My father has IBS. It’s not a degree; it’s a disease, which people will Rolodex as a condition. It’s not one of the big ones people whisper; it’s Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Bowel sounds an awful lot like bowl. What an appropriate condition, as my father and I discuss the shape and condition of his terds over the phone, while he’s sitting on the bowl. I don’t mind. It’s really love when you can chat, or even better, flush, while you’re on the phone. It’s one of those lines I like to cross, like sharing a toothbrush, or peeing with the bathroom door open.
From dealing with the condition, he’s learned some meditation techniques. He often instructs me to breathe and focus on a tranquil place, like a beach, or somewhere near a brook. Of course I don’t think I’ve actually ever encountered a brook, but I get the idea of what a brook experience might be.
“Feel the sand on your feet, the sun heating your face, the gentle breeze, the smell of coconut and sand.” Okay, I can do beach. The truth, though, is that I don’t really love the beach. I love the water, and anything on the ocean, but I can do without the sunburn and sand bit.
Wave pools did it for me for a while, but the idea of a public pool has become less appealing over the years. Especially with signs hovering on the water park walls, “Welcome to our ool. Notice there’s no P in it. Please keep it that way.”
My father created a compromise between beach and pool; it’s called a fish tank, or if you’re fancy, you can put on airs and cough out “Oh, do come see my aquarium.” It’s like calling your bookshelf a library.
In middle school, we’d sit in the moldy TV room together. He’d pepper a tank and force me to witness the fish gulping the falling flakes. “Steph, you gotta come see this.”
“You gotta. It’s fascinating.”
“They’re eating; what’s so fascinating about that?” I didn’t look up from my notebook.
“You just gotta watch this. It’s so relaxing.”
“Well which is it? Fascinating or relaxing?”
“Come see this guppy.”
Fish never did it for me. I remained seated, covered in textbooks and white-ruled papers, a large 3-ring binder with attached clear pencil case. He’d listen to the ballgame and watch the fish feed on shrimp-smelling flakes. When the ballgame became too loud for me to concentrate on my work, I’d never complain. I was happy just to be near him.
“I like that one.” I pointed to the token fish, invited only to suck the slime from the sides of the tank.
“That one? Ew, grossatating,” Dad mocked. “Don’t you like the Neons?”
“No, I like the bottom-dweller.” Then I thought of his off-color lawyer jokes and wished I hadn’t reminded him.