She remembered it like it was yesterday. Because it was yesterday. The day that will live in infamy in young Eleanor Zodiac’s life. It came suddenly and without warning. The day that food became less about eating and more about pooping. This was the day before she was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome.
Now let me tell you something about Eleanor Zodiac. There are three things she fancies in this world: 1. Bacon. 2. Artichokes. 3. The Wimbledon Tournament.
So it was not without considerable chagrin, and I do mean considerable, that she found her belly groaning like a dying moo cow high on one too many mushroom stems. And it happened right in the middle of the most important match in the history of Wimbledon. Malina Fazlonavic, a 19 year old from Siberia, was now up 30-Love over six-time Wimbledon champion Bridget Baliakova in the the last game of the third set of the match finals. Fazlonavic was about to complete the greatest upset in the history of Wimbledon. And here was Eleanor Zodiac, sitting at center court, happy as a post-coital clam, when suddenly her lower intestine began to growl with overwhelming urgency; her stomach in the midst of its own historic upset.
She was sitting there, sandwiched between an elderly British woman and a tall Nigerian man with horn rimmed glasses. The British woman was wearing a transparent green visor, a purple corduroy sweater vest, and a pair of gilded opera binoculars. The Nigerian man, aside from his glasses, was sporting a white button up with a thin black tie and matching black slacks. Eleanor, pre-stomach-grumbles, kept wondering, do they even make Mormons in that size? Post-stomach-grumbles, all she could think was, Oh shit.
And the answer was yes, they did make Mormons in that size. But Ahad Obaje was not one of them, nor was he your average Nigerian, if indeed there was such a thing. As a boy, his parents shipped him off from Africa to his Auntie’s, who lived in a small townhouse on the outskirts of White City. His Auntie, in turn, shipped him off to a boarding school north of Hampstead Heath. While there he developed, one. a stigmatism, and two. a taste for tennis. Fortunately, the former had little effect on the latter. He saved up for a pair of those nifty sports goggles, and went out for the team as a gangly, thin-limbed freshman.
Very quickly, he demonstrated his athletic prowess, earning himself a spot on the Varsity roster. The boy had a wingspan to rival a fully grown albatross. And he moved with the swiftness of a chipmunk–a very large limber chipmunk. By his senior year he had won three state titles; offers were pouring in to play for the top university tennis teams. It seemed he was destined to be a star, Ahad Obaje.
Of course, this is a universe where destiny doesn’t exist–where everything happens in a maelstrom of random chaos–where one day you’re out walking in the woods and a slick bit of moss sends you flying onto your back. And little do you know that a spinal malformation has been lurking in your lanky bones since Nigeria. And now that spinal malformation has come to rear its head.
And so it was that Ahad Obaje, in the summer after high school graduation, sustained an injury that effectively destroyed his Wimbledon dreams. And yet, his passion was never diminished.
But this story is not about Mr. Obaje, as colorful as his life may be. This story is about Eleanor Zodiac and her cranky bowels.
Right, right. So there she was. Purple corduroyed woman on her right; Ahad Obaje on her left; a fat batch of runs churning in her bottom. Not to mention she was seated right in the middle of the row. It would take a considerable amount of wading in either direction to get where she wanted to go. But she really didn’t have a choice, did she? Fazlonavic was readying her serve. Across the court, Baliakova stood poised, knees bent, body swaying back and forth, eyes fixed on her opponent. The pendulum hung between them like an ambivalent guillotine. The moment was close at hand. Either Fazlonavic was about to deal her fatal blow, or the six-time champ was about to amount the greatest comeback Wimbledon had ever seen. Another moment was also close at hand: Eleanor Zodiac was either going to stand up, wade gingerly past disgruntled spectators, doing her best to squeeze her sphincter nice and tight. Or she was going to see this match to its completion with her pants full of bacon diarrhea.
