From “Disorder In The House” by Warren Zevon
It’s a good thing my couch is leather. When I’m done germing it up with my coughing and sneezing and sweating I can wipe it down. I don’t know if those antibacterial cleaning wipes in the plastic can are okay to use on leather but I’m going to find out. I clean almost everything else with them. I’ve used them on sticky toothpaste spit in sinks, kids’ dirty feet, dried dog messes, toilet seats. They’d probably do a super job on original sin.
If I were prone on a fabric-covered piece of furniture I’m not sure what I’d do. The last time I was sick and sweating profusely, I had mono. Afterwards, I got rid of the couch. How do you get mono-laced sweat out of upholstery? Darned if I know.
Couch, sofa or Davenport. Growing up we called it a davenport. It wasn’t until much later I learned that was a brand name like “Kleenex”. For a long time, I also thought “Frigidaire” was another name for “refrigerator”. Like “icebox”. My mother still calls it the frigidaire even though my kids correct her every time.
At work we call it a sofa. For the last few days, I’ve called it my bed.
Here’s what would really be bad: If I had an $8,000 or $10,000 sofa like the kind I take orders for. What do people with high-priced, custom-made furniture do when they’re sick? I wouldn’t want to lie all over something that was one-of-a kind, practically a work of art, while in an infectious state. Actually I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near something that fancy in a normal state. I’d lie on the floor next to it.
I could lie in bed but I don’t like being in my bedroom during the day. Being in bed when the sun’s out feels like being quarantined. Shunned, even. And then you just stay there when it’s time to go to sleep. It’s like being punished for getting sick: Don’t you dare come out until you’re better!
I’m pretty sure I know who got me sick: A guy at work named Jim. I love it when the newly infected claim, “I know who gave this to me. I just know who I caught it from.” Great. We’d like you to come downtown and pick him out of a lineup so we can finally put the bastard away.
In the break room one day last week I noticed how pale Jim looked. Plus he sits right behind me and he’d been hacking and sneezing for the last few days.
“You look terrible,” I said to him.
“I feel like death,” he replied.
So were you planning on dying right here, I wanted to say but instead I asked him why he came in at all.
“I need the money.” He was also staying two hours extra for overtime.
My head and throat hurt. Every time I sit up I feel nauseous. When I was little I liked being sick. My mom made me tea and buttered cinnamon toast and waited on me. Now it’s a nuisance. I feel like I did something wrong. Lying around doing nothing makes me feel lazy.
Does guilt-ridden sweat have a different quality than regular sweat, I wonder. Like tears. Tears supposedly have chemical differences depending on the emotion triggering them. Maybe guilty sweat is stickier or saltier. A homicide detective might know.
“If you make me sick, I’ll…” my son threatened today as cut a wide path around me.
“You’ll what. What’ll you do,” I croaked.
When I was 21 I came down with chicken pox. That was hands down the sickest I’ve ever been and also the longest continuous amount of time I’ve spent on a couch. Talk about not knowing how I got it; I lived on a college campus for crying out loud. I thought I’d had it when I was a kid but I was wrong.
I had no idea childhood illnesses are much more severe in adults. I’m pretty sure I had pneumonia; I had to sit straight up because the further I reclined, the more I could feel my lungs filling up with fluid.
There’s more, all of it stomach-churning, but the worst by far was the way I looked. Had I been able to stand I would have flown to Hollywood and auditioned for the role of a hideous creature in a horror movie. If there wasn’t a role available, one look at me and some movie guy would have written one.
It is impossible to describe how bad I looked. My sister, who was also my roommate, would come home from class and lean over me while pretending to throw up in my face. Through her surgical mask. Our friends thought I was being a drama queen. They’d bang on our door and she’d open it as far as the chain would allow while I pulled a sheet over my head.
“For five bucks each I’ll let you in one at time for a look; bring a camera and for a twenty you can take a picture ,” I heard her tell them with an evil laugh.
I could hardly stand to look at myself in the mirror. I was convinced I was going to die on that couch. But my biggest fear wasn’t dying. My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to have an open casket funeral. During the brief periods of lucidity when I wasn’t having conversations with Fred Sanford or Perry Mason or Starsky and/or Hutch, all of whom I was convinced were taking turns stepping out of the television set to pay me a visit, I helplessly lay there marinating in a pool of vain and bitter sweat, knowing there was no way all the boys I wanted to date were going to be weeping over my dead body, mourning what they'd missed out on.
Each quarter, along with choosing new classes, I also selected my funeral ensemble in the event I should die while on campus. I caught chicken pox in the spring. Before I got sick I’d decided on tight white jeans and a sexy off-the-shoulder hot pink designer top. I loved picturing my long bleached blond hair flowing over the casket’s white satin pillow. My aqua-shadowed, forever closed eyes. My shimmering frosted mauve lips, startlingly inviting for a dead girl.
However, I assumed I'd croak from something alcohol-related and that my face wouldn't be affected. Now I had to imagine myself reduced to a pile of kitty litter, but even that wasn’t the worst. My ashes would probably be considered a bio-hazard and dumped somewhere with other toxic waste. Those thoughts were so crushing I’m sure they suppressed my immune system and prolonged my illness. When they became too painful to contemplate, I prayed.
Please God, if I live don't let me have scars. If I die, don't take me until I look good again. And whether I live or die, please let her get chicken pox. Oh please please God let her get them. And let me live long enough to see it happen.
My sister hadn't had chicken pox either.
Eventually I recovered and put the chicken pox behind me. But for a while I felt a twinge of remorse about that couch I spent almost a month on, fouling with my sickness, my shallow thoughts and my ill wishes toward my sister. (She did come down with them a few weeks later but it was a ridiculously mild case.)
We lived in a furnished apartment. Everything stayed when we moved out. What I left behind for the next tenants haunted me for a long time. In a way, every couch since then has been that one. Maybe that’s why I feel guilty when I’m sick.
I think I may have finally done my penance however. Because I haven’t gotten up except to use the bathroom, I’m kind of stuck. Before I got sick, I bought my 12-year-old daughter the movie Pitch Perfect. I’ve been forced to watch it six times in two days.