One of my least favorite things in the world is vomit.
It always has been. One of my earliest memories is of when I was four years old and I woke up during the night with a tummy ache, then proceeded to regurgitate all over my bedspread. Instead of calling for my parents, I just sat there, paralyzed by fear and disgust. It took several minutes before I snapped out of it and started to wail. I suppose I could blame my extreme aversion to vomit on that early experience, but I suspect my OCD probably has something to do it.
And of course, it’s not as if anyone likes vomit. This is one respect in which I am in the majority.
But because I am meticulous about both handwashing and food preparation, I am very rarely ill. Therefore, vomiting has been an incredibly rare occurrence for me. In fact, prior to that night at Lisa’s house, I hadn’t throw up since childhood.
And now it’s every night. Every night. It’s horrible.
Usually I have enough warning that I can make it to the bathroom in plenty of time. But tonight I was angry with Matt for refusing to eat the dinner I had prepared for him, so I ignored my body’s cues. I made it to the bathroom (barely), but not the toilet. I threw up on the floor two feet away from the toilet.
That’s when I fly into a panic. These days, I’m always panicking a little. But this is a full-fledged attack, in which I stare at the vile material on the tiled floor, my head spinning, my breath coming in quick gasps. Even a Xanax wouldn’t be enough, even if that were possible to take.
I don’t know what to do. I can’t clean this up. I can’t even get myself to move. I just keep staring down at the vomit on the floor, my revulsion increasing by the second.
I need my husband. He will fix this for me. He will save me from the vomit.
“Matt!” I call out.
He’s upset at me for cooking the chicken well done tonight, but when I call out his name, I immediately hear him yet out, “I’m coming!”
My panic abates slightly. Matt’s coming. He never lets me down. He’s my hero. What would I do without him?
Although admittedly, if not for him, I wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with.
I wait, knowing he won’t be quick. The stairs are a struggle for him, so I don’t expect him to come instantly, but as the seconds and minutes tick by, my fingers start to tingle. I’m worried I might pass out. I try to recite my mantra:
Most germs are not harmful.
My immune system is strong.
I have a husband who loves me very much, and I love him.
Well, that was useless.
By the time he shows up at the bathroom, I have sunk down against the wall and I’m actually on the floor. It’s unthinkable, but my legs couldn’t support me anymore. I know I should leave because the smell is making me feel even worse, but I can’t make myself.
“Matt,” I whisper when I see his face.
Any residual anger from our fight in the kitchen has vanished from his face. His brows knit together and he opens up his arms. “Anna.”
I climb onto his lap, resting my head on his muscular shoulder. It’s so comforting here. I take deep breaths, trying to get control of myself. Matt’s here. It’s okay. I’m okay.
“I made a mess,” I murmur into his shoulder.
He strokes my back gently. “Don’t worry. I’ll clean it up.”
“But it’s vomit.”
“Right. It’s just vomit.”
“I’ll help you.”
“No, you should lie down.”
He doesn’t have to tell me a second time. I climb off his lap and step back so that he can get to the sink. He leans forward so he can (just barely) reach the handle to turn the water on. Which sputters for a few seconds before the stream of water dies.
“Shit,” Matt breathes.
“I think it’s broken,” I say. Probably unnecessarily.
“Yes,” he says tightly. “I agree.
Swearing under his breath, Matt backs up to look under the sink and I wince when his wheels go through vomit. I cover my face, unable to watch. We were having some issues with the sink a few days ago, and I usually call my brother-in-law Jake for repair issues, but Matt insisted he could fix it. I had never thought of him as being particularly handy, but I was willing to let him have a shot.
“I don’t know what I did wrong,” he mumbles, peering down at the pipes.
“We should have called Jake,” I say.
He shoots me a look over his shoulder. “Yeah, well…”
“I can call him now.”
“He’s probably eating dinner.”
Matt straightens up and looks around the bathroom, crinkling his nose when he realizes his wheels are streaked with vomit. “We’ve got to clean this up first.”
“Yeah.” I take a deep breath, trying not to lose the calm I regained when Matt came in. Now that he’s here, I can deal with this. “I’ll go get a bucket of water from downstairs. And a mop.”
