Adam Strong

Popping the Yolk

(Photo by Hello I'm Nik on Unsplash)

Adam Strong perfectly captures the balancing act, the toeing of the tightrope during these tumultuous times, navigating COVID while parenting too.

 

It’s only when you’ve almost finished making your breakfast that your daughter asks for hers.

“Dad, can I have two eggs over easy and two pieces of toast, please?”

Two eggs, over easy. Zoe cannot will not eat a slightly popped egg. There will be a problem if you pop the yolk. You used to have a problem popping the yolk, but the last year or so you’ve had a breakfast sandwich for breakfast every morning of the school year and you got it right on almost every one of those mornings.

Two eggs, over easy. The first one doesn’t crack the way it normally does, maybe you were too aggressive in how you cracked the two eggs from the side of the bowl, maybe it was the caffeine level in you now versus during the school year.

It’s summer. Everyone is home. There is your wife working in the next room and the click of your daughter playing Sims or Minecraft. During the school year, you would normally be gone. Now, you are a fixture, like furniture, but crabbier.

The whole popping the yolk thing. You have a temper when things don’t go right. You are aware that it is exactly on this kind of morning that you have these temper blowups. Your wife calls them “fits” or “tantrums.” It makes you want to drive to another state when she says that.

So, the first egg has extra width to the yolk, it looks like it got shot, point-blank, execution-style, in the head. You started watching The Sopranos again; This time for the therapy, you tell yourself, when really it was always for the therapy.

The second egg looks good. There is a tendency for the yolk to sluff off to the left, but at the moment it is holding its own.

This whole thing is on a knife edge. It shouldn’t be on a knife edge, it should be just two unpopped yolks, but there’s the third one and it’s even worse than the first, and now the second yolk, the one you thought was whole, well, now, that has been shot in the head too. All three of them little egg heads have been massacred, by you.

What happened to all of those quiet mornings where it was just you and there were no other yolks to interfere with your little unpopped piece of perfection?

Now that you are three yolks down, you might want to double-check and see if Zoe has changed her mind about eating an egg that’s been popped.

“Zoe, would you eat the eggs if they were popped?”

The squeals start from the other room.

“If I can’t dip my toast into the yolk, I won’t eat them,” she says.

 

What happened to all of those quiet mornings where it was just you and there were no other yolks to interfere with your little unpopped piece of perfection?

 

Even though you’ve been up for hours, you still haven’t eaten. You’ve chopped the mini orange pepper, shredded the cabbage, sprinkled 21 Seasoning Salute, and shaken chili powder on it.

“Fine,” you say, in a huff, “I’ll make you some more eggs.”

Then, your wife joins in, “Let me just do it.”

“No,” you say, like the wounded egg veteran you are, “I can cook an over easy egg.”

This is the part of you that hates to be wrong, that wants to hose himself off and put himself at the bottom of the well. Let that little man feast on fish heads.

You take out another pan, stainless steel. Spritz olive oil on it with the olive oil spritzer. On goes the egg, which has somehow popped before it left the shell.

“Another one popped.”

Then a fifth yolk has popped before it was even conceived. These yolks are performing time-traveling maneuvers now.

The next part is blurry, you’ve slid down into the lower part of the brain, concerned with pride and base impulses, you’ve changed personalities, you are now the one who takes things personally, who lives for the undulation of fight and flight.

Here’s where the trauma kicks in. You say the word “fuck” a lot. You have a hot bath of shame all over your body, your pores are sweating, you can feel things you haven’t felt since you were a kid.

“Why can’t I fry a single solitary egg?” you say.

Your blurry kid, eyes covered in tears, a blur of a math test, erasure marks made gashes, real tears mix in with the pencil marks you can no longer see.

For a full school year, every week in fifth-grade math, you failed the weekly math test. This happened every week, that was not special, but this one time was special, your paper was soaked through with tears, you weren’t able to practice, and you might fail the next test.

