I was trying to listen, I really was. But it’s nearly impossible when you’re on fire.
I was in an important meeting to discuss my little sister Becky, who has Down Syndrome, and her future welfare. I’d been anticipating this meeting for months. The social worker was talking about finances and trusts and legalities.
But my attention was dragged away when I felt the sudden spreading heat. “Oh no,” I thought. I shifted uncomfortably in my chair. The heat started, as usual, at my neck and spread like wildfire across my back and chest, through my core, over my whole body, radiating fire from my skin.
Women: You know what I’m talking about.
Men: Hello! Keep up. We’re talking about hot flashes.
I picked up a piece of paper and nonchalantly fanned myself, trying to use slow lazy movements, trying to act normal. But I wanted to vigorously wave that piece of paper in front of my face until it was in tatters. I wanted to lie spread-eagled and naked in front of an industrial-sized fan and feel a roaring wind across my whole body. I wanted to–
Martin frowned at me from across the table. Are you paying attention? his eyes said.
Right! Pay attention! I concentrated on the social worker. This is important! I gave Martin what I hoped was a reassuring smile, but may have been more like a fevered grimace, because he glanced at me sharply, looked me over with concern.
Not now! his eyes said.
Yeah, like I can help it.
The fire intensified, consumed me. Oh god! Steam should be pouring off me.
Boiling, scalding clouds of steam surely must be rising from my body, filling the room. Why isn’t everyone breaking off, staring at me? I’m on fire, I’m sweltering, I’m a human sauna. I’ve got to be single-handedly raising the temperature of the entire room, of the entire building. Searing steam, billowing from my skin, billowing from my sizzling insides, pouring off me–
Martin gave me a little kick under the table. Pay attention! Stay with us!
I sat up straighter. Shook my head a little. Okay! I’m listening! Let the steam pour off, just let it pour off, I can do this, it’ll pass. I focused, a little desperate. Martin’s gaze shifted apprehensively back and forth between me and the group. He looked worried.
They were talking about Alzheimer’s Disease, of all things. Good god, how did we get here?
Whom, exactly, were they talking about? My sister?
It’s very hard to concentrate when all you want to do is rip your clothes off.
I wanted to catapult up from my chair, tear off my clothes, throw open the window and just stand there, letting the cold December wind blow through me.
I wanted to run naked into the courtyard outside and twirl around in the freezing air, waving my arms wildly, dancing in the frost, chortling like a madwoman.
I wanted to fling myself, completely nude, down onto those icy tiles and roll rapturously over them, across the entire patio, cackling with relief.
No wonder people think perimenopausal women are crazy.
It’s because we are, a little.
I realized with a start that there was silence in the room. My attention snapped back to the group. Everyone was looking at me expectantly. I glanced uncertainly at Martin. He was staring at me, his eyes willing me to answer a question, to speak, to say something. I could see him straining, trying to give me the answer. I looked back at him helplessly, raised my shoulders a little.
The question, whatever it was, hung in the air. I opened my mouth. Uh. . . . .
Can I rip all my clothes off, please?
Men: If your wife is irritable, or distracted, or a little bit crazy, you just give her a big ole pass. You hear me? A big ole pass!
Lots of ’em, actually.
Don’t say a word. Just bring her an industrial-sized fan and a spray bottle filled with icy water. She probably needs them.
Like, right now.
Trust me, she will be grateful. And she just might rip her clothes off.