Link to previous chapters
With guests at my table, a friend and her husband, and he’s saying to her, “You could look like a doll -- if you got off my back.”
“But you don’t know how painful it is to be blind,” she said.
“Still,” he said, “we have to keep moving, keep thinking, and even working. You can't seal yourself into a vault. You won’t eat chicken, no fish, no eggs, no milk. You could eat a piece of
cheese. I just can’t live on beans. We can’t get together on anything, not even a dinner of my own cooking.” Taking another helping of my fresh fruit salad. “You could go out someplace with Laura, you can listen to music and I’d drive you, so I’d have some peace in the house alone for a while.”
A Rat Is Not a Rose
I called Mayo in the middle of the night. “Mayo, I can’t see my face in the mirror. I’m blind. And why am I calling you now? I could call you at six in the morning.”
He said, “Mother, you can call me any time, day or night.”
Always testing myself in front of a mirror. How much of me can I see? One morning getting up, I found what I thought was an artificial rose on the floor. It had claws, fur. I screamed.
Two men from across the street on their way to miniature golf came running. What is this old lady screaming about?
“Can we come in?”
They scooped it up -- “It’s only a dead rat. Where’s the problem?”
The problem is that I was too blind to know the difference between a rose and a dead rat.
On one occasion I washed my hair in the kitchen sink and wrapped it up in a Turkish towel to make sure I didn’t look like Frankenstein’s monster or Einstein’s mother. Going over to Current Events in the Clubhouse, well-groomed now, a woman said to me, “Why doesn’t someone tell you to do up your hair? Can’t you see?”
“It’s crazy hair,” I said. “You have to go to the beauty parlor first.”
On another occasion, I managed to find a beauty operator to come to my house. She carried a beauty shop in her car: drier and all. She did my nails and gave me a facial, and when finished I thought I looked like a doll.
I marched over to the clubhouse and that same woman looked at me with disgust. “Why don’t you do something with your hair?”
Blind Support Group
The director of the Center for the Blind, who was also blind, was listening to us around the table, saying “to have insight you don’t need eyesight.” One attractive young woman with long
blonde hair interrupted, “When I lost my eyesight, my whole family broke apart. My husband is in the Marines. It was a great time when the boats used to dock. Not now. Now he doesn’t even come home. And my two little daughters won’t even talk to me because I can’t drive them any more. I’ll
have to get a guide dog. He’ll love me if I drive him or not.”
On the other side of the table, Mario is telling his story in hopes that we can give him some insight, some support. “On Saturday nights we guys up at the bar used to have a ball. Lots of drinks.
At midnight we get a boat and sail around San Diego. Now, half blind, I don’t have any friends.”
The old man next to him is saying, “I married a 24-year-old girl. I’m putting her through nursing school. I never see her.” What could we say to him? No fool like a blind old fool?
My turn. “I met a friend in the supermarket with her little grandson. ‘Hello there. Let me give you a hug,’ extending my arms. ‘Don’t touch him! Don’t touch him!’ she shouted. I felt like a leper.”
Just like the premise, I thought, of War and Peace, that the world does not fit itself into you, you have to fit yourself into the world.
“I was born blind,” a 17-year-old girl was saying. “I go to Grossmont College. I love purple. I never saw purple. This blouse is purple. I love purple.”
We were psychologists to each other. At least, we tried. Napoleon tried. “Are you going to fit yourself into the world, Laura?” I say to myself. “Or wait until the world fits itself to you?”
“Use your memory along with your eye exercises,” the lady eye-exerciser lectured in her first eye lesson at the seniors.
“Remember what people are viewing and get as much as you can from the trees, the sounds outdoors and indoors.”
Words that entertained us, but did nothing to sharpen my legal blindness. How was I to remember what I couldn’t see? Eye exercising was a clumsy game for me, worse than a blind
woman at a dinner table at a banquet for the blind, she reaching for the cream, splashed it all over me, amusing her. My moans brought volunteers running with towels to mop up the mess.
Nevertheless, that eye-memory lesson did have some effect, and I practiced eye exercises by rolling my eyes along the ceiling where it meets the wall, which was merely so-so for my vision, but it did improve my memory. Later reminding me to call the director of the San Diego Center for the
“I called all the organizations, CTIB, for Careers and Technology Information for the Blind and the writers for the blind but not one of them returned my calls, as if I’m not blind enough to join them and still waiting for the National Federation for the blind. Where are they, I wonder? They
must think that my age is standing still here. I want to join a support group – writers with impaired vision. Role models and I want to be just like them.”
