I woke up in the hospital. It was a relief, because when I fell asleep I was in the hospital. The last thing I remember was fumbling for my insurance card – who takes their insurance card out for a jog, right? Anyway, it was two a.m., and my next-door neighbor had been yelling for more painkillers for an hour, but the nurse walked into my room.
“Hi, I'm Amy. I'm your night nurse. I'm here to give you your exposition injection?”
“My what?” But before she answered me, Amy had injected something into my I.V.
“You should start feeling better in a minute.”
And sure enough, before she had even left the room I felt like I had read twenty pages of tedious backstory, enough to send me crashing back to sleep.
I awoke as someone was putting a thermometer in my mouth. I opened my eyes to see a small, wiry man in scrubs smiling at me.
“Good morning! I'm Phil Baker. I'm your plot doctor.”
“Well, we've run some tests, and it turns out you're a two-dimensional character.” He held my chart out in front of him and flipped through more pages than I thought were warranted for an overnight stay. “Let's see, you're a thirty-one year old biochemist with twelve patents for breakthrough drugs, and you're an ultra-marathon runner. You lost your college boyfriend, a fledgling broker, on 9/11 and are still mourning his loss, choosing to bury yourself in your work. You've been told you look like a model, but you're insecure and doubt you could ever love another man.”
“Um...was that on my blood test?”
He looked at a page of pie charts and graphs. “I see you're also a black belt in tae kwon do and a gourmet cook.”
“Well, yes, but...”
“Ms., um...” here he consulted his file. “Can I call you Mary Sue?”
“That's not my–”
“In layman's term, you're a cliché.”
And suddenly, I knew it was true. The wasted years, the hours of revisions, and all I had to show for it was a stellar career, a perfect body and my family's fortune. I turned my face to the pillow as tears tracked down my cheeks, leaving my eye makeup untouched.
“We've got some experimental therapies we could try,” he said, taking my hand. “Don't worry. We can fix this.”
I was back in his office a week later for my follow-up.
“Well, how're you feeling?”
“I don't know that anything has changed. I tried watching television, but that crap was all just so...unbelievable.”
“Interesting,” he said, making a note on my chart. “And how about the mall?”
“I went, but I couldn't find a parking place. I just can't get excited about driving at all, unless I'm going on a really long motorcycle trip where I have plenty of time to think about my life and what it means, and wear black leather.”
“I'm going to put you into therapy.”
“Is physical therapy necessary for my condition?” I asked, my enormous eyes dewy with concern and barely-repressed sex appeal.
“It's less physical and more...structural,” the doctor said, with a nuance that I could only dream of. “She's not a physical therapist. She's an MFA.”
I spent two afternoons a week with the therapist, a waiflike woman with black leggings, too much chunky silver jewelry and a haircut that looked as though she'd lost a bet. We talked for hours, discovering that we both loved herbal tea, cried when we saw photos of cute puppies, and had thought about becoming ballerinas when we were children, although I had spent years studying dance before turning my heart to medicine while she had taken lessons at the local Y for a summer before giving it up because it was just too much bother. She asked me about my motivation, about anything from my past that might uncover some secret weakness that would allow normal people to identify with me.
Had I ever worn a diaper on a long road trip? Of course not. Was I unable to remember the names or faces of those I've met? My eidetic memory is more a curse than a blessing, I told her. Was I a terrible dancer, forcing me to sit at the table and watch everyone else's purses at parties? Well, ballet wasn't my only passion – I did competitive ballroom dance as a hobby, and dancing at clubs helped keep me in shape and gave me new dance step ideas.
I stared deeply into her eyes as we talked, and I thought that we were really communicating. By our last session three months later, I thought that she might even be falling in love with me a little bit. Everybody does.
When I went to my doctor for a last check-up, though, I found out the truth.
“I got Ms. Fullerton's report,” he said, flipping through my enormous file. “It doesn't look good.”
My large, blue, slightly-tilted eyes misted over on cue, and a single crease of concern appeared between my perfectly-plucked brows. “But I thought we really got along,” I said.
“Well, let's just say that it's not what Ms. Fullerton wrote. It's what she didn't write. She loves you. She thinks you're perfect. She's now in therapy for depression brought on by comparing herself to you.”
My initial shock of guilt and concern was quelled by the realization that other people's defects weren't my fault, and that I had to give other people space to solve their own problems. In Ms. Fullerton's case, a really lot of space. Miles.
“I've written you a few more prescriptions,” the doctor said, handing me a bunch of little paper slips. I looked at them, confused by the absence of references to medication.
“Target? Home Depot? Safeway? Cheesecake Factory?”
“Just follow the instructions on each slip. I'll see you next week.”
Exactly a week later, I sat in the doctor's waiting room, hot and uncomfortable.
“Mary Sue?” the nurse called from the doorway. “Step on the scale, please.”
I gasped when I saw that I had gained four pounds over the week. My weight, which hadn't varied by more than an ounce or two since my senior year of high school, had shot up by four pounds.
“Mary Sue, it's nice to see you. How are you doing?” the doctor asked. “I see you've followed my instructions.”
“I'm considering suing you,” I said without smiling. I wanted him to know I was serious. “I bought the clothes you recommended. They don't fit. The pants keep crawling up my butt, and they're all baggy in the front. Who sews these things together? Blind people?”
“I thought you looked very nice,” the doctor lied. “And how did your trip to Home Depot go?”
“They threw me out.”
The doctor's eyes first widened in shock, then he hid a smile behind his hand. “What happened?”
“I bought the shelves like you told me. I got them all put together, but then I realized that I didn't have the right screws to fasten them to the walls. I went back for the screws, but when I got home I realized I needed something called an anchor bolt. I went back for it, but realized I needed a Philips head screwdriver for it. After about my sixth trip just to put up the damn shelves, I punched a guy in the paint section who asked me if I needed help.”
“Oh, that's too bad,” the doctor said with a smile that said it was anything but. “So, you're feeling a little stressed?”
“Is that what this is? I was afraid I was getting cancer. My heart is racing, I feel tired, I'm hungry all the time, but on all these pointless errands, I don't have time to do the gourmet cooking I'm used to. I've been living on Red Bull and Funyuns. I've gained FOUR POUNDS.”
“And you've got a little pimple on your chin,” the doctor said.
The nurse escorted me from the building as the doctor picked himself up from the floor.