David Dodd 1:48 a.m., May 18
When I get back from visiting my brother in San Francisco I feel terrible. I have the shakes and cough every time I laugh. It is annoying. My husband tells me that a 20-year-old woman died of the swine flu while I was gone. “She felt sick on Friday and decided to wait to go to the doctor until Monday,” he tells me. “She died on Monday.”
“Are you trying to terrify me?”
My husband just laughs.
I have it. I know I do. My death is eminent. I feel like the universe is trying to tell me that I deserve it. That’s what I get for faking a hacking cough when I spotted that mom with a mask on at my son's soccer game. “What a nut!” I whispered to my husband and then proceeded to fake cough while standing next to her. I deserve death by swine due to the blackness of my heart.
My husband reminds me that it should be called H1N1. I think that’s stupid. It’s far more awesome to die by swine flu. Almost as awesome as living on Bacon Tree, a one-block street in Linda Vista with the greatest name ever. Bacon on trees, I want that. If there were a house for sale on that street I would find a way to fork over a large chunk of cash to buy it. I want my return address to say Bacon Tree on it.
When I cough, stuff comes out. I am like a 50-year-old woman with a smoking problem. Only I don’t smoke. I am just dying. For real. I am.
My husband takes our boys to the La Jolla Shores to surf. “You should come,” he says sarcastically. “Don’t you want to live life to the fullest before your death?” He has a point but I feel like I should be cleaning. I imagine guests will be filtering in and out of our house with casseroles for my motherless children and they will murmur under their breath that I was a slob. A pig. A person deserving death by swine flu. Instead I do laundry and watch “So You Think You Can Dance.” There is something soothing about Nigel Lythgoe’s British accent.
My friend Nicole calls and reminds me of the picnic she is planning.
“Are you coming?” she asks.
“I have the swine.”
She laughs. I don’t think it’s funny.
“We are meeting at two o’clock.” I can tell she thinks I am overreacting. I am not overacting—this time.
I blow my nose and my head aches. I Google the swine flu and press the image button. There is a picture of a hundred pigs stacked on top of one another, all dead. When I was a kid I collected pigs. I had two shelves in my bedroom dedicated to them. I have ceramic ones, plastic ones, ones that were dressed in people clothes, plush ones, piggy banks, and one that was the size of a toddler. It seems fitting that my life should end this way—by a disease named after my childhood obsession.
Next I check the symptoms. I have all of them.
On Monday morning I make an appointment. My voice is urgent. The receptionist reluctantly schedules me at the end of the day. “I guess we can squeeze you in,” she sighs. She thinks I am neurotic.
The doctor is a tiny Asian woman. She takes one look at my large Starbucks cup and clucks her tongue. “It’s green tea, not coffee.” I reassure her. Still she shakes her head. Already things are not going well. She asks me a series of questions. I list off my ailments. I wait for her to gasp and call the biohazard team or at the very least produce one of those masks from the pocket of her white doctor’s coat. Instead, she’s calm, menacingly so. She might be mocking me. She leaves the office. I wait. I feel like I am 13 again on the day Jessica Rocco told me that you can get AIDS by sitting on a toilet seat in a seedy bathroom. I am consumed with fear.
The doctor returns with a prescription pad. “You have bronchitis,” she tells me. I heave a sigh of relief and shuffle out of the office.
I realize that I may be the worst kind of hypochondriac. I don’t take precautions in regards to my health but when I get sick I think I am going to die. I don’t carry antibacterial lotion in my purse. I would never wear one of those crazy masks. I fear death from normal things, not just sicknesses. I am scared to swim in the ocean. Clearly I should be living in Indiana on a farm in the middle of nowhere. Yet I married a man who gets paid to scuba dive. He spends all of his free time in the Pacific.
Every time I go into the water I think I am going to die. I like fish from a distance behind glass at an aquarium, on “Animal Planet,” or seasoned with lemon and thyme—not near my feet. If I spend too much time alone in the deep end of a pool I start to think that I will be eaten alive by the only great white shark in existence that can live in chlorination.
We spend our weekends at the beach. My eight-year-old and 10-year-old are grommies. They see sea lions and dolphins frolicking in the ocean while they wait for their perfect wave. They have no fear. They snorkel and kayak and do all sorts of fun ocean activities. I dip my feet in the water and have an asthma attack when seaweed wraps around my leg. It must be an angry eel shooting deadly venom into my veins.
I broke down and went surfing last summer. Not because I wanted to, but because I am highly competitive. We were camping on the beach with two other families when all the ladies decided to go surfing. I didn’t want to look like a chicken so I did it. I paddled out while consumed with so much fear that it was an adrenaline rush.
Two weeks later my cousin visited from Kansas. She went on and on about how cool all the girl surfers were. “I surf,” I told her as if it were something I did with my free time. “Will you take me?” she begged.
I had to take her; my dignity was on the line. When we paddled out there were all sorts of fish jumping. I thought if I closed my eyes it would be okay but Emily was looking for instruction. I tried to calmly explain how to pop up on a wave and when to start paddling. I was clutching my board so tightly that she knew something was up.
“Do you think they have teeth?” I asked her.
“The fish, do you think they bite?”
I couldn’t take it. I had to swim back to shore. It was humiliating.
For our anniversary my husband and I decided that each of us would spend one day doing something that the other person really loves. Mine was simple: A day at the art museum in Balboa Park followed by dinner at the Prado, and later local music at Bar Pink. On my husband Aaron’s day he decided to torture me. He took me to Sports Chalet to buy a wetsuit followed by a trip to La Jolla Cove for some snorkeling.
As soon as we set foot on the beach I started to panic. I managed to get all my gear on without a meltdown. Aaron led me to the water where I nervously sat down and got accustomed to the freezing temperature. Slowly I edged myself in and stuck my face in the Pacific. It was the first time I had purposely looked at what was lurking in the ocean.
My reaction was so terrible you would think that there was a dead corpse in the water. Very loudly, in front of a snorkeling class of foreigners, I announced that I could not swim around with fish because they were the cockroaches of the sea. After nearly hyperventilating and insisting that we forget about the whole crazy snorkeling plan, a little girl approached me.
She serenely explained that she used to be afraid too but it’s not so bad, and actually really pretty once you get used it. Due to the humiliation from getting a pep talk from a 10-year-old, and the somewhat sad, amused and patient look on Aaron's face, I gave in.
I managed to pull myself together enough to swim around with the sea roaches. Strangely, after about 15 minutes I became so relaxed that it was almost meditative. It was really beautiful. I was starting to think that maybe I could get used to the ocean after all.
“I just swam with a seal,” a fellow snorkeler excitedly told us. I gripped onto Aaron tightly. I looked to my right and saw three blubbery mammals on rocks, one yelping loudly. I once heard that they have tempers like pitbulls, and they bite. I saw one slither into the water. I swam quickly back to shore. I narrowly escaped death by seal.