Like most Jews I grew up with, including my entire family, I am no stranger to illness. In fact, without illness there’d be practically nothing to worry about, to talk about during supper (the particularly gruesome illnesses, it seems, were actually saved for dinnertime conversation — Woody Allen parodies this in “Annie Hall“), or, and most importantly, to be used in a psychotic Jewish version of one-upmanship that makes the WASP’s keeping up with the Joneses seem absolutely normal.
Illness, not health, is our way of “keeping up with the Schwartz’s” I suppose.
So it should have come as no shock to me that all the allergy medicines (and there were many)I took as a kid, along with weekly allergy shots, all given to me at the insistence of my mother, were unnecessary from a health perspective but completely necessary from a Jewish perspective. My mother derived narcissistic satisfaction while I just got drowsy!
Worse, however, was that I couldn’t have a pet. My mother insisted that allergy scratch tests confirmed that I was allergic to dander and therefore could not have a dog or cat. I had always wanted a dog so this announcement was a crushing blow. I never really was a cat person so not having one was not an issue per se. What was an issue, and very problematic indeed, was that not only could I not have a cat but I could now not be at any friend’s house that had a cat.
Now here’s the rub: As a kid I would develop symptoms of cat allergies — runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing, coughing and, last but not least, wheezing. But I’ve since had my own allergy scratch tests and none have ever indicated that I’m allergic to cats.
So the question remains, did I get that runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing coughing, wheezing simply due to my mother’s insistence that I am allergic to cats? Did I became a human snot rag to get love and affection from her in the only way I knew how — by filling a Jewish mother’s narcissistic need for her son to be ill? Was my allergy to cats just psychosomatic, or in my case psychosemitic?
On my last trip to Los Angeles, the trip I made after my mother told me how to pee so as not to drip on her marble bathroom floor, I arranged to stay with one of my oldest friends. He has two cats. On the way to the airport I told my mother about the cats. She cut me off saying, “You can’t stay there. You’re allergic to cats!” I told her I wasn’t but she insisted I was. I let it go and with it my allergy to cats.