The Pharmacist’s Mate is a new classic—a gem of a book from the McSweeney’s annals, newly reprinted and repackaged to include 8 (which we excerpted on the Tendency recently).
Both books weave surprising beauty out of diverse strands of personal reflection. Half memoir and half philosophical improvisation, each focuses loosely on a relationship with a man in the author’s life: The Pharmacist’s Mate with her recently deceased father, and 8 with “my pedophile” (as Fusselman painfully refers to her childhood assailant). Along the way, Fusselman covers sea shanties and artificial insemination, World War II and AC/DC, alternative healers and monster-truck videos. Fusselman’s “wholly original epigrammatic style” (Vogue) “makes the world strange again, a place where dying and making life are equally mysterious and miraculous activities” (Time Out New York).
Today we offer an excerpt from The Pharmacist’s Mate. To purchase the book, please visit our store.
Don’t have sex on a boat unless you want to get pregnant. That’s what my friend Mendi’s sailor ex-boyfriend used to tell her.
I want to get pregnant. Or maybe more accurately, I don’t want to die without having had children.
I was a child once, with a dad. My dad is dead now. He died two weeks ago. I have never had anyone so close to me die. I am trying to pay attention to what it feels like.
I know it’s early, but I keep thinking he ’s still here. Well, not here, I know he’s not here, but on his way here. On his way back here from somewhere. Coming here.
Of course, I don’t think it’s my old dad in his old body coming here. It’s my old dad, in a new form.
Thinking your dad might be coming in a new form is not so bad. It’s like you’re always excited, and getting ready, and listening for the door.
The big problem I have had in trying to get pregnant is that I don’t ovulate. Thus, I don’t get my period. I mean, I can go six months.
I don’t know why this is. And after a million tests at the gyno, they don’t seem to know why either. Everything looks okay.
My theory is that I am stopping myself from having my period. I am doing this with my brain. I don’t know how I am doing it, but I am doing it. And I am doing it because as much as I want to get pregnant, I am also very afraid.
Before my dad was a dad, he was a guy on a boat in a war. This was World War II.
My dad had been studying pre-med at Virginia Military Institute. He had enlisted in the Army in 1944, but after a few months they discharged him because, my dad told me, “They didn’t know what they were doing with medical students.” So my dad went back to school for a while, until my grandfather called him up from Ohio and said people at home were starting to talk, and they were saying my dad was studying pre-med just to get out of serving. My dad told me that’s when he said the hell with it, and signed up for the Merchant Marine. This was in the fall of 1945. He was twenty-one.
My dad was the Purser-Pharmacist’s Mate on the Liberty Ship George E. Pickett. He kept a log from his first eight months at sea. He wrote a lot about his work.
Chief Steward came to me today with a possible case of
gonorrhea. I’m going to wait until tomorrow to see how
things turn out. Had him quit handling the food, at least.
It’s funny to read things like that, because my dad never became a doctor. After the war, he went back to school and got his MBA.
Sometimes I think this problem with children is something that runs in my family. My brother, who lives in Houston and is ten years older than me, had a problem with children fifteen years ago. He was in Ohio visiting my parents (I was away at school), when all of a sudden the phone rang. It was his live-in girlfriend, telling him she had just had two babies, a boy and a girl. Twins.
My parents didn’t even know she was pregnant. My brother flew back to Houston. The next thing my parents heard, they had given the infants up for adoption.
The whole thing was so shrouded in weirdness and secrecy that several years after it happened I called my brother just to make sure that it was true. Because all I knew was what I had heard from my parents.
And my brother said yes, it was true. He sounded pained. My brother and I are not very close. I didn’t ask him more than that.
Another thing: my brother has a job selling high-tech sonar equipment to clients like the Navy, equipment they use to do things like search for John F. Kennedy Jr.’s plane.
And another: I have always wondered if someday these kids might show up on our doorstep.
I am trying to get pregnant with Frank. Frank is my husband. He is 6’4". My dad was 5’7". Frank and my dad got along. Even though Frank’s full name is Frank, my dad always gave his name two extra syllables, and said it singsong, “Frank-a-lin.”
Frank and my dad were both born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio. When they got together they liked to talk about the town landmarks, Market Street and Mill Creek Park, places I didn’t know because I grew up around Cleveland.
And it never came up in conversation, but long ago, even before I was born, my dad had made arrangements to be buried in the cemetery at the end of Frank’s street: Forest Lawn.
Click here to buy The Pharmacist’s Mate/8.