“Louisiana in September was like an obscene phone call from nature. The air–moist, sultry, secretive, and far from fresh–felt as if it were being exhaled into one’s face. Sometimes it even sounded like heavy breathing. Honeysuckle, swamp flowers, magnolia, and the mystery smell of the river scented the atmosphere, amplifying the intrusion of organic sleaze. It was aphrodisiac and repressive, soft and violent at the same time.”
Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume
Good ol’ Tom may have been writing about New Orleans, but this passage is dead-on accurate about Mississippi, from about April til late October, if we’re lucky. Sometimes the heat and humidity help us celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, and we’re dashing through the fog right into the New Year.
But the summers can be brutal.
I lived in Arizona for about five years. The biggest difference between Arizona and Mississippi, I’ve learned, isn’t the lack and presence of humidity–although those nosebleeds and cracked skin were killers–but rather, in Arizona, people were smart enough to not go outside.
During the wet, hot months in Mississippi, the ones that specifically spanned our summer school break, all of the kids I knew spun cartwheels like ninja stars, our heads sometimes pushing into the hard clay with a reckoning. Our excitement was kinetic, and we bounced above, around, and off of our parents or anyone with a dollar to get an Icee.
We were too young to fall in love with Coca Cola in a glass bottle, pulled from the coldest depths of an ice chest. We weren’t quite how we would be as teenagers. Not yet. We didn’t have teenaged-bordering-on-adult tastes: eating crawfish as crawfish were meant to be eaten; we weren’t squeezing, twisting, and pulling; sucking, swallowing, and chasing tails with a nearly-frozen Coke. The kind of Coke made with real cane sugar and not that corn syrup shit that followed our childhood.
At least we had that.
Icees were a thing.
Begging, borrowing, and flat out stealing money, we took our time as we pushed down the lever and watched the red and blue cup fill just a little past its plastic dome. The extra was for licking. We’d get brain freeze over and over as we raced to drain it til the half-full mark. That was the only way that we were allowed anywhere near our parents’ vehicles. Icees stained.
We’d ride back in the car, or the back of the pick up truck if we were super lucky, grabbing our frozen heads and sipping the rest of our Icee slowly, purposefully.
Making it last.
We had two choices: Cherry or Coke. The rebels among us chose a mixture, creating a virgin Cherry Coke margarita before Cherry Coke was even a thing and long, long before we had the pleasure of meeting a margarita.
But then a family-owned corner store changed hands down the street, and we were introduced to the Slush Puppie. Suddenly, we had access to these very, very sweet things, sweeter than Icees, and not just in Coke and Cherry, but in all sorts of pseudo-fruity flavors. We had forgotten the Icees as if they had never existed, and we were in thrall to the man behind the counter.
We couldn’t pour our own Slush Puppies, but it didn’t matter. We had no dignity when it came to this frozen concoction.
On a side note, I never knew what a raspberry really tasted like until I was in my 40’s.
Raspberry drinks and candy are nothing but false advertisement.
Sometime last summer, I had seen the Slush Puppie logo on a freezer pouch. What better way to get into my niece and nephew’s good graces than to offer this saliva-inducing goodness. I grabbed a few of them, but they *somehow* never made it to the kids.
Pulling one out of the freezer while looking for something to thaw for dinner, I suddenly *had* to taste it. I was a kid again, giddy with anticipation.
I tore into it, grasping the corner with my teeth and pulling. I may have even snarled.
I squeezed the pouch, allowing one tantalizing bit ooze from the torn corner. I was ready. I licked my lips.
I was ready. I was willing.
I was horribly disappointed.
It was disgusting. It was a thousand words for disgusting. It was frozen sugar, soaked in blood-red food coloring. I couldn’t even tell what flavor it was other than sugar.
I mixed it up as best I could, hoping against hope that it was just a fluke, just all the sugar gathered in one place, forming some sort of prayer circle from which I had been excluded. It wouldn’t have been the first time.
But I was wrong. I was so, so wrong.
I wonder if that’s how they tasted when I was a kid. I’d like to think not. I have a vague memory of some sort of fruity-flavor, something good, better for developing sugar addicts than that dull, old Icee.
As a treat, these things were a bust.
But that is not to say that Slush Puppie frozen pouches don’t have purpose. As it turns out, they make some of the best ice packs I’ve found to date. Long and flexible, they meld to the palm of my hand, fitting squarely along the length of it and within the palm of it. I can then lay a more traditional ice pack across the back of my hand, ensuring that the entire hand has cold compress. Or even another Slush Puppie.
And they were only $1 each from the dollar store. For that, they were damn near perfection.
On the spectrum from heaven to hell, Slush Puppies are unwittingly as close to perfection as is possible, I think. When they’re used off-label, anyway, as, say a method of pain relief or cold comfort.
Hand flares are especially evil. Especially-especially evil when it’s my left hand—my dominant hand. I’m clumsy on a good day. When my left hand is incapacitated, I’m the Three Stooges in one.
And it was a full-fledged flare. A flare despite steroids, despite newly-discovered, nearly-perfect ice packs and microwaved hot towels. Despite everything I could think of to tame it. Fevered knuckles and swollen flesh, looking like my hand was about to pop like a zit.
Not quite a 10, but definitely an 8-and-a-half on the pain scale. Enough to have me screaming every time I accidentally hit something or changed position. Enough for copious amounts of tears. Definitely enough to keep me from work.
I, who had just started a “new job,” or, rather had the same job but with a new company, without health insurance or med refills for the first time in fourteen years, without emergency coverage should it get past the 8-and-a-half on the pain scale that it currently was, without FML protection, freaking out because I couldn’t make it to work.
Our insurance was scheduled to kick in at the end of the next week. Just enough time for those absolute-have-to-have meds to be out for a few days.
I have about a month left of shots. Despite my rheumatologist’s instruction for me not to re-start the shots until she had “laid eyes on me”–something that won’t happen for another two weeks–I started them three weeks early.
I’ve already been off of them for seven weeks; I could not survive another three.
I made it past the two-week window for being off antibiotics. Every day for the past two weeks, some part of me flared up, the fever and inflammation bouncing from point to point, moving throughout my body. I was able to stave off missing work (mostly) with braces and cane, with steroids and tons of ibuprofen. And with pain pills halved and halved again, because my pain management doctor doesn’t want me to get addicted, and my supply is running very, very low.
This is the reality of life with chronic illness. The unpredictability of it, the inability to do anything meaningful some days. The inability to make it to work every single day because we have no idea what will happen. Rheumatoid Disease shows no mercy. It doesn’t take into account that we absolutely cannot miss days from work or that we have things that absolutely must be done. Some days it doesn’t matter how hard we struggle. Our bodies refuse to cooperate; our pain levels are intolerable and we can find no relief.
So we hang onto that Slush Puppie—or its equivalent—as if it were the only thing keeping us on this planet. We bury our heads in Doctor Who or Agents of Shield or whatever we can find as a distraction.
Because it’s the only way to make it through.
[Image Credit: Icee from Retail-Merchandiser.com.
Slush Puppie pouch Image from Amazon.com ]