by Alison Fensterstock

I never did exactly see myself in a nurturing role. As a 22-year old writing student who drinks and smokes a little too much and stays out too late, objectively you might say I need a little looking after myself. I can't keep a plant alive, can't keep my bathroom clean, and my brief relationship with my house cat, Ginger, was terminated because I couldn't take the responsibility (she now lives in Queens with an older and more stable friend). When we had to grow alfalfa sprouts in little Styrofoam cups in second grade, I think mine died. The closest I ever got to being a nursemaid was wearing a vinyl nurse's outfit as an extra in a dominatrix friend's performance piece. Nope, by nature, I am no Florence Nightingale.

However, a little over a month ago, my sweetie of nearly a year injured both hands, and with no family in town, I was the number one candidate to assist in performing those, ah, functions that were too difficult for him to attend to on his own with two bulky casts.
Suddenly, he couldn't tie his own shoes, fix his own food, button a shirt or do anything that required more than a rudimentary use of opposable thumbs. Thankfully, yes, he could take care of his own bodily functions, for those of you with more base imaginations ( most asked question to me: do you have to wipe his ass? most asked question to him: how do you jerk off? ) but there was precious little else that my help wasn't required for.

So this put me in a role that I wasn't only totally unaccustomed to but one I never even thought I'd be in for a good ten years or so, and then the recipient of my care, should I choose to grow it in my stomach and push it out, would be cute, look like me, and would be small enough for me to pick up and put somewhere else. And my boyfriend is not cute enough for someone else to want to watch him. Plus, it would seem a little sordid to pay a teenage girl under minimum wage to attend to him while I went to the movies. So I was stuck with a brand new roommate who needed someone else to zip his pants.

It really didn't seem like such a taxing proposition at first; hell, it was rock and roll all the way. He gets attacked in a bar, smashes up his hands getting this other cat out of his face, and high on adrenaline we drive to the ER with the radio up loud to get stitched up and pick up some choice pharmaceuticals, after which life goes on as per usual and we have a great story to tell. Nope. Turned out he broke his knuckles on one hand (which is apparently a pretty common mishap for people who habitually beat on things with their fists: you have no idea how many strangers, not asked, showed us their own lumpy knuckles in grocery stores and restaurants in the following weeks) and sliced a tendon in the other, neither of which was a good thing. Turns out, in fact, that he would be in casts, splints and physical therapy for four to six weeks at least. Turns out that means he was moving into my place.

My sweetie is someone I love very much. I think he's supercool and at least as good as sliced bread. He's an encyclopedia of rock music, is the best pool shooter I've ever met, and has pretty blue eyes to boot. However, I made all these assessments of him when he was able to tie his own shoes and wasn't a permanent fixture on my couch watching PBS nature shows on Percocet asking for me to open him a Coke, change the channel, or light him a cigarette.

This may sound callous, but I don't think it really is; what young woman, especially a self-identified feminist, student, zine publisher etc. would choose to sacrifice most of her time to the caregiver role? Most of us certainly wouldn't elect to have children in this stage of our lives. This role is not for us anymore, not yet. We have been liberated from it. We are no longer sentenced to nurture and serve; we have the luxury now of choosing that role if and when we are ready. We take care of ourselves first. Caring for a sick or injured friend is a brief commitment; we don't, generally, take the responsibility of taking care of an almost helpless other person twenty-four hours a day.

But there I was, (me! an educated feminist only in my twenties!) forced, more or less, into the most classic form of labor, the woman as caregiver. I buttoned shirts, changed channels, cooked (or at least dialed the phone for takeout) and fussed. Even my mom worked when I was little and stayed home from school sick, but I was June Cleavering my ass all over the place.

The weirdest thing about it was how comfortable it was. Surprisingly, I'd say it almost made me feel like more of a grown-up; I was in control of something. Someone was dependent on me. Strange mommy-language was coming out of my mouth. "Honey, do you want some soup?" "Let me get that." "Did you do your therapy exercises today?" ad nauseam. It was strange work. Certainly it was a pain in the ass most of the time, and I definitely missed being the pampered girlfriend, but being the capable caregiver brought out a peculiar feeling of worth in me. I found myself wondering if the will to nest was, in fact, included free along with the XX chromosome set.

So, yes, I found a caregiver in me, but don't worry, it's not a full transformation. I've still got a lot more Poly Styrene than Pollyanna in me, and I'll be plenty happy when he's fixed and whole (read: self-sufficient) again. And I still have that white vinyl nurse's outfit, and I think it's gonna come in handy.

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