“I don’t know why nobody called you,” she said. “I’ll give them a call and see what happened.”
“In the meantime,” I asked her, “I’m also trying to get a computer that will do a printout for me. And don’t you have talking computers? With voices? I want to come into the center and learn that. It would help me in my writing.”
“It’s not that easy. In the first place, you need software. We’ll have people on the staff who will be studying that. And at some point maybe you can come in and learn it, too. Our staff hasn’t
learned it either yet. Besides, the computer voice has to adjust to yours.”
The computers are taking over and telling the people what to do.
A young friend of mine went to a dentist. His charge was $1,500.00. When her voice suited him, he reduced that to $350. The only problem was that she had a continuous taste of metal in her mouth.
That eye exercising lady wasn’t that far wrong. It’s all inside my head. To keep working my memory, all I had to do was to go to another eye doctor and get my eyes refracted, tested again since it was already eight or nine months since my second cataract removal resulting in new prescription,
slightly stronger than my first glasses. This doctor saying that the glasses didn’t have any prescription at all and suggesting a yellow tint to cut down the glare. This procedure occupied me and my memory for several weeks, having taken my new prescription back to the first optician to use my guarantee of re-make free if done within a year, only for the left eye, though, and not for the right as per Medicare. The decision is still in balance.
A few weeks ago, I get a telephone call from the Senior Emergency Alert System. A young voice telling me that if I want to continue to wear the medic alert, I have to have the alarm go off in the box every night at 8 o’clock so they can check as though there were a fire and I have to be here to turn it off. What if I want to go dancing or to the theater? Otherwise, the medics will come, break down my door or somebody will surprise me at my bedside to see if I’m dead. “Leave a message” is
the only response I got to my calls. Never an answer. Now, with the girl at the other end of the phone I can’t convince her of my problem. Luckily, Professor Charles Chamberlain was here editing my book. He came in handy, editing my telephone call. He found out that all I had to do was to turn the box over and shut the alarm off. But they couldn’t tell an old senile woman from the grayhaired senior village; they had to hear a man’s voice. Then they loosened up with the information.
That which I have always feared has come upon me. About a week ago I lost all my hearing. I was stone deaf. Just as I’d learned to deal with my legal blindness, I was shut off from all of my reading services, the KPBS radio for the blind, and all of the voices that read the newspapers to me around the clock. Now there were no more wars, no starving children, no border patrols, no bombings, no terrorists; there was no such thing now for me as an enemy. We all love each other here and all around our sweet world. Peacemakers are out of work, and so am I. No more T. S. Eliot, closed for ear repairs, closed readings, no San Diego papers, Los Angeles Times, New York
Times, Christian Science Monitor editorials, magazine articles, Jewish publications, All About Books on CNN -- my Saturday and Sunday entertainment on TV without a stop -- no opera straight from the Met on radio, and talk, talk, talk. All those book recordings on tape, recorder readings in green
boxes all the way from when Moses climbed the mountain to Jane Eyre in the middle to Chekhov's A Life -- all returned to Braille Library.
At this point I am speaking over the phone to my editor and telling him I am going on with this book until the Angel of Death comes to get me. In my childhood, the doctor was right. I would be deaf, but he didn't say when. Or maybe not, if my hopes and the new doctor’s plan are heard by the One above who pulls the strings.
Yesterday I tried to make some telephone calls without hearing, with very limited eyesight and tried to get 411, scrambling to dial the number. Impossible. When I opened the door a few minuteslater I found to my surprise two men.
“Are you the police?” not sure of what I was seeing. “What’s the problem? Why are you here? What is it?”
“We came with the ambulance, the operator thought you were trying to get 911.”
“Call me every half hour,” Mayo said, calling me all day, insisting. My love for talking is too costly, cutting the calls down to eight a day. Crying is good for the ground to water.
