Last year, I lost a Q-tip in my ear.

I’d been making the bed, rehearsing lesson plans, brushing my teeth, and mindlessly bobbing a cotton swab in and out of my head. I was already ten minutes late for work when I saw the asymmetrical stick in the trash can. I bent over and felt a tickle. An awkward ear selfie revealed that the cotton tail had disappeared into my skull.

Oh well, I thought. It’s not a big deal. It’s not like it’s going anywhere.

I texted my husband, Fred, as I sat in traffic, and he called me.

“Is the entire Q-tip stuck in your ear?”

“Nope. Just the end thingy.”

“The what?”

“The tail thing, the cotton thing, the swab thing, the whatev—”

“You need to go to urgent care immediately,” he said. I could hear him typing in the background.

“Like right now? I’ve got to teach.”

“Go!” he urged. “You can’t just leave a Q-tip in your ear. You could lose your hearing.”

“What?” I said.

“Hearing loss! You could lose your hearing!”


“Call me when you’re done,” he said and hung up.

I recruited the college librarian as an emergency substitute for my freshman composition class. An hour later, a physician’s assistant removed the fluffy culprit.

“You need to slow down,” she sighed, shaking her head. “Read this.” She handed me a compulsory pamphlet on preventing foreign objects from getting lodged in facial orifices—a guide for parents whose toddlers shove rocks up their noses.

My students clapped when I returned to campus. I’d survived another ridiculous disaster. Just two weeks prior, I’d forgotten how to conjugate irregular verbs in my mother tongue. “I have readed your essays,” I said to twenty-five perplexed eighteen-year-olds. They were used to my flustered self—always stressed out and often distracted—but that semester had been particularly bad for me. I was working four part-time jobs in three counties, frequently interrupting lectures to retrieve a silver tube of peppermint essential oil to roll over my brow. The oil usually dripped into my eyes, rendering me temporarily visually impaired. My students giggled while I taught with my eyes closed. I used the oil so often that they dubbed it my “crack stick.”

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