Monkey Bar

November 18, 1972

The doctor stares at the welts on my thighs, scarred with deep scratch marks.

“What have we here?” He asks in that doctor way of including himself in every misery. As doctors do, he answered himself. “Hives. Urticaria, to be precise.”

“I am miserable.” I allowed, “What can I do to stop this torture?”

He glares at the book sitting next to me on the examining table. The one I had been reading whenever I could make the time with two children under two. The Feminine Mystique.

“You could start by throwing that propaganda away,” he says. “That feminism stuff just causes more problems for you young girls. Where is your husband? I sure wouldn’t let my wife read this cr…,”. He catches himself and amends, “…subversive material.”

It has been almost 10 years since Betty wrote this book. Ten years since she named “The Problem That Has No Name.” It has been almost 4 years since I married and moved here with my kama’aina husband, after we graduated from college on the mainland. I will turn a quarter of a century old tomorrow. I feel more like 50, like an old, old lady.

We all talked about it in college, Friedan’s book. Vietnam, civil rights, the Beatles and the Stones? They all blend together now in my sleep deprived, island isolation. I remembered, vaguely, how at that college, I had learned terms like cognitive dissonance and women’s rights, but the labels hadn’t meant anything to me. Then. Now this book is stirring it up.

Dr. McArdle chuckles, “Maybe I’ll publish a paper on it: feminism causes hives.”
Delighted with himself, he turns away, tells me to get dressed, scratches out a prescription, changes it when he learns I am still nursing my baby, and sends me packing.

I clutch my book to my heart as I leave his office. He again reminds me to think about what I may have done, eaten, drunk the days before this attack. and to not do any of it again. His parting words are, “It could be the lobster, but I think it might be more than that. Hives can have an emotional base too. Hormonal, sometimes. And, honey, throw that book away.”

. . .
November 17, 1972

The dress hasn’t been worn since before I got too big with Mike, my two year old son. Before I was ready to get into it again, still nursing Mike and my boobs being too big, I got pregnant with Brian. I have big ones still, now nursing Brian, but I am determined to squeeze into this sexy thing for my first night out with my husband away from the kids, the first date since … forever. I’ve read the advice in my women’s magazines. This just one of 500 ways to keep my man happy.

I stuff cotton balls into both cups of my nursing bra, to soak it up if my milk lets down before I return home. The little lumps on top of the big lumps push my titties out even further over the top of the low cut lace cocktail dress. It looks like I have nipples growing on my nipples. I pull the cotton out as I decide to risk it. I’ll nurse the baby right before I walk out the door. And then off we go to the Pearl City Tavern, home of the famous Monkey Bar and lobster dinners.

….

At the bar, I look behind the bartender as he brings me Mai Tai number 2. The monkey stares at me through the plexiglass. Her huge brown eyes bore into mine, hold me captive, convince me she has a message to deliver. I don’t think the drinks have anything to do with this telepathic conversation. I try to break the gaze, but first I must answer her.

I know how you feel, I tell her silently. Is that your partner there, the big guy showing off on the highest branch behind you? He is good looking, for sure, but does he respect you?

My monkey comes closer to the glass and pushes her face up against it. She looks like she is trying to kiss me. My mind hears her words, “Get me out of here. Let’s run away.”

I am about to respond when My husband’s voice shakes me out of my trance. “Did you remember that I’m going to the Big Island on Monday? I need my suitcase aired out tomorrow. And please make sure my aloha shirts are ready to pack.”

I start to tell him to stuff his own shirt into his own suitcase, but instead I hold back. I smile sweetly and tell my new best friend, Ms. Monkey, instead. She listens attentively then swings away, disappearing into a hidey-hole in the small plexiglass box that makes up her universe. I didn’t even get to tell her good bye.

I drain my drink as we are led to our table by a muumuu clad hostess. She ties on my lobster bib, and hands me a warm, wet hand towel, smelling like pikake. I poke and prod the huge lobster placed before me, digging out the pink and white flesh, dipping in in hot, melted butter, and bring it, dripping, into my open, willing maw.

We stare at each other, not talking about the recent presidential election (Nixon again, God), the book I’m reading, the kids, our misery, nothing about everything I had mentally prepared to speak about as I fantasized about this early birthday celebration.

And worse, he doesn’t touch me when we get home.

….
November 16, 19720

The phone rings and I grab it before it wakes the baby. I feel like my titties have been his pacifier today and Mike, his not-much-older big brother, is jockeying for position in the “who can be the whiniest baby” contest. Then just before nap time, Mike pulled down his diapers, squatted in the corner and shit on the floor. D’Artagnan, our goddam puppy came along and ate the shit. I barely made it into the bathroom to barf. God! Do not let them wake up early from this nap.

Click. This is the third hang- up in as many days. Who the hell keeps calling and hanging up?

Pat comes in from outside where he is (miraculously) tending the lawn. This is the first time he has been home all day in months. Some special project at work has him going to outer islands almost weekly, often for overnighters.

“Who was that?” He sounds funny, a little scared, maybe. “A wahine?”

“No. Another hang- up.”

“Next time let me get it,” he demands.

The baby cries then and I move to pick him up before he disturbs his brother. I turn my head and hiss, in the general direction of my husband, “This better not be starting again…”

November 15, 1972

The walk over to the Ewa Beach library is pleasant today, even with a wobbly stroller wheel and a reluctant toddler stuffed behind his little baby brother’s sleeping body.

“Stay in the stroller, buddy. We’ll get you 5 books today. Sit down, honey, please.”

“Goodnight, Moon? Ferdinand bull?”

“Sure. You can pick whatever ones you want, big boy.”

When we get there, the story lady has him enthralled with a inspired rendition of Fortunately, so I can wander about the shelves with only the sleeping baby to keep me company. Do I dare pick out something for myself, something with vocabulary words meant for audiences a little older than 2?

Then I see it. Sitting on the counter, abandoned by her last peruser, is an old friend, one I haven’t heard from in years. I am taking her home for coffee to visit with when and if the boys ever fall asleep at the same time.

Hello, Feminine Mystique.


November 14, 1972

I stare in the mirror at my pale thin face. In less than a week I will be 25. A quarter of a century. All the big things have happened already…marriage, childbirth, buying a house, the new car. I can’t think of a single thing to look forward to. Is this all there is?

January 15, 2013

Epilogue

The hives faded by my birthday and were gone before the next week ended. They return sometimes, most often close to my more significant birthdays, to tell me to listen to my heart. They never declare their origins or cure. Then, like the monkey, like the first husband, like the life I lived in Hawaii, they disappear.

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4 Responses to Monkey Bar

  1. Caroline Commins says:

    Loved it, Donna!!!

  2. Patti says:

    Love it and love the monkey bar

  3. Barbara Toboni says:

    Love the details and the Monkey Bar, the way you move the time backwards. Good work, Donna.

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