I AWOKE JUST AFTER sunrise in order to Present myself toJ-Mar Biologicals the minute their doors opened at 7:30. By 8;45 I walkedout with $10.00 in my wallet and a hole in my arm inside my elbow. Havingdone my duty to my family, I stopped to have $3.00 of gas put in the car.I stared at the ten-dollar bill in my hand, as if my gaze could somehowpenetrate its mysteries. The bill was soft, velvety and limp. I wanted tofathom its depths and capture some elusive meaning from its inscrutablesurface, since I had so blatantly exchanged something of myself for it;so soon to be handed over and lesser change to replace its meager measure.
So here we are. Within the first day, Lindsay dubbed this town "Spring-aleak-field, Oregon" and I am not only inclined to agree, I have championed the name. Springfield is the poor, shirt-tail relation to its hip and educated older cousin, Eugene, just minutes away across the (what rhymes with dammit? Willamette!) river. Eugene is a college town full of lushly shaded streetslined with sleepy little woodframe houses. Springfield is an industrialbedroom, full of unemployed loggers on welfare; the dumping ground for thosewho couldn't cut higher education.
Your eyes and nose cannot help but notice the Weyerhauser factory as youpass directly by it on the road to our rented duplex. (Try to imagine whatit would smell like if pine trees could fart.) Not to worry, this olfactorynuisance is only bothersome when the wind is blowing south, which so farseems to be a very equitable 25 percent of the time, or less. Sadly, I haveto admit that I've become accustomed to it, to the point that I simply "notice"the smell, and then tune it out.
In spite of having been here for over a month, I seem to have a last, innerresistance to settling in this exact place. In spite of the 22-foot truckand its two-ton overweight load of our Accumulated Things being emptiedcompletely at our doorstep (make no mistake: we and Our Stuff aren't goinganyplace else anytime soon), I've been plagued by a feeling--a nagging,irrational, unnamed, quasi-anxiety-that our life here is somehow 'Ltemporary."In spite of all the evidence to the contrary, I have held out inside myinnermost heart that this duplex (with its avocado appliances, matted carpet,pitted linoleum, bathroom door hung backwards, huge though harmless twoand a half spiders. . .. I could go on), that this job of Lindsay's (myintelligent, witty, talented husband pumping gas), that this financial wreckis really our life. We are still living suitcase-style three months afterabandoning our tenuous toe-hold on normality in Los Angeles.
"WE DON'T WANT YOU BACK. They didn't say this, exactly, but that'swhat they meant, and I don't stick around where I'm not wanted. They'd haveone helluva lawsuit on their hands were it not for one very fatal mistakeI made just before leaving to give birth. Thus am I repaid for all my dedication,(forexample, staying on the phone long distance for two hours while enduringfirst stage labor up to just before transition) .
"THEY DID ME A FAVOR." I didn't honestly have the guts to leavea colicky 8-week old infant with Lindsay and try to keep up my supply ofbreast milk while working ten-hour days and attempting to do the work oftwo or three people and failing dismally. Still, when I turned on PBS thatevening to watch "The Computer, the KGB, and Me" and saw all thoseten-inch magnetic tape reels and printers and CRTs, I felt a hole in mysoul; a cavernous maw opening wider and wider; an expanding, terrifyingemptiness. I turned the TV and VCR off, unable to continue watching.
Today, after living in this duplex for six weeks, I promised Lindsay thatwhile he is gone doing laundry and donating plasma on his day off that Iwould put all the clothes away, so that when he returns home with the pilesof clean clothes we can put those away too. I promised, but it feels empty,like I'm trying to force myself into admitting something I haven't conceptuallygrasped, even now.
At first, I found I was reluctant to admit that Lindsay and I are donatingplasma to put food on the table. This is something wines do to buy theirnext bottle, not middle-class Mormon princesses who grew up with a washerand dryer in the basement and shoes from J.C. Penney. Still, my mother didn'tsound surprised or shocked at all when I mentioned this to her, althoughthis could have been studied nonchalance on her part.
