It’s Saturday. I just started a load of clothes and took a hot shower, and had to sit down for a minute before I dried my hair. I’m going to make myself a good breakfast because I’m 13 pounds lighter than I was a month ago, and I haven’t been trying.
I thought I’d take a moment–a very long moment with many, many words–and describe how I got to such a state.
Five weeks ago, my husband and I had colds. Bad colds. In fact, we had three week colds, the ones that drag on and on, and had us sleeping in separate rooms so we didn’t wake each other up with our strangling coughing fits (which we did anyway). It was one of those colds with the cough that is so harsh, I started to feel like I was going to cough an internal part of my body right out of my body. The kind where my stomach muscles and ribs start to ache from the exertion of coughing.
Even worse than the coughing was the nose blowing. My nasal congestion (like my nose) is extraordinary. In fact it can be spectacular (again, like my nose). I have very large nostrils and very small sinus passages. This combination means I blow my nose every thirty seconds when I have a bad cold.
I was constantly coughing but mentally functional. I signed in and worked from home every day, and was thanked by my manager for not coming in and exposing anyone else to my crud. I would have sickened my team, not only with my germs, but with the sound of going through eight or ten large boxes of tissues in three weeks.
Then, miraculously, I felt better. I had an entire week of feeling better. Wearing real clothes, going to a play, working a full day in the office (where I moved into the small office, if you were wondering). I like my new small office so much, I thought, I will be in here at least twice a week now! Because I felt so good!
We were all looking forward to this past Saturday morning, when we would gather to celebrate a pair of birthdays: my grandson turning four, and my granddaughter turning one. Various aunties, uncles, grandparents and cousins were gathering for brunch and cake and presents.
And it was everything I could have hoped. I wondered if I would ever share birthdays with my NYC grandkids, but now they are my Portland grandkids, and I was there for my granddaughter’s very first birthday! Baby S was a little overwhelmed by having so many people she knew in one place, but she consoled herself by making a beeline for my arms. Whenever she felt overwhelmed, she came right back to my arms. There was cake and presents and games and paleontology kits for the three older kids. A terrific time was had by all.
I mean, it just tore through us. And of course it did, because there were five small children there who go to daycare, and everyone knows a daycare child is a germ vector, an adorable zone of contagion.
So on Monday, after a round of texts to establish that yes, we were all either sick or expecting to be very soon, I worked from home. That evening, I entered a fugue state of high fever and running sinuses so intense that on Tuesday, I actually took a sick day. I called in. And that was a good thing, because I couldn’t get out of bed. I had spent the night somewhere else, somewhere strange, a land of fever dreams and body aches, rolling around trying to get comfortable, getting up for a few wrenching and violent sessions over the toilet, unsure of where I was and maybe who I was.
I eventually got myself up, took my heart pill, and made a cup of coffee, which I consumed with a view to taking a coffee nap. Here’s an explanation of what that is and why you should try to take one when you’re exhausted: Coffee Napping.
After I woke up from said coffee nap, I felt well enough to collapse on the sofa in front of HGTV. There, for approximately 14 hours, I stared at reruns of Fixer to Fabulous. This show features Dave and Jenny Marrs, who fix up homes for people in the Bentonville, Arkansas area. So, lots of Wal-Mart and Tyson money. The home price is usually in the 600K-700K range, and the Marrs often have budgets of 200K to work with. They do very nice things within that budget.
You can learn a lot while staring at the same people for hours on end in a semi-conscious state. Things like, Dave Marrs is faster with a tape measure than any other person on TV. The instant Jenny has an idea, he magically has a tape measure extended up walls and into corners and across windows, just instantaneously. He also has an enormous barn that is actually his workshop, where he has every tool, saw, press, torch, clamp that exists. You name it, he has it and will use it to cut or fabricate or conjoin any given material in any given way to make any sort of thing.
I thought these people were Christians, but no, Dave Marrs is a Wizard.
One thing I enjoyed through my haze of fever and illness is how much the Marrs seem to like each other. Sure, they love each other, whatever, but they also like each other. If you’ve ever tried to be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t like you, you understand how nice it is when your partner does. The Marrs are respectful but playful, and there is laughter and collaboration.
