ONE OF MY favorite topics of conversation is gonorrhea. I’m a bit of a hypochondriac with an unhealthy interest in infectious diseases, so the worst possible thing for me to read last fall after ending an eight-year relationship was an article about drug resistant gonorrhea. I became obsessed, and managed to work DRG into casual conversation. After a couple months, my boss told me that I would be fired if I mentioned it in one more meeting. My friends were equally sick of hearing about it and one of them staged somewhat of an intervention.
“I hope you realize that you sound insane.”
“But infectious disease experts say it could become an epidemic because it’s been found in Asian sex workers. This is why I’m never dating again.”
“You’re not an Asian sex worker, nor are you planning to sleep with one.”
“If I get it, I could go blind, or become infertile. You know, it gets in your throat and just festers there.”
“Listen, you’re just using this as an excuse, and you need to get back out there and start dating. What about OkCupid? Did the infectious disease experts say anything about it being found in that population?”
I bit the bullet late last spring and started online dating. After a couple weeks of only getting messages from men in open relationships and creeps with screen names like ORALEMPIRE69 and MUNCHER8U, I asked my sister to take a look at my profile and offer some constructive criticism. She said it was good, with the exception of the section called “What I’m Thinking About.” My response was “Drug Resistant Gonorrhea and other terrifying things I’ve read about in The New Yorker.” She said no one wants to date gonorrhea girl, and I needed to change it.
I took my sister’s advice (changed it to SINKHOLES and other terrifying things…) and while the dates didn’t exactly start pouring in, my options improved. I was on Fire Island with a group of girlfriends in late June —three weeks before my birthday. After many vodka lemonades I made an announcement that went something like this: “Ladies, it’s been well over a year; I’m afraid my vagina’s about to grow over. I’m gonna get the bats out of the cave and have sex before my birthday!” Cheers all around.
I went out with an affable, divorced psychologist a couple of weeks later. We met at The JakeWalk, had some wine, dinner, light conversation and laughs, more cocktails and before I knew it he was ramming his tongue down my throat. Which should have been a harbinger of things to come but it was the last weekend before my birthday and I was on a deadline! He was housesitting for friends down the street from the bar, and I decided he probably wasn’t a murderer, so agreed to go back to his place. We ended up at the quintessential Brooklyn brownstone and he told me we had to be quiet— something about an older woman renting a room on the ground floor. I proceeded to accidentally slam the unbelievably heavy wrought iron gate. We went up a flight of stairs to a lovely mid-century modern kitchen and living room, and then up another flight of stairs to the bedroom, which I did not see, because the lights never went on.
My clothes were off in ten seconds flat, and ten seconds after that there was a penis slapping me in the face. He put on a condom and mercifully the deed was done relatively quickly. He started snoring and I really wanted to leave but didn’t know how to turn the lights on, or where my clothes were, and I was worried about slamming that heavy gate and waking up the mystery lady. Sleep was impossible since I was with a virtual stranger in the apartment of other strangers. I also realized that my earrings were no longer in my ears. I had a feeling I would never see this guy again, and there was no way I was leaving without my favorite hoops.
I’m half-Mexican and half-Jewish so not exactly hairless—and have spent my fair share of time and money getting waxed, threaded, epiladied, you name it. In fact, when I got threaded recently, the woman ripping hair out of my face asked if I wanted her to do my chin. I feel strongly that if someone asks if you want chin hair removed, the answer should always be a resounding YES. If I were rich, I would get approximately 50% of my body hair lasered. Yet I was totally unprepared for what I saw when the sun came up the next morning. This guy was so hairy that you could not actually see skin through his body hair. I wanted to laugh, but was hungover, and also wanted to cry and vomit a little bit.
I looked around the room and located my clothing, gingerly got up and grabbed them, and started to quietly get dressed on the edge of the bed. I even found my earrings – one under the bed, and one across the room under the window. I put on my jeans – my underwear still conveniently in them — then my bra and tank top. I was considering leaving without my shirt but it dropped down in front of my face from overhead. Jewbacca had woken up and handed it to me. After I got dressed, he walked me downstairs, looked at my bare feet and asked if I had shoes. I reminded him that he asked me to take my shoes off in the foyer the night before. I retrieved them and we stood in the hallway and he asked if I wanted to put them on before I left. But they are these strappy sandals that are sort of difficult to put on; I need to be sitting down to do so. To make an awkward situation even more so, I said, “No, it’s okay, I’ll put them on outside.”
We did the weird bobbing head maneuver in the doorway, and he ended up kissing my right eyebrow. I sat on the stoop, put my shoes on, and embarked on my first walk of shame in ten years.
I called my mom later that day to tell her the news— her first question was if I took a picture of him. I told her no. She was with my Aunt Connie and they spent the rest of the day messaging me pictures of cartoon penises. I told her that they needed to be MUCH hairier. Mom came to town a couple days later for my birthday. We went to ABC Kitchen for lunch and over mushroom pizza and beet salad she asked if I’d heard from Jewbacca.
“No, and ugh, I’m such a whore.”
“You’re not a whore. If you were a whore you would have gotten paid. You’re just a slut!”
I didn’t ever hear from him again— one of my friends maintains that he wasn’t really housesitting, and actually “airbnb’d that shit,” or it was really his wife or child sleeping downstairs. But I think he was very recently divorced and had the exact same agenda.
