Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Dear Jen

apology iconDear Jen,

I'm sorry for telling you that your allergies were psychosomatic.

We were visiting San Francisco in 1997, staying with my old college roommates Drew, Pete and Scott. We'd slept at our friend Becca's place the night before, but left because you were allergic to her cat. You hadn't slept well and you were cranky. We both were. It had been a long day, and we'd been arguing all through it. We were often arguing back then. We are still often arguing, actually. This has always been the nature of our relationship: we are close, arguing friends. "It's too hot out," I'll say. "Oh, I like this weather," you'll say.

I was spreading a futon mattress on the living room floor when your sneezing started up again. And coughing and sniffling and wheezing. "Ughh," you said, your nose all red. "The dust. I'm allergic to this whole city."

"You know it's all in your mind," I said.

You dropped the pillow you were holding and looked at me like I'd slapped you.


"I think allergies are largely psychosomatic. Like, a manifestation of stress or something."

"No," you said, patiently, as if you were talking to a five-year-old. "There are tiny particles in the air that I am actually allergic to. And when I breathe them in, they trigger a physical reaction."

I said something that included the phrase "mind over matter."

"Fuck you!" you said, straining to keep your voice low. It was late, we guests. "Here I am suffering and miserable and you're going to tell me it's my fault?!"

You were right to be angry. I was being a dick. Though to a certain extant, I honestly thought I was trying to help. My father was a psychologist who specialized in pain management through hypnosis. He'd taught me some visualization techniques that were pretty effective at getting rid of headaches and stuff. This, combined with the part I always remembered from Stephen King's It (that important medical manual) where one of the kids realizes that his asthma is a symptom of anxiety and cures himself by throwing away his inhaler; and also a general and unfortunate mistrust of science I developed through an overzealous critique of Descartes in a modern philosophy course; and also finding more meaning than there actually is in a line from a Van Morrison song called "Enlightenment" about how we create our own reality-all of this informed what I now believe was an excessive adherence to the notion of mind over matter. And skepticism about allergies.

But regardless, it's just not very nice to blame someone for their own suffering while that suffering is going on. I should have offered you nothing by sympathy that night and brought up my stupid ideas about the power of positive thinking or whatever the next day.

I've been reminded of this a lot this spring, whenever I've walked past the corner of Clinton and Rivington Streets on the way back from picking my kid up at school and been seized by a mysterious coughing fit. I have apparently developed an allergic reaction to the trees growing around there. (Highly allergenic Mulberries, maybe, or Box Elders, and probably a preponderance of males.) I swear I can actually feel the tiny particles of pollen in the air, going down my throat, catching to the soft tissue there, forcing the involuntary response. It's miserable.


31 Comments / Post A Comment

I've been waiting for another won of these. Thanks.

mmmark (#4,458)


Bittersweet (#765)

Beautiful, Dave. It reminds me of the time my mother told me my thinking was somehow to blame for my (genetic) heart condition and I should thus work on improving my emotional health and relationships to "cure" it.

saythatscool (#101)

Your mother may have been right. For example, my bareback adventures through Thailand had nothing to do with my STD contraction. My herpes was in fact caused by the angst I felt listening to all those Alice In Chain songs.

Bittersweet (#765)

Alice in Chains has been proven to cause spontaneous syphillis in lab rats. You got off easy.

NicFit (#616)

You are actually allergic to all of the remaining coke and heroin that spilled from junkies' bags in the late 80s/early 90s. And yes, it is also psychosomatic.

BadUncle (#153)

As an allergy-related asthmatic, I'd have punched you in the cock. Psychosomatically.

deepomega (#1,720)

I enjoy the ongoing narrative threads between these pieces (e.g. The Importance of Musical Acts Named Morrison to Dave's Life)

metoometoo (#230)

Whenever I got sick as a kid, my dad would say, "Don't let yourself be sick. Mind over matter." It was infuriating. But for some reason, when he came down with pneumonia, "don't let yourself be sick" suddenly became a very mean and unacceptable remark.

BadUncle (#153)

Whenever I got sick, my dad would pour me a glass of champagne, which he insisted was medicinal. And, of course, he would spend the day at home tending to sick little me, and sharing the meds.

metoometoo (#230)

That's awesome.

Bittersweet (#765)

When my sister and I would get headaches, instead of giving us aspirin or Tylenol, my mom would tell us to go take a poop.

(Really. Not making this up.)

sox (#652)

@bittersweet: wow. well did it work?

My dad has always told me I only got carsick because my mom said I would and brought a plastic bag (after too many times of puking directly ON her on road trips). To this day my dad's driving still makes me sick – he is always looking at other things than the road and swerving/gassing/breaking. Makes me queasy thinking about it!

Bittersweet (#765)

@pattycakes: No. Hence my ongoing love affair with Advil.

Best thing to have on hand for carsickness – airsick bags. Steal as many as you can off your next flight (especially if you had to pay a checked bag fee).

Bunx05 (#1,625)

To this day, my pop swears by Robitussin. It's a cure all to him. After his leg had to be amputated, he'd take a spoon full of "Tussin" every day. He said it helped with the phantom pains. I have to admit though, barring anything diabetes related, I can't remember him getting sick, not even allergies. Then again Tussin's all sugar, so there you go.

HiredGoons (#603)

When do the ones addressed to your son start?

(kidding! I love Dave Bry!)

Dave Bry (#422)

Ha! Thanks, Hired Goons.

We're going to have to give it a few years. After all, the deep-seeded psychological trauma has only just been seeded.

Dave Bry (#422)

"Sown." (Duh.)

HiredGoons (#603)

'seeded' is what happens first Dave.

MatthewGallaway (#1,239)

I concur with those agitating to have Public Apology made into a great television series!

jamboree (#206)

I'm imagining a web series. The narrator could read these over 3D reenactments done by that Chinese TV station that did the Tiger Woods thing (in case you haven't seen it, ).

balsa_wood (#465)

As an allergy sufferer, I can only say that I am glad you're apologizing, because what you did was terrible, horrible, awful, no good, very bad.

smapdi (#1,306)

We've learned a valuable lesson here.

lbf (#2,343)

Hey allergics (not counting myself as one of y'all just because I sneeze a lot when I ride my bike during pollen season): please push back against people who claim to be "allergic" to shit they don't like (like, cilantro and stuff).

Allergies are real but they're also convenient. I've played the "I can't stay in this house because of the cat" card as part of an honorable exit. I've also stayed put and powered through feline allergies in cases of impending poon.

saythatscool (#101)

That's why you're an American hero.

scroll_lock (#4,122)

I still feel bad about the time I tried to Zelig Rocky Dennis' affliction to garner some sympathy.

saythatscool (#101)

I would be you blind Laura Dern, scrolly.

scroll_lock (#4,122)

Would you fondle the rolling hills of my ginormous faccia?

conklin (#364)

Curing asthma by throwing away an inhaler seems to be a common trope. Sean Astin in Goonies and Jonathan Brandis in Sidekicks also did this. The kids in Lord of the Flies tried to cure Piggy's "assmar" similarly but he wouldn't let them so they killed him.

In conclusion, American society has deeply conflicted views on asthma and its modern medical treatments.

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