Kage Baker spent a lot of her high school time in hiding. As we went to a Catholic girls’ school – good old Immaculate Heart High School, just below Ferndale in Griffith Park – the whole place was pretty much in purdah anyway. So what Kage was hiding from was all the other adolescent females that noisily infested the place.
I know there are good arguments for one-sex high schools. God knows, we had enough to distract us without adding boys. But when you keep teenaged girls in a box for 8 hours a day, ruthlessly chaperoned by ritual virgins, some essential socialization fails to occur. We all managed to grow past the maidenly hive-mind eventually, but it wasn’t an environment Kage really liked. So in order to pursue her own interests, she tended to stake out hiding places where she wouldn’t be sucked into the semi-hysterical social life of the bee hive. There were too many sports, clubs, cliques, activities; and all of them with the humid, catty atmosphere of the harem.
So she found out of the way places, and in between classes, she retired to happy isolation. Her friends and family all knew where to find her. There she’d be, writing or reading or drawing, or sometimes telling Tarot fortunes at 25 cents the pop to keep herself in Doritos and Cherry Coke.
Her favourite place was the cafeteria. Well, it had been the cafeteria when the school had one; in our time, it was a secondary study hall. Its virtues over the regular study hall were that there was NO supervision (although if you got too noisy, an enraged nun with lasers shooting out of her eyes would materialize from the nearest classroom), and you could eat in there. There were no cafeteria ladies; instead, one whole wall was lined with snack and drink machines. I’m pretty sure the goodies on offer actually had negative nutritional values, but they tasted great.
I, too, spent my free time in the cafeteria, talking or listening to Kage. She sat by the back door, at the table most people disliked because of the draft from the doors; it was quiet back there. I was usually lying flat on my back on the table, due to a long and vicious war with my right kidney. For most of high school, sitting up hurt too much to be indulged in except in classes where the teachers were uptight about students on the floor.
See, I was born with a kink in my right ureter – the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder. As I grew into physical maturity, the kink interfered more and more with an easy progress of fluids. At frequent intervals, the damned thing just swelled shut; when the back up reached my kidney, pain was the result. Amazing, excruciating pain; pain that ran on for hours, until I would begin vomiting. Eventually the swelling would go down, my kidney would drain, and I’d be all right for a few days.
We called these attacks “the side-aches”, as most of the pain was low on my right side. In my family, that word – side-ache – never meant anything but my attacks. It meant I would be spending the next 10 or 12 hours lying down anywhere I could; I’d develop roaring tinnitus from the amount of aspirin I took to try and kill the pain; and before too long, I’d be vomiting my guts up. All this in the one word … families always have words like this, though. Father’s “condition”, Mother’s “sensitivity”; genteel code for what was usually a pretty nasty problem … Kathleen’s side-ache.
At 14, no one knew what it was. It got diagnosed pretty quickly, but various doctors told my parents I’d outgrow it. And I did have another kidney, which worked perfectly well, so my danger of uremic poisoning or kidney failure were quite low. However, by 18, so were my chances of staying on my feet for more than two hours at a time; and after an epic bout of projectile vomiting and raving on my part, surgery was finally scheduled. The problem was pretty much solved. I’ve had the occasional side-ache since – and my right kidney still resembles a mutant cantaloupe rather than a kidney bean – but the last 40 years have been much easier.
“Side-ache” is still family code, though. And on the rare occasions when that special twinge begins, the rest of my body goes into a system-wide panic. My body and I are afraid of that demonic kidney.
When I had my hysterectomy this year, my lovely little doctor told me my pelvis was an absolute Sargasso Sea of scar tissue. She couldn’t even find my right ovary in that mass of Nature’s duct tape. So she left it there. It’s one of the things that will be checked on every three months for the next 5 years … and last night, the old monster in my side decided to wake up and prowl. I developed, to my horror and disbelief, a rip-roaring side-ache.
It’s probably the result of another FOO, that settled in my Achilles kidney. And I’ll certainly tell my doctor about it later this month. In the meantime, I’ve been down for a couple of days in a paranoid haze of pain killers and muscle relaxants. Fortunately, the yard work and the dryer got taken care of before I was felled!
Anyway. I hate my kidney. My kidney hates me. If my doctor can’t convince it to behave, I think I’ll beg to have it taken out and fed to the cats. Of course, I’ve been threatening that since I spent my afternoons lying on a table in the cafeteria, listening to Kage tell me what became The Anvil of the World and its associated tales …
Oh, well. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as Sister Thomas Moore used to say. And it’s not so bad – Kage has a new book out and I have a side-ache. Welcome back to high school, I guess.