No candy: just dry pasta, tea bags

Allison Gruber
8 min readOct 31, 2020


I forgot it’s almost Halloween.

My sixth graders didn’t.

A boy in my middle school Intro to CRW asked me this morning what I’d do if he shows up at my house tomorrow asking for a treat (and I’m thinking why the fuck would you do that? — then I remembered, it’s almost Halloween, and even now, when things are so damn hard and sad, it still matters to little kids.)

We don’t have any candy, I told him. But I could give you some dry pasta and tea bags . . .

I love pasta! He said. This is not the response I was anticipating, but I will have some Orzo or Rotini on hand should he show up tomorrow. (Probably uncooked, because I’m tired and we’re in the middle of a pandemic and I don’t think I’m supposed to being giving cooked noodles to kids in the middle of Coronazona.)

** This reminded me of an anecdote early in my middle school teaching experience. A little girl was eating a fist full of ramen noodles (like out of her bare hands) at the start of class one day and I was like “Zoe” (name changed) “What are you doing?”

And she said, “oh, it’s okay. They’re cooked.”

Like my concern was whether or not they were “cooked.”


Gotta love ‘em.

And if you don’t,

don’t have them or work with them.

That’s cool, too.

Been trying to stay calm today. As I mentioned yesterday, I am prepared to get the PET scan results and right now I am just in the business of reclaiming my time, my sanity, my happiness until I learn what the scans and the election hold.

That said, I just can’t have a day where Northern Arizona Healthcare doesn’t make me jump out of my skin completely.

So I taught my classes, and afterward, I saw I had a message from Northern Arizona Healthcare. The message was in regard to some “mystery exam” that I was scheduled for on November 19th and of course Anxious Brain went right to What? What the fuck? Are things so bad my doctor has scheduled me for some surgery or treatment before he even tells me what he found? What is happening?

And so I take a deep breath. My hands are shaking and I’m sweating so bad I can feel little beads of perspiration running from my armpits down my torso. Rivulets of sweat. And when the assistant or whatever picks up, I said, and my voice is quaking, “I just got a call about a procedure on November 19th and I don’t know what that procedure is so I’m just wondering what this is all about . . .” And I’m really scared now. And I’m imagining all these really worst-fucking-case-scenarios and I’m trembling. Like legit trembling. Like women did in old books when they were scared because the wind was blowing outside their castle at night or whatever.

So this woman types in her computer and says, “Looks like Dr. K [my med oncologist] has you down for a PET Scan on November 19th.”

“I just had a PET scan yesterday,” I told the woman.

“You did?” She said. “Hmph. Guess I’ll go ahead and cancel this one.”


Like NAH has straight-up given me PTSD from shit like this. I never know when or what the next phone call is going to be about.

At 4:30, my gastro called me. You know, three weeks after a Crohn’s flare landed me in the Emergency Room. I simply said, “It’s my weekend now. I will call you Monday morning.”

Then I turned my phone off.

I cannot live in a perpetual state of anxiety. I fucking refuse.

I will not be on my deathbed thinking, “damn, I wish I had spent more time being really afraid.” And whether therapy or Prozac or meditation or Buddhist philosophy or basic common sense has arrived me at this point, I am happy I have arrived here.

I will take care of my health, but I will not be psychologically tortured when there’s fall weather to enjoy and good tea and tons of amazing music (Spotify — I love you so much) and chicken pot pies. I will not be tortured on a Friday evening when any information I could possibly have would serve no purpose but to ruin my whole fucking weekend in which I cannot do a goddamn thing about health issues. Like, the chemo machines aren’t running on Saturday, so fuck off Northern Arizona Healthcare and let me have some peace.

In other news, sweatpants that “fit” arrived today.

I’ve resigned myself to sweatpants. Specifically, red. Men’s.
xtra small until proper city food and reduced anxiety
gets my weight back up. For now, I am “xtra small men’s
sweatpants woman.”