He nods. “Okay.”
It takes us about an hour to get the bathroom cleaned. Matt does most of the work, but I fetch him several buckets full of water from downstairs and wring out the mop in the kitchen sink when it’s necessary. I also stand there for moral support. At the end, he transfers from his wheelchair to the toilet seat so that he can wipe down the wheels of his chair. He really does his best, and by the end of it, there’s no trace of vomit in the bathroom. I can’t smell it at all.
“Thank you,” I say to him.
He looks up at me and smiles. “Jake should be here soon. Why don’t you go lie down?”
I nod. “I told Jake to use his key to let himself in so you don’t have to go downstairs.”
I noticed the stair lift stalled halfway between the top and the bottom. He didn’t tell me it was broken, but it was obvious. That thing is always breaking. I know Matt hates it.
We should move. We need to move. But I just can’t deal with that right now.
Anna’s sister always jokes that Jake and I have a bromance going, and I wouldn’t say that’s entirely inaccurate. I always wanted a brother, and Jake is great—really great. I wouldn’t say we have any kind of deep relationship, but it’s fun to shoot the shit with him or watch football or basketball on TV. We went to a football game a few months ago and had a great time, in spite of a few accessibility glitches. Jake has been bugging me to go camping with him, but I wasn’t a “roughing it” kind of guy before, and the thought of going camping now very frankly scares the shit out of me, so I’ve been making excuses.
When I hear the front door open and Jake coming into our house, I feel a rush of relief. Jake’s a great handyman. He’s a mechanic, so he’s best with cars (let me tell you what a relief it is to not have to worry about getting ripped off by the local mechanic anymore), but he’s good at fixing things around the house too. He just likes that kind of stuff.
Jake had been fixing stuff around Anna’s house for years before I moved in. He’d be happy to keep doing it, but the truth is, I found it emasculating to have another guy come in and fix stuff for us. It’s bad enough I can’t walk, but I wanted to at least man up and fix the bathroom sink. So I read some articles and tried to do it.
Obviously, it didn’t go so good.
Jake scales the steps to the second floor, casting a quick glance at the stair lift stalled in the middle. He’s at the top in ten seconds, his tool box clutched in his right hand. Jake’s even got a cool toolbox. It’s black with a rust-colored handle and looks it’s taken a lot of beating. My tool box is half the size and shiny new.
“Broken sink?” he asks me.
I nod. “I tried to fix it myself, but…”
Jake puts his toolbox down on the floor of the bathroom and crouches down on the floor to take a look at the pipes. That’s another thing—it’s easier for him to get into position to fix the plumbing than it is for me. Not that I can’t get out of my wheelchair and be on the floor like he is now, but it’s harder. I can’t get on my knees the way he’s doing. My leverage is shit.
“I know Anna must’ve gone nuts when she couldn’t get the water going,” Jake says as he digs around in his toolbox. He retrieves an impressive-looking wrench.
“Yeah, you don’t know half of it,” I tell him. “She had just thrown up all over the floor.”
Jake bursts out laughing. “Oh shit. She must’ve lost it.”
Again, I feel a twinge of… well, I don’t know. Not jealousy. It’s not like I’d ever trade Anna for Lisa in a million years. But… I mean, it’s got to be easier to be married to someone who doesn’t have a freak out over every little speck of dirt.
As if reading my mind, Jake says, “Honestly, I wish we had some of Anna’s cleanliness at our place. Lisa has gone out of control in the other direction. Yesterday I told her I felt like I was living in a garbage dump.”
“Your place always looks okay,” I say. I’m being slightly kind. Their house is usually on the side of messy, but it’s not out of control. Last time I visited Calvin’s house, it was so bad, I had trouble wheeling through the living room because there was so much junk.
“Right, because when you come, we clean for like two hours.” Jake snorts. “If we didn’t, Anna wouldn’t set foot in that pigsty. And you wouldn’t be able to wheel two feet. I hate it.”
