4 min

Pushing 40

How long can a person actually live without pancakes?

I keep thinking if i ignore it long enough, it will just go away. I keep telling myself that I can’t possibly be lactose intolerant, on account of how much I love cheese, and ice cream, and drinking milk right out of the carton.

I figure if I just persevere, and just make sure to have a little dairy every day, that slowly I will build up an immunity again and it will all be good.

Adult onset allergies, my doctor tells me, are more common these days than ever, a combination of pollution, stress, immune systems weakened by antibiotics. I’m not alone, she tells me, she sees it all the time.

This doesn’t make me feel any better, this knowing that I have a rather common, kind of garden-variety ailment. I’d almost prefer to be debilitated by something a little more rare, something elusive to diagnose and involving a lot less phlegm. Something a little more butch.

My little sister was always the allergic one growing up, and my mother. Carrie couldn’t drink milk or eat strawberries. Her entire childhood was shadowed by a running nose and itchy bouts of hives. My mother’s foes were dust and dogs and cats and a certain kind of pollen from an indigenous species of tree, especially in the spring.

Back then, in the ’70s, family policy was to just kind of ignore allergies. There were pills you could take, I’m sure, but no one believed in them, and it was generally inferred by us all that those prone to allergies were somehow weaker than the rest of us, or possibly doing it for the attention, or just plain not trying hard enough.

Getting rid of the dog or using a soy substitute would only encourage their inconvenient behaviour. Why take it out on the poor pets, or milk and milk products? Why punish the many strong ones, and coddle the faulty few?

My mom tells me on the phone that her allergies changed right around the time she was my age, that in her late 30s she developed a whole new batch of intolerances, and she added a multitude of processed food preservatives, penicillin, and sulphates to the already long list of things her body reacted to.

“You’re just getting old,” she told me, like I would find this news comforting.

It still seems bizarre to me somehow, that foods I have always considered friendly, my body now finds hostile. That someone born and raised in the Yukon could possibly sneeze when exposed to tree pollen.

That a former landscaper could develop an intolerance to lawn clippings. That this person could be me. That I could be pushing 40.

When did I turn into the person perusing the soymilk selection at the health food store? Where did the lines in my forehead come from, and whose hips are these, anyways?

I was lamenting my ever-increasing hips a couple of days ago to two of my older butch friends. They snorted at me, like I was complaining that I was still too young to buy my own beer.

“Wait till you start to grow the gut,” one laughed.

My other friend nodded in sympathy, patting her own belly. “The hip thing slows down once you hit menopause, but then the belly speeds up. What really gets me, though, is the turkey skin under my chin. Losing my young neck was the hardest thing for me. That, and my eyesight. Bifocals are fucking expensive.”

Again, I was not comforted.

My mom calls again, this time to inform me that she has recently been diagnosed with Ciliac disease, meaning she is now not allowed to eat wheat, rye, barley, soy–the list goes on for a frightening long while.

She then informs me that this condition is very hereditary, and that I need to go get tested myself. She starts bemoaning her imminent divorce from pasta and fresh bread, but I can no longer hear her, the sound of blood rushing in my ears has become too loud.

I am imagining myself as one of those people I used to make fun of, the ones who show up for dinner at a friend’s house with their own special salad dressing in a Ziploc bag. The ones who interrogate the harried waitress for 10 minutes and then end up ordering a miso soup.

Wait a second. I won’t be allowed miso soup.

Thank Christ I’m not a vegetarian, I think, and then wonder how long a person can actually live without pancakes.

If I might eventually go nuts and start snatching handfuls of pasta off of other people’s plates when out in public. If I could actually go out in public. All that starch, just taunting me like that. She hangs up, and I google Ciliac disease. The first website that pops up is I’m not making this up. Seriously.

Last week I was strolling the Drive with my cousin Dan, and we ran into a friend of mine. “Let’s go grab a table at the Roma,” she gestures with a toss of her curls. “I’ll buy us all a coffee.”

Dan and I both look down at our shoes, sheepish. “Neither of us can drink coffee anymore,” he says, and I feel a blush creeping from under my collar. “It make us both anxious.”

She laughs, secure still in her late 20s. “Well maybe I can buy you both a nice steamed milk then, maybe with a bit of almond syrup in it.”

I cough, my ears on fire now. “Actually, we’re both lactose intolerant, too.”

“And nuts make my throat swell up,” Dan adds. I think he’s joking, but I’m not sure.

She shakes her head, just like I used to. “Herbal tea? Organic peppermint?”

I look at my watch, shake my head. “I gotta run. I have to get to the vet before it closes. My little dog needs special prescription food now. He has bladder stones. It’s not his fault. He’s getting old.”