It was late when I finally got the boys home from soccer. My wife met us at the door and I greeted her with a kiss on the lips. It had been a long day and I wanted her to know she had been missed. I kissed her again. There were groans from somewhere inside the house, teenage boys who didn’t want to see, or even contemplate such a thing.
Later, listening to my wife throw up all night, I started regretting those kisses.
I know, I know, in sickness and health, right? But while she was hugging the porcelain, I was tossing and turning and felt like I was going to succumb to the mysterious illness as well. A couple of times I called out to her, “Uhh, hey babe, are you all right in there?” which was kind of like another ship floating past the sinking Titanic and asking if anyone needed a refill on their glass of wine.
Look, I’m not squeamish. I have watched things come out of my wife that don’t even make sense. Things that looked like they had no business being in there and those same things would end up changing my life forever and costing me money I didn’t have and making me buy a mini-van and making sure I never slept soundly ever again.
And I loved her more in the moment of childbirth than I ever have.
In the delivery room I was so caught up in my love for her that I was like, “Excuse me, but does anyone know if you can fashion a necklace out of dried umbilical cord.” Or “I’m tired of not doing my part, I’ll get the placenta.”
But, if my wife gets a little green in the gills, I’m like, “Gotta go, there’s a Cricket game on the telly.”
Every household faces the dreaded virus or food poisoning. I have some cousins who used to roll out the stomach virus excuse for missing family events, and who is going to call them on it? The way my children deal with the “upchucks” does say something about their personalities. My eldest and one of my twins, Wayne and Wilkins, are almost too stubborn to get sick. But when they do, Wayne handles it with stoic indifference. Wilkins imports a little drama, and his feelings seem to be hurt that fate isn’t smiling on him at that moment. We might not know the other twin, Jacks, got physically ill because he doesn’t tell anyone and he usually cleans up after himself, almost like he’s embarrassed the bug got the best of him. And then there’s Beth. My beautiful, smart, hilarious daughter, who will jerk open her bedroom door, sprint down the hall toward the bathroom, get about a third of the way there, then start spewing everywhere. You want to torture someone? Waterboarding is for wimps. Just make your prisoner listen over and over again to someone retching and the product of that retch splatting along a tile floor.
(And even as my daughter totally emptied her insides with noise effects worthy of a horror movie, I could hear some of it hitting the floor near the toilet because she was probably sharing it on Instagram. Sorry, Snapchat.)
So, at some point during our most recent long night from hell, I placed a Ginger Ale near my wife’s head before retreating a safe distance. Then I asked her, “Baby, what did you eat?”
I wanted to appear sympathetic but there were two real reasons for asking. First, I wanted it to be food poisoning and not a virus. (At the other end of the house the kids had already pulled out a Ouija Board and sacrificed a chicken as they sat in a circle and quietly chanted, “Food poisoning,” again and again.) The second reason you want that answer is because if something in your fridge has gone Third World you want to know what it is before someone else eats it.
When my wife is sick it can throw our whole family unit out of whack. But my wife having a throw up virus is something we can’t contemplate. Why? Not because she’s the family glue and takes care of everyone else, because she does, but mainly because she teaches kindergarten. Do I say that in defense of the poor, sweet little children who will mourn if Mrs. Dowdy is out sick? No. I say it because those little monsters are germ pits. A kid can have something that makes Montezuma’s Revenge look convenient and his mom will push him into my wife’s classroom and say, “Little Timmy might have a runny nose but he’s fine for school. He really insisted on coming.” At which point Little Timmy will take a header onto the carpet and the mother will run for her car. So, if some kid’s cooties can knock my wife down, after facing every ailment known to man for years, then the rest of us don’t stand a chance.
And what about me? How do I handle it if I start with that tummy tickler kind of feeling and know a quick trip to the bathroom to get reacquainted with my last meal is in my near future? I don’t have to. I never get sick. I am impervious to anything that makes me throw up.
That isn’t exactly a lie so much as selective denial. I hate it so much I repress the whole ordeal almost immediately. If I ever go back to serious therapy we won’t be blaming my many shortcomings on my parents or my upbringing. Instead, I’ll be trying to come to grips with every single time I have puked.
My wife spoke to God a few times that night. Like we all do when we’re that sick. All I heard was the retching, her saying “Oh God” and then some quiet conversation. This went on for hours. I don’t know what kind of deals she made, or my role in them. All I know is when I left for work the next morning she slept restlessly: sweaty and sick. And when I returned that afternoon, I found her resting peacefully on our couch, and looking every bit like an angel.