Author J. Tura shares her short story "When two Healths Collide"

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We at FLAUNT magazine are extremely excited for, Author J. Tura’s forthcoming debut novel, a surrealistic journey of the adventures that unfold after the central character joins a film club, and falls in love with the ghost of a deceased, friendly, town doctor.

We are elated to that J. Tura has asked us to share us her personal experience , expressed in the short story "When two Healths Collide" a story of many layers, around the central theme of birth control.

"When two Healths Collide"

J. Tura

The username and password of the keylogger software I installed in secret the night before on my then boyfriend’s laptop. These were the keys to soothing my anxiety. It was 2013, and he was one of a string of boyfriends that I had spied on throughout my twenties. He wouldn’t be the last. The uncomfortable knot in my stomach this information provided me was like a warm blanket, set on fire while I was tumbling uncontrollably down a mountain of information not meant for my eyes. I logged into the gmail account, feeling the sweet, comforting feelings of excitement and angry butterflies fighting each other to the death deep inside me. I scrolled past the work emails, the spam, the spontaneous I love you emails I had sent throughout the months. Nothing damning in his inbox. Shit. No hit there. I jump to his sent folder, scrolling past messages he had sent to himself. Lyrics he wrote down for a song, ideas for his nerdy blog, and work emails hesitantly inquiring to a friend how he should ask for a raise at work. Then Amelia. A woman's name I didn’t recognize. A woman he wrote to four months ago when we first started dating. Jackpot. I opened the message with my weapons wielded, though I hadn’t put my armor on yet. I usually welcomed the imaginary opponent’s first hit, overcompensating by putting on so much armor, I was weighed down and couldn't move.

“I had a dream about you the other night. It was neat. Thinking of you and hope all is well.”

I felt the optical light beams of the zeros and ones seep through my eyeballs, then turn into fire in my brain, which transformed into hot spiky lava that tumbled down my throat. The hot lava molded into balls of bounded spiky hot metal, thrashing around the deepest segments of my belly.

“We need to talk,” I texted him.

This time, he didn’t rush home like he usually did. I had done this before, which resulted in him being nervously sweaty, confused, and scrambling to win me back after I would “run away.” This consisted of me fully packing my things and leaving multiple times, only to come back after he had caved in and surrendered to all my requests. This time, he was annoyed. I explained I “stumbled” upon his sent emails.

Stumbled? He glared at me with an angry dubiousness, fed up, for this was not the first time this had happened. He refused to explain his side of the story. He grabbed some suitcases out of the closet. “I already know what you’re going to do here, so I’ll pack your bags for you.” He calmly tossed clothes and old video game consoles, a random assortment of early 90s comic books and my vintage Star Trek figurines haphazardly into bags. My panicked lizard brain quickly realized he wasn’t playing around, and wasn’t going to succumb to my paranoid bullshit. He certainly wasn’t going to scramble and run out and buy me flowers and delete and block anything with a vagina from his social media and phone, again. I fell to the floor crying. The first and only time in my life I was the one scrambling. He took a heavy defeated sigh and put the suitcases down. “Get help and go to therapy if you want this to work.”

Honestly, I was confused by my jealousy. As a teenager, even though my only crushes were fictional anime characters, I didn’t recall having these all-consuming feelings. I was 5’4 and a size 2, with triple DDD breasts and down-to-my-ass Renaissance-faire hair. I had the most insane metabolism all my girlfriends were envious of. Almost nightly, I would make a midnight run to the grocery store and eat entire cakes for breakfast, never having a sip of water, hydrating strictly with Jack Daniels and soda, and making sure Taco Bell and greasy Chinese takeout were the staples of my diet. I constantly ate entire bags of cool ranch Doritos and Oreos in the middle of the night and my long legs, which even Catherine Bach would be jealous of, never gained a pound. My sex drive was insane, another thing my girlfriends envied. They joked I was a sexual maniac, prowling the streets. I claimed “Midnight Maniac,” a song by 80s power metal band Krokus, was my theme song. “Lock your doors ‘cause she can’t be far!” Despite all of this, I was terribly insecure and hated myself. Looking in the mirror was constant torture and nitpicking, which resulted in me flying to Florida to get an unwarranted nose job at 25. I played as small as possible when I went out, arms crossed and hunched over. I drank to the point of blackout even at a casual dinner with close confidants so I wouldn’t have to deal with the social anxiety of myself. I obsessively compared myself to other women. God damnit, my life would be so much better if I could look like her. All my problems would be solved. I had zero self-worth and I was a sexual doormat, and men loved it. I was a walking, talking, sucking sex doll, who was hot, insecure, and liked good music. I didn’t have it THAT bad.

