By Top Contributor Alcy Leyva
How long have I been here? Am I truly afflicted, stumbling across the crooked landscape? Or am I a soul divided like too much ice tea mix clinging to the bottom of the cup of life? I sometimes hear my wife’s voice. Sure she’s sitting only two feet from me, but I'm so congested that the other end of this couch might as well be Mars.
I get sick two times a year. I can recall my wife insisting that this number is much larger, but I always use sick with air quotes. Like this.
Because to me, being sick can be just as brief as a passing fad. Here today and gone the next; an event that happens to everyone but is quickly swallowed up by time. Like fanny packs or tan lines. Like Al Gore.
Being actually “sick” is an event. It is a war of attrition within the cells in my body. Every sneeze displaces the tectonic plates in my neighborhood. Every cough feels like I'm drawing closer to exposing the secrets hidden within the pages of Revelations.
I have gone from the nearly indestructible, Best at Everything, “Bring me a shoe and I will kill it”, Super Dad to a being made of fine China.
How can I survive this turn of fate when I can barely take a shower without those tiny droplets striking me like a hail of bullets? When my gums feel like they’ve been lined with fireworks every time I sneeze?
This is truly an unrighteous death. Being “sick” in my household, with four boys running around displacing their own germs everywhere, is problematic. Having to isolate myself, I have become a Mad Max-style forager of the wastelands. I walk around with a hat and a hoodie so as to not leave an everlasting scar on my boys’ fragile psyche. The “Man of the House” is now set to wander around his abode either scavenging for liquids and other forms of nutrition, at times bartering with my oldest son when supplies are running low, or looking for a place to lie down before nightfall.
But it’s far worse with a newborn.
A week after our newest addition to the family arrives, New York had an episode. Forgetting what September was supposed to feel like, the climate went from 90’s to 60’s in less than a week. The transit buses and trains weren't sure whether to either keep the AC’s running or provide a burning oil drum as a viable source of heat. My internal self-regulating systems had a conniption and … here I am, huddled on the floor.
I want to help my wife out, and I want to spend time with my son, but I am stricken with this terrible face plague that I don't want to pass on to anyone, especially the little guy. So today I take to feebly lurking around the apartment, sometimes balled up in a corner. When my fever spikes, I decide it’s best to haunt my family instead. Double and tripled wrapped in a quilt that billows down and hisses softly against my wooden floors; I float from room to room seeing how the Living are moving on without me. There are times, floating silently behind my wife as she changes the baby, that I see my slow death at the hands of this catastrophic affliction as a worthwhile sacrifice. Let my cells reinforce our future. Remember me. Leave a seat open at the table for me. Not the wobbly seat, though. Let the boy sit in that.
Sometimes in my journeys, my soul materializes just long enough for a loved one and they acknowledge me with a kind, “How are you?” or “For the love of God, please cover your mouth.” They have always spoken so sweetly of me, I think as I jam another half roll of toilet paper into the leaky holes in my face.
But soon, my family begins to slide around me when we meet, as if I'm just that guy on the train you should totally not make eye contact with. But I don't blame them. Staring into the mirror, I see that my beard and Spanish Afro have conspired to usurp my face. Maybe as a coping mechanism, they have combined to form a hair-based helmet looking thing. I’m more Q-tip than man now, I suppose.
Peeking over my wife’s shoulder as she changes him, as she feeds him, I try to send my newborn son mental messages of encouragement when he’s fussing.
Today, my throat doesn’t feel like I swallowed a bowl of Cap’n Crunch and cat litter. I still want to keep my distance, so I ask my wife to Skype me into the baby’s crib from the living room. Lovingly she says, “No. I'm not doing that.”
Luckily, when I call, she picks up the phone and leans the screen down over my beautiful, healthy, non-diseased ridden boy. As my son stares at me through this buffered image— our Wi-Fi connection being the most suitable and sanitary way to bond at this point—I take the time to explain what he’ll inherit if this affliction takes me.
And since I'm just starting to pay back my student loans, this list is very brief.
I tell him about the things I would love him to aspire to be. I want him to be a great public speaker, though that has nothing to do with being social. I want him to play every sport until it’s no longer fun. I also want him, in the far far off future, to meet someone who he cares for and who cares for him— be they male, female, or anyone else under the sky. I tell him that he’s loved and that I will support him in anything he chooses to be in his life.
Except if he’s Mets fan.
In that case, he’s learning to drive at 16, moving out at 18, and only writing me on holidays and birthdays via Facebook messenger.
I sleep on the couch each night to quarantine the contagion. The leather makes this terrible suction sound like it’s tearing away at my soul every time I move. Due to the vicious combination of the flu and sleep deprivation (and maybe an unhealthy dose of Nyquil lubricating the issue) I stay up until 4 am naming the four balled up tissues I'm using to plug up my nose ports. Gulliver is hearty. Austentatia is thinner but she still means well. Bass and Morty are brothers, twins in fact. I can only tell them apart by the differences in the rip on the bottom.
In the morning, my wife asks how my night was. I squint through my fever and wonder why Susan B. Anthony is asking me this question and holding my son. I flash a thumbs up anyway.
I decide that it's time to turn this whole thing around and take steps towards my return to this astral plane. I drink orange juice. I slap on a wool hat, two sweaters, socks, and both boxers and briefs for safe measure. I drink a lot more orange juice. I stream episode after episode of The Big Bang Theory because even though I feel terrible, it makes me feel a little better that I'm not on a show as bad as this one. I'm basically fighting this viral infection with fire. Cold, flimsy written fire with very little laughs. I pour orange juice in the ice tray, freeze it, and dump those cubes in a cup of more orange juice. I take out the garbage (has nothing to do with my recovery but I still have obligations).
In less than 26 and half hours, I'm able to hold my son again. I feel like so much time has passed since I've seen him. It’s like we have to get to know each other all over again. I ask him whether he feels it’s fiscally responsible to even consider attempting an investment in today’s housing market. My three week old looks away. There’s so much ground to cover.
I’ve returned to being Super Dad; a whole man minus several layers of stomach lining (due to my clinically irresponsible dependency on orange juice). I have retaken my rightful place at the center of the universe. Behold my gravity! I am here to protect. I am here to produce and provide for the family who counts on me. I am back where I belong.
I step on a stray Lego piece and bitter violence spews from my mouth like hot ash.
I’ll need to stay off of my feet for at least another week.
Alcy Leyva is a Bronx-born writer who enjoys fiction and likes to prod at its dark corners for strange interlopers. He taps into elements of fantasy and dark humor, but tends to roam around tirelessly for the next great project. He enjoys movies, gummi bears, and the word “schadenfreude”. You can find more of his work at AlcyLeyva.Weebly.com.