Arts, Column

We’re All Oddities, When You Think About It

All my life I have fallen into situations that prompt people to say things like “Of course you called your teacher ‘Mom’ by accident, I’m not even surprised,” and “Out of all the people I know who would get The World’s Worst Case of Norovirus™ before getting on a plane, it would definitely be Emily Himes.”

My 20 years of existence are mainly made up of moments that would only ever happen to me, never to anyone else, strung together by slightly more normal moments that could potentially occur in someone else’s life, but didn’t for a reason. Some, of course, are probably self-inflicted. But many are random occurrences that I walk right into. I constantly find myself in the middle of really weird situations (i.e., walking into what I think is my dorm only to find out that I’m on the guys floor or getting an incredibly painful ear infection that requires heavy doses of antibiotics with common side effects like “intense drowsiness” and “nausea or vomiting” on the first day of finals week, etc.).

Most “only Emily” moments are embarrassing—some are good (I talked to David Beckham last week), a few are bad, but mostly they’re just neutral and don’t affect anyone in the long run. Well, this weekend, I walked myself into one of the strangest moments I’ve encountered in awhile. The more I think about it, the more I cringe.

It all started at the Mutter Museum of Oddities in Philadelphia. This place has just about every disgusting and diseased body part you could ever imagine, and many that I have desperately been trying to erase from my memory. Albeit extremely interesting, most of the museum was comprised of dark, cold rooms with [insert the names of abnormal body parts here] floating in jars.

If you know anything about me, you are probably aware that I am a massive germaphobe, and that a museum like this would definitely test my limits. (I don’t care if the leg infected with syphilis is in a jar behind glass. The germs are still there.) If you’ve ever lived with me, you know that I go through more Lysol wipes than you could ever imagine, and my hands have absorbed about 20 times more Purell than could ever be recommended.

So, there I was, meandering through this disease chamber with my cousins. As I was observing a massive skeleton, which was probably the least disturbing object in the entire museum, I felt a tap on my right shoulder. I turned around only to find John from the Oddity Museum Department of Education staring me down. His beard was uneven and his pupils were dilated and really, really black.

“You can’t have water in here,” he said.

My cousin handed him her empty water bottle, and I thought I’d be off the hook. Then he asked to see mine. I handed him the giant bottle that I had just refilled not long before (because, of course I did).

“You’ll have to drink this if you want to continue.”

I began to unscrew the lid, but he quickly added that I couldn’t drink it there because “it was a climate and humidity controlled room because these are real human bodies and we need to respect them more.” As if stuffing them into jars and leaving them there for hundreds of years was the epitome of reverence.

I head toward the stairs, and, of course, he follows me up. I let him lead the way, where he stops in a corner with an amputated leg from the Civil War and a wall featuring hands with different variations of gout.

“You can drink that here,” he said.

In that moment, I stared at the massive jug of water. I didn’t think I could do it. I also kind of hated myself for letting John, who spends his time surrounded by diseased thumbs and pieces of hundred-year-old skin, boss me around.

I began to drink the water as fast as I could, mostly because John was staring me down with his terrifying eyes, additionally because I was disgusted by the fact that we were the only two people in the amputated foot corner, and also probably because once I started I couldn’t stop.

Water was pouring down the sides of my neck, dripping down my sweatshirt. I’m pretty sure some of it went down the wrong tube—I choked a little, but kept going. Every time I opened my eyes all I saw were pickled brains and decaying skulls and ancient gout hands. I’m pretty sure some little kid was looking at me like I, too, was an oddity that should be observed with that awful “I can’t not look” mentality that dominated everything else in the museum.

The problem is, the water won. I was covered in it. But the worst part about it is that in those minutes (too long, I know) when John was observing me, as I was dripping water all over the brain room, I lost my sense of dignity. My pride was gone. I think more water ended up on the floor than anywhere else, and for that I am ashamed. And John enjoyed it all way too much.

So, this weekend I added an event to my withstanding list of “literally only Emily” moments. I think there were probably several of these occurrences throughout the weekend that all sound like the names of forgotten Friends episodes—the one when the plane had no air conditioning for three hours, the one with mixed feelings about Aperol—but alas, those could happen to anyone. I joked about the water chugging incident with my friends, and not one of them was remotely fazed by the event. “That story was unwaveringly Emily, from start to finish” one said.

Welcome to my world, where guzzling water surrounded by jars of skinless hands isn’t really too unusual. It’s just a another reminder that my life, like yours, is a bit of an oddity in itself.

July 26, 2018