Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Throw Up Towel



Along the back wall of the pharmacy, I find what I'm looking for: that finger cuticle-cutting tool. I buy it. At home, I open the package, remove the curved blade from its sheath and start shaving off dead skin. I am negligent, though, and blinded by eagerness to feel the nerves above my nails. And just as I finish my pinkie, I realize my index and middle fingers are bleeding. A deluge, really, as if I'd plucked two sandbags from the center of my skin's flood wall. I tear off a paper towel and attempt to sop up the red, but the blood won't clot. I keep my movements inconspicuously nonchalant, leaning against the kitchen sink while I talk with Scott and our friend, Sheila. But Scott notices and points it out, the edges of his mouth curving like a frowning clown in disgust. I hold up my red and white paper towel like an unwanted trophy. If you can't hide it, flaunt it. That's the saying, right? I then turn to the faucet and become an abstract painter, splattering the sink's surface with a watery crimson. After several minutes, the blood won't stop. I excuse myself. 

In the shower, a red river runs toward my feet. After ten minutes, I leave the steamy tiles. Still bleeding, I stretch over the white bath mats for the sink. There, I drip onto the fat angel babies who fly amongst golden clouds in the sink's somewhat silly scene. I hold my hand under rushing water, but still, I bleed. I pull open Band-Aid wrappers and press the sticky sections around and around the tips of my two sore fingers. Four bandages total. 


Later that night, before climbing into bed, I decide to free my fingers and take off the bandages. My fingers have stopped bleeding, but my nails are stained red. I tongue them clean, which I immediately regret. Then I climb into bed where I start to feel a bit queasy. The boys I nanny for had had some kind of stomach bug while we were separated by vacation. This nausea, I tell myself, is probably just a slow festering infection of the mind. I pick up my book, but after a couple pages have been flipped and pressed, another chapter digested, I close it and place it onto the corner of my bedside table. Scott comes into our room then and strips down to his underwear, a nightly ritual. In the winter, he climbs into the covers, clinging to me in my soft cotton sweatpants and long-sleeved tee shirts, waiting for his body heat to soften the icy sheet that drapes around him. Sometimes, despite the cold's threats and my angry pleads, he'll flap the covers, fanning cold air over my goosebumping limbs to line the comforter with the sheet. He has some Obsessive Compulsive Disorder tendencies. Last night, he climbs in and does his flapping thing, then makes some comment about how much I love him, to be cute. "I don't feel well." I grumble, curling my knees into my chest. He picks up his huge hard cover fantasy book about dragons, violent kings, and mystical creature armies, and starts talking about something. I don't know what. I'm not listening. I'm concentrating on my insides. Then I'm flipping back the covers, feeling sure that this frightening feeling, this metallically mouthwatering, rumbling tummy feeling is in fact happening. I run for the door that leads to the backyard. I rip it open and run outside. It's cold out, somewhere near 9 degrees. I am running to save the rug and my pajamas from the vomit that is reverberating and rising from my belly to my esophagus. 


Oh how I fear throw up. 


I haven't vomited for twelve years. The fear I have of puking no doubt stems from my mother, an openly gaging "would somebody please take care of that kid" kind of woman. She's not ashamed, nor proud. Just the way she is. Worst than my fear of personal puking is the retching of my mother. The sound of her repetitive dry heaves always seemed worse than actual vomit because it was the anticipation of vomit. Only this was no boy who cried wolf type of story. I never doubted the possibility that dry heaves could lead to wet spew. With four kids and a dog, it happened somewhat often. Every time the dog pooped in the house, for instance, she'd call my father from the kitchen telephone. Dad worked an hour away in Boston. "Marrrrrk, The dog shit (heave heave) damn it! The dog shit in the house again. Would you do something please?" I'd hear those heaves from my bedroom and wait for a splat on the kitchen tiles. When Mom would return to her senses and hang up, she'd holler for my brother to help. "PATRICK!" The only boy. I don't think he ever actually had to clean it up because I'd always hear the paper towel roll rapidly unraveling, some plastic spray bottle squeaking, and my mother gagging. She once puked in the side yard after we got home from somewhere. It was dark and I could hear her heaving into the bushes. I felt helpless. But that was the only time I witnessed my mother's produce actual barf. 