A week and a half after our encounter, I started to feel some discomfort and itching in my lady parts. I gave it a day and then determined that I needed to go to the doctor. I didn’t want to go to my GP, because we have a really nice relationship – when I see him I take books (I work in publishing and he likes reading thrillers), we talk about his family, and he gives me drug samples for my allergies. So I felt uncomfortable at the prospect of showing him my infected vagina. I also didn’t want to go to my gynecologist, because he is weird and French and I am convinced he doesn’t like Americans. So I went to a walk-in clinic in Park Slope that was recommended by some friends. I requested a female doctor.
She was all business. I get nervous at the doctor and become freakishly chatty but she was having none of it. She did a pelvic exam, inserted something into my vagina, pulled it out and muttered, “Yup, creamy with a slight cottage cheese consistency.”
I thanked her for being so descriptive, and she said she was going to treat me for a yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis. She told me to get dressed and started writing prescriptions. As I put my clothes on, I told her that I recently had sex for the first time in a long time, and asked if that could have anything to do with my ailment.
“WHAT? Why didn’t you tell me before? Now we have to test you for chlamydia and gonorrhea!”
“Wait. WHAT? Did you just say GONORRHEA?”
“You’re going to have to submit another urine sample.”
“But I don’t have to pee.”
“Well you better start drinking water.”
“Okay. Can I ask you another question?”
“Do you read The New Yorker?”
“No, my subscription expired.”
“Because there was this article about drug resistant gonorrhea a few months ago…”
She cut me off, handed me a cup and told me to fill it at least half way.
It was July, during the middle of a heat wave— maybe I was dehydrated or maybe it was because of nerves but I must have drunk a gallon of water, and could not pee. After a few attempts, I walked back to the lab, showed the techs my pathetic little cup, asked if it was enough, and they said no. I shuttled between the exam room, the bathroom and lab twice more only to have my cup rejected. Finally one of the lab techs asked, “What is this for?”
“Uh, it’s uh… well… um, the doctor told me I have to fill this cup halfway.”
“This is not filled halfway.”
“I realize that.”
“You don’t know what she’s testing you for?”
“Can you just ask the doctor?”
And then the medical assistant blurts out, “IT’S FOR AN STD PANEL.”
I slunk back to the exam room and the medical assistant appeared a few minutes later and started apologizing profusely. Most likely because she realized they were in violation of a bunch of HIPAA privacy rules. Luckily for them I am not litigious and wanted to get the fuck out of there.
“Let’s see how you’re doing?”
I handed her the cup and said, “Is this enough? It’s only a third full.”
“Are you sure?”
“It better be because I am NOT coming back here EVER AGAIN.”
Two hours after I arrived at the clinic, I was sent on my merry way with prescriptions for Flagyl and Monistat, and told my test results should be in by the end of the week.
I was uncomfortable and felt a little off for the rest of the work week —the antibiotics were really strong and made my stomach hurt and my mouth was incredibly dry. My boss is one of my favorite people in the world. He’s a gay man in his mid-60s and basically anything to do with the vagina is his kryptonite. All I have to do is say the word cramps and he runs away in horror, so I didn’t want share the details of why I was feeling unwell. I got to work late one day and he was concerned and called me into his office.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine—just a lady problem. I’ll spare you the details.”
But I could tell he was still worried so said, “It’s just a little infection, nothing to worry about.”
“Ok PHEW. I thought maybe you had an abortion.”
I was on the mend by the end of the week and called the clinic. The medical assistant could see my results but couldn’t tell me what they were. I started to get all paranoid and rattled off a bunch of questions.
“Is it bad?”
“I really can’t tell you results.”
“But you’re looking at them?”
“Am I going to die?”
“Sorry that you can’t tell me or sorry that I am going to die?”
“That I can’t tell you.”
“Oh – maybe you can answer yes/no questions. Is it gonorrhea?”
“No it isn’t, or no you can’t answer?”
“No, I can’t answer. Listen, I promise a doctor will call you in five minutes.”
I paced around the office, and when my cell phone rang, I bolted into the conference room. The doctor on the phone spoke English with a bit of an accent. I asked her for the results, and all I heard was “GAHHNEELLA.”
“Um, excuse me?!!”
“You have GAHHNEAELLA.”
I freaked out and grabbed a notepad and pen. “Can you please spell that?”
“G-A-R-D-N-E-R-E-L-L-A. It’s just a bacteria.”
“Ohhhhhh, ok, thanks. It sounded like you said gonorrhea.”
She sort of laughed, said no, and hung up.
I took the notepad over to my friend Jane’s desk.
“When someone isn’t speaking perfect English, THIS (pointing at GARDNERELLA) sounds A LOT like THIS (pointing at GONORRHEA).”
Jane took my pen out of my hand and wrote GARDEN GNOMES underneath the other two words.
“I don’t think you need to worry about drug resistant gonorrhea anymore, but GARDEN GNOMES can be really terrifying too.”
So a couple tips for the ladies: if you have sex for the first time in a while, take it slow… if I’d slept with someone I’d known for longer than three hours, it probably would have been more much fun and much less itchy. But if you do end up suffering from GARDEN GNOMES, take it from me, a bag of frozen peas on your crotch does wonders. Just be sure to tell your roommates what you used them for.