Will has occasionally referred to me as the world’s worst sick person.
The thing is, I get a teensy, tiny, wee bit irritable when I’m sick. I’m sensitive to things that otherwise only mildly bother me: people, light, sound. I also don’t like to talk when I’m sick – it takes too much energy. I just like to lie on my side and try not to think.
Fortunately, I’m not sick often. But when I go down, I go down hard. And right now – I’m down.
It started on Friday, right before Thanksgiving #2 with my side of the family. I’m someone who never misses a meal (really – it’s never happened), but somehow instead of enjoying the witty repartee of my sisters and their men at the table, I was ready to curl up for a good eight-hour nap. And this was before the wine was uncorked. By five o’clock we were at home. Will headed out to work, and I went to bed – where I pretty much stayed for the next two days.
Every few hours, I stumbled out of bed and dragged myself down the hall. Good news! My kidneys were still working. Then I got another glass of water because my throat felt horribly tight, as if the opening was the same circumference as a pencil eraser. Walking down the hallway left me dizzy and sweaty. My temperature: 101.
Saturday passed in a blur of Food Network and the America’s Next Top Model marathon on Bravo. I tried to read and gave up. Baxter came to the bedroom every few hours and sniffed me.
“I’m going out,” Will called at one point. “Do you want anything?”
“There’s no point, because I’m dying,” I said from beneath three layers of blankets.
Right before he closed the front door, I called, “Maybe orange juice.”
Later, I found the energy to put on jeans, mascara and shoes that were not slippers, and we went to the grocery store. We nearly made it to the frozen yogurt before I felt woozy again.
I called my mom that night. “I’m sick. My throat,” I hissed.
“Who is this?”
On Sunday, USA Network had a Monk-a-Thon that lasted until eleven p.m. I occasionally switched sides, worried about bed sores. Will came in and out, bringing news of the world. I ventured out a mile or so to Walgreens, where I located instant oatmeal and more NyQuil. At home, I stacked the bag on the kitchen table, too exhausted to unpack. With the newspapers, blankets and plastic bags everywhere, our house was beginning to look like an episode of Hoarders. My temperature: 100.3.
Last night, Will woke me up to tell me I was snoring. “I’m not snoring,” I insisted. “I wasn’t even sleeping. I was just thinking.” Even as I said it, I realized that I might not be the best judge of the difference between sleeping and thinking. I’d been cycling between the two for some time. And whenever I tried not to think, the words “swine flu” appeared on the insides of my eyelids.
“My throat is killing me,” I said.
Will checked it out with a flashlight.
“Do you see anything? Like blisters or swelling?”
“Hmm. I don’t know. It’s red. And I don’t see your tonsils.”
“What? I definitely still have my tonsils.”
“Okay. I’ll take your word for it.”
Wonderful. Something else to worry about.
But today, I woke up feeling 90 percent better. Fever: gone. Sore throat? Still here. It’s like something small is caught there, a sideways potato chip or a razor blade, maybe.
Sadly, even Ben & Jerry’s FroYo hasn’t been able to cure it.
In David Sedaris’s excellent and hilarious essay, Nuit of the Living Dead, he sees his house through a stranger’s eyes – the random objects strewn around seemed proof that he was a deviant, a psychopath, a general menace to society. And then, of course, there was the mouse he was drowning in a bucket on the front porch.
Well, these days I’m the outsider, sneaking peeks at other’s spaces. It’s the nature of being a substitute teacher. I pick up the key from the office, lose my way once or twice around campus, and eventually open the door to a stranger’s private space. Well, not private, of course – but every classroom reflects the personality of its teacher. I can tell something about the teacher by the way the room is organized, the handwriting on the white board, the posters on the wall. I can’t help but study personal photos tacked to the wall. Is this him? Is this her? Young? Old? Married? Single? Kids? Pets?
Today I was in a classroom where every inch of the walls was covered in inspirational posters, the kind of inspirational posters that were popular in the 1980s. Cuddly kittens offering to be a friend. INSPIRE, one said. ACHIEVE! ordered another. Lots of hot air balloons, gorillas, the ever-present middle-school mantra: “What is right is not always popular; what is popular is not always right.” Last week, in Spanish I and II, the teacher instructed me to turn off the candle warmer before leaving. Candle warmer? Why didn’t I think of that when I was teaching? It’s a perfect, gentle way to mask the odor in those post-P.E. bodies. In my first (and maybe last, depending on my poverty level) experience teaching second grade, the class was a ship, the students divided into “pirates” and “mateys.” To bring the class to order, a tiny red-headed boy informed me, I should call out, “All hands on deck!” When I tried this, the response was thunderous: “Aye, aye, Cap’n!” (Later, I told a boy with a tummy ache, “Pirates don’t cry, buddy.” I was pretty pleased with myself, but this only made him sob harder.)
When I was teaching, in cozy little F5 on the corner of the quad, my room was a study in organized chaos. I simply couldn’t contain the papers. They were everywhere, on every surface. Collected papers, graded papers, papers to be filed, papers to be passed back. Yearbook ladders, yearbook proofs, random yearbook papers I was afraid to throw away. Block days in creative writing generally involved hand-written prompts on tiny scraps of paper which collected on the overhead cart, the bookshelves, the chalk trays. Sometimes I could hardly see the monitor for the Post-It notes I was always writing myself, the million little things that, if ignored, would upset the delicate balance of this tiny universe. When I had a substitute, I swept the stacks into the recycle bin, stashed the odds and ends (odds, mostly) in desk drawers, and left a bright, cheery note full of hopeful predictions about the day.
But I wasn’t really trying to hide my disorganized personality – I was thinking more of the comfort of the person who would be sitting in my circa-1970s office chair and trying on my life for size. The substitute would leave me a note about the day and that was it – we never crossed paths; he or she was essentially invisible to me. As I am now – Invisible Woman, curious about the stranger I’ll never meet, deciphering those clues on the wall distinct as any fingerprint.
Paula Treick DeBoard