When I was a kid home with the flu, it meant a day of Sesame Street, Saltine Crackers, Ginger Ale, and laying on the couch with a towel stretched over my pillow. Not an empty paint bucket from the garage or an old cooking pot from beneath the kitchen sink. No, we were given a stiff cotton bath towel for if we "couldn't make it". And one sick day, I couldn't make it and threw up on my towel, cupping the sour sludge from beneath. My dry-heaving mother came running, leading me to the toilet where I could respectfully finish my virus's exit strategy. 


"Brush your teeth!" She'd instruct afterwards. I did as I was told, jabbing my cheap bristly toothbrush along my slimy teeth and washing the spit up from my chin. I then turned and picked up the THROW UP TOWEL to wipe my face. In our mad rush to the potty, Mom had thrown the vomit rag onto the hamper across from the sink and when I picked it up, tepid orange vomit splashed down toward our feet, causing a squealing fit flecked with my mother's horrible heaves. 


I think she feared the cleaning up of vomit, like the dog shit. I think the scariest thought going through her head was, WHAT IF IT GETS ON SOMETHING! This fear always turned into frenzy whenever anyone debilitated by sickness in my family suddenly stood from the couch and mumbled anything like, "I think I have to...." 


"Bathroom! GET TO THE BATHROOM!" She'd shriek from where ever she was cleaning, napping or reading. 


Last night, fearing I will not make it to the toilet, I run outside. I stand on the stones of the back garden, holding my  hair back. I separate my feet, squat my legs and bend forward. I imagine the baby carrots I have just eaten splattering across the stone wall in front of me and I try to remember where the hose is hooked up so that a quick and thorough clean can happen post puke. Scott says something to me then. Something about the bathroom and whether I can make it. I look back. He is standing, shirtless, pants-less, behind the glass door to our bedroom. He is shivering. He then tells me it probably isn't good that I'm standing out in the cold. Fed up and afraid he might see me upchuck, I walk around the side of the house. The door behind me closes. Good, I think, let me do this ALONE! I can do this. IcandothisDAMNIT! But then I start to feel the puke pass, like a ship dodging a dock. I decide to go inside to do the deed properly, into the porcelain potty. Scott has run inside to get dressed into sweatpants and a sweatshirt. He meets me in the kitchen. He doesn't know quite what to do. He looks a bit lost. Behind him, I beeline for the bathroom, close the door and kneel on the floor. I lean over the seat and purposefully inhale the smell of the toilet water. I breathe it in to encourage my rumbling tummy into discharging its yuckiness. Look at that lonely bowl of water where people POOP and PEE all the time! Remember what diarrhea looks like? Smelllllls like? Doesn't that make you want to puke? COME ON! Do it, body. Do it.  ... Nothing happens. I could never be a bulimic. I stand up, disappointed in myself for the drama I have caused. I leave the loo. Scott holds forth a glass of crushed ice and a glass of water and we walk back to bed. 


Once between the covers, I tell him that I'm feeling better. But then I notice that one of my previously bleeding cuticles is leaking blood again. I ask Scott for a few tissues from his bedside table. He gives me two, murmuring something about how that won't be enough. Still visibly disgusted by my blood, I see. Well, this little blood is NOTHING compared to what comes next. We hear it first, a painfully long puttering. The dreadful farting has begun. You know the kind. Those warm "LEAVE ME ALONE MY STOMACH HURTS!" kind of farts. I flap the blankets and the hot air that escapes is like a rotting skunk covered in pooping maggots. He waves his hands. The stench won't leave his nose alone, he says. A few jokes about shitting my pants pass between us as I doze off to dreamland. 


It appears I've left one gagging caretaker for another.