So in 2013, after my then boyfriend had his last straw, I booked an appointment with a therapist. I spent every week driving an hour to the west side to ramble off my insecurities to the sassy woman who reminded me of my mother in her gorgeous million-dollar home. Years later, even my therapist was getting fed up with my nonsensical jealousy, resorting to her chugging red wine at 11am, trying to poorly conceal it in a large plastic mug just to get through our sessions. She hired contractors and random house workers to come through while we were in session. Fast forward five years later. I had been going to therapy weekly for five years, meditating daily, journaling until I was blue in the face, and any other modalities to help control my illogical jealousy. It’s due to my childhood, I thought. I was abandoned, disregarded, neglected. I was homeschooled and didn’t understand the intricacies of normal relationships. I lived with my uncle when he was a Floridian drug lord in the 90s. I had a very unique childhood. I told myself this story constantly. Of course this is why I am the way I am, I thought. I soon learned that although that was a part of it, it wasn’t everything. As a matter of fact, it was only the foundation of it. Something else was a major catalyst driving all my mental insecurities forward.

It was November of 2017. I had separated from the last boyfriend and I was in between homes with my new one. We were renting an Air BnB in the foothills of Los Angeles, a small backhouse cabin that resembled a snowy retreat. It was uncommonly cold this November in LA, and we were both unusually sick. We stayed there for a month sleeping all day, sipping tea out of mugs that had photos of the home owner’s aging Havanese dog printed on it, and sweating sickness out with rolled-up snotty tissues decorating the small bed. It was 7pm and my daily alarm went off, the same one that had gone off every day for the past fifteen years since I was 17, to take my birth control. I realized my yearly supply had just run out. It was so easy to get. Just wait for four hours at my local Planned Parenthood, have them do a free exam, and ta-da! A brown paper bag of a year's supply of pills. (And condoms, which I always ditched or gave to friends.)

I went to the local foothills convenience store to get us more orange cough syrup, and my usual unhealthy haul of soda and candy bars. I grabbed my phone out of my coat pocket in the checkout line to make an appointment to get more pills. I needed them ASAP and would have to go as early as tomorrow. I had this ding, this thought: Hey. You are 33. Why don’t you get off birth control? I was already thin, constantly in heat, motivated, and had energy. My hair was so full and luxurious. The only things I had ever heard about getting off of birth control was how much hornier you become, you lose all this excess weight, you feel so motivated, life gets so much better! Wow, better than this? I talked to my partner about it, and with some quick and easy research, we discovered within minutes I could naturally track my cycle, and although it was riskier than BC, it was still effective if done properly. I didn’t make my annual appointment to Planned Parenthood. Instead, I downloaded several apps, started temping and tracking my fertility, sat back, relaxed and waited for all the amazing benefits to roll in.

The first month I noticed these “benefits” was three months later. It was Valentine's Day the following year. I had a denim skirt that was a basic staple to my wardrobe and was always a bit loose on me. My boyfriend and I went to a cafe to get a cute Valentine's day lunch. I had this whole outfit picked: the loose denim skirt, a baggy pink velvet top, and big heart earrings. I put the velvet shirt on, which used to be baggy and now barely covered me, showing some serious underboob. The loose denim skirt took me lying down on the bed to zip up. My stomach was hard and large and extended way past my growing breasts, which seemed triple in size. Huh, I thought. Guess it’s just one of those days. I took a selfie with my little heart earrings, and saw I was sweating, my hair looked thin, and I had a double chin. Wow, it must really be one of those days.

We finally had found a cute home to move into that month, and I noticed in the shower that I was losing handfuls of hair. The right side of my hair was thin and sparse, and was inches shorter than the left side. I slept all day, and for the first time in my adult life, had zero interest in sex. I started becoming concerned about my health, and switched my entire junk food diet around to veggie juices and fruit smoothies in the morning, and whole proteins and veggies for dinner. I had completely cut out soda, and lived off of sparkling water. Even though I was completely unmotivated, I started exercising daily, taking long, aimless walks winding through man-made forest paths at my local arboretum and light strength-training several times a week, which I had never done before. The weight kept packing on, and my stomach was in a constant state of a six-plus-month-old pregnant woman. I remember being at the pinnacle of the healthiest I had ever been, food and exercise wise.

