:: Article

Healthy

By Thom James.

I have a lump in my left testicle. Like, beneath the skin and at the top. I felt it in the shower a week ago and it’s pea-sized. And no, it’s not painless. It fucking hurts. I’ve been lying on top of my bed trying to rest up but I don’t think staying at home is doing me any good. My flat is right next to a motorway and a restaurant’s grease extractor fan, so if anything the fumes are actually going to make my health dramatically worse. I’m going to be pissed off if it’s cancer. I can’t be bothered with something so life-changing right now.

I had an appointment with a GP yesterday. I hobbled down Lewisham Way to get to the health centre by New Cross Gate station. The waiting area, after I slowly walked up the stairs, was grey and empty. No other soul was there apart from the receptionist. I told her I was there for the 5:40 and she told me to take a seat. It was so quiet. Just the sound of my breathing and the receptionist typing something into a computer. I texted my friend Zac saying it was like a zombie apocalypse had happened. I made a joke about the receptionist being a zombie because she looked half-dead. I guess I would look that way too if I had her job. Imagine being an NHS receptionist.

After ten minutes the GP called my name. She was only a little older than me, twenty-nine, maybe thirty, and I followed her down the hall. Inside her office she told me to take a seat. She sat down as well and her face was illuminated by the white of the computer screen. I immediately saw my name and my medical history. She would’ve read the notes detailing when I broke my arm on my birthday, when I overdosed on instant coffee and had a panic attack, and when, once, I skateboarded down a hill and crashed into a wall at the bottom of it and knocked myself out cold. She must’ve thought that I was terrible at being alive. Thank god she didn’t remark on it and, instead, asked the important questions, like:

“Are you urinating blood?”

“Is there discharge coming from the penis?”

“Has there been any testicular swelling?”

No. No. No swelling either. She offered me a chaperone to be in the room while she looked at my balls and I laughed and was like, no, it’s cool. She laughed too and divided the room with a blue curtain.

Behind it I pulled down my black trousers and grey boxers. I didn’t take off my shirt, socks or shoes. I sat at the end of the bed with my genitals out between my skinny, hairy legs. So hairy a friend once said I must be adopted because my real dad’s definitely a faun. The GP walked towards me and pressed her finger on the lump. Her index finger wriggled around on it for a bit. I said I was sorry for making her touch the lump in my balls. “Don’t worry, you won’t believe the things I’ve seen doing this job,” she said. She went off to type something on the computer. I pulled my boxers up, my trousers, then fastened my belt and zipped the zipper. It made the loudest zip noise I’d ever heard. Like something from a cartoon, when the protagonist is being chased by the antagonist and has to run away real fast. One of those zips. Anyway, I closed the curtain and took a seat near her. The GP said she thought the lump could be an epididymal cyst rather than testicular cancer, but she’d book me for an ultrasound just in case. She said the procedure was simple. They’d just put a cold jelly on my testicles and use a sonogram to see what was inside. I zoned out as she was talking, wondering if I could get a picture of the cyst afterwards, like women have of their babies after their ultrasounds. I could put the picture on Facebook and tell everyone I don’t know the sex yet but I’m super excited to be a mum.

*

Days before I realised I had a lump in my testicle, and way before the pain started, I thought about killing myself. It might sound melodramatic but here it goes. A man called Mike wasn’t interested in me the way I was interested in him. It’s happened before. Many times before. People don’t change.

We met on Tinder and texted a lot, like, every night for two weeks. Then we had a real-world date and went to his friend’s book launch, some BBC broadcaster I recognised, and then ate at a pizza place. The whole thing went really well, or at least in my mind it did, and I wanted to see him again. Afterwards he didn’t reply to any of my texts. It fucked with my head. For days I stared at my phone blankly hoping Mike would message, but I knew he wouldn’t. It got to a point where I just had to say, like, what’s going on here? You were initially super into me but now… nothing. Mike eventually replied and the answer wasn’t the one I wanted. Mike said he thought the age-gap between us (26 years) was too big for a real relationship. I started to type “Fucking bastard cunt you could’ve told me BEFORE the date you fucking prick” but I erased it immediately and replied with “No worries. Good luck with the future. :)”

The worst thing about being alive is that time slows down when you want it to quicken. And time really slowed down for me. It felt thick, heavy, and I just didn’t want to feel it. Didn’t want to feel anything at all. My first great idea was to get drunk. I have this weird vodka from Iceland next to my bed which a friend bought for me while visiting there, but being drunk didn’t feel like a permanent solution, so I thought about low-effort ways to kill myself. I’m lazy. People don’t change.

There’s a motorway right outside my flat so I considered stepping out into oncoming traffic. I hoped a Sainsbury’s lorry would hit me so my family could at least get free shopping for a year or two. Another option was going to the kitchen, finding the biggest knife, and shoving it straight through my chest. But the kitchen floor had only been mopped the day before. Even in death I don’t want to be a nuisance. Overdosing came to mind. I could swallow a ton of pills then wash it down with that Icelandic vodka. I opened my drawer to see if I had any paracetamol. I’d heard twenty or more would at least ensure a coma. There were only empty packets. Like, five or six packets with nothing inside. Why can’t I throw used things away? Fuck’s sake.