Besides, there is no time. Between talking to New York and Highland Park, there are all of my friends, most of them alerted by Mayo, his long distance calls to them, “my mother needs help,” and I get my groceries picked out and delivered, shopped for, a friend at my bedside eight in the morning, “Mayo wants me to take you to the doctor,” upon leaving with her the note telling me, “Your son called, you’re going to the doctor,” from a neighbor he called to give me the message. I
can’t hear the telephone ring let alone hear what is said, never getting the note tacked to the door, the doctor a blessing trying to keep me together emotionally. I feel my spirits sinking. He calls Bella, a caring volunteer for the Seniors, and gets Craig’s number, director of all the Senior groups of the
Jewish Family Service. Bella brings me my food, roast beef, mashed potatoes, string beans, pears, sliced beets, rye bread. Mayo calls at night, Craig is coming now. I put a note on door: “Walk in, I’m expecting you.” Meals delivered daily, volunteers requests for grocery shopping, social worker
comes, “Do you have food?” she’s Swedish and acts like a Jewish mother – “Eat.”
The Rabbi is here!
He said, “What do you need? What can we do for you?”
An angel is at my door. The rabbi sent her. She’s my telephone secretary. Answers the phone, takes messages, writes it down on a yellow pad and I struggle with a magnifier to read it. She dials my numbers for me, talks to answering machines and gets information.
“Find a deaf school,” I insist to myself. “Gallaudet.” A beautiful sunshiny day to be alive, she and I are going to find a telephone directory to find a deaf school through the yellow pages.
Unsuccessful. An ill wind that lifted my spirits and vitality. I’ll sit down to write. I’m lagging behind and my editor has been calling. When? When? I have to eat first. With half the roast beef slices I make a barley beef vegetable bean soup, adding some leftover chicken. Now I've settled down to
Viola, the social worker. Craig again. Arrangements are being made to drive me to Encinitas to see a nursing home, at my request, I’m a person who makes her own decisions. Craig says there’s a long wait for a place in the nursing home.
The social worker, has a suggestion. She knows of a live-in girl for me, who is strictly Kosher.
I’ll have to throw out all my pots and pans and eat on paper plates with plastic silverware. We would also share one bath room.
“Can you hear me?” Mayo’s asking at the phone.
“I heard you say ‘Can you hear me?’” cry in my voice.
A few hours later. A flash on my phone tells me the phone is ringing. Hearing people say the ring is shocking. Receiver to my ear. The phone is dead; or is it?
“Hello? Hello? Who is it? (And he only called six times today). Who? Who? Spell it. I? M? Who? A, Z, Z?”
Frustrated enough, just call me Madam Butterfly or “we are the stuff that dreams are made of,” and this is more than I can stand, still breathing, “So,” I say, “I’ll name the city where you are at,” and this is likely long-distance peak of the day charge, “and you just say yes or no. I’ll hear that maybe. Michigan?” Thinking of Robert and Mae.
“Did you say no?”
“I can’t make out no or yes. Robert?”
“Highland Park?” Thinking of Syd and Norman.
“Lake Havasu?” Thinking of Evelyn.
“No.” And still long distance.
“Yes? Mayo? Are you saying no or yes?”
“Yes. Can you hear me?”
“Mayo?” I can’t stand this. I have to hang up. “I don’t know who it is.”
“It’s me. Mayo.”
“Mayo? My Son?” I said, completely taken over by my emotions. How lucky, how grateful I am for all my blessings.
Now back to square one. I am trying to catch up to my I Am Still Here”
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I can’t write. It’s Craig again. “It’s night,” I say, luckily hearing the knock, knock at the door.
Always with an arm around and a kiss. That’s how he got to be top man. “I promised to come back -- first chance I got. Viola told me. You could hear her.”
“Her first two words – ‘food enough?’” I fell over into her arms. “You brought me luck,” I said. “I can hear,” and then writing notes. Now with Craig and getting my gold star hug, some conversation.
It must be midnight. I’m going to bed. Another day, another dollar.
Without my telephone secretary, Orit, a young Israeli girl who left behind a Yeshivah love -- with her mind on her longings, she handles my telephone needs, we together make one mouthpiece.
I talk to my caller, she takes over, listens and writes the answer, I the great reader take over with my magnifier and talk to my caller again and again she listens to the arguments on both sides.
