There comes a time in every woman's life when she realizes that it's not all giltz and glamour. For example, when she gets really frustrated driving through awful rush hour traffic with her children in the car on the way to pick her husband up from work so they can all get a jumpstart on the last vacation of the season. It's a gamble, really, because her three year old son had had a mysterious rash the day before that led to him being sent home from school, and her husband had taken him to the doctor, only to be told it was probably allergies, due to the melon they had thought he could eat after all but apparently…he could not. His entire body was covered in hives, but then, they went away, so on the family drove.
After that fight she got in with her husband due to the annoyance with traffic, the drive was smooth, albeit long. She decided to stop at an actual restaurant rather than the same Wisconsin fast food chain that the family always patronized solely due to their corporate policy of placing changing stations in the men's rooms. Oh the freedom of ordering from a menu while sitting down! And yet the three year old wouldn't eat--anything. He was out of control. She herded everyone back into the van, and soon he started crying, claiming "it hurts where I eat." So she stopped at a gas station, looked in his mouth, and his throat was red and inflamed, so she bought cough drops, which he wouldn't touch, and called the doctor, who thought he might have strep. So the next step was to try to find a Walgreens in Green Bay, so the poor kid could have antibiotics if he needed them, as the closest pharmacy to the lake house was 35 minutes away and closed on weekends, and they had gone too far to turn around and go home. Somehow the family found the place, and the prescription was miraculously there, but it took a long time to get it filled. As she waited at the counter, she turned around when she heard a familiar voice and there was her family. Why are they out of the car?! she asked her husband incredulously. Oh, they wanted to run around and stretch their legs, he said. Great, she thought, rolling her eyes.
And then, a few minutes later, her three year old started to vomit all over the store. Once in aisle 2, once on the way out the door, and again in the parking lot. Suddenly she was in full mom mode, telling the staff what happened and apologizing, glaring at her husband for bringing a sick kid into the store, taking her son over to the grass at the end of the parking lot in case he needed to puke again, ordering her husband to drive the van over, finding the pajamas she had packed and changing her son out of all of his dirty clothes, chucking the vomit-laden shoes (worn for the second time ever) into the trunk, strapping him back into the car after giving him some tylenol, and then, after all of that, just laughing and laughing.
She had to laugh, right? Because all of a sudden, that kid was fine. Singing, talking incessantly, making it hard to concentrate on the dark, dark road ahead. He never needed the antibiotics. That whole bizarre illness is just a mystery. A story now, one that this woman realizes can fit into the annals of puke stories that every woman at her stage in life should have. It can be added to so many others:
that time growing up when her entire family had the stomach flu, and a neighbor kindly brought over some dinner when they all started recovering, and that dinner was some greasy duck, and everyone started hurling again just looking at it.
that dorm party freshman year of college, when everyone had the bright idea to mix cheap vodka with fresca, and she bummed some cigarettes, and then quietly went into the coed bathroom, locked herself in a stall, threw everything up in a very confined way in the toilet, made sure no one would be able to tell, and then brushed her teeth, so she wouldn't be one of those entitled college kids who did disgusting things and then expected the janitorial staff to clean up the mess.
that valentine's day when she was 23, when her long-term boyfriend had planned to take her to the top of the Hancock building for the first time, to have a drink and go dancing. All their lives they had lived in this city, and neither of them had ever seen that view. And as fate would have it, they still wouldn't see it, because she started vomiting violently and frequently from some illness that came out of nowhere. She got sick 14 times in a span of four or five hours. Her boyfriend held her hair for her while she puked, made her jello, cleaned everything up. When her stomach began hurting so badly she couldn't stand, she called the ER, positive she had food poisoning, and they told her um…if you threw up that many times in that many hours, yes, your stomach will hurt. And she practically crawled back into bed, and her boyfriend tucked her in, and if in some universe that is romance, well, there it is.
The night before her college roommate's wedding in Los Angeles, when she was 27, when she went out on the town with one of the bridesmaids and another of her roommate's friends, to a bunch of different places in Little Tokyo. After having some sushi and saki, they ended up at a karaoke bar, where it became obvious that they weren't from around here. So the cute bartender kept sending over free drinks--huge, complicated, strong drinks. Fifteen free drinks between the three of them, one of whom had to drive back to the hotel. As she got increasingly drunk, this young woman who really didn't drink much at all got quieter and quieter. She began to realize why she wasn't much of a drinker, given that most people become more animated, not less, that most people don't just retreat into themselves at the height of their drunkenness. And she had the worst hangover the next morning, giving her another reason to be that girl who didn't drink that much. She got so sick that she became hungry for having nothing in her stomach, and she turned to that generous basket of food her friend's mother had left in the hotel room, and she ate oranges, the result of which was that she didn't eat oranges again for a very, very long time, because they didn't taste very good coming up.
