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Gill and I were discussing our wardrobes the other day. She has bought, this fall, a few ‘sweater dresses’ that she loves. They are, as she says, very forgiving. Most women would assume that means they still look good if you gain a few pounds. They hide a multitude of sins (of the cupcake and donut variety). Sadly, for Gill, it means precisely the opposite. With her Crohn’s on Code Red recently, she has lost weight. The knit dresses help to hide that fact — sort of. She then confessed that, like many women, she has her ‘fat clothes’ and her ‘skinny clothes’.

I told her about my latest clothing purchases: two pairs of jeggings. One is a black and white geometrical print; the other, huge wild flowers. (These flowery ones take me back to the 60s in Berkeley when I had a similar pair of bell-bottoms in a bright flowered print.) I prefer to wear them with tunic-like sweaters and, given my tiny frame, they make me look ‘pixie-ish’. That’s the most flattering way to describe my current shape. Gill often says I look like a wee bird, with legs so spindly they don’t look capable of holding me up. Jeggings have the advantage of being skinny and, since they are somewhat elasticized, hug my body–thus looking better than jeans that have begun to hang on me and make my sorry little ass look even sorrier than normal. A sagging butt looks good on no one. So with my tunic sweater and jeggings, I can look perky, almost fashion forward and hold my head up again (as well as my butt!).

Then Gill threw a tidbit at me: in England, if you suffer from Crohn’s, the government will give you an allowance for new clothes when your old ones don’t fit. Wow! Where do I sign up?!! Although, come to think of it, I wouldn’t want Crohn’s regardless of how much money somebody threw my way. It is an awful, debilitating disease. It limits your ability to hold down a job and wreaks havoc on your life generally. When somebody asks Gill out for dinner, she asks first about the restaurant’s bathroom facilities. Food be damned — if the washroom facilities aren’t up to par, she won’t go. Even if the food is worthy of four stars in the Michelin guide, it won’t stay in her long enough for her to appreciate the nuances of the different flavors.

I recall, when she lived with me, standing outside the bathroom door, all manner of toxic chemicals and cleaners in hand, waiting to sanitize the mess that I knew was coming. When she sounded the ‘all clear’, in I’d go and we’d stand, gazing into the toilet bowl to see what her colon had wrought. It wasn’t pretty. Interesting, astounding, terrifying, but not pretty. We looked like two mad scientists studying a specimen, taking detailed notes.

As a mother, I have become somewhat inured to the sight of disgusting bodily substances – baby poop, toddler poop, dog poop, vomit. I’ve seen it all. But the mess in this toilet bowl defied description. It was runny, chunky, gelatinous, frothy, mucusy, lumpy, foamy, with a few rock-like pellets thrown in for variety. (Sorry to be so graphic!)

“Ma, this is discouraging. Have you ever seen a penguin shit? ‘Cause I just realized I shit like a penguin – a horrible mess that explodes like a rocket and splatters everything in its path. I promise I’ll clean the wall later…”

So the way I see it, Gill has earned every penny the government might give her…and then some. And I should note that Crohn’s could be a huge boon for some creative clothing manufacturers. Sweater dresses all around!

And never mind what Stacey London of “What Not to Wear” might think of Gill’s wardrobe choices. When you can barely stand up straight some days (arthritis), you cannot wear anything with a heel or you’ll be crippled instantly (again, Arthritis) your colon is exploding on a regular basis (Crohn’s), and allergies make your skin itch with most fabrics, the world should be grateful she doesn’t appear on the streets of London in her birthday suit. I think Gill is being remarkably thoughtful and considerate of us all…

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