It is Saturday, and Newman and I are in Brattleboro, Vermont, where we headed this morning to take advantage of a child-free day and night. We are meandering through the town hand in hand, drinking in each-other and the sun, feeling the day and summer stretching in front of us. Newman has been somewhat sick for almost two weeks, and his cough is lingering, but he’s been a trooper throughout, brushing it off, refusing to take any sick days, and denying offers of care other than the occasional Vick’s application.
Ever since Newman’s son’s cough first announced itself several weeks ago, I have been so careful to stay in the germ-free zone (so very careful!) but here, in Brattleboro, in much needed vacation-mode, I feel invincible, and Newman is far too lovely and so un-sickly looking that I throw caution to the stars and lean in for a kiss. I have missed his lips, and throughout the day, we re-acquaint ourselves with the delights of the slow, light, lingering touch of fully-attentive kissing. We visit my favorite vintage clothing store and the local antique shops, and I find my way back to another paused pleasure since I was very faithful to my mother’s “Stay away in May” (no retail shopping) Challenge. After browsing the stores, we enjoy a long lunch, complete with cocktails and cheery conversation. We rub our bellies and decide to check into the hotel and take a nap before our dinner reservation at the famous local diner that seats less than twenty at a time and is only open on the weekends. Although we’ve been to Brattleboro several times and made these same circular patterns through the town, we’ve never eaten there before. And although it costs more than our hotel room for the decadent meal, I find it to be worth every cent.
By the time we check out of the hotel the next morning to start the slow crawl back home toward our many duties, I can feel a slight tickle in my throat. By the time Newman’s sons come over for movie night, the familiar cough is emanating from my throat. By the time I go to work the next day, I have a very sore throat, am achy all over, and am so tired, tired, tired. Thank goodness the work-week from hell was last week, I think, as all my big plans to keep up the productive pace and maybe even get ahead for once go soaring out the window like an aerodynamic banana peel heading for the highway.
On Tuesday morning, after a long night where swallowing is so painful that I have dreams of being chased by strep personified by a gleeful but frightening co-worker, I awake to a coughing fit so strong that when it leaves me, it takes most of my voice with it. When I can make sounds, they sound deep and slow and crackly, perhaps not entirely without sex appeal, I think, but then again, I am not in the best frame of mind to judge. Free tells me I sound “like an old lady,” Newman looks at me oddly and notes with some awe that I am “legit sick,” and as the day wears on with its three classes, I can barely eke out basic instructions to my students as they lean in, breathless, trying hard to hear every word. They are quiet, attentive, and gentle with me, and I am just functional enough to soak up their care, the way they adjust with me as I draw inward and slowly shift gears downward.
By Wednesday, I am beat, but I have only one class to teach today, with one additional proctoring session for an exam and some afternoon professional meetings after students are excused for an early release day. I can do this, I think, and since I have to drive Free in to school anyway, I’m up at 5am and ready to wake her at 5:45. I guiltily nudge her awake and drag her through the motions, and then we are driving, and I am coughing, and then we are there at school. And all I can think as I get us out of the car and start the walk into the building is that I can’t do this, that it is too much, that I am a walking pile of germs infecting everyone, that I want to be in bed, and that I’m a terrible mother for having woken Free up early to get on the bus when I could have driven her directly to school if I’d just had the nerve to call in sick in the first place. And now I am stopping and starting and stuck and don’t know what to do, and Free is being so sweet and asking me if I’m ok, and I want to cry and sleep and I need to just suck it up, and this should be such an easy day but I just can’t do it; I just can’t.
And now I have crossed over and know that nothing will make me cross back, and I walk into the building and tell my department chair I am leaving and then go to my vice principal to tell her I can’t proctor and then circle around to wait for Newman to arrive so I can tell him and hope he won’t secretly hate me for being a wimp when he never takes sick days, and I know I have taken quite a few this year. And Free is with me every step, even when I leave my keys behind and then my phone because I feel all foggy, and I have to go back again to find them, and now I am crying and she is almost crying too, and now I am smiling and saying it’s alright and I’m just tired and I will drive her to school so at least she doesn’t have to take that damn bus. And she is happy and skipping even, and I think what a lovely girl she is to forgive me for things she doesn’t even know about to forgive like how I am secretly so grateful her father will pick her up today so I don’t have to come all the way back. And I wonder how long she will forgive me and remain unaware, and I don’t want that to change ever. And I love her for holding my hand, even though it means I will make her sanitize, and I’m so sad I can’t kiss her for days and days because I am sick.
And then Newman is there and telling me it’s good that I am going home, and now I suddenly feel light and am telling myself that no-one needed me today anyway, which is true because it was going to be an easy day, and now Free is at school and I am almost home and my bed awaits me with its soft pillows and white sheets, and even that weird little German novel the librarian put in my mailbox last week is sitting there waiting for me, and all is right with the world.
And hours later, I wake up and drag myself up out of bed, and I pull my hair out of my face and slip on my flip-flops and a soft worn dress and go out to the garden. The sun is out in full force and when Newman comes home, I am knee-deep in the soil, pulling up tiny weeds one by one, grabbing grass in handfuls and clearing the spaces around the tomato and pepper and squash and cucumber and bean plants that are slowly spreading and starting to stake real claims. And my back is starting to hurt from bending over, and I am tired again, but it is a good feeling to be tired from having my body near the earth. And when I look up, Newman is looking at me, and he is so handsome and genuinely glad to see me, as I am him, and I can’t help but think how lucky I am, how very lucky I am, to have been blessed with all of this, which is so very, very much.