“VISA? What’s my balance due? I never got your statement. Three hundred thirty? Last month and this now? You charged interest? No way.” My balance worked down to one hundred
thirty nine dollars and seventy-nine cents. “So what did she say when you hung up?” She hands me VISA’s answer. Where’s my magnifier, I can’t read the answer. Oh. And please turn on the other light. It needs a new bulb. “In the bathroom on the top shelf.” I run to help. Old bulb finally gone.
Finally I read her answer. “Thank you and have a good day.” A half of it already gone.
My battles of every-day living have given me the strength to uncover and relive the experiences of the past and the present. In this recent siege of deafness, for the first time watching wrestlers fight, knocked down, they are up again half-dead, but up on their feet and body and all into the next guy. Each time I am determined more than ever to stay away from caretakers. But Rashi said: “All your life you struggle—in the end you lose.”
My hearing secretary listens to the phone. “If you want pollack, only on Thursday. Too late today.” From her Hebraic written into English.
“But,” I said, “I didn’t want Catch of the Day, and that includes pollack. A substitute?”
“Then don’t deliver lunch tomorrow.”
“Then how many meals you want?”
“Just one on next delivery.”
“It can’t be every day now but later in a few weeks the Jewish Family Service will have other plans and you . . .”
“Please,” I say, “OK, lunch next week Thursday. I appreciate your help.”
Exhausting just to order lunch.
“But you don’t want pollack.”
“I understand,” as I’m handed more to read.
“How many meals you want?”
I take the phone. “None for the time being but I do appreciate this call and how concerned the Jewish Family Service is, and Craig too, came twice to see me, his care..”
My angel secretary takes over and listens and listens and then writes, hands me the important conversation on script, whatever eyesight I have left is going.
“No. That’s ridiculous, my son’s telephone number in New York for lunch? And my daughter’s in Highland Park, Illinois? To ask what?” More listening, more script. “She wants to
know how many meals you want. They want to help you.”
Another call. My social worker. I read. She says that if I need more help I’ll have to pay. My son later, calling me from New York says “The social worker called. They’ll charge fifty dollars for four hours help, available daily.” Answer, no. “So she said.” I read, “If you want to see a retirement home, someone will take you on Wednesday.”
I talk to the Rabbi about possible replacements for when my telephone secretary leaves. And then I have another situation, how am I going to get food in the house? I convince Henrys, which delivers cases of water, to bring a little food, too. Then I call my ophthalmologist to put off my eye surgery. I am ready to see the retirement home on Wednesday and move right in, a thought I was never to let enter my mind. Maybe it’s the stifling deafness as I sit writing this on my dining table.
My telephone secretary hands me a script. “I have to go now. See you tomorrow.”
That deafness of mine has taken me on my most exciting adventure into humanity. A wake-up call: “You are old.”
It’s a new day. But the time did come when I could celebrate. I could hear a little again, calling Syd, calling Mayo, my long distance calls will cost me a fortune.
I’m out in the world, half deaf. God of the Universe as my father would say. “Guide me. Show me the way,” my father’s exclamation in times of great stress. God was going to help him. I have to learn sign language. The Synagogue. It’s right down the street. Temple Emanuel. I have to go to the Synagogue now to attend services for the deaf. How were they saying Master of the Universe in sign language or singing the prayers up front? I’ll listen to how the deaf pray to God
in sign language. I went to Loop College to learn sign language.
“When we study Torah,” my telephone secretary says, trying to teach me, she’s all of twentyone.
“We are the brides of God.” And more, “Tania is the book we are studying in the Synagogue about God and about life.” With my hearing aid I hear her painfully.
Hey, we’re going to the Indian casino. And I have to be on time. The Indians won’t wait for me. I stuff my shopping bag with pillow, sweater, and water for my Tylenol. My purse? My ID for changing money? I throw myself together. I want to look nice. I put on my white jeans and my white shirt. I want everything to match. At the Seniors, we get a name tag with a phone number on it in case we get lost.
I tag onto a woman I used to know. She walks with a cane. I hadn’t been going out much since I broke my hip and this outing is very important to me. I’ve got tennis balls on my walker so it won’t scrape. We need quiet at the casino.
At the casino, how exciting, so crowded -- at this point the excitement is getting to me. My friend is giving me lessons: “Change a $5.00 bill at the window, Laura, and then you put a dollar in the nickel machine.” The whole place is filled with machines. I sit next to her at a lucky one, I hope.
