brevity_dubrowIn the Navy, Vitamin M is the cure for all ailments.  Ship medics prescribe extra-strength Motrin, thousands of milligrams, twice, three times the recommended dosage to treat headaches, hangovers, back pain, stiff necks, fever, carpal tunnel, plantar fasciitis, even acne.  My husband, in his nine years of military service, has adapted easily to the ibuprofen diet.  He believes in the remedy of the stiff upper lip.  When he slices his finger while trying to open a valve, he seals the red line of skin with super glue.   When he slips on the destroyer’s metal deck, he wraps his ankle in duct tape.  He is an engineer, his body a piece of machinery that can be jury-rigged to keep working.

On my side of the family, we make an art form of complaint.  Although we no longer speak the mothertongue of Yiddish, we still cherish our infirmities as though they are silver candlesticks smuggled over from the Old Country.  Today, I could hear my mother upstairs, reciting hers:  a sprained wrist, heartburn, eyes scratchy from a night of insomnia.  My father listed his in response.  If I had made the mistake of entering the room then, I would have been interrogated about my own cuts and bruises, had I eaten anything, and wasn’t I looking a little pale.

Away from the ship, away from my parents, Jeremy and I try to find a mean between ignoring health and embracing hypochondria.  It is one of the many compromises that marriage has forced on us.   Jeremy has learned to visit the dermatologist, whenever I panic about a dark spot the size of a pinhead, which may appear on his neck one day in August.  And I have learned how to avoid flu season, thinking myself into a stronger, sturdier body, one immune to sneezes and mucus.  I have learned that a brief history of bowel movements does not make for good conversation.

This evening, after leaving my family’s house, we discuss the possibility of a deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan.  Two years ago, Jeremy was almost sent to the Middle East, nearly scooped out of his billet—easily as a handful of pills—and deployed on a mission for which Naval officers aren’t trained:  convoy duty in the desert, integrated into what the military calls “ground combat zones.”  Ever since this scare, I have expected another, been certain of it, the way people in my family are certain of cancer.

When we talk about deployments that could happen, Jeremy tells me, “Everything will be fine,” in a low voice, like a doctor reassuring a patient.

“If you were to see terrible things,” I demand, “terrible things in war, would you ask for help when you came home?”

“Everything will be fine,” Jeremy answers.

“What about PTSD?  Would you handle that on your own?”  I say, imagining all the other husbands who, like mine, drip super glue on their abrasions.

“Everything will be fine,” Jeremy repeats.

This is Jeremy’s Vitamin M.   Everything will be fine.   Often I swallow the words he gives me.  They are smooth gel caplets that go down without any problems.  But often I stay up, long after he has fallen asleep in the bed beside me.  I listen to him breathing and watch the intake of air, the long pause of his chest before exhalation.   And I wonder about the speck of movement at the corner of my vision.   Maybe it’s cataracts, I think, or glaucoma.   Blindness.  Or something is coming, still too blurred and distant for me to discern.

Jehanne Dubrow‘s poetry has appeared in Prairie Schooner, New England Review, Poetry, and Shenandoah.  She is the author of a poetry collection,The Hardship Post (three candles press 2009), and a chapbook,The Promised Bride (Finishing Line 2007).  Two more poetry collections are forthcoming within the next year, From the Fever-World (Washington Writers’ Publishing House) and Stateside (Northwestern UP).

Photo by Tricia Louvar