My mother is directly responsible for my firm belief that the end of the world is coming soon. It’s not because she personally believes the end of the world is coming soon, but it’s because she believes all manner of other horrible things could take place at any given time — which is a quality she’s gifted me and also why you should be aware that your unfortunate rape and murder is just around the corner. Incidentally, and she’s not saying anything, she’s just saying, “soon your privates might catch cancer.” This is what she tells me yesterday, not for the first time, but for the fortieth time, on the telephone. “Have you gotten that HPV shot? I really think you need to get that HPV shot.”
“Why would I need that HPV shot?” And here, I would like my mother to make some offensive assumptions out loud about how I spend my weekends.
“Because it leads to cervical cancer.”
“What are you doing?”
“Eating a turkey sandwich.”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“Eating meat probably gives you a better chance of getting cancer than being sexually liberated does.”
“Is that what they are calling it these days?”
“How immature are you?”
“Enough so that I would welcome a cash bribe.”
She sighs, annoyed. I get the distinct feeling she isn’t going to buy me anything or pay me off for taking a very basic step toward my health. “I think the shot might even be free.” She concludes.
“I need to tell you something.” I state. There is silence on the other end of the line as my mother braces herself for something wildly irrational and bad. I lean over the phone and whisper so that other people can prevent feeling offended by my personality, “No one gives a shit about HPV.”
I like to think that doctors are scientists and scientists are Democrats, so I hesitate to say this, but HPV seems like some bullshit a bored southern Republican came up with when he had some downtime from going to church and flirting with little boys. Like he just thought to himself, since they’ve already fallen for the estate tax argument, they’d also probably fall for an STD that has no side effects, takes care of itself, can’t be prevented with condoms and everyone has. This would probably be a great way to inject more shame about sexuality into the culture.
Unfortunately, my mother has figured out “the google” and is now reading me something from online. “Could lead to genital warts,” she declares triumphantly, which I must admit seems more tangible than cervical cancer and also more horrible. “And 80% of women have it by age 50.”
“So, you’re trying to tell me that you have HPV?” I ask my mother before doing some googling myself. “Only 5% will get visible genital warts.” I swear the word visible was in there and I’d like to think that what the Department of Health is saying is, it doesn’t count unless you can see it — in which case, I guess there are a whole gamut of STDs you don’t really need to worry about until some unsettling fluid starts to leave your body.
And nowwwwww it’s time for me to feel triumphant. “Incidentally, according to the National Cancer Institute, only 5% of cancer is linked to HPV.” Pause. “Mmm.. This is interesting. According to PETA, vegetarians are 40% less likely to get cancer than meat eaters, so you might want to take that turkey sandwich out of your mouth.”