Several friends and acquaintances have recently announced their first pregnancies, and I find myself offering the usual pithy niceties and dull truisms, an aloof veteran patting the backs of the new recruits just before they hoist themselves over the top into the maelstrom of shrapnel and armament. Welcome to the trenches. I hope you don't mind the smell of human excrement.
But there's more to it than just that.
* * * * *
We spent part of last week at my mother-in-law's house. My son had a 12-hour norovirus. We share a room with him there and he vomited all over his bedding and portable crib and even after cleanup we fell back asleep in a room that smelled like the afterparty of the competitive fried-mozzarella-stick-eating championships.
The next day I sit marveling at the premium-cable television stations my mother-in-law pays for on her giant flat screen, wondering if one day we too might enjoy television without constantly being interrupted by middle-aged men imploring us to try the simple capsule for natural male enhancement that increases the size of that certain part of a male body. My sick son is sitting on my lap and we are watching some movie I think is called Space Chimps vs. Monster Aliens and he coughs slightly and then vomits all over my shirt and pants. Under any other circumstance, if something you were holding started regurgitating yogurt-flavored stomach acid all over you, you might be inclined to drop it, or even toss it towards the CGI monkeys on the jumbotron across the room; instead, the thing is whimpering and so sick you hold it against your chest, comforting it even while confronting your own disgust, waddling towards the nearest drain where you hose yourself down along with this howling, parasite-lair of an offspring.
Nothing will ever be the same.
* * * * *
The bug in my son's stomach passes into my daughter's, but I don't know that yet. The night before Thanksgiving she tells my wife her stomach hurts, but I'm in the other room on my laptop, tapping away as usual (when you ask my daughter what her father does for a living, she says he writes e-mails). I am focused on the computer while she hovers between sitting on my shoulder and the right arm of the lounge chair begging for some youtube video when she coughs slightly and vomits directly onto my laptop keyboard and the screen goes black with a brief reverb of circuitry within, then silence, a whiff of something electrical before the scent of this esophageal diarrhea hits us and she spews out a good bit more and the sight of it all sends my son into hysterics.
Pandemonium: pan-də-ˈmō-nē-əm\ noun from Greek pan- + daimōn Date: 1667
1 the infernal regions; the capital of Hell in Milton's Paradise Lost
2 not capitalized : a wild uproar : tumult: a state of extreme confusion and disorder.
3 our living room after my daughter's vomit short circuits my laptop and I'm howling about it and dragging her and it across the room with reddish gloop oozing out of the USB ports.
I didn't mean to do it, she shouts. I know, I say to her. It's not your fault. The kids holler until they're clean and calm. I can't find a screwdriver small enough to take the computer apart so the innards sit there marinating until a kindly neighbor offers up his eyeglass repair kit and I finally peel it apart to spend the next three hours with a box of q-tips swabbing foreign matter out the nodules and slots and sockets (I later learned it was strawberries). After midnight, I put it all back together and miraculously it powers up.
I go into my daughter's room to kiss her goodnight and find her sweating under blankets. Her best friend has lately found other kids he'd rather play with at school, and in her sleepy state that's the first thing on her mind. Through her dream haze she says to me, "It's good that he wouldn't play with me today; I might have made him sick." Here I've been worried I upset her with my reaction to what happened, but heavier things weigh on her tiny heart.
"I just want you to know that I love you, and that my computer isn't broken after all."
"And don't you worry about him. He doesn't know how much fun he's missing."
* * * * *
In the morning the laptop is dead.
Overnight the acids corroded something essential. My brain can't help working through the justifications and rationalizations of replacing it. I hate nothing more than spending money. I mope for a bit on the couch and my daughter comes over and snuggles up to me and sits there for a while, vaguely patting me on the head and singing me a song. It was quite touching. And it was time I would have ordinarily spent typing.
We drive to Pittsburgh for the big meal, and the whole way there the only thing I can do to console myself about my ruined MacBook Pro is envision John Hodgman saying snide things to Justin Long covered in vomit:
We keep our eyes on the kid every time she makes a sound, knowing that the only way this could get any worse is if she fills the car with that sickness. It turns out she's already over it, but when we get to Pittsburgh no one's there for dinner because my wife's stepbrother has overdosed on heroin and everyone is with him in the ICU. When his mother returns she sits with my wife in the kitchen over cold stuffing and an uneaten turkey and I listen to her fall apart, a bit drunk, her son in a coma with machines breathing for him, at a loss for what to do with the child she found choking on the vomit in his lungs and a needle still in his hand.
* * * * *
It's just a goddamn computer, says the universe. You complain to the universe that she could have done it a few steps away; her aim could have been a bit to the right; she could have skipped the strawberries altogether. The universe gently presses your lips together, shushes you. You could have put the computer down for once.
You watch your children sleeping in the car on the way back home. Your brain returns to the $1700 emesis. Years ago something like this might have made you angry. If your college roommate had done it, you might never have forgiven him. But how could you be mad at her? You might as well be mad at the wind.
They will change you in ways you'd never expect. They will puke all over everything and it will do nothing to change the fact that you would tear out your own heart to see them go unhurt.
The lingering odor of dried vomitus. You never knew love could smell this bad.