In neither scenario, do you truly appreciate the nature of marriage. Perhaps for a while you'll tuck those dampened, musky Spanx at the back of the closet, keeping them separate from the more dignified family laundry. Similarly, you'll make sure that your nipples are neatly tucked into your blouse. But then you birth those children, and your pungent Spanx suddenly seem like an acceptable, flesh-toned alternative to your spit-up-covered yoga pants. You no longer wear blouses, and hiding your nipples will seem both counterproductive and impossible. For a long time, every day will feel like a bout of the flu -- runny and wet. You will still want booze; so that, at least, you can cling to.
Yet the vulgarity of the day-to-day is what makes marriage (or any other committed relationship) worthwhile. You can peel off your sopping thigh shaper in the private sanctuary of singledom, but there's a physical and emotional freedom that comes with admitting that dignity is a spandex-encased illusion.
All of this Spanx talk is, obviously, a metaphor. A metaphor for an E. coli infection, which, like Spanx, can make you lose your faith in the goodness of humanity. And which, like Spanx, can test the very foundations of your marriage once it reveals itself.
A little over 2 weeks ago, my husband set off on a short business trip to Florida. He travels routinely for work, and Pork Chop and I manage without him through the grace of leftovers and Skype. Shelby flew out at dawn on Monday and was set to return by midnight on Wednesday -- a pretty typical jaunt for my husband, but one, he noted, that would be jam-packed with important meetings. In other words, Shelby didn't want me to text him in the middle of the day, asking, yet again, how to use our fancy TV remote.
Skies were blue, I was in good spirits, and my kid seemed healthy and whatever passes for mentally stable among toddlers. But by late Monday evening, I started to feel a bit off, a cold deep in my bones. I sent Shelby a quick email: "I think I'm getting a fever." There were no other symptoms: no cough, no runny nose, no bellyache. I popped a thermometer in my mouth before bedtime, and sure enough, I was pushing 102. Must be a sinus infection, I reasoned. My head ached mildly. After two Tylenol and a brief video chat with my husband, I hunkered down in bed with a cup of hot mint tea and a good book (or maybe a BuzzFeed "Which Pair of Jorts Are You" Quiz, but whatever). Shelby was sorry to hear that I was feeling badly, but neither of us was concerned.
By morning, the fever had broken and I felt well enough to host a play group for five moms and eight kids. The fact that I even agreed to host the play group in the first place should have put somebody on alert. But no, the gathering went off without a hitch. I mean, yes, there was some punching and kicking and minor blood loss, but nothing out of the ordinary. However, by nightfall, I wasn't feeling right. In fact, I was feeling pretty damn wrong. I tucked Pork Chop in at 8 p.m. I video chatted with Shelby just long enough to say that the fever seemed to be back and bringing a terrible migraine with it. He suggested that I visit Patient First in the morning; he was starting to sound worried. After hanging up, I grabbed an ice pack, took my migraine medication, and climbed miserably into bed. But the meds didn't stand a chance. I upchucked for a solid 5 hours. Eventually, I managed to keep down some anti-nausea medication that also, mercifully, knocked me out cold.
When I woke on Wednesday morning I felt, yet again, much better -- still mildly headachy and a tad queasy, but nothing I couldn't attribute to the onset of that damned sinus infection. I had work to do, so passed on going to the emergency care clinic. Instead, I noshed on bland foods throughout the day and picked up a large bottle of Gatorade to help set me right. Shelby messaged me to say that the meetings had wrapped up early and that he had switched up flights so that he could be home by 9 instead of by midnight. I looked forward to seeing him before I turned in for the evening.
His flight was right on time, and he walked in the door at 9 p.m. sharp. He gave me a bit of grief for not calling a doctor, but mostly we chatted about his trip and about Pork Chop. It was, however, a very abbreviated chat. Within 30 of my husband's arrival, my stomach began to cramp and ache. I daintily sipped my Gatorade. I felt sweat prickle on my nose. I lay down on the kitchen banquette, thinking that a change in position might somehow rearrange the pain. My dashing husband, still in his tailored navy suit and sipping a bourbon on the rocks, was recounting some bit of office gossip when my intestines tried suddenly to exit my body.