“No wonder you can’t think straight,” your dad said, but it’s more of a commandment, a thought like molasses conforming to the contours of your brain. “Your brain is full of shit.”

***

“When are you gonna get your shit out of my pan?” your wife says.

She has since taken over. There are two pans in the sink and one of them is cast iron. You are eating your own cold breakfast sandwich.

“This is too much drama over some goddamn eggs,” she says.

Why eggs? Why this roller coaster ride? The lift at the bottom of your chest when you are not sure if you will make it through the end of this ride, it’s there with every broken yolk. You want to do something about these bursts of anger, these little futile fits of rage.

Why take the weight of the world on your shoulders if you don’t have to?

The generic version of Lexapro is escitalopram. You are currently on 10mg per day. You and your therapist have discussed upping the dosage to 15mg if things continue the way they have been with your flipped lids and popped yolks and your base impulse, lizard brain. About once a week you manage to get embroiled with these dangling bits of gravity, these things that weigh more heavily on your shoulders than they should.

This week, it’s not a work thing, not a student having a crisis thing, this time it’s two eggs and two pieces of toast and you couldn’t handle that.

You call your primary health provider.

The first person you speak to has a bit of hesitation in her voice. There is a whole world on the other end of the phone, of rules that have become bunched and kinked, the machinations of the medical field, with COVID causing slowdowns in vital areas of essential medical care distribution.

“For anything mental health-related, there is a month’s wait,” she says.

“Just to up my prescription?” you say.

“Just to up your prescription,” she says.

Her tone seems to suggest that the whole situation is a broken-down clown car. This is a company that helps people make medical appointments. This is a company that takes out massive radio ads across the country, encouraging others to “Thrive.” They made that word a trademark, like “Just Do It” or “Have It Your Way.”

You call back to see if another main switchboard operator can help you.

“I can get you a video visit at 2:30,” the next operator says. “They ask that you be logged into the call fifteen minutes before it goes live. The link will be sent to you.”

The world is once again normal again. You make a phone call and now you have an appointment.

So, it’s 2:32 and here you are, in the guestroom in front of your laptop waiting for the call to start. Remembering a couple of years ago when all you had to do was wait on hold to talk to someone on the phone.

You wait five minutes.

You wait fifteen minutes.

Your wife says, “Are you still waiting?”

“Yes.”

Twenty-five minutes later, you get a message on your browser:

 

You are not waiting on the call anymore, you have been logged off of the PHP’s video page due to inactivity.

 

You showed up on time. You sat in front of a computer staring at a shot of a grown man who cannot make an unpopped egg.

You get a call from McMinnville.

It’s the doctor.

She apologizes, but it’s not sincere. She is already irritated.

She asks you about Prozac. You don’t want to talk about Prozac. Prozac made your brain into the most demanding Activities Director. Prozac didn’t work so you moved onto the generic version of Lexapro, the word you can’t pronounce.

“I don’t want to talk about Prozac, I’m on Lexapro.”

There is a hard sharpness to her tone, she is not doing five things at once anymore, now all of her frustrations are on you.

“So, you are not willing to answer questions. Are you not calling for a doctor?”

“Prozac didn’t work. I’ve moved on. I just want to increase the amount of the generic version of Lexapro that I’m on.”

“Are you bipolar?”

A slip, a fallback, to 1983 or ’4 or ’5 or ’6, getting hit in the stomach with the soccer ball, second game of the season, you leapt out in front of a goalward-headed cross. You were brave and jumped in front to defend the goal, you took a kick and a ball right to the stomach.

Your view of your concerned teammates standing over you was cantilevered, a tilted can of cattywampus.

The words “Are you bipolar?” came not from a pundit or a Dr. Phil TV shrink, but from the doctor temporarily assigned to you.

“So, you think that I am bipolar because I don’t want to talk about what it was like for me on Prozac?” you say. This is the big guy inside of you defending the little guy who’s been knocked out by this doctor who goes around throwing out diagnoses like a relief pitcher. “Don’t you know my mental health history? Don’t you read a chart or a history before you take an appointment with a patient?”

