LOS ANGELES – This morning started out like any other morning. Or maybe not. When your houseguest is not only on East Coast time but also in the middle of a nasty bout of bronchial distress, the chances are slim to none that you will be asleep past 6:30 am PST. Which proved true early, so early, this fine Tuesday morning. The hacking and honking reached a crescendo somewhere around 6:37 am but my lovely out-of-towner, considerate as she is, decided that instead of torturing us both with her frequent lung-rattles, she would just take a quick shot of the Delsym cough suppressant in the cheerful orange box sitting on the bathroom counter.
Very, very bad idea.
Now it should be stated that my petite guest is not only a narcotics-newbie, but also that her cold drug of choice – which was purchased by yours truly – caused the checkout lady at Target to card me. And scan my ID. And now I’m on some potential government Watch List for Meth Lab Cooks/Cold Medicine Entrepreneurs. I wonder if they have a Union.
All of this adds up to some very serious relief-in-a-bottle. My pal had previously taken a shot of the juice before bed, but taking it in the morning was a whole different experience. When she came back into the bedroom I was too awake to fall back asleep. I was awake and annoyed that I was already thinking about him. Ugh. Had he really called me “mean” as I handed him a Trader Joe’s bag full of his socks (snuck into my laundry yet again), bootleg DVDs, and sweat-stained baseball cap? Mean? Me?
More importantly, was I?
I could feel the phantom pressure of an evil hand wrapping itself around my heart, but quickly forced it aside. My fun, cheerful Houseguest was here. We had plans to hike up a beautiful mountain. The world was not ending. I could relax…right? I hoped so. I closed my eyes.
For three seconds.
When I opened them, I was walking to my computer. Sitting down at said computer. And immersing myself into the very maze of paperwork and online drama I was trying so desperately to avoid. When did it all get so complicated? Houseguest, however, stayed in bed and checked her Facebook on my laptop. And then started to get very, very loopy.
“Hey!” came the cry from the bedroom as I was tackling the meaning of the Department of Water and Power sending me a check for $82.78. There had to be some sort of catch, right? Was it a trick to see if I’d cash it and then they’d laugh uproariously while they flicked some mystical switch that caused not only my apartment to go dark but my data to be erased from all of my computers? Hmm, file this check away for a rainy, flashlight-filled day.
“Heyyyyyyy!” the repeated cry echoed from the bedroom. Whoops, I hadn’t answered.
“What’s up?” I called back.
“I feel sorta….dizzzzzzzzy…” Her voice warbled a bit, then became muffled as she shoved her head under what I could only assume were my flannel sheets and blue comforter. “I think I’m gonna…”
The sentence was never finished but an IM or some other interwebular distraction on my screen caught my eye and I was sucked back into cyber world. For the next five hours. Five. Hours. When I glanced at the time in the corner of my screen, I was extremely surprised to discover that it was already 11:46 am. So that’s why all of my office-bound friends were now online and IMing their way through the boring day.
I, on the other hand, had powered through all of my bills, a bunch of customer orders, notes on an online video edit, and had even paid my company’s city tax (PS if your company makes under $300,000 a year the city of Los Angeles cuts you a break. Do any small businesses make OVER that amount? Just wondering…). It had been a productive five hours. Surely it was time to reward myself (and Houseguest) with a caffeinated beverage and a hike to the top of Griffith Park. Right?
And then I entered the bedroom.
When I had last left her, Houseguest was cozily ensconced on one side of the queen bed, covers pulled up snugly just under her chin. Not so anymore. Somewhere in the middle of her cough-syrup haze, she had not only turned all the way upside-down in the bed, but also taken off one sock. Just one. Her half-clad feet now rested on my pillow. The covers were crumpled and shoved to the foot of the bed. Her head and shoulders, I could only assume, were somewhere underneath them.
“Um…Houseguest?” I asked tentatively, not sure if I should nudge her or set off a few fireworks. I went for the leg nudge. Nothing. A little more aggressive this time. Still nothing. I started peeling back the covers until the shrillest scream ever to emanate from a human pierced the room.
“Noooooooooo!!!!!” Houseguest screeched and pulled the covers back over her head, returning to the darkness like a recalcitrant vampire.
“Come on,” I nudged again. “Let’s go get some-” I was interrupted by the sound of an early-90’s TV show theme song blasting from the living room. It was my phone, obviously. I grabbed it, not recognizing the 973 area code.
“Hello dear, it’s [Houseguest’s Mom]. What are you and my daughter up to?” The Brooklyn-accented matriarch had been an inner city Vice Principal for many years, so even her innocent-seeming questions were really demands.
“Um…” I walked back into the bedroom and was part-dismayed and part-amazed to find Houseguest had- in the 16 seconds I had been gone- mostly emerged from under the covers but was now mysteriously sprawled sideways across the bed, feet hanging off one end and one arm oddly splayed off the other. She was most definitely face down.
“She’s sorta still asleep,” I offered into the phone. “Maybe I can answer whatever ques-”
“I had to take her stepfather to the dentist- he broke a crown, don’t ask me how- and we’re all going to breakfast at the hotel and you’re meeting us here so put her on so I can- ” Houseguest’s Mom was still barking orders at me as I pulled the phone away from my ear and placed it near Sleeping Beauty’s. She sort of snarfled into the mattress and then used her closest arm to slap me. Hard.
“Ow!” I cried. “Here. It’s your mom. Talk to her.” I gently set the phone down and then backed away like the guy at the zoo who has to feed the hungry lions.
Her answer was to brush my Crackberry off the bed, sending it slamming into the wooden floor. Its awesome red case burst off it into a few different pieces and the call from 973 was most definitely lost. Houseguest made some sort of vague moaning sound and then rolled over onto her back, squinting up at me.
