Reading Your Way Through the Stomach Flu

Oh, what an eventful week for New Year’s Resolution keeping. A hearty thank you to the severe bout of gastroenteritis that laid waste to my plans and my will to live; ’tis an ill wind that blows nobody any good, for I instead did a glorious amound of reading. Let’s go ahead and lay it out in chronological order, the better to chart the course of said illness and recovery.

Day One, 9:15pm — You have just finished some Chinese takeout, after feeling uncharacteristically apathetic towards it. You recall feeling weird and extra-sweaty at the gym earlier. As you watch The Thick of It, you wonder why the dulcet tones of Peter Capaldi and his Scottish epithets grate more on the ear than usual. Sudden dash to bathroom. Thow up every 40–45 minutes until 6am, in addition to The Other Thing happening on the same timescale. Realize, again, that nausea/vomiting is like The Silence in Doctor Who: until it is actually physically happening in real time, you do not realize how bad it is. It is the worst. (Even now, these words have no meaning to me; I recall the revelation, but not the cry of the occasion.) No reading is done this day. You sleep in the basement in order to use a different bathroom and keep the mystery of yourself as a sexual being alive for another day.

Day Two, 7:00am — Your partner brings the packages containing the seven or eight books you acquired following the epic literary scavenger hunt post of the preceding week. They open them for you, as you are wrapped in a heating pad, wanly sipping Pedialyte. It’s strawberry Pedialyte, and you wanted orange. It doesn’t matter. Human desires are a thing of this mortal life, and you will soon depart it. Let them bring you prune-flavored Pedialyte, who cares? Your hands clutch out at Gordan Korman’s “This Can’t Be Happening at MacDonald Hall” (Indiebound | Amazon). This. This will do. He wrote it when he was fourteen. When you were eight, that seemed impossible. At thirty, you realize the book is formulaic, gaspy, and does nothing to elevate the plucky-prep-school-boys-hijinks-ultimately-enlisting-help-of-local-girls-school-headmaster-seems-tough-but-is-on-your-side schtick. Bless you. Bless you Mr. Korman. Bless you. Read the next three books in the series. All are the same (“The War With Mr. Wizzle”). All. Beautifully the same. (“Beware the Fish!”) Perfect in their sameness. Fall into sleep, dream that you have to pass a swim test (“Go Jump in the Pool!”).

Day Three, 11:00am — “How is your weekend going?” a friend inquires. “What is a week-end?” you spit back. They are not watching Downton Abbey, and you have kept down half a banana since the Chinese food and are in no rush to explain the witticism’s provenance. Digging through a pile of books you’ve been meaning to get to, you see a tanned, bikini-clad woman on the deck of a yacht. It is a review copy of Jackie Collins’ newest, “The Power Trip” (Indiebound | Amazon). Oh, you’ll do nicely, you say, stroking the cover. You’ll do nicely indeed. Several hours later, your partner brings you a little bag of Cheerios, like you are a toddler melting down at the zoo. You look up, startled. You have been in a world of a well-hung Russian oligarch vigorously humping his Naomi Campbell-esque supermodel girlfriend. An evil politican and his cowering, Xanax-addled wife. An aging movie star growing bored of his flavor-of-the-month consort. A fun-loving gay Latin icon and his evil English social-climbing lover, Jeromy. If it can be said to have a flaw, it would be the number of blow jobs. There is a blow job every four pages. You wonder if Jackie insisted, or if it is her contract, or if they were added by her editor after the fact. If you were not so sick, you would make a chart. Every possible permutation of blow job giving and receiving occurs, considering the available cast of characters and their respective sexual orientations. You give up, and just enjoy it.

Day Four, 9:00am — Your horse has a metabolic condition and cannot possibly get another day off without dire consequences. You saddle her and take her down into the gully. Don’t you fuck around on me, you mutter sweetly, knowing you are ill-positioned to curb any poor behavior in your current state. As you head for home, a jogger blows past you on the left, your horse goes up in a light and you go down in a thunk. Once you get your wind back, you swiftly check your limbs. Nothing terrible has happened. Your horse considers dashing across a major intersection to her death, so you limp to your feet and snatch your reins back. Remounting, you use an extremely ableist slur under your breath, and somehow return to the barn in one piece. You realize that you had best get busy living, or get busy dying, as Morgan Freeman or one of the other characters in The Shawshank Redemption once said. Time to read a real book. You choose Justine Blau’s new memoir of her tumultuous childhood and difficult mother, “Scattered” (Author’s Site | Amazon). It’s short, which you hope will balance out your inability to cope with difficult subject matter in your current state. You are transfixed. It is lovely. You burst into snotty tears. You decide your life is very easy, and you should get over it. You email the title to several people. You write Justine Blau to tell her how much you enjoyed it. She tells you her son loves The Hairpin. You decide not to read anything else that will make you cry, as the underside of your nose is quite raw. You are still not eating.

Day Four, 10pm — A very long time ago, a reader recommended Dan Simmons’ “The Terror” (Indiebound | Amazon) to you, as a great lover of horror literature. You started it, and set it aside for some reason you’ve forgotten. The reason occurs to you as you lie in bed, inching slowly over the course of two hours until you are directly on top of your bemused partner.

“What?” they say.
“The canned goods are turning putrid and the Thing walks the ice,” you say. “Hold me.”
“Are you still catching?”
“Shhhhhhhhh, hold me.”

Day Five, 7am — You wake up and realize you cannot turn your head to the right or place pressure on your lower back following the unscheduled dismount of the previous day. You are back on baby duty. She climbs into your lap and hits you across the face with Mo Willems’ “Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late” (Indiebound | Amazon), which you mentally add to your upcoming master list: “Beyond Goodnight Moon: The Best Books for Babies and Toddlers.” For dinner, you eat a wedge of the chocolate cake your partner fruitlessly bought you for Valentine’s Day. Life goes on.