Days after my doctor finds a lump on my thyroid, the size of an M&M (peanut he specifies, not plain) a student asks me what the nineties were like.

For the nation?  

For you, says my student.

She is thirteen. Louder, louder, we say to her when she reads her poems because she barely speaks above a whisper. She claims this doesn’t embarrass her, says it helps when we say, louder, louder.  

When I talk about this student to my wife, I refer to her as “Louder.”

Lots of flannels and Doc Martens, I tell Louder. Like now, but my hair was down to my shoulders, and I was thinner.  

Omitted: I began the decade thin, and ended the decade fat, lived with my parents, then a dorm room, then a one-bedroom efficiency above a hair salon where my next door neighbors fought a lot and kept parakeets and in warm months when their windows were open and my windows were open, little feathers drifted into my bathroom and stuck to the bottoms of my feet. I planned suicide three times, once tried meth, once had sex with a man in order to make sure I was really irrevocably gay.


Zima, the clear malt liquor popular among broke college students in the 1990s, went back on the market, and an old college friend and I bought a six-pack out of nostalgic obligation.

Nostalgia is disgusting; so is Zima. We drink one—sweet and viscous, aluminum aftertaste. We used to drink this shit a lot, but that was before we were of legal drinking age, before our tastes became discerning, back when we mixed Hawaiian Punch with Beefeater Gin and drank the concoction from coffee mugs.

I tell my friend about my thyroid; then I don’t want to say anything more about my body.

She talks about the ugly divorce from the guy I had introduced her to in the nineties. On her computer she has an entire folder dedicated to the legal proceedings.

The folder is named Idiot.

We finish our Zimas with a sense of accomplishment, switch to IPA, listen to Appetite for Destruction.

We are in bed before midnight because it is no longer the nineties.


My doctor prescribes Klonopin while I wait to see that surgeon who will surely want to rip my thyroid out—my wife hates when I say rip my thyroid out because I am catastrophizing again.  

I correct her, I am preparing for the worst.  


Louder asks me if I remember the eighties.

I say, Vaguely.

In the 80s, they made puppets that looked like Reagan and put those puppets in a music video, some Phil Collins song, but not the big, sad one about you comin’ back to me . . .

When I was twenty-two, in the twenty-first century, Reagan finally died.

I was afraid of flying but went to D.C. to visit a friend.

The Capitol Building was draped in black bunting, the White House adorned like a macabre cake.

Omitted: during that visit, I drank beer with drag queens, admired death masks of Lincoln, and ran into Ted Kennedy picking up dog shit in a park across from the Senate Office Building.

Omitted: the nuns who honest-to-God never hit my knuckles with rulers kept us penitent with mushroom clouds because if you never know when the bomb is coming, you confess constantly, you cannot afford to sin.

Omitted: I blame Reagan for my first fears.

Omitted: When the Cold War was still a little warm I sometimes took to bed visions of incineration, parched gray oblivion, lunatic Ruskie rule, babies with scales and nine eyes and forked tongues, the blast and the blackout but honestly, after all these years, I can safely say I had no idea what to properly fear.

Allison Gruber is the author of You’re Not Edith, a Lambda Literary Award Finalist. Her work has appeared in Pithead Chapel, The Literary Review, Gravel, The Forge, and Foliate Oak, among others. She is currently working on a second collection of essays, which was recently selected as a finalist for the Kore Press Memoir Award. A native Chicagoan, Gruber now lives in Flagstaff, Arizona with her wife, their menagerie of animals, and teaches at Flagstaff Arts & Leadership Academy.

Artwork by John Gallaher