Love in Exam Room C I’m sitting on crinkly paper in a doctor’s office, staring at a banal photograph of a beach with turquoise water and tall palms, when the nurse comes in and asks me what is going on. I look down. “It’s my penis.” I had rehearsed something better on the drive over, but I’ve never been a good actor. I was in Grease some twenty years ago, but I feel like my high school drama teacher still regrets the move. The nurse keeps it together, calm as the framed ocean photo above her head. “STD?” she asks. “No,” I say. “Okay.” She turns, exits the door, and I wriggle on the paper. I’ve been in this office dozens of times with the “greatest hits” of illnesses, but this time, I’m sure Dr. Thompson will be shocked. “Hey!” Dr. Thompson says, bursting through the door with his usual energy. His mustache is grayer than the last time I was here for a routine physical. A tie stretches over his belly. “Read your chart. What’s up?” I deliver the news: “I was with this woman that I’m really into, and, well, nothing worked.” I think of Liz and our French meal two nights prior at some fancy Hollywood place. We shared beef tartare, talked about her love of old Cary Grant films, and walked Sunset like an eHarmony ad. Only, well, for the evening to end like something of a blue-pill promo. She was beyond sweet afterwards. The kind of tenderness that only made not being able to please her more difficult. “It happens, you know? Don’t worry,” she’d said. Dr. Thompson continues to flip through my chart. “Well, your blood work from a year or so ago looks great.” He places his stethoscope against my chest. I think of all four chambers of my heart beating, keeping me alive—a ticking of a clock that has been through every second of my life. “Anything new besides this?” Dr. Thompson says, clicking his pen that advertises Lipitor. “Not really, except for Liz. I drink green juice now, too.” “Tell me about her.” Dr. Thompson sits on a stool and wheels himself my way. There’s something primal about doctors’ offices. Science takes precedence, and the need to be tough fades. We are here to jettison the daily pain that we are accustomed to carrying. We are asked—expected even—to be fragile. “So?” he says again. “I never want to let her down. It’s strange, but I want to be perfect for her.” “Has this issue happened before?” “Twice. Both with her.” “How old are you now?” he asks. “35.” “I’ve known you since you were a kid. Maybe thirty years then . . .” “True.” “I remember all those ear infections. We’ll do another blood test, and an EKG, too. Next week is good for that. Sometimes this is a heart thing, but you have a good heart.” “That’s what my mom says.” “Not what I mean.” He smiles. “I’ll also prescribe some Viagra, so you can override your brain. I feel like that’s it.” He pats my knee. I picture one of those commercials of people in their fifties, enjoying a ride in a ’65 Mustang convertible, their salt-and-pepper hair swirling in the wind. “This sex means something to you?” he asks. “Yes.” “Maybe that’s a change. Your brain is telling you it matters . . . that it’s more than an act.” Dr. Thompson smooths his mustache. “Anxiety is often a body’s way of signifying importance.” He rises. “Are you in love?” “I might be.” “Have you ever been in love before?” “I don’t think so.” “I ask,” Dr. Thompson says, “because the same thing happened to me when I first dated my wife . . . way back.” I listen attentively. He continues: “It was as though my body wasn’t ready for love. They didn’t have the pills they have now, but she was patient and, well, it went on for months.” “Oh,” I say. “Viagra wouldn’t let that happen to you.” “Is that the one with the bathtubs?” I ask. “That’s Cialis.” “Why aren’t they in the same bathtub?” I ask. “That might help.” Dr. Thompson grins. “You know how it got better for me?” “How?” “Four months in, my car died. I was broke, just starting med school in Missouri.” He slides his pen into his shirt pocket. “There was a diner across the way, so we got out, and it was pouring rain. We sprinted to the diner. I made a call, and we ate some pancakes and eggs, even though it was the middle of the afternoon. Afterwards, the rain cleared, and while we watched the tow-truck guy hook up my car, she leaned in and whispered that she loved me. It was what I needed to hear—what my body needed to hear, too,” Dr. Thompson stops and exhales. I nod. Dr. Thompson kneads his forehead. “Maybe I need a story like that?” I say. “Maybe you need to say the words.” He stares at the floor, notices his dress shoe is untied, and reaches down to fix it. “It’s not like that anymore. We divorced some time ago. But still . . .” We sit in silence for a few moments. The fluorescent bulbs flicker. “That story is what matters, though,” I say, trying to fill the exam room with some human light. “Just because things aren’t the same, doesn’t mean they weren’t perfect at some point. It’ll always be frozen that way forever.” The afternoon sun slices through the blinds, and Dr. Thompson rises to adjust the shades. “That’s true,” he says. “It wasn’t a dream.” He pauses. “If only everything was a pill,” he says. “A blood issue, an iron deficiency—something you could cure with a Z-Pack.” “Yeah,” I say. “I miss her,” he says. “Pain’s a weird form of love, right?” “For sure,” he says. “Well,” he adds, and I take that as my cue that we’re all set. I stand, and he pats me on the shoulder, much like he did all those years ago, before I stopped taking lollipops. He scribbles on his pad and hands me a small slip of paper. “I’ll be thinking of you.” We look at each other for a few seconds. Even though we see each other infrequently, there’s a bond. Something soft between us that is only strengthened by sharing secrets. We smile with only our lips before sharing a little embrace. He rubs the space between my shoulder blades and follows it with a soft pat. I leave the office. The sun is now tucked away. And here I am, strolling across the parking lot, clutching a prescription for pills in one hand—and in the other, a few words that need to be delivered.
Beeper Peddle is a writer and healer living on the East Coast. She lives with her partner and their beloved soul puppy. Beeper writes about sorrows, lies, and deep loves. When you read her work, you will dip down into her heart and end up in all manner of body parts. Should you find yourself reflected in these words, it is merely coincidence; however, it does not surprise her you share the same heart. Find her at bethpeddle.com and @beeperpeddle on Twitter and Instagram
Mathieu Cailler is an award-winning writer of poetry, fiction, essays, and children’s books. His work has appeared in many national and international publications, including The Saturday Evening Post and the Los Angeles Times. He is the author of six books, his most recent being the novel, Heaven and Other Zip Codes (Open Books), winner of the 2021 Los Angeles Book Festival Prize. For more information, please visit mathieucailler.com.