One evening, I had just left a cute antique store and a little girl ran up to me and shouted to her mother down the sidewalk, “Mommy, Mommy, look! This beautiful girl is pregnant!” I strangled and killed the child and threw her lifeless corpse onto an antique table. Just kidding. But I definitely thought about it. The mother was mortified at her well-intentioned daughter's comments, which in turn made the whole scenario that much more mortifying for me.

I was confused by my weight gain, hair and libido loss, and intense hot flashes. The one thing I did notice was that my jealousy practically vanished. It no longer existed. At all. It felt like it evaporated almost overnight. God, getting older and all that work on myself really paid off! I thought. My boyfriend must've noticed it too. He casually left his phone and laptop open constantly, something he never did before. Not that he was doing anything scandalous prior, but he was well aware that I absolutely would find something and use it as ammo for a meltdown. I remember he went on a walk and left his phone wide open, something that would have been a circumstantial gold mine for me mere months ago. I sat there staring at it and laughed to myself. I was proud. I had zero desire to snoop. Good for me, I said to myself as I mentally patted myself on the back. This is nice. I would look at women who were thinner, younger, and arguably more beautiful than me. Good for her, but she's not me! I had this internal knowing of happiness I never had before. I obtained boundaries and self-worth, and even though men didn’t like me as much, I was happier.

Around this time, my friends would ask me if I was scared my partner would ever cheat. How would I handle that? I said it sure would suck, but I didn’t care. A man would be a complete moron! To cheat on this! The same friends who once were so envious of me now made a smirk. I had gained 50 pounds within months (yes, months), half my hair had broken off, and my stomach was large and hard. Nothing and I mean NOTHING fit me anymore. The same friends made comments, like “Wow, you used to be so tiny! But you seem happy now!” It didn’t bother me, and I knew being thin and hot was social currency within certain friend groups. One day, I went to a pool party and wore a very tiny string bikini. I ran around the pool with cowboy boots on and danced and showed myself off without a thought about my body. Multiple women there were trying to be nice, saying things like “Wow, to be your size and be in a bikini! You are so inspiring! You have so much confidence!” I could only laugh through the nonsense.

Despite my newfound confidence, I was perplexed about the weight gain and lack of libido. My spidey senses told me it must have to do with coming off birth control pills, since it happened within months of getting off of it. But this went against everything I knew about it. There were zero articles online about the bad side effects of getting off of years of birth control, only articles showcasing the good side effects. I had insurance, and found the best primary physician I could find with my shitty plan. After two nights of researching, I settled on a woman in mid-city who was the only physician with an over 2-star rating online (a whopping 2 and 1⁄2) and was known to be more holistic, which I generally gravitate to. I was 33 at the time when I made my initial appointment with her and almost a year off of birth control. They did the generic stuff, took my weight, drew blood. I told them my concerns about the hair loss, the zero libido, the ever growing breasts, the hot flashes and weight gain. The large woman looked at me and said “Well, you are obese for your height. Exercise more. Welcome to getting older!” And sent me on my way. I felt insulted but thought maybe they would see more when the blood work came back. A few weeks later, they called me in (which meant something was concerning with the blood work), which excited me; I was hopeful this would be a key to my problems!

I went to my next visit and sat down on the high examination table, making a crinkling sound every time I excitedly kicked my legs against the protective paper waiting for the doctor to enter, the blood work in hand revealing a hidden code that was the answer to all my problems. The same large woman from my last visit came in and weighed me again. “You are still obese. And according to your paperwork, you need more vitamin D. Get a supplement. That’s all.”

I teared up and panicked. I expressed my concerns, begging her for an answer regarding these sudden changes to my body. I knew it was from birth control, I told her. She laughed. “Those things improve when you get off birth control! Welcome to getting older!” she said again in the same tone. I imagined her as a toy doctor who had a pulley string attached to her back, equipped with the same three phrases, which loosely translated to “fuck off.” I’m 33, I thought. This is complete bullshit. I dieted even harder. I worked out harder. It was the end of the year, and I had saved up enough money to see an expensive holistic doctor in a “hip” gentrified part of town. I told her my problems and expressed my concerns about it being caused by taking hormonal birth control for so long and suddenly getting off of it. She listened to my concerns, swiftly agreed with me, and pushed me to buy her $450 liver detox and that would cure everything. (Surprise surprise, it didn’t.)