She’s asking the sweeper, “How do you work this one? I want to win something.”
“Me too,” I pipe up.
“You press the number 1 and then the number 3,” the expert advised. If he’s that smart, why doesn’t he play the machines himself, I thought. Why is he picking up garbage with a thing instead of money?
Taking a dollar out of my purse – an old shabby, wrinkled one fine with me.
“No, no, no,” he yells, holding up his hand to protect the machine. “The machine wants smooth money, understand?” turning to a young woman with a big bill to change into singles and getting on with his job as sweeper/cashier.
Carefully and with great hope I slip this beautiful dollar into the slot. The machine swallowed it up like a pill. When Mayo was a little boy I found a puppy for him so hungry he swallowed a pound of hamburger as fast as I put it down into his plate. The puppy was a good little friend and we tolerated his appetite. The gambling machine had a big appetite, too. When I pressed number 1 and number 3 after my dollar slipped in, the machine coughed, then went silent. “Give me another dollar.” A bell rings. Somebody is a winner right in back of us. I say to my friend, “Hey, if you win a million dollars, I bet you have to give it all to the government. You’re lucky if you have $10.00 left.”
She said, “Don’t worry about it yet.” I said, “I have to worry. That woman over there, I just heard she won $150.00.” “That’s not a woman,” she said, “that’s a man.” Men or women, they are all running around. I myself don’t understand it.
Many a time I find myself being a little too anxious in wanting to make friends hanging on when we went to lunch. I didn’t think I'd be in the way of those two women. I thought we were
friends in a casual sort of way. Still careful though not to be a burden to them, I went up to the buffet to select my food. “I’m from Oklahoma,” the woman next to me said. “Here, I see you’re holding out your plate. I can give you a hand with that.” Wherever I go people help me and I let them. “I like to eat,” she said. “And I will fill your plate with the same thing.”
“That’s so generous of you. Thank you.” She starts piling up food. Crab cakes, sliced roast beef, grilled chicken, mashed
potatoes and gravy and string beans. The Indians are great caterers; they must buy food by the barrel. “Only give me a little of each. That’s too much.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “You can always leave it.”
“Well, that’s not what I wanted to do. I could always come back for more,” I said. “How about some of those shrimps.”
She’s about to give me the whole wash tub of shrimp. I said,
“Just a few. I just want to taste it.” “That’s all I gave you was just a few.” I go back with a plate of food piled as high as a mountain. My friends must think I had a personal Indian to help me. I can’t get into this food. I worry about heartburn. I don’t have the Gaviscon with me. I taste a crab cake.
Delicious. Too spicy the slice of roast beef too big to handle. I can’t touch it. The grilled chicken. I look at it. What am I going to do here? I can’t eat there’s so much of it.
The waitress approached me just as I was getting an empty plate to bring back to my table to separate my food so I could eat. “I’m helping you,” she said, already at the buffet filling my plate again with grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, string beans. “That’s enough,” I said, “please.” “Not any dessert?” She quickly set it down at my place at the table. My two friends are shocked, one saying, “Do you eat like this every day?” with a flair of importance just like my Aunt Bessie but not as witty, laughing like a real gambler that has just had a great winning streak. “I don’t know. I didn’t measure it,” thinking “I’m not measuring your food. Don’t measure mine.” With a quick glance at the other -- what should we do, just leave her here? We’ve got work to do. “You were brought
here,” she said to me, “to play the gambling machines not play the eating game. Eat, eat, eat,” she said again, just like Aunt Bessie. “You’ll find us at the nickel machine near the door.” I just hoped that they took the evil eye with them. One was sure floating around. They were jealous of my appetite. Crowds around me were just actresses and actors on stage. And I followed them as though I were deaf, not an adventure that I meant to see at this moment. Always looking for the unknown.
Something I had never seen before but it wasn’t an Indian casino that I wanted either.
On the bus coming home from the casino, the woman next to me was saying, “My arthritis is terrible. I have it all over my body. My toes are paralyzed. I can’t keep myself together, even to give away my new dishes worth $40.00 a plate. Nobody wants them. We used to have parties and I used
those dishes until my husband had to go to the nursing home. Now I know what it’s like to be alone. I didn’t know what to do. One night my pillow was soaked with tears. I went into the living room to meditate. In the nursing home they took away all his pension and then I had to work to add to it. And now I have to move like you. A nursing home? Oh, my God. I called my daughter. ‘I can’t carry this load all by myself.’ She says, ‘Mother, I am 56. I got arthritis too. You got to do things
yourself. You have to face reality.’ That’s why I gamble, to forget about nursing homes, and wars and rumors of war, like in the Bible,” she is saying. “I’m worried. And I can’t say anything to her. She doesn’t let me.”