This seems to inspire the same from the clients they work with. There is no bickering or contentiousness among these Southern couples with money. In fact, a man might say, “It’s important to my wife that…” or the woman might say, “My husband has always loved…” and go on to describe a feature they’d like to see in the remodel to make the spouse happy. This seems sincere. It’s nice break from the manufactured marital conflicts of “House Hunters” and “Love it or List It.”
This show is also a good place to go to understand some particular Southern values. Like, homes will be fancier, as in a little fussier. And if a family is racially mixed, that will have happened through adoption. There will be expensive plantation shutters indoors a lot of the time that should never be removed (I agree). And all women will be very well presented, and often blonde. Very blonde. Sometimes platinum blonde. And almost always barrel rolled.
I understood this a little better when the Marrs did a home for Jenny’s hairdresser, who is a blonde of the platinum and barrel rolled variety. When they showed a photo of this pretty woman and her daughter, the daughter was similarly coiffed. Then Jenny talked about how her own blonde, barrel-rolled hair, as well as the hair of all her friends and family was at stake, so could they please get this remodel done right. I saw how one woman’s aesthetic could influence my impression of an entire town.
Such deep thoughts, that day on the couch.
Gosh, I saw a lot of commercials, collapsed on the couch with my late mother’s comforter piled on top of me, comforting me.
There were mattress commercials, which ranged from the bespoke and cloud-like to the supremely technological. I’m obsessed with my own sleep and comfort. The simple act of lying down for a night’s sleep is so fraught, and has been since my forties, that I watch these commercials eagerly, hoping to see the magic bed that will cure all my sleep ills. I have no idea what would work, but I would try anything at this point.
Speaking of high tech applied to simple things, I also saw technological water commercials. I’m put off by these. I watch them with puzzlement because water is not a fraught topic for me—we drink water from the tap. We are on the Bull Run water system, and it’s as good as it gets.
Sleep and water, so basic, and yet, so complex.
I am made intensely uncomfortable by two advertisers on HGTV. One is LL Flooring. They do the commercials where people writhe around on their LVP floors. I thought the first of these commercials I saw was stupid, and weird, and made me think about how dirty you’d get if you writhed around on my own floor. I expected these commercials to go away, bad idea, call the agency, next. But LL Flooring unveiled these are part of a rebrand, so I think they doubled down. The floor writhing continues, and now it’s all I think of when it comes to LL Flooring, instead of “I wonder why they changed their name from LUMBER LIQUIDATORS?”
I’m also really uncomfortable with Home Goods ads. People sliding down streets and dancing with lamps. It’s all strange and uncanny and I actually like going to Home Goods, but these commercials unsettle me.
Predominantly I saw commercials for prescription medicines with names like Kelvida and Sylvestri and Contrisa and Bellatrix. I have no idea what the drugs actually do. I just watched a lot of normal looking people doing pleasant activities at a slightly reduced pace while the sun was shining. Over these lovely images, a disembodied voice listed possible side effects, like suffocation via swelling airways, pulmonary blood clots, heart attacks, severe edema, colitis, kidney failure, strokes, paralysis, and other symptoms that were severe enough to make me wonder, if those are the side effects, what the heck are these drugs treating, and isn’t this worse than the original condition?
I also saw many commercials for pet products. I was worried that pet commercials would make me want to have another pet, especially in my weakened state. I always loved how my little dogs would tuck themselves around me when I was sick, so seriously and carefully, like it was part of a canine plan to nurse me back to health.
But I had a revelation about the function of these ads. They are not there to make us want pets. They are there to inspire severe anxiety in people who already have pets.
Is my cat eating right? Is my dog happy with his food? Will my cat get fleas? Will my dog get heartworm? Will my cat find her litter box sufficiently pleasing enough to use it? Will my dog be lonely and destroy the house while I’m at work? And so on.
It turns out I had nothing to fear from the HGTV pet products commercials. Nothing about those commercials made me want a pet. They just stressed me out.
All the cruise lines have ads on HGTV. All of them. From the Viking river cruises I’d love to take but can’t afford, to the Carnival cruises I am too old and fussy to endure, to the Holland cruises I am still too young to take, to the Princess cruises that use the song from the old Love Boat show so I will never take a Princess cruise, to the Norwegian cruises I happily will take because we have rewards there! I watched them all.