(Also, women, my sisters, if you are going to buy sweatpants
just for around the house
do yourself a favor and buy MEN’S sweatpants
because they will be softer and they will have pockets.)

Years ago, I remember my wife saying, “Baby, you are so mean to yourself.
Even your dreams are mean to you.” (She meant my sleeping dreams, not my waking

I don’t want to be mean to myself anymore. I don’t want to let other people (lookin’ at you, NAH) bring me suffering that I do not need.

I will suffer on Tuesday. We all will agonize on Tuesday about the election
and I will agonize plenty over my PET scan results
and then I will have them, and later that night (hopefully) we will have
the election results. We will suffer all that day. Even if it’s good news. I
have cleared my Tuesday schedule for suffering. And that’s all I’m giving
suffering: Tuesday. You can have Tuesday, Suffering. But you can’t have tonight
or tomorrow or Sunday or even Monday.

And depending on my PET scan results there might be great physical suffering
and existential suffering, but even then I will not allow
the big suffering to block out
all the sun of my joy.

Sometimes I feel brave. Sometimes I don’t.
Right now, I’m storing up tons of bravery
for Tuesday. Stockpiling it like firewood. Right now
as part of my bravery gathering, I’m listening
to “Somebody to Love” not because that’s a song
about courage, but because crazy ass Grace Slick always
brings a smile to my face.
That woman. What a nut.

Actually, this song sucks. Too sloppy. The central question
is not specific or engaging enough.

“Don’t you want somebody to love?”
Yeah. Sure. Everyone does I guess except
total misanthropes and really I think there are more
people who call themselves “misanthropes” than there are
people who are actually “misanthropes.” It’s sort of like the gluten
allergy thing: you don’t really have Celiac’s Disease, you just have a sensitive
stomach whose troubles are probably more complex or maybe
(lucky you!) even more simple than “gluten.”

Anyway, no one is really a misanthrope. I mean, maybe a handful of people, but
mostly not. Not truly. You might have misanthropic tendencies, like a growth
that mimics cancer, but is not cancer.

I told my friend Laura today that I wish I had this perspective
at twenty, but I probably would have wasted it on drugs
and booze and parties and hooking up with gross people
(and frankly if you live long enough we all end up hooking
up at least once with a gross person). Now that I’m forty-four, calmer,
more into tea and gentle doses of edible cannabis than all-nighters
and cocaine, I can spend my perspective on healing
my body and writing and loving the sound
of my wife’s laugh as she explains to me that unlike
Chicago, Tucson is NOT on a grid, so with my notoriously
terrible sense of direction I’m going to at least once in my
residency there end up at the Mexico border when I was
actually on my way to the Walgreens on East Speedway.

Anyway, I would have been irresponsible with this knowledge
at twenty or in my teens. Would have squandered it. Wouldn’t have
made it much past thirty.

I can be responsible with it now, and maybe
that’s why the universe has chosen to give it to me
at this very moment in time. The universe or, as per an earlier post,
Kenny Rogers. I would totally fucking be delighted if it turned out
there were guardian angels and Kenny Rogers was my guardian

Closing note: during today’s staff meeting one of my colleagues queued up “Dancing With Myself” just for me and a bunch of us rocked out in our Zoom squares (myself included) and I gave zero fucks about how ridiculous I surely looked because I have not
lived a shameful enough life to ever regret “embarrassing myself too much.” On the contrary, I have spent my entire life trying so very hard not to embarrass myself. And you know what? That caused me a lot of pain and suffering, too.

The truth for anyone reading who is also scared like I used to be scared of “embarrassing myself” by doing something I want to do like dance to Billy Idol at the start of a Friday staff meeting, allow me to clue you in: you’re not going to embarrass yourself. You’re going to have fun. And no one is really fucking paying attention and the ones who are are the people who love you because you do things like head bang
to Billy Idol on Zoom.



Allison Gruber

Educator, essayist, feminist, human.