“Time to go hiking!” I tried. “Up and at ‘em!”
She blinked as if I had just spoken to her in whatever made-up language the blue people in AVATAR speak. I tried again.
That got her. Sort of: “I’m nagh-huash for my to eghhh…”
And then she rolled over, causing her face to smash back into the mattress. I decided to leave the room and finish my last bit of work online. As I marched back into the living room, I barked: “Get dressed! I’m ready! Let’s hit the trail!”
“Noooooooo!” came the wail from the bedroom. “I cannnnnnnn’t!”
“Yes, you can! The sun is shining! The dog needs to take a crap! Let’s go!” I sounded like my mother…except for the dog needing to crap part. I decided maybe practical advice was the way to go.
“First thing you need to do,” I called out as I resumed my position at my desk. “Is sit up!”
I heard some sort of vague shuffling, thrashing sound and then:
What did she break?
“I can’t feel my feeeeeeet!” If there is a humanly possible way to slur the word “feet,” Houseguest did it.
I got up out of my desk chair and ambled back to the bedroom, standing in the doorway, staring at the puddle of Houseguest in the middle of my bed.
“What’s that, darling?” I asked, none-too-sweetly.
“My…I…I can’t hike…” she started, building to near-hysteria. “Because I can’t feel my feeeeeeeeeeeet!”
Note: as she was saying this, she was wiggling the toes of her left foot. Rapidly.
“Come on, you’re fine. Let’s go!” I got a scowl and a weak attempt at Death By Pillow-Tossing. But then, miraculously, Houseguest started to pull herself to sitting. Halfway there, though, her elbow buckled as she groaned and flopped back onto the bed.
“Oh nooooo,” she cried. “My head! My head is underwater!”
“That is impossible,” I said flatly. “You’re just hazy because of the medicine. As soon as you get some fresh-”
“Ohhhh my goddddddd,” she interrupted, hands firmly clasped over her ears as she slowly sat up again. “I…I’m dying. I think I’m dead. Everything is wobbly. I can’t….no….” And she was back down.
Fifteen minutes of convincing and cajoling later, Houseguest had somehow managed to not only pull herself to standing, but also to slap on some sweatpants and tie a pink bandana around her head. Sort of. It actually sat more sideways so that the triangle flap part dangled over one eye. It was like a muddled, vaguely dangerous pirate inhabiting the body of a witty, loquacious New Yorker. And this pirate was hungry.
“I need…” she gasped as she wove her way into the living room, grabbing onto the couch for support. “a sammich. I need….need food. Sammich.”
I stood up and stretched my back. Things popped. “Do you want me to make you a PBJ?” I asked. “Fuel for the hike?”
With a surprising burst of energy, Houseguest closed the distance between us by scurrying over to me, slamming both hands down on my shoulders.
“I…am…underwater,” she intoned, locking eyes with me. Deadly serious. “Something is WRONG with….me. I may….yes, I may be…” Her voice lowered to a whisper: “…dying.”
“I highly doubt that.” I shrugged her hands off me and turned to go to the kitchen. She flopped down into my office chair, forgetting it was on wheels.
“My brainnnnnn! I think it’s…it’s on inside-out!!!” she wailed as she rolled across the hardwood floor, not noticing the movement. Until her head met my bookshelf. “Owwww!!!!” She melted down into the chair, sliding off the seat and crumpling onto the floor in a heap. I walked over to the pile of limbs, gingerly poking at it with my toe.
“Come on,” I said, frustrated. “You took cough syrup. You’re not dying. Get up.”
A hand shot up and grabbed my leg with surprising strength. The person attached to that hand raised her head and looked at me with big, shiny eyes.
“Something is wrong with me!” Her bottom lip quivered a little. “I really think my brain is on inside-out!”
“No it’s NOT,” I exhaled, annoyed. I started walking away. “You know what? Maybe I’ll just go on a hike by myself. I’ve been trying to get you up for-”
“You’re being so meannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn!” she wailed.
The word made me freeze. Mean. Me. I could see his back as he walked down the street, carrying that bag, shoulders slumped. The sun was setting and he vacillated out of shadow and light as he made his way past the burned-out buildings and away from me. I didn’t cry. And I hadn’t cried since.
Until a tear slipped off my bottom lid and down my cheek. My hand flew up to my face, surprised. Houseguest, cough syrup crazed spidermonkey that she was, had stopped moaning and was staring at my watery eyes, concerned. It was like that moment when an Alzheimer’s-ravaged relative returns to their senses, if only for a second.
“You’re not,” she said gently. “You’re not mean.”
I couldn’t speak. There was still a hand around my heart, squeezing. Hard.
“Hey,” she said, lucid. “It wasn’t your fault.”
And the hand relaxed. Stopped squeezing entirely. I could breathe again. I looked down at Houseguest, wondering of how to properly verbalize the relief and welcome weightlessness of realizing that it really wasn’t all my fault. That there could be wholeness in solitude. And that one day, I’d be ready to try it all over again.
She grinned at me and as I was about to speak, she said: “You’re meat! Baby meat food!” she erupted into giggles. “You are baaaaaaby meat food!” She had returned to Delsym land. The pink bandana was now around her neck and I noticed that she still had only one sock on.
I walked into the kitchen and started making her sandwich, enjoying the new freedom in my chest cavity. As I spread chunky peanut butter on the bread, I heard Houseguest sniggering and singing a song about “Baby Meat Food” to herself. I smiled. There was a giggling, wiggling pile of Houseguest on my living room floor. But man did I love her.
Even if she was cracked out on cough syrup.