I considered my options. One of those commercials had the best reason to take a cruise I’ve ever heard. “Unpack once!” Ah, you’re playing my song. I smiled as the happy silver haired couples had the onboard times of their lives—looking at glaciers in Alaska, watching shows, and then best of all, she’s coming down a stairway wearing a wrap dress and carrying her special little evening purse! What a great combo, the wrap dress and little purse! Do I need to pack one of those? I think I will!
I thought a lot about what I might pack for our next cruise while sitting on the couch in my spotty purple bathrobe and fuzzy slippers, shivering under my mother’s comforter.
I decided, while breathing through my mouth and blowing my nose, that some of those same silver fox cruise couples were on ads for ReBath. This is a cheap way for older people who know their bathrooms are dated to get them updated without a lot of money or fuss.
Dated bathrooms are now a form of social leprosy, one from which I suffer myself. After the fire, when the house was rebuilt in 2006, I didn’t realize I was supposed to choose luxury finishes for the rooms where we take showers, brush our teeth, and use the toilet. I mean, I was never expecting a spa-like experience in the crowded little bathroom off the main bedroom in my house. I just wanted a shower, so I went cheap and common and serviceable.
As a result, the rooms were rebuilt in a dated way. My bathrooms look like 1996, but I cannot bring myself to care deeply. So be warned that if you step into my half-bath, you should be ready to travel back into the nineties. Think of it as a time hop. (and by the way, I’m thinking of all the bathrooms I’ve used in all my friends’ homes over the decades, and most of them were dated. Some drastically. And I never cared. I was happy for toilet paper, a functional soap dispenser, and clean hand towels. We’ve been fed a bill of goods by HGTV. It’s just a BATHROOM.)
I resisted the allure of ReBath, but I was just about ready to sign up for Balance of Nature vitamins by the end of the day. Which shows you how far gone I was. Because I honestly couldn’t relate to a single spokesperson for those vitamins. Not the doctor with the sculpted hair, not the recovering stroke victim who seems to be manipulated by her caretaker and/or her small dog, not the the wrestling coach doing handstand pushups, and especially not the 51-year-old doctor who announces her age to the camera with a smug expression of “Can you believe it?!?!?!” because she doesn’t think she looks 51 (she does), but she’s so deluded about that, so incredibly pleased with her self-perception that I just want to pat her and say something like, “Honey! You look 35!” (she doesn’t).
I watched so many commercials, staring blankly at the screen while ads for exterminators and hardware stores and paint brands and other HGTV shows attempted to penetrate the fog of my illness. The only show that got through was Renovation 911. This is a new one, and I have to avert my eyes from this commercial because it shows homes that have been gutted by fire, hit by cars, struck by lightning, and flooded. If you’ve ever had the experience of seeing your home after a fire, the trauma doesn’t go away. Ever.
But then I would have to peek, because the sisters who host this show have hair that seems to sympathetically echo the state of the devastated buildings they enter. It’s up and down and sideways and twisted. It’s tornado hair. Jenny Marrs’ hairdresser has never been anywhere near these women, and it shows. I could not look away.
One of my daughters went to the doctor and had a swab, because she is new to her job and needed a doctor’s note to be gone for three days. The test confirmed that we all had Influenza A, whatever that might be. The disease was truly awful for me on one day, but I’ve been able to work from home the other days. I have stayed productive and away from the TV for the rest of the week.
Evenings, my fever kept spiking, so I spent them reading Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson. A wonderful book to read when you’re feverish, I mean it’s a perfect read for a fever, like a combo of “The Gilded Age” and “Peaky Blinders,” with seamy nightclubs, secret liaisons, double crossings, shocking setbacks and big reveals. 10/10.
My nose is almost clear, I slept last night, I have no fever. The disease is ebbing from the family. Some have completely recovered. Some of us are getting there. The party continues.
And you know what? The birthday party was so fun. We gathered, and drank coffee and ate brunch, we watched the kids play, there was cake and candles and two rounds of singing, one happy birthday song for each birthday child. Presents and games and cousins having fun together. And the memory of this flu will fade, but I will always remember those kids in the front yard, intently working on their paleontology kits (“I got a TOOF!”), and the babies in the grass, and the sun shining on everyone’s faces.
It plays in my head like a prescription medicine advertisement, one with a voice over that said, “This birthday party may cause high fever, vomiting, nasal congestion, and a lingering cough. Consult your doctor for more information.”
In this case, the side effects were definitely worth it.