I mean what would you do in this situation? On one hand, it’s never advisable to sit in your own sick if you can avoid it. On the other hand, the Halley’s Comet of tennis matches is unfolding before you. You’ve spent 200 quid to get here; 200 quid for a seat at Center Court on Day 13 of the world’s biggest tennis stage. Chances are, if you get up to go relieve yourself, you will have missed it. Sure, you’ll be clean. Your diarrhea will have found its way home (the toilet). But in your heart, you will have lost something dear. An opportunity that rarely presents itself to a human being.
So, Eleanor Zodiac, the Wimbledon-enthusiast that she is, made a choice. A choice that would follow her for the rest of her life. She pooped. Right then and there. Let it all rip. Opened the floodgates. Withdrew the levees. Popped the brown cork. Pushed the stallion out the stable, and let it run all over the place.
Listen. Life isn’t easy. Sometimes tough decisions have to be made. Inevitably, you will find yourself between a rock and a hard place, or in Eleanor’s case, a purple corduroyed woman and a tall Nigerian man; faced with the most difficult choice of your measly and impertinent existence.
How is it that humans can be such microscopic pieces of dust blowing in the wind of the void; and yet, our lives and its crossroads can seem so monumental? So important? So do or die?
I will tell you that Malina Fazlonavic finished her opponent off–that she won. I will also tell you that Eleanor Zodiac, in making her choice, forced everyone around her to endure the effluvium rising from her loins for the duration of the match–which actually dragged on far longer than anyone expected. Bridget Baliakova did mount her comeback. It was tied at 40-all when Malina Fazlonavic delivered a serve so thunderous, so swift that Ms. Baliakova tripped on her own shoes reaching for a volley.
By the time Baliakova got up, the diarrhea was soaking through Eleanor’s leggings. At the end of the match, she was feeling a weird combination of mortified and inspired. Choosing to forgo the trophy ceremony, Eleanor waddled to the bathroom as proudly and contented as one could rightfully do with their underpants full of diarrhea. On the way she spent 75 quid on sweat pants from the merch counter. A necessary acquisition considering the state of her leggings. Good thing they were black.
Go ahead and laugh. It’s all very comical. But how would you feel? It took Eleanor twenty minutes of dedicated wiping, back and forth trips to the sink for wet paper towels, a fresh pair of knickers she happened to have in her purse, and an elbow’s worth of perfume spritzers before she felt reasonably clean enough to exit the bathroom.
Fast forward to the following day: a stuffy gastroenterologist’s office with that sort of ugly wallpaper you might see in an old folk’s home or a cottage by a muddy river. You know the kind? With scenes of geese flying through the woods. Hares dodging behind tree stumps. That sort of thing. Not to mention the oak coffee table covered in the past twelve issues of Good Housekeeping.
For breakfast, Eleanor had two tablespoons of barley, a handful of blueberries, one banana, and raisins over lactaid milk. Very responsible of her. The symptoms had been following her around London for weeks. They began after a particularly hedonistic dinner party that featured four bottles of fine red wine, six marinated sirloin steaks, a four cheese casserole (or was it five?), a whole batch of roasted rosemary potatoes, a hundred florets of steamed and salted broccoli, a partridge in a pear tree, and for dessert, homemade apple crumble with vanilla bean ice cream. That night she didn’t get a wink of sleep. Her stomach rumbled and groaned. Gas escaped from every proper orifice. Diarrhea knocked insistently at her lower intestine. Finally, after an hour of sobbing in a hot shower, the Sandman came and whisked her away to Dream Land. But the symptoms never left. Since then, she’s found herself in a daily head-to-head battle with her digestive tract. She couldn’t even eat her usual breakfast, two eggs over easy and four strips of bacon, without suffering the gassy consequences. So here she was, in this droll office waiting for a brown, bulbous-nosed doctor named Samad to slip a thin, flexible tube up her butt. Hopefully, he’d find what the fuss was all about.
And of course, he did. Test results came back negative on polyps and ulcers. Same for Crohn’s and colitis. His final declaration: Eleanor Zodiac had IBS-D. And her life would never be the same again.