The bus jostles on and we are both with our own thoughts.
I got a lesson in that health store to last me a long time. After a long life of storm and strife, I was way beyond a wrinkle cure and aging gracefully pill. My sweetness is the residue, the remains of all I had. I just needed a vitamin to keep my moods on even keel, and make me stronger, in a sense.
Walking the mall tired me, lugging the three pairs of shoes I bought at Nordstrom’s, brassieres, stockings and artificial flowers to brighten my life, and now – why not see what the
vitamin store has for me? When there is life there is hope.
“Beautiful and young I’ll never be again,” I say to the vitamin girl. “But I try. I never bought a cake in the bakery, not in my whole life. I bake, I cook – I take a turkey thigh, a potato, barley and beans and make a soup – too much salt in canned soup and I’ll never buy that again.”
“So then, how can I help you?”
“What can you recommend here in a good vitamin – as I understand, it’s possible to rejuvenate your brain cells – I still think black and white art work is beautiful and everybody loves color – to keep your memory intact. Someone meets me, ‘Laura. A long time no see. I think of you all the time’ – and I don’t know who it is to worry me; lately forgetting a name or telephone number. I want to stop that nonsense – so I thought –"
Helpful, the girl hands me a bottle of vitamins. “A great best seller,” she said. “We’re always out of it.”
“There is one thing I don’t want,” I said, “sugar in my vitamins. Could you read the label for me and make sure? I don’t have my good glasses and my magnifier doesn’t seem to help much
She’s a fast reader. “This one is perfect for you,” already putting it in a small plastic bag, “eight eighty-nine.”
Outside I collect myself, get my magnifier to see what I’ve got here – sugar! – going back inside again. “You know these vitamins have lots of sugar in them,” handing her the bottle that she refuses to take. “I’d like a refund. You read the label – it’s got sugar – and I’ll be back some other time.”
“No. You walked out with it. So stay out.”
“This vitamin is not for me. First of all it’s the sugar and I don’t want that . . .”
“Lady – leave..” pointing to the door. “You walked out. Stay out.”
“No. I want my refund. I only stopped to read the label, and I could see that this vitamin is wrong for me.”
“I’m telling you to go.”
“Give me my refund. What difference does it make? I would like to have my refund.”
Thinking maybe I don’t need vitamins for mood. My mood is OK. And I’m feeling stronger already. She picks up the phone and she’s calling the police. “There’s a woman here who won’t
leave.” I feel that my sugar must be going up. My cortisone. Maybe I need those vitamins or something right now. Those four husky policemen coming in will think I’m trying to commit suicide.
“Here is my receipt,” I say to them, not letting her talk, thankful that I had it, or who knows what could have happened to me. “The ingredients on the label are just not what I want – or should have, and I told her I can’t tolerate sugar. She read the label and I took her word for it – no sugar. I sat out there on that stone bench – in one moment, struggling with my magnifier, I saw that I had to return it – too much sugar for me.”
One to the other, those giants studied my receipt, each one reading the label on the vitamin bottle, all pitching in trying to figure out the problem.
“There’s too much sugar – I’m sweet enough without it,” already talking too much, raising my stress level. Shrugging their shoulders and I’m trying to read their body language. “All I want is my refund,” still pleading my case and pointing to my full shopping bag. “I’m helping Fashion Valley’s
economy. I want to be an example to all the seniors in the whole world how to stand up for their rights, how to stay young by coming to this health store.”
The police looking to her – still silent, standing close and protecting her cash in the register, all four marching up to her with the receipt. “Give the lady her refund,” getting my eight eighty-nine with a nice ‘thank-you.’
“If you’re walking to the bus,” one officer said, “we can help you,” ready to help with my shopping bag.
“Oh, thank you, if you don’t mind stopping at the food store while I get some green tea. I don’t drink coffee anymore. It makes my heart beat fast and slows up my brain.”