I got married in Mexico on Saturday. It was beautiful: an exotic setting with a small guest list and countless personal touches. On Monday, food poisoning kept us vomiting and shitting across 4000 miles, two airports, two flights, and a very long customs line.
The morning we left our resort, we both ordered the huevos rancheros. It seemed a fitting goodbye to Mexico, and I’d ordered it earlier during our stay. It was good, but I ate sparingly — I was fixated on checking out, tipping various hotel employees, and getting to the airport on time. We managed to do all that, check our two heavy pieces of luggage, and board the first leg of our journey — Puerto Vallarta to Dallas-Forth Worth.
Halfway through the flight, Jenny frowned at me. “Babe, I don’t feel good.” She gestured to her abdomen, a circular motion encompassing everything below the lungs and above the hips. I quizzed her about the specifics of her discomfort, trying to figure out the problem. Was it gas? Cramps? Indigestion? She left for the bathroom, returned, and reported that nothing happened. That seemed like a good thing, but I’m not a doctor.
Prior to a bout of the flu that struck on New Year’s Eve this year, Jenny hadn’t thrown up in 22 years (it helps that she doesn’t drink). That night, she was so thrown off by the unfamiliar feeling of needing to vomit that she puked in the sink. “Let’s make it another 22 years,” I said while scooping chunks out of the basin and dumping them in the toilet.
But her next streak ended at seven months, as we began the final descent into Dallas. She grabbed the air-sickness bag and let loose with a liquid vigor that knocked the bag from her hands. It landed upright, thankfully, and I moved it under my feet after handing her my air-sickness bag. Then I noticed that I had huevos rancheros and bile underfoot. I examined the now-empty bag and found a hole in the bottom — Jenny had blown it out with the force of her expulsion. I was disgusted, but more than a little impressed. I told her it was okay, and the saint next to us offered a Zip-Loc of baby wipes.
“Daddy, it stinks,” said the blond little boy behind us. Two days earlier, the kid had screamed during the entire hour-long boat ride that Jenny took to the private beach where we got married. Payback’s a bitch, shitbird.
We landed without further incident, but Jenny was white-faced and weak as we de-planed. Give American Airlines credit — the flight attendants were more than gracious, actually thanking us for telling them about the mess in 18E. Uh, you’re welcome?
(An important side note here. Since we started dating, Jenny and I have done our best to avoid discussing our bowel movements. The way we see it, the line will eventually be crossed — especially when we have kids. “I don’t poop,” she often assures me after lighting a match in the bathroom, “I make flowers.” Other times she tells me not to enter a room: “I just made some potpourri in here.”)
“I’m going to shit my pants.” This was my food-poisoned bride as we went up the never-ending ramparts and journeyed down infinite moving walkways at DFW. Everything’s bigger in Texas, particularly the distance from international gate to restroom.
“You’re going to make it,” I said, more hoping than believing. We exited a moving walkway, and around the corner I saw the blessed stick figures of male and female: “There!”
“I’m going to be a while.”
She was correct. The passengers from our flight all passed by, and then another. When Jenny finally exited, her face was pale and shameful. “I made a lot of dirty flower water,” she said.
“Can I tell you something else?”
“I courtesy flushed three times.”
“That was really nice of you.” We continued walking — made it past another bathroom, even — and entered into the Great Hall of Clusterfuck: customs. I’ve seen shorter lines for Space Mountain, and we were down to 65 minutes to make our flight to LaGuardia. After a few switchbacks in line, Jenny begged out and sat down against the wall. I went to a customs agent and said the magic words: “My wife has food poisoning and collapsed…” BINGO BANGO FRONT OF THE LINE.
I repeated this trick at the line to re-check our luggage, needlessly reminding Jenny to play it up.
ME: Be sure to look sick.
HER: [looks at me with dead face, trudges forward]
Right around now is the time I’d like to issue a sincere “fuck you” to American Airlines and the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. We had an eighty-minute layover. Considering gates close about 15 minutes prior to takeoff, that gives a man 65 minutes to make it through customs, pick up his luggage, re-check his luggage, go through security, and take a train to the other terminal where the next flight leaves from. Not much time for wiggle room if one has kids or, say, a bride hobbled by violent gastro-intestinal illness.
So I exited the SkyTrain at a dead run minutes before our flight was supposed to leave, leaving Jenny with an impassioned “STAY ALIVE! I WILL FIND YOU!” (*may not be exact quote) So off I go, running in flip-flops, carry-on bag in each hand, all the way to the last gate, because it is always the last gate when you’re about to miss your flight.