I sat bolt upright. "I don't feel good," I said urgently, cutting Shelby off mid-sentence. I ran for the white, tiled salvation of our master bathroom. There was a moment of panicked fumbling. Were my intestines taking a northern or a southern exit? I threw down my pants and sat on the toilet, making certain that the trash can was also within arm's reach. But nothing happened. Nothing but pain, pain in powerful waves that made my joints feel loose and made my head feel heavy, like it was filled with syrup. My head was just so heavy. Very heavy.
"That's it. We're going to the hospital!" I heard Shelby say. Somehow my husband was hovering over me, looking pale and scared.
A moment before, I had been dreaming, something about a deadline and a broken computer. In the dream, windows kept popping open on my laptop, disparate images overlapping one another. I swiped at the screen, frantically trying to sort through the kaleidoscopic confusion. Just as I managed to clear the screen, I opened my eyes. I was lying on the bathroom floor. My head hurt. My teeth hurt. My husband waited for me to say something.
"Get out! Get out! Get out!" I bellowed. Shelby stared at me, wide-eyed, backing out of the bathroom.
I had passed out face first onto our tiled floor. My pants were down. For all I knew, I was lying in a pile of my own waste. I was pretty sure that my insides were actively turning into stew, but I decided that I'd rather die alone than let my husband see me in the throes of gastrointestinal devastation. All the sex, I thought to myself, is over.
|This is the single weirdest stock photo I've ever found, but it still |
perfectly illustrates the gap between what you think marriage will be like
and the big, beautiful shit show that marriage turns out to actually be.
And this, my friends, is what I mean by the true nature of marriage. Because after I hoisted up my pants, checked to make sure my teeth were intact, inspected the knot on my forehead, and wobbled out of the bathroom, there was my husband, sitting at the edge of our bed, waiting for me. The same man who could make a full-time job of cracking jokes about my klutziness or my inability to understand driving directions, simply looked up at me and said, "I thought you were dead." Not, as I had expected, "Haha! I saw your butt."
He held my hand in the emergency room as I wailed for the nurses to help me. (The pain reached levels of intensity that I'd only ever experienced during labor.) He watched my heart monitor, calling the RN to my bedside every time he noticed an errant blip. My squeamish husband sat by my side while they inserted an IV and asked me 50 questions about diarrhea. Later, he filled my prescriptions and prepared bowls of chicken broth and watched Pork Chop while I drooled on my pillow in a luxurious haze of Percocet.
What we had thought was a bad stomach bug turned out to be an E. coli infection, complete with intestinal bleeding. The likely culprit was a powerhouse sandwich packed with raw bean sprouts, proving, yet again, that vegetables are bad for you. It took a full week before I could eat Tostitos without cramping up. Total nightmare.
Yet, even during the hours spent nestled in the bosom of narcotic painkillers, I still worried about that moment, the one where my husband found me ass-up on the bathroom floor. My guts would recover, but would our marriage? I finally plucked up the courage to ask him what happened. We were sitting in bed together.
"I heard a crash," Shelby explained, "so I went upstairs and knocked on the bathroom door. When you didn't answer, I listened, and I heard snoring."
"What? I was snoring?"
"Yeah, really loudly."
Okay, so it was worse than I thought.
"Well, I opened the door," he said, "and it took a minute for me to understand what was going on. You were on your knees, with your backside in the air, your face smashed into the side of the tub, and one arm sprawled out at a 90-degree angle beside you."
Mmm, very sexy.
He went on, "I moved you onto your side, and you stopped snoring. But then I couldn't tell if you were breathing, and I couldn't rouse you for a long time. It was scary as hell."
He paused, then went on, "I mean, it's kind of funny now. But at the time, I thought for a minute there that you might be dead."
He looked me right in the face when he said that. He squeezed my hand under the sheets. He gave me a weak little smile, but then his eyes lit up in a familiar way.
"Your pants were completely down and your ass was just hanging out. Oh my god. Just sticking straight up. It was ridiculous."
And I know he was right. It was scary as hell. It was ridiculous. And we were a little richer, a little poorer for the whole experience.