I expect I would feel insufferably noble about my bi-weekly donations, werethey not dictated by sheer financial necessity. My first year in collegeI participated in a Red Cross blood drive. The nurse had to wiggle thisHUGE needle around in my arm for a couple YEARS before my blood would flow.NO FUN. In spire of many opportunities over the years, particularly at sciencefiction conventions, I have never offered myself up for that sort of experienceagain. (Can anyone blame me?) Until now, that is. When I was pregnant withmy firstborn, the obstetrician's nurse could not get any sort of blood sample,let alone the three and a half vials they wanted. She stuck me at leastfive times with NO RESULTS before she gave up and called in the doctor,who stuck the side of my wrist, over my thumb. It was so sore that no onecould take even the slightest hold of that wrist for three weeks. (I havenever felt so completely manhandled and mistreated by the medical establishmentas I felt from that office visit. There's just nothing to equal the experienceof meeting for the first time the person in whose hands you will place yourlife and life of our baby after freezing your butt off for twenty minutescompletely naked under nothing but a crummy sheet.)
Since that time my experience has given me cause to believe those technicianswere simply somewhat inept and doubtless inexperienced. Lab technicianswho stick people all day long for a living generally know what they're doing.
Notwithstanding, on my first visit to J-Mar the guy next to me had a verybad experience (complete with several exclamations of pain and blood onthe armrest) and the technician had to call over the (obvious) expert oftheir group. She had gone too far and had punctured his muscle tissue. Ikept my eyes on her the first time she stuck me, but it was prest-bingoand she said "Good Flow." So far I've had no repeat of my collegefreshman experience. Luckily, on my first visit I had the "expert,"and the man next to me went through this trauma after I was already hookedand going (not that even what I saw and heard would have deterred me thatfirst time). Just yesterday Lindsay had a painful experience similar tomy unfortunate first-time neighbor. He really earned that bonus, as I supposeI will take my lumps too, at some point.
Let no one mistake: there is not the slightest thing generous about this.It is a purely selfish act and my conscience is assuaged only by the knowledgethat J-Mar is obviously making money off my body's ability to reproduceplasma, and the plasma I "donate" is clean and untainted by HIVor other infections. I'm sure they lose a lot of money from first-time donorswho are dishonest and subsequently rejected, not to mention those donorswho are initially false negative and who are--eventually (we hope!)-caughtthrough random testing. So at the very least I do get to be unabashedlyhonest as I respond to the same old questions every time, again and again.And it's not such a god-awful way to spend an hour or so. The techniciansare very friendly and I get to read without interruption.
I must confess the first several visits I found the sight of multiple recliningbodies hooked up to machines somewhat comical, reminding me of the movieA Boy and His Dog ("What God has joined let no man put asunder").But just like the acrid stench from the local paper factory, I've becomeaccustomed to the sight and now I don't find anything particularly odd,ironical, or otherwise notable about it, though I keep looking for the hiddenmeaning, as if it has only temporarily gone undercover and will re-emergeif I just stare long enough without blinking.
So here we are. We are surviving just barely) and my self-esteem is slowlyon the mend. I still have mixed feelings about being a plasma donor. There'sa sense of helplessness that flows out from my soul like water when I lookat a Pile of laundry in the corner. At $1.50 a load, it piles up fasterthan J-Mar can pay for it. Spend an hour or so hooked up to a machine, puta few dollars of gas in the car, buy a couple cans of tuna, a couple gallonsof milk, do a load of diapers, a load ofjeans, and then you're broke again.Lindsay got paid, and I have a wish list that includes baby powder, light-bulbs,and shoelaces....
NEVERTHELESS: in spite of everything...or maybe because of everything...ohwhat the hell. I think I will put those clothes away into drawers today,after all.
It started off badly. A painful stick and not a very good flow. Blood clots in the tubes. High pressure on the return cycle. Bruising of surroundingtissues. Burning sensation at the lightest touch. Bleeding under the skin:Hematoma. Give up on that one. Switch to other arm. More comfortable butneedle clotted in short order. Try again a half-inch lower down on the vein.More bruising. Poor flow. Hematoma. If the red blood cells are not returned,donation is halted for eight weeks. I submit to one last stick, to get thered blood cells back. Manager uses smaller size vein on first arm. We mutuallyagree to a slow return due to the size of the vein. It works, with no damageto vein or surrounding tissues. Units donated equals 500 of850.
I get paid, but I can't donate again until the bruise is three inches fromthe venal puncture site." Both my arms are screwed up. Lindsay stillhas one good arm. Tough times are ahead unless the computer support positionfrom A-i Employment Service comes through.
I can't wait to get home and put ice on my wounds and generally fall apart.Both arms are VERY SORE. I am shaken by the experience. I feel small, vulnerable,fragile, and injured; betrayed by my own body. My confidence is quiveringin the corner. I have curled up inside myself, and I long to curl up onmy bed and close my eyes and sleep.
-- Faye Manning