To my surprise, the gate was open — they’d held the door for a few connecting passengers, and I begged for an extra three or four minutes while my sickly wife made her way. I found her three gates down, approximating a delicate version of hurrying. She confessed the need to puke again, and her eyes kept leap-frogging to the nearest trashcan. But we made it without further incident — although they did have to unseal the aircraft door to let us on the flight.
Once aboard, we found a gloriously empty plane and took an entire row to ourselves a few short paces from the bathrooms. As Jenny made another lengthy deposit in there, I took a moment to consider my good fortune. “Strange,” I thought, “how we had the same breakfast but only she got sick.”
She was lying with her head in my lap when I asked her to sit up. “Sorry,” I said. “I really had to fart and I didn’t want to do it in your face.” I’d been feeling bloated for most of the flight, but I’m a male in his mid-30s: it’s not unusual for me to have gas. This was a particularly insistent brand of gas, though, and I made my way to the bathroom. I spent several minutes on the toilet, but nothing happened.
Just like Jenny on the last flight.
And that’s when I knew. I came back to the seat and got outfitted with a sturdy plastic trash bag. If Jenny could lay waste to a common air-sickness bag, it was certainly no match for me. I only vomit one way: violently, to the point that it comes out both my mouth and nose. You know how you need to brush your teeth to get rid of that awful burn after you throw up? Imagine that feeling in your nose, and not being able to do anything about it.
As we began the initial descent, I let loose. In a way, it was a relief. When you feel ill in public, the physical discomfort is accompanied by a sense of dread: Oh God, am I going to be sick? Gotta try not to barf. Control your breathing. Don’t barf. Don’t barf don’t barf don’t barf don’t barf. Letting go and just throwing it up ends all that. There’s freedom in puking.
There’s misery, too — particularly if where you’re puking is into a garbage bag on a plane. We landed and once again thanked a flight crew that was entirely too sympathetic and understanding. “Thanks for the bag of vomit! Feel better soon,” said their kindly furrowed brows.
From the jetway to the baggage claim at LaGuardia, Jenny — now recognized by the airline as temporarily disabled — rode in a wheelchair pushed by a geographically-appropriate surly airline worker, while I zombie-trudged next to them. When we reached the baggage claim, I staggered into the restroom for some diarrhea, but my guts weren’t really in it — not the way they were for the Exorcist-style evacuation on descent, anyway. It was just garden-variety diarrhea, and I exited the bathroom to a garden-variety wait for luggage and a garden-variety cab line. We made it, I thought.
It’s funny the way a New York City cab crashing over Long Island Expressway potholes can change your perspective, or at least your gastro-intestinal stability. Throughout the rally car ride from Queens to Brooklyn on the LIE to BQE to Flatbush Avenue, our faces passed through varying stages of light green to pale-faced wan, but we managed to get back to our apartment without painting the cab in horrible new colors and smells.
We were finally home. Home to crackers and water and air-conditioning that we turned back on in furious haste. I discarded my pants and shirt, and instantly felt more comfortable. That’s when I noticed my distended belly. “Hey babe,” I said, “Crazy how I’ve got this belly after not eating since breakfast, huh?”
“It’s probably just gas,” she said.
“Yeah, I’ll pop some Tums.”
Then something in my stomach wrenched, and I knew it wasn’t something for Tums to handle. It was an evil to be expelled. I ran to the bathroom, shoved my underwear to my ankles, and sat down.
Nothing. Phew, I thought.
Then Jenny materialized in front of me with a freshly lined trash can. I opened my mouth, and with it a gate from Hell. Sitting on the toilet, with my bride holding a trash can in front of my face, I ejected a stream of evil that was less huevos rancheros and more “every sin Man ever committed.” It went on for a minute, or maybe several minutes. It felt like forever.
“Wow,” Jenny said. “You really DO puke through your nose.”
I made it to bed, eventually. Jenny laid out trash cans on the way to the bathroom, a psychological comfort but ultimately unnecessary as we crawled our way back to health. Due back at work the next day, I called out sick, and we spent the day in bed together in a way that most newlyweds do not. In lieu of champagne, we shared a sleeve of Saltines.
Everyone goes to weddings, and so everyone’s a wedding critic. The modern bourgeois wedding checklist goes on for days — open bar; gift bags; rustic tchotchkes; bridesmaid dresses that flatter the bridesmaids; a ceremony and toasts that somehow match the sensibility of the bride and groom; and above all else, intimacy.
Intimacy: a feeling that, regardless of the number of people present, you’re part of something personal and private. A feeling of closeness beyond the standard bonds of friendship.
It’s the word I use when people ask me, “What was your wedding like?”
I say, “intimate,” and it reminds me that I should buy my wife some flowers.