The next nine years were pretty much the same thing, so I’ll spare you the details, which at this point would only be repetitive and pathetic. But other issues began to come into play – mainly my fear of vomiting. Now we all know that vomiting isn’t pleasant to being with – if I met someone who said to me, "Really? Wow, that’s weird, because I LOVE puking. I’ll puke my brains out just for the hell of it and then sit there and look at it and think, ‘Man, that’s so fucking cool!’" I think I’d run away screaming. But I’m tempted to run screaming at the mere mention of puke. It started in fourth grade. I became obsessed.
I was in Mrs. Howarth’s reading class one day, when I thought I was going to puke. Mrs. Howarth didn’t help matters any when I told her I didn’t feel well and she took one look at my pale face and sent me to the nurse yelling, "Go! Go!" But who wouldn’t panic? I mean, if I ran a classroom of 25 ten-year-olds, I’d always have the thought in the back of my mind, "What if one of these kids pukes, and then another one pukes because he was so grossed out by the first puker, and then someone else pukes because two pukers is just way too overwhelming for anyone to handle – before you know it you’ve got 25 kids puking all over your floor…" (This sort of reasoning is what steered me away from being a teacher, a flight attendant, a limousine driver, having any sort of job at an amusement park, babysitting, joining the swim team or track team – swimmers and runners always seem to be throwing up, and basically anything involving people who are unable to determine the miniscule amount of time between feeling like they’re going to puke and actually puking – such as drunks and children. I still have to leave the room during the pie-eating scene in the movie Stand By Me…) But then again, I guess I’m different from most people.
I even remember what I was wearing that day Mrs. Howarth sent me to the nurse – a red dress with rainbow stripes across the front of it. I liked wearing it because everyone, mostly relatives, used to tell me how nice I looked in red. But after that day, I never wore that dress again. I saw it as bad luck. Because I was wearing it on The Day I Almost Puked. Just looking at it hanging in my closet after that would turn my stomach and bring that tinny, metallic taste up my throat and into my mouth. So I’m sitting in the nurse’s office, my teeth clenched. I don’t know how I determined that clenching my teeth would keep me from puking, but it did. Nurse Baker kept asking me questions, but I could only answer in grunts and nods, because I knew that the second I unclenched my teeth, projectile vomit would make my head explode. There was an Olivia Newton-John song playing on Nurse Baker’s radio – I couldn’t tell you the words or the name of it – I only know the melody, which doesn’t come across well in writing. I mean, if I said, "You know that one – it goes, ‘dadada daaaaaaa!’" would you have any idea what I was talking about? But this song is playing on the radio, and in my head I made up my own words: "pleasegodno pleeeeeeeease!" And by singing this over and over again, and clenching my teeth until my jaw ached, I kept myself from puking. And I can tell you with pure and utter conviction that had I not done those two things, I would have puked all over the goddamn floor. But I never puked. Once again, the anticipation of something happening was worse than it actually happening.
After that day, the slightest roller-coaster wave in my stomach would send me into a panic. Now, rather than "playing sick" to avoid going to school, I would go to school, only to be picked up an hour later. Mom got sick of this, too. The school nurses – all of whom I grew to be rather close with – repeatedly called her on the phone to come and pick me up because I had a "low-grade-temp." I didn’t have a fever, but my temperature was not normal nonetheless. It was always "not normal" enough for me to be sent home sick. Years later, I came to accept the fact that my average body temperature is 96.5 – what was "not normal," was "normal." And what was average in everybody else – in this case 98.6 – was Sick.
It’s been almost twenty years since I learned about clenching my teeth and singing my Olivia Newton-John prayer. But it comes as no surprise to me that I can vividly recall the last four times I puked:
Age: 8 or 9 (third grade)
What I puked: pork chops and sauerkraut
Order of events: Jessamy was having dinner over and she was going to spend the night. After we went to sleep, I awoke sometime in the middle of the night sweating then freezing then sweating then freezing. Then, without any warning to me whatsoever, I burped, sat bolt upright, and puked a neat little pile of sauerkraut onto my bedspread – right in my lap.
Mom came running into my room out of a dead sleep. I always find this story hilarious because I had just gotten a guinea pig, and, as mom told me later, as she stumbled into my room and saw the mess on my bed, her first thought was that my new pet had exploded.
Outcome: I no longer eat sauerkraut.
What I puked: baloney sandwich
Order of events: I ate the sandwich at lunchtime in school and came home with a stomachache. I lay on the couch in the living room all day, watching TV. It was during a made-for-movie-movie starring Valerie Bertinelli as a nun that I suddenly ran into the kitchen and deposited my baloney sandwich in a neat little plop right in the doorway. It was kind of like dog puke – easy to clean up (I only know this because my dad thanked me later.)
Outcome: I can still eat baloney, but not the brand of bread my mother had made the sandwich on.
What I puked: breaded chicken cutlets and a Wild-Berry Hi-C Juice Box
Order of events: It was a Tuesday. I don’t know how I know that, I just do. I had come home from my dance class and was sitting in front of the movie, still in my leotards. I noticed I had a headache, and back then, and still today, headaches are very rare for me to have. It would go away if I kept my head still, but I became obsessed with checking to see if it was still there, so I’d shake my head back and forth every five minutes or so. Just quick little jerks.
