Ace & Cyborg

I think he’s not going to work because his sugar is low. I think he’s not going to work because his sugar is low because his pump is giving him too much insulin. I think he’s not going to work because his sugar is low because his pump is giving him too much insulin because he ate too many carbs. I think he’s not going to work not because he’s depressed.

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Once, my friend asked you if you carried a beeper. A lighthearted, but unknowingly malicious comment directed at the brown case attached to your belt. Always off to the side, always in that luscious space right before where the hip bone protrudes. You tuck in your shirt, a relic leftover from the cornfields in Indiana, barefoot days after Sunday-morning church. I wish you wouldn’t. I wish you wouldn’t not because of the pocket-sized machine that dangles, not because of the wire tubing that connects the machine to your stomach or ass, not because of the insulin I hear pumping through the tube at odd times during the night before you wake up from low blood sugar and eat a few fistfuls of candy in the backlight of our pantry – you, slumped over; you, tired from the lack of sleep every night; you, exhausted in your physical body, the body that is always trying, but never quite can. I wish you wouldn’t tuck in your shirt because it makes you look like middle-management from the mid-90s.

The pump whirrs again. This time the tubing rests between us on the couch as we sit on opposite ends, both of us clinging to the oversized arms. You aren’t guarding it from my cat like you should be. She’s on the coffee table and her eyes haven’t moved as she plans when to pounce. Her ears twitch and lay back against her head, disrupting her concentration. Her tail flicks. You don’t notice any of this because, as I stare at my cat, you stare at me. And when she does finally pounce, you laugh and say, “She’s trying to kill me!”

I’m string out by all the needles under the sink in the bathroom. Used and unused, air bubbles are flicked out while the orange cap rests between your lips and fill your pump. Remember that time we kept a spilled bag of used needles in our car’s trunk for months? Grocery shopping without you was never, really, without you. I had the needles to remind me to cut back on the pasta, rice, potatoes. Now that the trunk is clean, I make you get groceries with me, but not because I need the reminder anymore. It’s to make sure you get some tiny bit of exercise after sitting inside all day.

I know you know this, but someone else needs to say it.

I hear you from the bedroom, the lazy Sunday mornings when I try to stay in bed too late and you try to match my sleeping patterns but can’t. I hear the plastic tearing, the flicking of the syringe. I hear the sharp inhale, the click that happens when you reopen an injection site that was trying to heal and I’ve always wondered what it’s like to be constantly attached to something. Maybe that that’s why you’ve never had commitment issues. I wonder what it’s like to have your body fail you over and over, like potential lovers do.

You always have residue of medical tape left on your abdomen, remnants of the most recent site of intrusion. Sometimes, if I wake up first and the blankets are flung just-so, I’ll stare at the dark bits of glue. “Does it hurt? Is it annoying?” I asked when we first met. You replied, “Not as annoying as having to inject myself with insulin three to five times a day.” The lesser of two evils, a settling and acceptance.

You’re cheating and you know it. I know you see the look I give you when you order a sandwich or pizza over salad. My skin wrinkles, concerned when you tell the pump how many carbs you’ve eaten for a single meal. You like to keep that secret from me.

I never know what to do to at security checkpoints in airports. Do I, can I stand next to you while you try to tell the TSA officer the body scanner will go off because you have a pump at the same time you’re trying to tell them you have needles in your carry-on? Do I, can I stand next to you when the new guy has never dealt with this before and has to bring over a second person? Do I, can I take your items from the conveyer belt for you as you stress about holding up the line. I don’t. I sit down on the bench and put my shoes back on while they swab the little machine and the rim on your pants in front of everyone. I keep watch from my space 15 feet away – a stare that feels more maternal than romantic.

My purse is weighed down from the candy and protein bars that layer its bottom. My shoulder aches wherever I go, whether you’re with me or not. It’s habit now, learned from your own mother, for when your pump fails or you miscalculate the amount of carbs you’ve eaten. “One piece of bread is about 15 carbs,” you told me once as you inputted 30 into the little machine from the sandwich you just ate. I went with you to the nutritionist after you got the new pump, part of the requirement. I still don’t measure out your pasta, but I do leave the box on the counter for you to estimate.

You’re gentle with me when you’re low, but rough with yourself. And when you’re high, the pump keeps you tethered like a Xanax to an anxiety attack. We both have our things, now don’t we? Thinks that are inaccessible to each other. I don’t touch your pump, just as you know not to touch my skin in moments of vulnerability.

Cyborg updates: your CGM lessens your body’s ability to heal itself. Now, two attachments. One injects, the other monitors, and both keep me up at night. You don’t notice the CGM buzzing at 2:17 AM, but I do. You don’t notice the whirring after the pump pushes more insulin once you’ve pressed a few buttons, but I do. I notice it all. I notice your shyness when undressing in the same room as me. I notice you keeping your shirt on at the pool or beach. I notice the sigh of reluctance of giving yourself insulin when we go out to eat or in the movie theater after popcorn.

You won’t talk about death with me. You won’t acknowledge you’ll most likely die before me. You won’t entertain my ideations of dying just as much as you disengage from my joys of living. You’re weighed down by the unrelenting reminder that are now a part of body, anchored and unable to move in either direction. In the dichotomy of life and death, I feel you floating beneath that spectrum in a third world, your face lit by a screen in the dark limbo.

I worry about getting tangled up in your tubing at night. Tangled in the same ways our legs get lost together. Tangled in the same way my hair tangles when you play with it, your palms always slightly sweaty. I dreamt of something pulling at my ankle, an octopus maybe, and woke up to find your tube there, delicate. I saw the movement after I heard the whirr, the liquid dancing down and around my boney ankles, and back up into your stomach.

I ask you to ask your doctor for a referral to a nutritionist again on the day of your appointment. That morning, you left your pump in the bathroom when I went to shower. I asked you to ask for the referral as I came back out and placed the machine in your palm. I see you beat yourself up about forgetting, but your movements are so automatic – a mechanical muscle memory. Untuck the shirt, unclasp the belt. Button. Zipper. Pants down to mid-thigh. A twist, pull the edge of your boxer-briefs down and hook until you hear the click. Pull pants back up. Tuck the shirt. Tuck the tubing. Button. Zipper. Clasp belt. Hook pump. This dance, the most elegant thing you’ve ever done. But you’re beautiful, always. And you’re most beautiful to me in those rare moments of presence when you forget about your body, its attachments. Those moments when our blues and our yellows mix. Hen we’re both equal parts of a vibrant green, pulsing to the beat of our star; the rhythm of injection, an accent of my heart. You forgot to ask for the referral.

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He thinks he’s unattractive because we don’t have sex. He thinks he’s unattractive because we don’t have sex because of the tube hanging from his stomach. He thinks he’s unattractive because we don’t have sex because of the tube hanging from his stomach because it leaves pockmarks on his body. He thinks he’s unattractive not because I’m asexual.

About the Author: Jenn Storey is a hybrid writer and artist generally, and genuinely, out of touch in the American Midwest. She holds a BA in Computing and Information Technology and an MFA in Creative Writing & Poetics. Her work is featured or forthcoming in Spry Literary Journal, Peach Fuzz Magazine, Origami Journal, Clockwise Cat, and elsewhere.