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by Nesta Rovina

I asked her how it felt spending one's life inside an eggshell

Concord consists of shopping malls, modern office buildings of glass, artificial fountains, wide avenues lined with car dealerships, identical townhouses, apartment buildings, and ranch-style housing developments. On the surface, the impression is that of a predominantly white, conservative population. In reality the population is mixed:  blacks, Russians, Afghanis, East Indians, Latinos, and Asians.

One of my first visits to Concord was to a young woman who suffered from seizures and a rare bone disease that caused her bones to break easily. Together these are a lethal combination. The people who suffer from this rare genetic disease are not the kind of people one can hug heartily, or slap on the back in a hale-fellow-well-met kind of way:  such a gesture may crack the bones in their fragile skeletal systems.

I planned to instruct her in home safety to prevent further broken bones, especially in the shower. When I arrived she told me her roommate was using the shower. In the meantime I examined the two-bedroom apartment for safety hazards. I suggested she remove her throw rugs because, pretty as they were, none of them had any backing, and to trip on one could be fatal. I recommended fastening down the many computer and phone cords which slunk in snakelike patterns over the living room carpets into the bedroom and down the hallway, disappearing under her roommate's door.

Her artwork covered the walls of the living room:  intricate, mandala-like paintings of people who resembled fantastic-looking animals, drawn with felt-tip pens in vivid greens, oranges, yellows, and reds. The total effect was somewhat disturbing. It seemed the electrical currents which fired at inappropriate intervals in her brain caused her to see the world rather like Van Gogh on a mixture of absinthe and acid.

I asked her how it felt spending one's life inside an eggshell. She told me she had suffered deep depressions, and despair, but new medications seemed to be helping. Her seizures had abated, and she no longer felt so exhausted and anxious. She planned to make postcards of her artwork. In fact, she hoped to set up a small stationery business in her home.

At least half an hour had passed. I glanced in the direction of the shower. I did not hear any water running.

"She takes forever," the woman said. "You can ask her to hurry."

I knocked on the bathroom door and asked whether I could use the bathroom for just a few minutes.

"No problem," answered a man's voice.

I thought I'd heard the patient saying, "She takes a long time to get ready."

The bathroom door opened and a waft of heady perfume emanated from inside. I tried to act as if nothing was out of the ordinary when a purple creature floated out. It was a he in the throes of transforming into a she. Purple was his color of choice:  'purple shoes, purple lingerie, purple eye shadow, purple earrings. He held a blonde wig in his hand. His own hair, or rather, the stray wisps that remained visible, was dark brown.

"Sorry," I said, hoping I didn't look as shocked as I felt. "I just need the bathroom for a few minutes."

"No problem," he said in a deep voice that then changed into a falsetto. "I can finish in my bedroom." He smiled and winked as he sashayed past.

My goodness, I thought, where can things go from here?

Excerpted from the book Tree Barking:  A Memoir by Nesta Rovina. Copyright © 2008 by Nesta Rovina. Used by permission of Heyday Books.

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Articles in this Issue

Balance, by Scott McCredie
Repair History, by Edward Hardy
Princesses and Jacks, by Peter Allison
Queens of the Thirties, by Stephen L. Meyers
Lost Balls, by Charles Lindsay
Medicine, by Nesta Rovina
Dentistry, by Jeff Steinbrink
Stuntology, by Sam Bartlett
April 2008


Nesta Rovina was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. She received a degree from Rhodes University, in Grahamstown. During her 11 years in Israel, she spent eight years on Kibbutz Ein Dor and received a degree in occupational therapy in Jerusalem. Rovina has lived and worked in the Bay Area since 1980 and she completed her master's degree at John F. Kennedy University in Orinda. Her essays have been publisher locally and in England. She now works as an early intervention home health therapist.

Buy Nesta Rovina's books through Amazon at the LOST Store.

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