It’s the first negative thing I ever heard Jake say about his wife. I don’t bash Anna in front of him and he doesn’t talk about Lisa. Somehow it always made me think they have a perfect marriage.
“So, listen,” Jake says as he unscrews something below my sink. I can’t really see what he’s doing anymore, but I assume he knows his stuff. “Your sink breaks again, call me right away. Don’t worry about bothering me. Really. I’ve been fixing this sink since before you knew Anna.”
“I wanted to see if I could do it,” I say defensively.
“Yeah, and look what happened.” He lifts his face to grin at me. “Look, if my computer broke, I wouldn’t mess with around with it. I’d ask you for help. And when your pipes break, you call me.”
“Well, thanks,” I say.
“Hey, what are brothers-in-law for?” He ducks his head down to go back to work on the pipes. “And I’ll take a look at that stair lift too, if you want.”
“That would be great. But I think it might be beyond salvage.”
“Yeah, you gotta get a new one. Or better yet—move.”
I glance at the direction of the bedroom. The door is closed. “Anna isn’t too excited about moving right now. I don’t think I can do it to her.”
“Right, except…” His voice becomes more hollow as he disappears further under the sink. “What are you going to do when you have a baby? You going to carry the baby up the stairs in the stair lift?”
“No…” I don’t know how I’d even do that. I can’t make a transfer while holding a baby.
“Is the baby going to sleep upstairs?” he presses me. “Because you don’t have a lot of room down here.”
“Yeah…” These are all great points. “Maybe you’re right.”
Maybe I’ll call a real estate agent myself. I’ll look at some houses on my own and wait until I’ve found the perfect house before I drag Anna into it. Maybe we’ll buy the new house, and we can keep both houses for a short time while we transition. We have enough money to do it. Neither of us spend much money, so we’ve got plenty of savings.
But I don’t want to look at houses without Anna.
“Okay, I think I got it fixed,” Jake says as he emerges from under the sink.
“Wow, that was quick,” I comment as I back up my chair to give him room. My left foot slides off that goddamn broken footrest though and skids along the floor. “Shit.”
Jake laughs. “You want me to fix your chair too?”
“Uh, if you don’t mind.”
Damn, I wish I’d paid more attention in shop class at school. Who knew that stuff would end up being useful?
Men like large breasts.
I have noted that this is a characteristic common to all men. Even those men such as my husband, who do not obsess over this piece of anatomy, do not find large breasts unattractive. When we were at Luciano’s one night, we had a waitress with particularly large breasts and I could see Matt’s eyes automatically go to them like a magnet, even though he quickly looked away. I suspect it has to do with evolution—large breasts guarantee adequate sustenance for a baby, to carry on the species.
My genetics have not blessed me with large breasts, which I always took as confirmation that I was poorly suited for motherhood. I wear an A-cup. There are men out there who have larger breasts than I do.
However, an expected bonus to my pregnancy is my breasts have enlarged significantly. I am now spilling out of my A-cups. And as I am preparing myself for bed tonight—the first night in two weeks when I haven’t had to throw up—I notice something incredible: I have cleavage. For the first time, I can press my breasts together and form that attractive line between them.
I come out of the bathroom, remembering at the last moment to pull my housecoat closed. Matt is getting undressed for bed, unbuttoning the blue shirt he wore to work this morning—he sleeps in boxer shorts only. He pulls his shirt off and I take a second to admire the muscles in his chest, shoulders, and arms. His chest is what most women would refer to as sexy. This, too, I suppose, is evolutionary. I am attracted to a man who is strong and muscular, and therefore able to defend me from predators.
But I’m not thinking about evolution at this moment. Only that my husband is extremely attractive.
“Hi,” he says as he becomes aware of me watching him.
“Hi,” I reply.
I smile, remembering my revelation from the bathroom. “Guess what? I have cleavage!”
For a moment, Matt seems perplexed. Then he bursts out laughing. “Do you?”
“I do!” I pull open my housecoat and show him how when I shrug my shoulders together, the line forms between my breasts. “You see?”
“I sure do.” He grins and grabs me, pulling me into his lap. I laugh, feeling happy my nausea has abated. “Can I confirm this for myself?”