"What’s wrong with your head?" my mother asked me.
"It hurts." I said.
"Well, stop shaking it…"
I was on my way upstairs to go to bed when the Wave hit. Luckily, I made it to the toilet this time. Dad was brushing his teeth and he stopped to hold my hair back. I hurled a huge purple mess into the toilet, and then I kept saying how relieved I was that dad was brushing his teeth and not peeing – because then I would have had to puke in our brand new sink, which would have sucked, because what I puked was far too chunky and far too much to be rinsed down the drain.
Outcome: I no longer drink Wild-Berry Hi-C Juice Boxes.
Sidenote: After the Wild-Berry Hi-C Juice Box Event, a span of about ten years went by where my life was virtually Puke-Free. I was very lucky.
What I puked: BBQ burger
Order of events: I was living in Boston, and my best friend, Sam, and I went to the "Don’t Want to Get Sued So I’m Not Saying the Name of the Restaurant Unless Someone Asks Me" to visit our friend, Katherine. I had never been a huge burger-lover, but the BBQ burgers at this particular establishment were the best I’d ever eaten. Sam and I both ordered burgers and a salad. Later on that evening, I started to feel carsick. I just wanted to lie down and go to sleep, but every time I did, I felt worse. I took Tums, I took Pepto, I took Dramamine (I was hoping it would make me fall asleep.) But then the inevitable happened – I ran into the bathroom and heaved into the toilet. It seemed like it was mostly lettuce – but I couldn’t believe the intensity with which my dinner came flying out of my mouth. I probably could have knocked someone over if I had puked in his or her face. Once I had finished, I called Sam to tell him the story, and he said that he had puked, too. When I called the restaurant the next day to tell them my friend and I had eaten some bad burgers, the brilliant person who answered the phone said:
"Yeah, we got a few calls. I thought we should have thrown out the hamburger yesterday, but the manager said just to use it up."
"Oh," I said. "Well, okay…" Had I been a selfish asshole with the mindset that was "Fuck everyone else, what’s in it for me," it probably would have crossed my mind to sue them.
But I wasn’t.
So I didn’t.
Outcome: I still eat burgers, just not ketchup.
So why am I sharing these intimate details about my vomit? A few reasons…
Each and every time, my teeth were clenched and I was "pleasegodno pleasing" to Olivia Newton-John.
After every puking, I felt remarkably invigorated. High on endorphins. Exceedingly proud of myself: "Hey! Look at me! I puked!"
I have a fear of vomit. There’s even a clinical name for it: Emetophobia. And when you have a fear, and you face it – whether you’re forced to or not – you generally feel good about it. I’m not saying that if you have an intense fear of flying and you have to get on a plane for some reason, that once you land and you realize you’re still alive that you’re going to take every opportunity you can to travel by air. There’s no way in hell you’re going to do that. And there’s no way in hell that I am ever going to be okay with puke. Mine or anyone else’s. Case in point: I was working in a restaurant. In this particular restaurant, we have a "Birthday Song." (Note: to anyone thinking of opening a restaurant, please do NOT have a Birthday Song be a part of your gimmick. Number one, it’s humiliating. Number two, it’s really just a big fat pain in the ass.) So on one particular day, I had a birthday party at Table 30. I gather up my co-workers and we go over and begin to sing. (Another issue to having a Birthday Song – unless you have an entire staff of professionally trained vocalists, the song is more often than not going to Suck.) I noticed as we were singing, that everyone was singing more poorly than usual. I had no idea why Shayne was watching the television while he was singing. I had no idea why Susan and Melissa were singing to the floor. I had no idea why Keith was just moaning and groaning through the whole thing – I mean, it IS a bad song, but slightly more tolerable than having to moan and groan through it. As it turns out, the second we started to sing, the little boy at the table had fucking puked all over the place. Luckily, I hadn’t seen it happen. Had I watched his lunch actually shoot out of him mouth, I would have dreamed about it every night for probably the rest of my life. However, I displayed all the signs of being paralyzed by a Phobia:
I shook uncontrollably.
I physically could not speak for the next twenty minutes.
I almost cried hysterically – I would have had I not been at work.
To bring the event to a head, the people from Table 30 gather up their now completely recovered child (leaving behind a mere $7.00 on a $50.00 check – the old lady sitting across from them, who was so grossed out by the event that she had me wrap up her food before I even brought it out of the kitchen, left me a $10.00 tip on a $30.00 check – you do the math…) and the busser goes over and cleans up the mess. Soon there is no sign of kid-chicken-finger-puke anywhere except that faint sour puke smell. (F.Y.I: I still had to work for another twelve hours, and during those twelve hours, I held my breath every time I walked by that table.) Five minutes later, a woman walks into the restaurant with her friend, and as I watch in horror as they are seated at Table 30, I make the conscious decision to never eat at another restaurant again, because I don’t ever want to be Those People. Those People who, unbeknownst to them, sit down to eat at a table that has just been puked on.
(Note: At present day, I don’t cook, so I do eat in restaurants. But if I notice that there are any children in the establishment, I find it completely necessary to ask the host or hostess if any puking occurred on the premises that day.)
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