When I was 11, I received a parcel in the mail. My mother, assuming it was a care package from my cousins in Connecticut, brought it along with her when she came to pick me up at school. At the time, American candy (along with scented gel pens and sneakers that lit up) was a hotly traded commodity in the girls’ locker room. For bucktoothed Brits in training bras, a shipment of Reeses was potentially a very big deal. So, obviously, I called all my friends over, and ripped open that brown paper envelope right in front of the school gates. This made for a particularly fun surprise when it actually turned out to contain a Chlamydia testing kit, courtesy of the National Health Service.
Eleven, in case you were wondering, was a rough age for me. I wore two retainers to fix what my orthodontist maintains was the worst underbite he has seen in his 40-year career. I had shot upwards so quickly that the only pants to fit both my hips and my legs were Gap boys’ jeans — which, by the way, come in a trendy choice of acid wash, or very acid wash. To distract from these misfortunes, I had recently asked my hairdresser for a “grown-up” bob. What he gave me was definitely not a grown-up bob. Needless to say, the Chlamydia testing kit was not only embarrassing to receive, but, as I heard two classmates whisper the next day, definitely not needed. Girls are so rude.
Things only got worse when I got back from school with the offending package. Still glowing with shame, I flung the Chlamydia testing kit into some corner of our basement. Two days later, this was revealed as a bad move when Justin, my sister’s very Catholic music theory teacher, found it. After the lesson, he took my mother aside and asked in hushed tones if she was aware that her daughters were already leading a life of sin.
Despite all of this, or maybe out of some urge to make all the embarrassment worthwhile, I dutifully packed my urine sample off in its pre-addressed envelope, giggling hysterically when the poor postman came to collect it. It later turned out that the testing kits were part of a youth Chlamydia reduction initiative, and were sent to all Londoners aged 11-18. Apparently, the program was very popular, and received a huge number of submissions (just imagine the thousands and thousands of urine vials zipping across London). I suppose the public health folks must have been overloaded, because 10 years on, I have yet to hear back from them. So disappointing.
However, when I checked my P.O. box this week, what did I find but a set of urine analysis results, priority mailed — but with a New Haven postmark. How exciting! And yet, unless the strep test that I took sophomore year was more comprehensive than I had previously thought, I am pretty sure these do not belong to me. Incidentally, if any of you reading this are missing some lab results, don’t worry: apparently, your urine sample is normal.
The moral of this story is not that we should have no confidence in our health care systems. (Although, given that a certain dental clinic recently told me I would get a 20 percent discount if I paid cash, I wouldn’t rule that out.) Nor is it that hard times and crushing embarrassment only make you harder, better, faster, stronger. (Although, when I recently slipped on ice and torpedoed feet-first through a crowd of old cronies outside Mory’s, I told myself this also.) No, friends, the life lesson here is that what goes around, comes around.
This is a toe-tinglingly awful time of year. If you’re anything like me, you currently have more midterms than you do meals a day. Opening your iCal for next week is like ripping open my package in front of school: full of terrible surprises. Meanwhile, the search for summer jobs (or, if you’re old and unlucky, actual jobs) is starting to feel a little too real for comfort. It’s all a struggle. But everyone around is struggling, too. I’m even struggling to make this column something more profound than a gratuitous pee tale. I wanted to have an original — or at the very least a topical — takeaway for you. This will have to do: Put down your double-shot soy latte, and pick up something nice for a friend. Don’t go this week alone. Do a good deed, and who knows? Like the proverbial set of urine analysis results, you might get someone else’s back in return.