I run my hand over the taut muscles of his shoulder. “I suppose you may.”
That night, Matt spends a lot of time confirming my cleavage. While I do not much enjoy pregnancy thus far, I have to confess there are some parts of it I will miss.
Things that are not safe to do while pregnant:
1. Eat raw fish (whether sushi or unintentionally undercooked). Or fish with a high level of mercury. Or smoked fish. Or really, any fish, just to be safe.
2. Eat cold cuts, as they could be infected with the listeria virus. Soft cheeses can be similarly infected.
3. Paint the future nursery, as paint may contain lead.
4. Drink coffee or soft drinks with caffeine.
5. Wear high heels, although this is not a problem since I do not own any. In the past, I never saw the point of wearing tight, uncomfortable shoes that increase the risk of lumbar disc herniation, and even less so now that my husband is always sitting.
6. Soak in water with too high a temperature.
7. Change kitty litter. Of course, we do not own a cat, but Matt’s sister does. I have, therefore, decided not to go to her house for the remainder of my pregnancy to avoid any inadvertent exposure.
8. Drink alcohol. Not that I drank at all before, but Matt kept some beer in the fridge and I have asked him to get rid of it. I don’t want to drink it inadvertently or get some of it in my mouth while we’re kissing.
9. Breathe secondhand smoke. Fortunately, Matt is not a smoker. Unfortunately, my brother-in-law Jake smokes sometimes. (He is perpetually in some state of quitting. Now he is allegedly down to five cigarettes per day.) I have informed Lisa that Jake must abstain from smoking for at least 24 hours prior to any visits we pay to their household.
10. Come into contact with reptiles, as the salmonella virus could be in their fecal material. I have informed Lisa if she purchases the iguana that her son wants, we will no longer be visiting her. She’s still considering the purchase though, for some reason.
11. Use a microwave. I have thrown away our microwave oven. Matt is not pleased.
I can’t believe Anna threw away the goddamn microwave. Now that she’s been overcooking all our food, I needed that microwave. She started babbling about how a developing fetus is “particularly vulnerable” to microwave radiation, and I said, “Well, don’t stand there when I’m using it.” Her response was that she might accidentally wander into the room while I was microwaving something, and then what?
I’m sitting with Anna in a dark room at the local hospital, waiting for the tech to come in to perform a nuchal translucency ultrasound. This is a test that will look at the thin layer of fluid behind our baby’s neck—my understanding is if there’s extra fluid, the baby is at higher risk for chromosomal abnormalities or heart problems or other issues I don’t want to think about. I’m really nervous about the procedure, but I’m also extremely hungry. Hungry enough that it’s almost hard to concentrate. I’m starving to death. Anna has only gained two pounds so far in her pregnancy, and I’ve lost five pounds.
After we get through this procedure, Anna and I need to have a little talk.
“What’s taking them so long?” I grumble. Hunger is making me cranky.
“Maybe they decided they don’t need to do it after all.” Anna’s face brightens at the idea. “Maybe because I’m so healthy, they think it will be okay?”
I don’t want to burst Anna’s bubble and tell her there’s zero chance of this. But we can be cautiously optimistic. All the blood tests Anna has had so far indicate there are no problems with the fetus.
One thing they can’t look for on an ultrasound is whether the baby will be predestined to inherit Anna’s OCD. Or my multiple sclerosis. We won’t know that for a long time. But one thing we will find out is whether the baby has a spine defect such as spina bifida.
If that were to happen, we’d have to make some hard decisions. Having an abortion and trying to get pregnant again—that’s not a possibility. This is it for us. This is the only baby we’ll ever make. So my feeling is we’re getting this test to know what we’re in for. If our child is disabled in some way, we’ll find a way to deal with it. Yeah, it would be harder for us, considering we’re both dealing with our own issues, but I’m ready for it. Whatever this kid’s got in store for us, we can face it. As long as there are no problems incompatible with life, we’re keeping this baby.
That said, I really hope the baby is okay.
