Regrounding


I was sick yesterday. Really, I was sick the day before that, as well, but it didn’t count because I went to work. I went to bed Wednesday evening with a cough, but I woke up at 3am feeling like I’d fallen down a mountain in a sack of rocks. I pulled myself out of bed and went in search of a drink of water, and maybe some Nyquil.

Standing at the top of the stairs in the darkness, my legs almost gave out, and as I slapped my hand against the wall for balance, I thought this would be an embarassing way to go. Catastrophising in the middle of the night is sort of my thing.

I got my water and got back into bed. A few minutes later I heard a crash from the hallway, as the home invaders creeping up the stairway knocked a shampoo bottle off a shelf. I lay and visualized what I’d do if I heard anything else, mentally calculating the direction and distance to the door.

Eventually I fell back asleep, breathing hoarse and labored.

At five, I woke again, and my wife told me that she’d seen something weird outside. A man in a white shirt was running through our neighborhood, she said, followed by a Mini Cooper. He got in, and it screeched away quickly.

I turned on my side and sank into a disturbing dream filled with deleted scenes from The Italian Job, featuring Michael Caine in a long white gown, lurching haphazardly through dark damp streets. When I woke again at 8am, I felt horrible. “I’m staying home today,” I said to my wife, emailing my boss the news from my phone. Then, “did you say something about a guy in a white shirt, or did I dream that?”

When you have a new baby, night time becomes a blur of half-remembered moments. A fretful squawk, a loud baby fart, the sound of my wife whispering soothingly to my son. I used to have trouble sleeping in the same bed as someone else, but now that sleep has become such a precious commodity, I can fall into it almost instantly, and stay under even during the loudest of dramatic baby moments.

I spent most of the day in bed, flopping around listlessly. Being properly ill is frustrating because you have all the free time in the world but no energy to do anything with it. I caught up on The Following, and felt guilty about it because it was drummed into me at a young age that “if you’re too sick for school you’re too sick for TV”. That always struck me as unfair: surely watching TV isn’t in the same league as going to school. All you’re engaging is your eyeballs. (Believe it or not, this was not a argument that held a lot of water in my house growing up. But mummmmm…!) Despite that rationale, I still felt a little guilty. Which is my cultural heritage.

I didn’t get any writing done until the evening, when I battered out a couple of hundred words on a mundane article that will probably never be published. It was a frustrating day.

Mostly I was just frustrated that I couldn’t hold my son — partly because I really like the little guy, but also because it’s rough on my wife not to be able to hand him off to me for at least a couple of hours in the day. I have no idea how single parents survive. Babies are a full time job. Or, really, three consecutive fulltime jobs.

Anyway, yesterday felt like dead time. In America, one always has to be doing something. If you’re not working you should probably be purposefully recreating. There isn’t much space for just lying around feeling sick.

This morning I felt just as bad, but I bad-temperedly cursed my way out of bed, through a shower, and out the front door. As I turned on my car, the final weird bridge of Won’t Get Fooled Again popped in with perfect timing. I had one of those moments you only experience when you’re driving in your car listening to some epic jams. Thank you, WBIG, “Washington’s Classic Rock!”

Then I went to work and coughed my way through the day with a closed office door and a liter of Gatorade. Gatorade is evocative because it always reminds me of the hours I spent wandering around grocery stores trying to find the right flavors to bring home, because when she was in the first third of her pregnancy my wife couldn’t stomach water. So when I see it, I think of that, and also our hot, cramped little apartment in St. Paul last summer. It had no air-conditioning, and windows that would only open about 15cm.

Then my wife sent me the link to the photobook she’s made of our first year of marriage together, and looking at that brought back even more memories.

Life changes so fast and frequently. Sometimes it’s nice to be forced out of the game for a day — so you can reground yourself relative to where you were a year ago.