*

I think my gums are dying. They’ve been bleeding for the past two years. Every now and then I get the taste of blood in my mouth, all metallic, like I’ve been swishing coins around in there, and I think about how gross it’d be if I was giving a blowjob and blood ended up on or in his dick. It really puts me off the idea of oral. To avoid blood-dick I’ve been brushing with Corsodyl toothpaste and using the recommended Corsodyl mouthwash. It tastes of chemicals. No specific one, just vague chemicals. For some reason I don’t think it’s undoing the irreversible effects of gum disease. But I’m too afraid to go to a dentist and have them tell me they’re going to have to knock my teeth out and replace them with dentures. Imagine being twenty-four, giving a blowjob, and your dentures falling out mid-blow.

I think my friends’ gums are dying too. We were sitting in Mildred’s living room smoking and my Marlborough Gold’s were making my teeth feel funny. You know the bottom ones on the lower jaw? They felt weak. Katrine asked if they felt wobbly. I took a drag and with my free hand I tried wobbling them. There was definite leeway. Mat then said he thought his teeth were wobbly too and started wobbling his, then Katrine followed suit, so there’s three of us sitting there, not saying a word and with our hands in our mouths. Mildred walked back in and asked us what the fuck we were doing. I asked Mildred if she knew a good local NHS dentist. Mildred said the last dentist she went to was a private one. Her dad, who she’s seen only a handful of times in her life, randomly gave her a large sum of money to see a private dentist. He hadn’t cared about being a good father but for some reason was passionate about her dental hygiene. Before the private place Mildred said she went to a surgery called Smiles For You, which she described as “fine.” I told her I’d rather let my gums rot than book an appointment at Smiles For You.

I’m trying to use my teeth as little as possible. It’s surprisingly hard. The main issue is eating. I’ve been eating my food really delicately. Just small, considerate bites. I’ve also been avoiding hard food with a crunch, like boiled sweets or my mum’s baking, so my teeth don’t suddenly break. The second issue is smiling. I’ve got a naturally small mouth which is a great facial feature to have if you don’t want to show off your gum disease to the world. Instead of smiling or laughing with my mouth open, I keep my mouth closed and smile really widely. The fat in my cheeks bunches up on both sides. Once you get used to the burning sensation in your cheek muscles, it really isn’t that bad. The third issue is talking. Again, because of my small mouth, it’s not like you see a huge amount of what’s inside when I’m talking. Still I’ve been conscious of it, like, really keeping my mouth as small as possible when I talk. The other day Katrine said I’d make a really good ventriloquist. For a second I thought about quitting my nine-to-five, leaving the country, travelling to eastern Europe, joining a circus and becoming a world-class ventriloquist. Then I remembered I don’t even have a nine-to-five.

*

I’m worried about how much I’ve been sleeping recently. Usually I wouldn’t worry about sleep and just do it, have as much of it as I can. Some like sex, I like sleep. But not only have I been sleeping from like 1am to 1pm, but I’ve also been having naps in the evenings. I think it’s because I’ve become a vegetarian again. Well, a bad vegetarian because a proper one would be super healthy—probably even healthier than a regular omnivore—and because my diet is bad the lack of iron is making me sleepy.

When I have these naps it’s such a gamble. I can either wake up really refreshed and feeling rejuvenated, revitalised, you know, a word which begins with re and sounds like it’s been used in a shampoo ad. Or I can wake up and be super angry with everyone and everything. The birds tweeting happily outside my window? Shut the fuck up. My flatmate working out on the treadmill in the room next door? Abs don’t make up for an absence of personality, dumb ass, and anyway our bodies are transient and one day we’ll all die so what’s the point in getting ripped or shredded or buff if we’re only going to be put six feet under. The evening is always ruined when I wake up in one of these moods.

For the past few days it’s been okay though. I’ve woken from shallow sleep and been a little disorientated, but I haven’t been feeling like I want to set the world on fire. I just come around slowly, reaching for my phone before my eyes have fully opened, checking to see if Dan’s replied to my texts. Dan is my new lover who’s in an open relationship with his husband, but I think he likes me more. Dan’s fifty and a landscape gardener. Dan texting me is also a gamble because for some reason he takes ages to reply. As in fifteen minutes just for a few words. I think he texts with one hand while doing something with the other. Anyway, in the last text Dan sent, he said both my mind and body’s beautiful. Sexy.

I’m not so sure.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Thom James is a writer and essayist based in London. His work has appeared in 3:AM Magazine, Ambit, Hello Mr., The New Statesman, The Huffington Post, The London Economic, and more. For the past three years he has helped organise Lit Live, a literary reading series based in south London. Thom has recently finished an MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London. He tweets at @thomwithanaych.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, March 22nd, 2018.