Minor health issues run in my family.
Myopia. Allergies. Joint dysfunction. Hearing loss. Sleep apnea. GERD. High blood pressure. Chronic buffoonery. If it's painful or annoying, but not debilitating, then we have it.
In a more sensible age, we might have been left out in the wilderness to die, but the modern world has decided that we're worth keeping around—for at least as long as our health insurance holds out. But I've often wondered how our family line survived the rigors of the prehistoric world, where any one of our many issues would spell death at an early age.
My working hypothesis is that the tribe tolerated us and even let us breed with the other misfits, because they needed someone to go into caves and check for saber tooth cats. They would send us in and then listen from a safe distance. If all they heard was a lot of complaining about how much our knees and back hurt, or how little sleep we got the night before, they’d know it was okay to enter.
But at the first sound of an allergic sneeze, they’d all slink away quietly, plugging their ears against the screams and crunching sounds that would inevitably follow. Thus, our allergy to smilodon dander became the tribe's early warning system. Back at the settlement, the more popular Cro-Magnons would return from the expedition wearing carefully rehearsed, downtrodden expressions. They’d tell the others about the “horrible accident,” and all the cool cavemen and women would stare at their feet and try really hard not to smile.
I think that’s why cats like me so much. Ages ago, their feline ancestors got a taste for my family and it’s never quite been bred out of them. Never mind that I’m allergic as hell. All that sneezing just excites the little bastards. It’s the Pleistocene equivalent of running an electric can opener.
As recently as the middle ages, my own 20/800 uncorrected vision would make me functionally blind—a liability not just to myself but to everyone around me. Based on some genealogical research, I think my family line only survived because the villagers used us as a sort of spousal dumping ground. Other villagers would marry off their ugliest children to us, safe in the knowledge that we would never know any better.
But with modern medicine, a quick visit the optometrist is all we need to see clearly. All we we have to do is suffer through the indignity of having our optometrist shout, “Denise! Come in here and check out how blind this chick is!” If we can only weather that, we earn a prescription for glasses with a diopter more commonly found in orbital telescopes.
You laugh, but my glasses bend light so sharply that people in front of me can see the back of my head. A friend with 20/20 vision once tried my glasses on and saw several minutes into the future.
I tried contact lenses for a while, but I got tired of not being able to shut my eyes around them. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but my contacts were literally so thick that ordinary blinking dislodged them about twenty times per day. I once lost both in a mall and—I am not making this up—I had to keep one hand firmly on a friend’s shoulder, like a seeing eye dog, to keep from getting lost.
Of course, she got tired of this after a while and shrugged my hand off. Without a guide, I became hopelessly separated from my friends. So I wandered around for an hour, approaching groups of people whose blurry outlines looked familiar, lurching toward them and squinting at their faces from two inches away. “Oh, sorry,” I’d say, when I saw that I was invading the personal space of a total stranger. “I’ve just lost some nose hairs and I thought I recognized yours.”
"Stacy? Is that you?"
A security guard finally came over to me (“Such good fortune,” I thought to myself. “What are the odds of that?”) After convincing him that I was not, in fact, a deranged fetishist, he led me to an information desk and paged my friends. And then I stood there, like a lost child waiting for her parents.
My friends finally meandered over to the information desk but, instead of a joyous reunion, they approached to just within earshot, lingered outside the range of my vision, and finally said to the security guard, “Nah, that’s not our friend." And then they walked right the fuck away.
But they made the critical mistake of walking in a straight line, so I was able to figure their position with inertial navigation. I mean, seriously people, this wasn't my first rodeo. Here’s a pro tip for you: when fleeing from Robyn, run in a zig-zag.
And that's pretty much how all my health issues go. None of them are debilitating. With treatment, they’re only a minor inconvenience, but they make me even more irritating to be around. I have to explain to lunch dates that, no, we can’t eat lunch outside, unless you want your food seasoned with sneezes. “But the pollen count isn’t bad today,” they’ll say. Maybe not, but I still have to deal with photoptarmosis and some other shit that probably doesn't even have a name, the upshot of which is that I turn into a stuffed-up, delirious shamble in sunlight. Seriously, only mole rats and vampires appreciate sunlight less than I do.
“Nonsense,” my friends will say, “fresh air is good for you!”
“Uh huh,” I reply, as I struggle to breathe.
And therein lies the great irony of my family’s relationship with modern civilization. Medical advancements have made our conditions into mere annoyances, but they’ve also robbed us of our utility. There are just no more saber tigers to scout out. And while there are still plenty of ugly people around, now we can see them, and in all those generations of marrying medieval ugly dudes, we tragically never learned to lower our standards.
Consequently, our family line slowly withers away. My grandparents had four children, but each of them only reproduced once. From that generation—now in prime breeding age—there are only two offspring, with no more on the horizon. At this rate, our genetic legacy will die out within three generations.
As the world stares at its feet, and tries not to smile.