“I am not a mental health specialist,” she’s really irritated now. “I am internal medicine. It’s okay, I can do mental health too.”

In your head, you are being polite but concerned about your mental health; out there in the real world, though, you are a bipolar nutcase who wants help but won’t answer a few questions.

Apologizing only makes it worse.

“I want to be careful about that because it can increase tendencies for bipolar disorder in patients.”

“No,” you say, “I’m not bipolar.” You temporarily ignore the big brass band of crazy going on up in your brain.

“I will put the prescription through,” she says, and then she hangs up.

You are sitting there in the spare room, after having lost your shit over a popped yolk, and how you are banished to another room, and now you are bipolar.

***

These little things come along, they tug at something hidden. If you were underwater, it would be a current from below that wants you deep.

You move on to the next task, cleaning out the bathroom in the guesthouse. You try to start on the bathroom, but you can’t shake the chorus of “Are you Bipolar?”

 

  • You are bipolar if you turn an over easy egg into an imbroglio from which you cannot extricate yourself.
  • You are bipolar if you cannot answer a simple question without getting on your moral high horse.
  • You are bipolar if you think that all it takes is for one flustered internal medicine doctor to pose a fair question without you taking it to heart.

 

Something about her asking if you are bipolar feels violent. There are now two distinct yous: the you before you called to increase the dose and the you who is now bipolar.

You need to talk to your therapist.

You text her.

 Really emotional now, really keyed up, can we talk?

Three blurred dots means a message is being composed in response.

 I’ll call you rt back.

 

  • You are not bipolar because you were concerned and asked for help from a known professional.
  • You are not bipolar just because a stretched thin internal medicine specialist asked you if you were bipolar?

 

Your therapist calls a few minutes later.

“One thing you need to know is that the whole mental health system is broken,” she starts out by saying. “Is it crazy to feel crazy when the system is broken?” she says.

And then you see how it’s not just you but so many others, filling a prescription, getting advice, not to mention all those currently suffering under the resurgence of the Delta Variant of COVID-19 virus. Or the hundreds of thousands of people who have died from it over the past two years.

Not to mention the places that cannot fill jobs, gas stations where propane is not available, crucial infrastructure-type jobs remain unfilled, the sheer amount of homelessness on every highway overpass, and graffiti over everything, the look in people’s eyes when the hope left and now they are back to wearing masks again. All with polar ice caps melting in the rain, including the tallest points in Norway. Rain where once only ice lived.

We’re better, until we’re not, until you are bipolar for cracking too many eggs, for feeling grateful you have a therapist to text and a pharmacy to call and even ship out the bottle of pills you now reach for each day.

And you feel, for a second, like this condition of being bipolar, it’s something we all are experiencing, we are all off our collective axis. This summer was supposed to be figuring it all out, about getting back to some level of normalcy.

***

On the first day of meetings for the new school year, you return home from a morning meeting, feeling clean and warm and tanned and cared for. You make yourself a breakfast sandwich, sauté the veggies, toast the bread, flatten the veggie sausage patty, take an egg out of the fridge, this time you get it right, you manage to slide the yolk out of its shell, and chuckle as the yolk slides fully into the bowl.

There’s an edge in your brain where excesses of caffeine live, it’s the limit of your patience, a line drawn between a cool guy and a lunatic who needs to call the doctor because he can’t not pop an egg in the pan. You see it in front of you before it registers in your brain, the yolk that popped just as you put it in the pan.

That yolk, thick and yellow, is a loss that, today, you can live with.

 

Adam Strong

Adam Strong is the founder of the reading series Songbook PDX. His work has appeared in Entropy, the Atticus Review, NAILED Magazine, Gravity of the Thing, in the anthologies City of Weird, The Untold Gaze, and on the Storytellers Telling Stories podcast. He writes, draws, and loves in Portland, Oregon, and is a high school Digital Arts teacher.

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