There is a reason “in sickness and in health” exists in marriage vows. My husband, Ben, and I joked about the fact we got “the sickness” part down.
It crept into our apartment. The thing sneaked into our blood and on our bodies like a fantasy movie during which the audience watched light blue clouds of breath enter an actor’s mouth. It cast a bad spell, but unlike the movies, there were no cures we could afford for what poisoned the three of us.
Ben and I first experienced MRSA when we lived together in a three bedroom apartment in Bridge Water, South Carolina. A red dot broke out on my left hip. At first, I thought it was a painful mosquito bite. It grew to the size of a quarter. When I lay on my side, the pain drove from my hip through my legs like a yellow jacket sting. In the past, I had bounced back from infections after a week without going to a doctor, and I thought this infection would go away, too.
Two abscesses grew on Ben’s thigh and bottom. They became larger to the point each formed a white head. Ben spent most days in his easy chair trying to find a comfortable position. Sometimes he preferred to stand until exhaustion caught up with him. He grabbed the edge of the kitchen counter. He dreaded standing because he ran out of breath, and he hated sitting because it was like looking at one of those wooden boards with nails people laid upon.
With a 14-month-old in the hours that August, there was always something to do. Hayes had walked for three months, and he needed time outside, meals and baths. When I gave him a bath one night, I discovered the same bumps on his back. A few days later, his pediatrician told me that his bumps would go away on their own. They would not eat his skin as they did to Ben and me.
But, Hayes still needed comfort before his nap times. Sometimes he would cry-scream at the top of his lungs before falling into a deep sleep. The upstairs neighbors banged the end of their broom into the floor. Bap-bap-bap came from above every few seconds.
There are times when some moms turn into Wolverines. The pain in my hip eased. Iron claws grew from my fingers. Spikes stuck up on my back. I’m certain my hair stood up like a frightened cat ready to attack.
Husband laying down with a cloth over his head.
Nerves shot through the ceiling and choke the woman who had never had a child. At least in my mind.
But, when the neighbor stopped and Hayes fell asleep, the pain returned. Cruel thoughts consumed me.
I am obsessive compulsive, at times depressed, and the greatest medicine is accomplishment. Accomplishment was nowhere in sight because Ben’s company was looking like it would shut down operations. I did some freelance writing, but I felt weaker each time I typed on a keyboard. At first I could not put my finger on it, but I hated taking care of Ben.
Maybe I did not have the natural nurse in me.
Ben and I had fun driving behind a fire station, or off the side of a road outside Asheville when orange and gold leaves fell to the ground before Hayes was born. Those times were fun, but I didn’t know this devil and how often it would sneak up in our lives. Bad health – even short-lived – left a different scar than the purple on my hip.
I loved cooking Ben dinner, but I hated his moods when he was sick. I waited on him at times. He was no longer the man who told stories or made drinks at the bar. And, I became someone else because I remembered something my grandmother said, “Well, it’s great you love him, but what are you going to do if something happens to him?”
That something – death – scared me. Instead of nursing him, I was reminded I needed to find a job. Somehow, I needed to have a solid backup plan in case Ben died. I had to know I could provide for Hayes. Driven by fear, I built a wall, I brought medicine to Ben with an eye roll, and deep in my heart I thought what if he can’t do anything after this?
By Rebecca T. Dickinson
Memoir Shorts are based on my memoir Ready to Talk, but only a few lines are excerpts. All names and places have been changed to protect identities.
Copyright Rebecca T. Dickinson, 2015
“You understand,” he once said, “when the shit hits the fan, we got to be back to back. It’s going to be us against the world.” – Ben, Chapter One