had never experienced such a high heart rate and self-consciousness while giving classes.

Having a student as a lover, especially a secretive one, was exhilarating because it was partially wrong,  nerve-wracking because it was partially right and twat-inducing because of its secrecy.

Several weeks passed and this formula repeated: dinner, movie, sex and sleep. Conversation between us wasn’t exactly as electrifying as the sex, and thus it wasn’t explored or developed. What we did talk about didn’t move very far beyond our days (her pilates class or the progress of what I was writing), the movie we just watched, or our separate and joint plans for the weekend.

To negligibly greater or lesser degrees, this is probably the composite whole of too many relationships throughout the world.

After about four weeks, she came over and wrote on the whiteboard in my living room.

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Te quiero mucho que la trucha al trucho!!

This Spanish saying doesn’t rhyme in English because we don’t have gendered nouns, but it basically says, “I love you very much like the female trout to the male trout.”

Several Spaniards told me this is something a mother would say to her baby, that it’s cute because mucho rhymes with trucho and that I shouldn’t put too much stock in it, i.e. she’s not declaring love, just being cute.

But just to see the words “Te quiero mucho…” forced me to evaluate her as more than just a lover, the potential one (or one of the ones) or even just a consistent girlfriend — part of the idyllic Spanish life I had wanted since arriving.

Other hints, notes and pet names appeared. “Mi amor…” , “Cielo” and more. She even once offered to marry me in order to get me papers. I doubted she was serious at the time, but it surely drew me further into her.

In some email early in March I mentioned that I had changed my mind about wanting to wait until the weekend to see her. I wrote …cambie de mentewhich I thought was how you’d say I changed my mind.

She replied, slyly correcting me with Has cambiado de idea? Vale.

You learn the details of a language like this, with subtle corrections.

So on my ever growing stack of flashcards, I wrote down the proper translation of the expression, “to change one’s mind.”

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In Spanish, to change one’s mind is to change one’s idea (literally).

It makes no intuitive sense and the more you think about it, neither does it in English. It just sounds natural to you because you’ve always said it that way. If I could have any real influence in how this should be said, I would propose that everyone says change one’s opinion, because this is precisely what happens.

You hold an opinion of someone or something and then it–not your mind–changes for reasons either external, internal or both.

One week later on Sunday evening I messaged her that I didn’t feel well and that we should get together later in the week.

She didn’t reply.

I called her.

She didn’t answer.

I called her an hour later.

Same result.

I messaged and called her the next day as well.

No reply.

She didn’t come to class on Tuesday.

I emailed her and after a full week, she replied.

In an email that consisted of five sentences, she told me she needed time to think and that she would call me the following day.

No call.

Two weeks later, after I had pleaded for some sort of explanation to the silence, she finally took the time out to write me a ten sentence email.

How generous.

She said that she had been a coward in facing me, that she was a very closed person and she had built up walls to protect herself, that she felt like she needed to be alone and that blah blah it’s-not-your-fault-it’s-mine blah.

A few times over the course of the next four months I saw her fleetingly in the company where I taught. Twice she walked by and our eyes met just before one of us disappeared into another room.

I once walked past her at the copier and felt nervous, resentful blood rushing all over.

The dream disappeared with her change of mind, shortly after she corrected me on how to say it properly.

If it weren’t for a picture of her ceiling, two of my friends that met her briefly and this damn flashcard…

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I wouldn’t have any proof as to her existence.

I try not to see the irony in it, but it’s too obvious.

I wrote this particular saying down because of her correcting me and it precisely and concisely describes her final action regarding me.

What an unforgettable way to learn an idiomatic expression.

Now, a year later, I realize how lucky I am to have never liked fake breasts.