Picket Fence Syndrome
Rowan shuffled through a waiting room magazine, checked his watch, and ignored the cooking show on the TV in the corner. Beside him, Maggie squeezed his hand and tried not to look as worried as he was.
A nurse called his name and they headed back to Dr. Black’s office, only to wait several more minutes before finally the man came in and sat behind his sleek glass and steel desk. His levelled gaze gave nothing away.
Rowan could take it no longer. “Please, doctor, what’s wrong with me?”
Dr. Black consulted the chart in front of him, then cleared his throat and said with a frown, “I’m afraid you have PFS.”
“PFS?” Rowan asked, mentally scrolling through every pharmaceutical commercial he’d ever seen. Premature Frostbite Syndrome?
“Are you sure it’s not a mid-life crisis?” Maggie asked. “I found profiles on Match.com and Facebook conversations with ex-girlfriends.”
Rowan frowned; how did she know about those?
“It’s true those are present with the mid-life crisis, but I think PFS is a better fit, based on his other symptoms.” Dr. Black ticked off a list on his fingers. “Serial dating. Repeated mentions of your ticking biological clock. Hours spent on Realtor.com. Prewritten wedding vows. His future children’s colleges.”
Precancerous Foot Skin? Positive Familial Schizophrenia?
Maggie nodded, choking back tears. “I thought PFS was just something women got?”
“Generally, yes, but we’re seeing it more and more in men, especially with the rise of social media. Pictures of friends’ babies are a powerful motivator, regardless of gender.”
Rowan still had no idea what Maggie and the doctor were talking about, but he felt the need to defend himself. “Don’t you understand, I’m the only one of the guys who doesn’t have a kid yet? Or own my own house? Do you know what that feels like?”
Maggie let out a sob.
Dr. Black handed her a tissue.
She brought herself back under control. “Is there anything we can do?”
“Unfortunately, PFS is generally terminal.”
“What about couples’ therapy?”
Dr. Black shook his head. “Unfortunately, that rarely works. In my experience, the only thing to do is let the patient make some poor life choices and pray they’ll be content without messing up their children too badly. Sometimes settling down is exactly what’s best.”
Maggie and the doctor continued to talk, but Rowan tuned them out. Potassium Flatulence Sickness? Pulmonary Fiber Symptoms? Pancreatic Fungal Sarcoma?
Maggie and the doctor stood and shook hands. The doctor then turned to Rowan. “If you decide you want counseling, please call and set up an appointment. You don’t have to go through this alone.”
Alone? Rowan simply nodded and shook the doctor’s hands. “Thanks, doctor.”
In the elevator, Rowan turned to Maggie. “You heard the doctor. Terminal PFS. I don’t know if I can face this without you. Maybe we should move in together?”
“We’ve only been dating for three months.”
“Yeah, but — ”
“I have a career. A lease. I like you, Rowan, but I’m not the right person to help you through this.” The elevator doors opened. She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Good luck.”
He watched the love of his life walk away, then opened up Facebook on his phone and scrolled through the updates. Marie was 34, childless, and had just changed her relationship status to “it’s complicated.”
Wanna hang 2nite?
E.D. Martin is a writer with a knack for finding new jobs in new places. Born and raised in Illinois, her past incarnations have included bookstore barista in Indiana, college student in southern France, statistician in North Carolina, economic development analyst in North Dakota, and high school teacher in Iowa. She draws on her experiences to tell the stories of those around her, with a generous heaping of “what if” thrown in.
She currently lives in Illinois where she job hops while attending grad school and working on her novels. Read more of her stories at her website.