November 30, 2005

Incidents with Animegirl


I am taking Mr. Brooklyn’s daughter, 14-year-old Animegirl*, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art one Sunday. (Mr. Brooklyn's son, Gamerboy, has decided to stay home with Dad for purposes related to his namesake.)

We begin with breakfast at a neighborhood diner. There are four diners within walking distance of the apartment I share with Mr. Brooklyn and, on weekends, his kids. Four we’ve found so far, that is. I’m pretty sure there are others. One of the wonders of the neighborhood.

Animegirl is in a lively mood considering the hour. We discuss various matters teenage as we board the F train to Manhattan. She has an interesting perspective on many things.

A few minutes into the ride I’m startled to feel That Feeling.

Bad. We just ate. If I am low now, it’s probably a nasty one.

I pull out my meter and poke a fingertip as the train bumps along. Animegirl has seen this many times, but we’ve always been with her dad and brother before. Today she has a question.

“Do you have scars on your fingers from doing that?”

“Not really,” I say, showing my hands. “Well, sort of. I get little dots where the blood vessels break sometimes.” Animegirl squints at my fingers. The dots are too small for her to see at this distance.

Meanwhile, my meter has done its job. 67, not a good number for a person with several units of insulin on board.

Grrr, I think. Lousy way to start the day. Stupid diabetes. Well, whatever. I’ll just eat a zillion glucose tablets and I’ll be fine.

I reach into my purse. Immediately I know. There’s a tube-shaped void in the compartment where the tablets normally sit. They’re in your other bag. Idiot.

This has happened before--rarely--but never when I’ve had a serious low. I always carry carbs with me. Always. Well: practically always.

I am on a moving train with a hypo coming on and no food.

“Do you have any candy? Anything to eat at all?” I ask Animegirl with deliberate calm. It seems very important not to freak her out. I don’t want to ruin the day. And she might not want to go places with me if this kind of shit appears to be the result.

She has no food either. I explain that we’ll have to get off the train because my blood sugar is low and I need something to eat. She asks some questions: how does it get too low? What happens if I don’t eat? I answer in what may or may not be intelligible English sentences.

I’m not familiar with the next stop--we’re still in Brooklyn but no longer in the small section I know--but surely there’s a store nearby. This is New York. There’s one of everything near the subway. But this station turns out to be deserted, tomblike, no stores in sight. Only some warehousey structure, maybe a school, in front of us when we emerge from underground. No people at all.

I select a random direction and start walking. Feeling shakier. Within half a block I see a newsstand. Phew. I heart New York.

I choose orange juice; Animegirl gets a strawberry Hershey bar. We return to the train. I retest as it rolls away. 78. The right direction.

“You deal with it well,” Animegirl says.

I feel like I’ve won a medal. “Thanks,” I tell her.

“I don’t think I could do it.”

“Actually,” I answer, “you could. You would adapt just like I have.”

She ponders this for a moment, then nods.

For the next few hours, she periodically offers me a piece of Hershey bar. But I don’t go low again, the art museum is astounding, and we have a wonderful time. Wonderful.


Animegirl is sick this weekend. She has a lousy cold and menstrual cramps.

I offer cold remedies, Tylenol, Advil. She declines. “I never take anything when I’m sick,” she states in a lofty tone of the sort one might use to announce an ethical stance on, say, the death penalty. “I don’t believe in medicine.”

I have, as you might imagine, a few small observations to offer in response to this. But I bite my tongue. She spoke as she did because she isn’t thinking of me as a person with a chronic disease, which on the whole is very much a Good Thing. And she’s sick. And I adore her. Cut the kid some slack, I instruct myself.

But I can’t. I stew quietly about her words. She’s entitled, of course, to take care of herself (or not) as she wishes. And I can appreciate the desire to thwart our cultural tendency toward overmedication. It’s also a good thing that she’s an active thinker, something of a nonconformist, a young person busily engaged in the work of figuring out who she is. I admire and (frankly) envy her these qualities.

Flip side: To be able to scorn medicine is a luxury that only a person privileged with near-perfect health can indulge--unless one is willing to suffer serious physical decline, which, cold and cramps notwithstanding, Animegirl is not currently at risk of doing. Both her stance and the slight smugness that accompanies it are enabled by good fortune, a good fortune I once had but now lack. Another thing I envy her.

Flip flip side: What’s my role in Animegirl’s life and growth as a young human being? I’m Dad’s live-in girlfriend, not her mother or teacher or counselor. Do I help her develop empathy for the less fortunate (in this case, me)? Am I entitled to decide what empathy might mean for her or whether she needs more of it? Why? Maybe she’s fine the way she is, and I’m simply pissed off because I’m diabetic and I just turned 34 to boot. (Stupid mid-thirties with no baby in the near future. Bah.)

Flip flip flip (it’s a pyramid, you see): Does a person with a chronic illness have an obligation to raise the awareness of others? Can I just be Dad’s girlfriend, or do I also have to be Dad’s girlfriend who has diabetes? If the latter, do I have to be that person all the time or do I get a break now and then? Why should I be stuck with that burden? Or am I just grousing about the burden of being an adult in relation to a child, the burden of trying to help a younger person mature and develop wisdom? Maybe that's it; it's a very new situation for me.

The next morning, Animegirl sneezes vociferously as we walk to breakfast. Deep thinking be damned. I pounce on the opportunity.

“Sure you don’t want something for your cold?”

She shakes her head no.

“You know,” I say, “if I refused to take medicine, I’d be dead by now. Literally dead. So I take insulin.”

She pauses. And ponders. And sees my (unsubtle, ungraceful, and somewhat self-indulgent) point.

“Stick with that,” she says finally. And sniffles.

*anime: Japanese-style animated series and movies

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