The day when, at age 31, she experienced a replay of the original story here, and her entire family of three was laid out with the flu. As her daughter, nine or ten months old, recovered more quickly, she just began crawling over her sick parents who couldn't move from the floor. Mom or dad would get up only to go puke in the bathroom, and the baby would quietly go into the corner and look at a book, a portent of things to come.
That time, soon after she started her current job years ago, when she felt so sick at work that she knew she wouldn't make it home even if her boss gave her permission to leave. So she got sick in the employee bathroom, told her boss about it, and he said, ugh, just go, get out of here, and she rushed to her commuter train, hoping and hoping she would make it home before getting sick again. The motion of the train made things worse but she held on, bolted out the door at her stop, and puked all over the sidewalk. People walked around her in disgust. It was winter, and she had vomit in her hair and on her down coat and the wind was whipping it back into her face as she heaved. And she felt pretty damn alone in the world, until a woman walked up to her, quietly asked her if she was all right, and gingerly handed her some kleenex before walking away. And today, six years later, she can still recall that woman's face.
That other time when the family of three (four, actually, as she was pregnant with her son at the time), was driving up to this lake house, and it was the daughter who started puking in public, in one of those fast food restaurants previously mentioned, and the staff had to be alerted, and she continued to vomit in the car, but it was so dark in the north woods roads that she had to sit in the back and watch her while her husband drove, and they made it up to the house, but things didn't get better. Neither she nor her husband got sick, but her daughter was so miserable that they began to understand what "listless" meant, as she just sat there, mute, not moving. So they cut the vacation short, hoping to not ever go through something like that again.
And then those times, so many of them, when the thought of living one more second with that nausea was the worst thought in the world. Those times, at age 34 or 35, when vomiting was a relief. The time she got motion sickness just from making love to her husband, the other time when she ate her first normal meal in weeks and then felt so off-kilter she stuck her fingers down her throat and forced herself to throw up while her husband patted her bald head and told her it would be all right. That endless feeling of nausea, when just the smell of food warming in the kitchen sent her upstairs away from the family.
This story just became one more in the list, the one of the kid with the hives and sore throat puking in a random drugstore parking lot and then engaging her in a conversation about the color of his vomit, suddenly not sick anymore but more interested in the philosophical question of what does it mean if your throw up is blue? Well, it wasn't honey, it was red, and full of grapes. But what IF it was blue? but this time something was different. It was different because she knew it was a story right away, she knew to laugh at it, she knew not to worry or be disgusted or disappointed. She knew it was possible that they would all spend their entire vacation sick as dogs, but it wouldn't matter, because if that was going to happen, it might as well happen in a beautiful place during a time when no one had to go to work or go to school or even walk out the door once they got to the house in that remote, remote place. It didn't matter, because they would be together, having learned some things from the other stories.
And then this--the memory of this. As she waited for the prescription, before her child had arrived to defoul the pharmacy, a woman came up to the window, looking a little lost and embarrassed. She waited for a minute, for the other younger woman there to go away, apparently. She didn't leave, so this woman, in her late forties probably, a few cans of pop in her cart, asked the pharmacist: "Do you have anything for hot flashes?" And somehow, the pharmacist, a woman herself, couldn't help. They started joking, and she said, well dump yourself in a bucket of ice? haha, well obviously this woman has never had hot flashes or she would know that shit isn't funny, and then she suggested black cohosh, and the younger woman found herself nodding her head, knowing that was suggested, though it never had worked for her. After a minute of listening to this conversation, the younger woman turned to the other woman and told her they made something called i-Cool, and though it might not work for her, it was worth a try. The older woman looked confused, like, why does she know that? And the pharmacist couldn't help her locate it.
And then the kids came in, and the next vomit story commenced, but not before this happened. After her son got sick in the store the second time, she knew she should just rush him out the door. But she saw the other woman still looking lost and miserable, so she handed her son to her husband and told him to take him outside, she would be just a minute. And she went to the area of the store where they have the stuff for hot flashes, because she knew just where it would be. She grabbed the box, went over to the other woman, and put it in her hand. This woman looked at her with such shock that she felt she should explain: "Look I went through menopause from chemo. Maybe this will help you." And the woman just looked at her, not knowing what to say, so she said "Oh, wow, thanks. Thank you!"
And then, that story became that other story. The one she told her husband once they were back on the road, kids clean and happy again, and he laughed and high fived her, and told her she had done her part. That one.