It was now January of 2019, and the weight kept coming on. I had to take over the counter supplements to get any sort of libido going. I had dyed my hair platinum blonde and chopped it all off into a bowl cut since it was all falling out anyway. I donated bags of my favorite mod dresses I had thrifted, which would laugh at me when I took them out of the back of the closet and floated them near my growing body. How the hell did my body change so much? When I was the healthiest I had ever been? I was confident and had loads of self-worth, but I felt so odd inside of myself and mentally insane that no one was listening to me. That month I decided to fix it all. Go back on the same birth control I had been on since I was 17. At this point, I was 170 pounds, exhausted, sexless, with triple E tits and a giant stomach and barely any hair. At this point, you could get birth control pills online, and within minutes, I had a three-month prescription for my pills at the drugstore. The excitement was an insane rush. I was getting back my secret magic pill that would improve so much. I would finally be thin again, grow all my hair back, have energy and motivation, a wild sex drive, AND be this confident strong woman to boot? Sign me up.

“A cheap holiday in other people’s misery!” I had all the windows down and blasted the Sex Pistols as I raced my car to the pharmacy. I floated to the back of the store to the counter and ran out with my little brown bag full of a three-month supply of my magical pill. I didn’t even wait until my daily 7pm pill time or the week after your period started or any of the rules. I dry-swallowed my pill and drove home, ready to get a lot of myself back. I read everywhere birth control takes three months to see side effects either on or off, and I couldn't wait.

It was now February, only a month since I got back on them. I had lost 20 pounds already. My hair felt fuller and was growing like a weed. My stomach, although I hadn’t lost all the weight, was not hard and bloated. I had so much motivation and energy. I was wild, ravishing my boyfriend as much as I could. Morning and night. I knew this was the cure and I would be on these pills for as long as I could. I had my magic back. One evening, my boyfriend went out with friends for a beer. Within the hour, I grabbed my phone, very robotically with no thought, and started searching for his location on social media to see if anyone posted any photos from this bar. I found the bar's Instagram, and noticed a very attractive bartender who worked there. I broke down in a mad rage. I became obsessed with her. I found all her social media. I google image reverse-searched her. I found out where she lived online. Within minutes, I knew what kind of car she drove, that she moved here from Australia five years ago, she hated people that watched Jeopardy, that she was estranged from her father, and despite her cartoonishly giant full lips and breasts, no, she did not believe in plastic surgery and “fuck off” for thinking she did.

I cried all night when he got home. Ahh, that comforting feeling was back. But it was unwelcomed and not so comforting anymore. I made him take me to the bar the next night, saw her, and freaked out. For a month, I kept losing weight and kept gaining anxiety. I cried daily. We would be having a lovely walk in the park and I would say I KNEW he was in love with her and had hooked up with her. He seemed generally dumbfounded by all of this. That evening, we had a talk. I came to some sort of sense and realized this was from birth control. He noticed it too. I couldn’t live like this again. Even though I had all my external things back, for my mental health, I got off of it. The bad side effects happened quicker this time. Within a month, I was feeling mentally great and physically like trash. The weight came back even faster, the breasts grew larger, the stomach more hard and protruding than before. I would tell friends and would get aggressively frustrated when they would say, “Absolutely not the birth control! It takes three months, blah blah blah!” Everyone hashed out the same two or three phrases over and over and I finally just gave up and agreed with them.

The pandemic happened, and out of boredom (and desperation), I ended up writing a short paragraph about my symptoms on a women's health message board. I attached my email thinking I was a freak, an anomaly that only this happened to. Within the week, I had over seventy emails from women who had had the exact symptoms from getting off of birth control and nowhere to turn to. That was two years ago and I still get ten to twenty emails a week, with women desperately hoping I might have found an answer. Sadly, I tell them no and they all have the same response. “If you find anything, PLEASE help me and let me know.” I have scoured the internet and there are no articles on this. No doctors talking about it. Doing your own research is practically impossible since there isn’t much if anything published regarding it. It’s a one size fits all for women.

I like stories with unhappy endings; hopeless cinema like Robert Bresson films and bleak storytelling from authors like Cormac McCarthy and Evelyn Waugh. I get some wild high in the truth of these demoralizing tales, mirroring back the emotional disappointments of life. I wish here, at this part of the journey, that was not the case. I was hoping I could write that I found an amazing doctor, a concealed gem in an oversaturated city of toy doctors with pulley strings. Someone who listened, was accessible, and didn’t dismiss me and all the other women who are no doubt racking their brains trying to find an answer. Sad to say, that has not happened yet. I’ll keep digging, experimenting, and taking meandering walks through the arboretum’s forest path until I do.