The tech comes into the room and the smile drops off Anna’s face. I reach for Anna’s hand, and she gives me a squeeze that hurts a little bit. Last night, Anna had all but decided not to have this scan. We were lying in bed together and she said out of nowhere, “I’m going to cancel for tomorrow.”
“You mean reschedule?”
“I don’t mean reschedule.” Anna was looking at the ceiling as she spoke, because she already knew what my reaction would be. “What’s the point? We’re keeping the baby no matter what.”
“Dr. Reid explained that,” I said patiently. “If there are problems with the baby, it’s better to know now. It might change how they monitor you during pregnancy.”
“But I think I’d rather not know,” she said.
“But it’s better to know.”
We went back and forth on it for… well, I’m embarrassed to admit how long. Two hours. It took me two hours to convince Anna to get the goddamn ultrasound, after we’d already debated it for weeks and it was already scheduled. And I drove her here, just to make sure she didn’t chicken out.
The tech’s ID badge declares her name to be Elena. She’s young, but has a comforting smile. “How are we doing?”
Anna is too scared to even answer. She just keeps squeezing my hand. If she were stronger, this would be painful. Actually, it’s a little painful. “We’re good,” I answer for her.
Elena smiles at us. She probably does this all the time and it’s funny to see us so worked up over it. But this is our baby. How could we not get worried?
Elena spreads the gel on Anna’s belly, which looks more like a food belly than a baby belly. I’m worried about how little weight Anna has gained. Dr. Reid says it’s no big deal—a lot of women don’t gain much weight in the first half of pregnancy, but to me, it feels like a red flag. I want her to have a big, fat, healthy baby.
Last time we had an ultrasound, the baby looked mostly like a white blob, but today when I see the image on the screen, it looks like more than just a blob. I can see the outline of a head and also of a body. I stare at it, my heart pounding.
“Where are the arms and legs?” I ask in alarm.
Elena raises her eyebrows at me. “Don’t worry. I can see them.”
Anna is struggling to lift her head and get a look. “Are you sure?”
Elena laughs. “Yes, I promise you. Your baby has arms and legs.”
I smile sheepishly. “Sorry, I just…”
I look down at my own legs, which have failed me completely in the last few years. I get around fine in my wheelchair, but the truth is, it’s not what I want for my kid. I want my kid to be completely healthy. I want my kid to be able to walk.
We see more of our baby on the ultrasound screen. A head. A body. Two arms. Two legs. It’s incredible. This is an actual baby.
“How does everything look?” Anna asks, her voice a whisper.
“Well, I’m supposed to let the doctor talk to you about it,” Elena says. “But I’m not seeing anything concerning at all.”
Thank God. The two of us are due for a little bit of luck.
“By the way,” Elena says, “I can tell you the gender right now if you want to know.”
“Yes,” Anna says, “of course we want to know. Why wouldn’t we?”
Elena smiles. “Some families like it to be a surprise.”
“I think the birth will be surprising enough, thank you very much!” Anna says.
I laugh because I agree with her wholeheartedly on this one. Why would we wait? We’re dying to know what we’re having.
“It’s a boy!” Elena announces.
Up until this moment, I’d been one-hundred percent excited about the baby. I was excited about being a father. I was excited about every single part of it.
Except now it occurs to me that I’m not just going to have a baby. For a while, the baby will be a baby. But in a few years, I’m going to have a son.
I’m going to have a son. Who is going to want to play sports and go camping and wrestle and do a lot of other things I’m not sure I can do anymore. I kept thinking about how I’d feel about my kid, but I never really thought about how he’d feel about me. What’s it going to be like for a boy having a dad who’s in a wheelchair?
I remember when I was a kid, there was another boy named Sammy Wright who used to pick on me sometimes, and I remember one day I told him my dad could beat up his dad. Then we argued over it. Could Sammy’s dad beat up mine, or could mine beat up Sammy’s? I insisted my dad would come out on top.
This kid—my son—he’s not going to go around telling his friends I could beat up their dads. Nobody would believe that one. Not that my dad was capable of beating up Sammy’s (in retrospect, he definitely wasn’t), but at least it seemed like a possibility.
Christ, what if my son is ashamed of me?
To be continued....