Michele Markarian’s plays have been produced across the United States and UK, and appear in the anthologies The Best Ten-Minute Plays 2014 and The Best Ten-Minute Plays 2015 by Smith and Kraus and 35 in 10: Thirty Five Ten-Minute Plays by Dramatic Publishing. Her work can also be found through Heuer Publishing. Michele’s short stories have appeared in three anthologies by Wising Up Press, and the anthology inherplace.org, as well as in online journals yesteryearfiction.com, The Journal of Microliterature, The Furious Gazelle and The Prompt. Michele holds an MA in English Literature from the University of Massachusetts, and is a member of the Dramatists Guild. A collection of her plays, The Unborn Children of America and Other Family Procedures was recently published by Fomite Press. Below is an essay that will never be published.
It’s a Family Thing – Learning to Live With a Faulty Gene Pool
I grip the wheel of my 2010 Toyota Corolla, which is chugging along Route 2. I can feel myself getting whoozier as the multiple car death fantasy plays in my head, the one where I lose control of the wheel and spin around, subsequently causing other cars to crash. Was the pulsing in my chest a heart attack or anxiety? I read on the Internet that women’s heart attack symptoms and anxiety were almost the same. Heart attack or anxiety? Heart attack? Anxiety? Heart attack?
Carefully I pick up my cell phone and call my younger brother. If anyone would understand where I was coming from, he would. My husband would only panic. “Yo”, I say casually, followed by “I think I’m having a heart attack.”
Silence. “No you’re not,” he finally answers.
“How do you know?” I challenge. “Should I go to the hospital?” Just the fact that I’m asking makes me feel foolish.
He sighs. “You have low blood pressure, right?”
“Yes,” I say suspiciously, wondering what this has to do with anything.
“And you’re thin. If you call the hospital, they’ll keep you overnight. They’ll do an EKG. Believe me, they take this stuff very seriously. And nothing’s wrong.”
I am silent, wanting to and not wanting to believe him. “Have you done this?” I ask.
“Twice,” he says, and I think of my brother, so like our parents, willing themselves unhealthy and going to the doctor for every little ache and pain.
“I had a fantasy that I would have a heart attack and crash the car, leaving other people to die,’ I confess.
“Is this about Dad?”
“Why would you say that? He didn’t die in a car crash.”
“I think it might be.” The lightheaded feeling is coming back again.
“Listen, Dad was overweight. He ate like crap. He didn’t exercise.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I snap. “I know lots of people who exercise and eat right and they still get cancer. Or whatever.”
“You’re not having a heart attack. It’s probably gas. Call me later.” He hangs up.
This was somewhat reassuring – what kind of human being would willingly let their sibling die of a heart attack while driving? My brother isn’t someone who would take my life lightly.
Our father had died a month ago. The strongest personality in our household and seemingly the most invincible, he was gone. Of a massive stroke, his second. After having a quadruple bypass, two heart attacks later. I had identified with his restless, positive personality most of my life. If he could go, what about me?
Mind over matter, I tell myself. I consider taking the next exit and going home, but I am on my way to the gym, which is the first line of defense against my family’s lousy gene pool. If I think it, it will be so. I know this is ridiculous – well, kind of ridiculous – but it doesn’t stop me from inwardly chanting You are o-KAY. You are o-KAY. If I chant this enough, I can control the outcome, or at least get myself to the gym, where exercise is the great cure-all against heart attack and stroke.
I manage to pull into the parking lot. Still shaky, I clutch my Aqua Aerobics shoes and head for the pool.
“How are you, Michele?’ asks my best Aqua Aerobic buddy, Clare, who is already in the water. Clare is round, good natured, and has COPD. She is eighty five.
I consider telling Clare my heart attack/stroke scare, but in light of Clare’s health issues, I think better of it.
“Did I tell you about the book I’m reading?” says Clare, who launches into the plot before I have a chance to reply.
Clare doesn’t tell me I look peaked. Maybe I’m going to be okay. I feel a rumbling in my lower region and realize it might be gas.
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