A faint pulsing wakes me, so soft it could be a dream.
Resting -- nay, incubating -- behind my left ear is a small, tender lump of flesh. I feel the rush of an expectant mother, then the wave of dread of a person who has just discovered a tumor attached to their face. Then I feel hungry. Then I realize maybe I do want kids after all. Then I text my dad.
Having the time to stand in front of a mirror and poke at a tumor still feels unusual a full week after getting fired from my job, but I have discovered all sorts of purpose since then.
I’m moving across the country in a couple of weeks with little to no prospects and have managed to be broken up with by a true villain but I feel pretty confident that, barring all else, at least my face will be a normal size forever.
I am pregnant with fresh hope, and secretly pregnant with a huge face.
My dad calls me back that evening as I expertly hide my steadily growing Hugeface from a group I’m rehearsing with. I’m hanging out with my new guy on Wednesday, which is great because I’ll definitely be able to go. I’m never going to die.
“You’re probably fine,” Dad assures me, a phrase that occupies our family crest accompanied with the image of a man being held at gunpoint. We are fine at all costs.
What’s that? Our upstairs toilet hasn’t worked in five years? It still contains the shit of my high school boyfriend circa 2009?
Excuse me. We’re fine.
We’re not fine.
“Good morning, mother!” Hugeface screams into my left ear, kicking, a baby that could burst forth at any given moment.
“I have no child,” I say. I slam my face against a pillow on the off chance that it will explode into confetti and this is all some terrible Kafka-esque nightmare.
While I am still able to separate our identities, Hugeface and I walk face in face to the neighborhood emergency clinic. I tell her on the way about all the fun I’ve had at said clinic in the past, from bringing my ex-boyfriend who broke my heart all the way to oh no now I’m crying please pull it together Jamie this is embarrassing enough as it is.
“Do you have herpes?” the receptionist asks me loudly, the line backed up with rich Cambridge babies with colds and Harvard students bursting with the generic sexually transmitted diseases of youth.
“No, just a huge face,” I reassure her. Sweat springs from her overly bronzed pores.
“OK, you can go in.”
Fortunately, the clinic doctor is looking to fuck more than he’s looking to diagnose a huge face.
“I just moved here from New York,” he mumbles, applying light pressure to Hugeface, who whispers a string of profanities to me.
“Phlarm,” I respond helpfully.
“So if you know of any places in Cambridge where to, uh, go, I mean, my card’s up front.” I’ve forked over a 25-dollar copay for an unwanted sexual advance, which feels about par for the course for today.
“OK.” The horny clinic doctor removes his hands from my face and moves them to my shoulders, where there is no injury but I guess we’re dating now so this is totally fine.
“You are a beautiful young woman with a lot of abscess fluid,” says Doctor Fuckboy. “I cannot help you.”
Hugeface pipes up. “Maybe you will die.”
Six hours later, I’m sitting in a glorified storage closet in the emergency room and my mother is holding my hand.
“We’re lucky this happened before you left,” she says. No one has been able to identify why Hugeface has paid me a visit, and I’ve been reduced to making a list of "decisions that could result in medical issue" for the EMTs in the hopes that I can shed some light on the face that is already absorbing so much.
The nurse appraises my list, the only notable item being “got small piece of clam stuck in eye for several hours.” It’s not helpful, she tells me, but here’s a list of doctors to follow up with regarding all your garbage life choices.
I’m sent home with a bottle of antibiotics, a raging fever, and a promise to give the hospital a call tomorrow if Hugeface doesn’t behave. She’s still growing, from an infant lump to the sprightly, toddler half-baseball that’s visibly protruding from my stupid fat head.
Have you ever canceled a date on the basis of having a prohibitively large face?
I spend some time on the phone with my mother this morning, and she warns me that these “freak health complications” will make it difficult to live across the country, “and who knows if that face of yours is ever gonna go down?”
Hugeface is now the size of a grapefruit. I take a couple of nudes with it because, like it or not, we are now sex twins and have been doomed to launch a fetish magazine together.
I am adding all sorts of things to my resume, which reads like a suicide note because it is.
Hugeface is kicking hard this morning, and we trudge to the hospital in shame. My head now lobs to the left side from the sheer weight of whatever my face is filling with. The doctor takes one look at the two of us and we’re admitted, hooked up to an IV until my companion has died, along with whatever else.
My nurse is named Colin and is the first reminder this week that I am not a meat sack full of abscess fluid, but a sexual being full of abscess fluid. He is perfect -- handsome, shockingly stupid given his profession, and assigned to massage Hugeface every hour on the hour until I am released.
“I’m more of a traveling nurse,” he warns me on our first meeting. That can’t be a real job. He’s telling me he’s a nurse who gets fired a lot.
“Shut up, you beautiful idiot, and touch this hideous pus sack that is ruining my life,” I tell him. He smiles blankly, not registering words with more than two syllables. I love him.
The person I’d been hooking up with hath declared that Hugeface is too much of a commitment, and this cannot go on. I wonder what Van Gogh’s friends said when he was painting “Starry Night.”
My parents are insisting that maybe this isn’t the right time, maybe I’m not ready, and my ex has stopped responded to hilarious and fun angles of my stupid idiot face. Everything is fleeting, and my roommate Sheila keeps trying to convert me to her weird brand of Christianity that involves “triggering miracles by touching bones.”
Several friend visits, Colin massages and Sheila farts later, I am feeling a little better. Hugeface is feeling insecure before bed and pulses gently on the side of my frontal lobe, probably causing irreparable damage.
“I’m just being mean because I like you,” she says.
“Get drained, you bitch,” I tell her. We fall asleep.
A doctor touches my shoulder and shows off her painstakingly whitened teeth. I reek of illness and pus sweat.
“Looks like we finally got an antibiotic to take,” she said, molars hanging out. “We’ll get you out of here by this afternoon.”
I look in the mirror and she’s right -- Hugeface has shriveled to a small lump overnight, defeated by an IV sack pulsing with fluids as mysterious as her own. She doesn’t have much fight left in her.
Does that mean all that pus is indefinitely in my bloodstream? Cool.
The Rest of My Goddamn Life
For the curious, there was never a reason determined to why my face grew to the size of a grapefruit that week, only that an infected salivary gland can be treated with the diagnosis of a shrug and insisting that one suck on two lemons an hour indefinitely.
I’m still moving and underemployed and generally disagreeable, but I have a normal-sized face, which turns out is something you need to be grateful for.