The plague

I knew I was in trouble when, on Thursday night, Annabelle announced, “I’m cold and my tummy hurts.”

For the past week, a stomach virus has been among the evils tormenting the city of Winchester. Some kids have missed a week of school, which I assume means their mothers, or fathers, as the case may be, have missed a lot of work.

Second to the stomach virus, among the invincible outside forces afflicting our region, is the weather. It has snowed again. Only eight inches this time, but that is enough to cause widespread misery here. It snowed all day Thursday, and on Friday, secondary roads were still covered with thick chunks of snow and ice.

When Annabelle said she was sick on Thursday night, Dan was out plowing driveways for the neighbors. He is a member of a group of men in our neighborhood who do this, and for some reason, they feel the need to work until midnight to ensure that the driveways of Whittier Acres are passable as soon as possible after the last flake has fallen. Some of the ladies here have hair appointments they can’t miss, even when it’s snowing.

Because she seemed in good spirits and kept playing after the “my tummy hurts” declaration, I thought just maybe it was kind of like all the times my tummy hurt when I was in daycare at the Little Me Great Me preschool in Yellow Springs, West Virginia. In daycare, I often got a tummy ache when the other kids were going for a walk or swimming and I didn’t feel like participating.

So I gave her some Tylenol and put the kids to bed, hoping for the best. Dan was still out plowing snow and I’d been answering phone calls from people inquiring about whether he was available to plow more snow in the morning.

Sometimes I wish I was a man, with tools. Then I’d be in demand, like Dan. It’s so unfair. All this started way back when we were coworkers. Before Dan and I were even really friends, I had to listen to our bosses go on and on about how great he was. It was terribly annoying.

Once, long after Dan had left one of the newspapers where we worked together and where I was still working as a reporter, one of the editors said to me, “You know there is an opening for an editor here.”

I thought he was implying that I should apply for the job. I didn’t want it, but before I could politely decline, he told me that Dan would be a great candidate for the position.

Yeah. So then we both decided to become teachers. Dan got a job like two weeks after he got his teaching license. No one ever asked him in a job interview, “What are you going to do when your children get sick?” No one ever said to him, “Maybe since you have two young children, subbing will be enough work for you.” And if they had, I bet a little voice inside him wouldn’t have said maybe they were right.

But I’ve digressed.

So I got two hours of sleep on Thursday night before I awoke to the sounds of retching in Annabelle’s bedroom. I always get a little paralyzed in these situations. My mom once told my sister about me: “It’s like she goes catatonic.”

I walked into Annabelle’s room and saw her sitting up, vomiting in bed. I said something to her, I can’t remember what, and she responded.

“It’s going to be OK,” I told her, and then walked back into the hallway to get some towels.

Just then, Dan walked in the door. It was midnight.

Some things about coming home here: Never walk in hungry. Do not anticipate solitude, even at midnight.

Dan is aware of both of these rules, so I think he was only mildly surprised when he came home to a disoriented wife and vomiting child.

“I need to get something to eat,” he said, and stomped downstairs.

This is another difference between us that I think has a lot to do with the fact that he is male and I am not. Whenever one of my kids is crying, heck, whenever any kid is crying, I get this frantic feeling. Sometimes so frantic that I go catatonic as a defense mechanism.

A few years ago, I was at the gym trying to leave one of my kids in the daycare there and the attendant had to call this other mother in because her baby was freaking out. The mom stopped her workout and came into the daycare, but then she started doing stretches because, she said, “I don’t want to cramp up.” Meanwhile, the baby was crying.

I was thinking this is really weird. Why isn’t she getting undressed so she can start nursing the baby like I would, because you can’t just sit there and stretch while another woman holds your crying baby?

Maybe stretching was her way of going catatonic, her defense mechanism.

And I realize that story was about another woman, not a man.

So anyway, Dan got some food and I cleaned up the barf. We all went to sleep. Annabelle didn’t throw up again until morning. Now she’s been throwing up off and on for two days. Dan has been plowing snow and I’ve been grading papers and making plans for the sub I’m afraid I may have to call this week.

Her small body radiates heat, yet she is loath to take the medicine.

We, the people of Winchester, Virginia, are sick of snow and sick of viruses. We are prepared to work a five-day week if it means an end to this claustrophobic madness. The only thing worse than being snowed in is being snowed in with sick children crying because they can’t stop vomiting AND they’re bored. How can you be bored while you are barfing?

So Dan and I make more coffee and we wait, because unlike Prince Prospero in Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” we have no false security. We know that all the probiotics in the world may not protect us from what is likely coming our way. I’m going to try to eat and drink light for the next couple of days. It isn’t easy, what with the weather, and the boredom, and the crying …


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