Mary Miller

Seeing Me Special

I sat on the table, crinkling the paper. My mother sat in the chair with her purse in her lap. It was full of spent tissues and floating money I would steal and then tell her I stole, which made it less like stealing. I was having problems. There were numb spots on the bottoms of my feet—that was the big one. I spent a lot of time touching them, trying to determine if I was feeling more or less, if they were getting larger or smaller. I was aware of my feet in a way I’d never been before and thought a lot about this feeling by not feeling. It seemed important. There were other things—my balance was off, I was tired all the time—but these were less worrisome because my balance had never been very good and I’d been tired for as long as I could remember. When I felt a certain way it was hard to imagine I’d ever felt differently.

The neurologist knocked and came in before I could say come in. They all did that. He used a single knuckle, also popular. We were all very polite. He was a friend of a friend, was seeing me special. 

He held my MRI up to the light and my mother opened her purse and pulled out a tissue. I looked for twitches in his cheeks, a tightening of his jaw, news of my imminent death. In an hour I’d be watching a movie and touching the bottoms of my feet.

“I’m not impressed,” the doctor said. I looked at my mother. We waited for him to say something else. He asked if I’d done a lot of drugs. 

“No,” I said. This wasn’t true but he was a friend of a friend and my mother would have been embarrassed. She would have been disappointed. He set the picture down. I felt like I should offer him something so I said, “I’ve never done drugs but I used to drink until I blacked out.” When you lie, you should always use contractions. You shouldn’t say, for example, I have not had sexual relations with that woman. You should say you haven’t had sexual relations with that woman. You also probably shouldn’t call her that woman. I looked at my mother, clutching her tissue. 

“That could be it,” he said. He showed me what was wrong with my brain, the places where there was deterioration—it was enough to be atypical but hardly worth mentioning, nothing to worry about. I thought about my face, the scars I had from falling over. The big one was on my right eyebrow, the hair scraped clean. There was a smaller one on my chin. I’d had a number of black eyes, one of which had been so bad I hadn’t left the house for a week. I’d taken a photograph of it each morning like it was an art project. 

The doctor left the room and my mother watched me take a magazine out of the wall holder. It was so quiet I could hear her swallow.

He returned with a starter pack for an antidepressant. I’d been offered antidepressants many times. I had been on various antidepressants. They made me sleepy and sexless. When I was on Paxil, I couldn’t feel my vagina, I imagined telling him. It was like I hadn’t even had a vagina. What would he say to that? Neither the doctor nor my mother would have considered my dead vagina a problem.

“Thank you,” I said.

“Call me if you need anything,” he said, and he walked us down the hall with a hand on my back. My mother gave the lady her credit card and she said there was no charge, which made me feel even worse. All day long he saw tumors.

Mary Miller is the author of a story collection, Big World. Her fiction has appeared in McSweeney's Quarterly, Ninth Letter, Oxford American, Mississippi Review, and others. She is currently a Michener Fellow at the University of Texas, where she serves as editor-in-chief of Bat City Review.

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