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Monday, September 3, 2012

Eastwooding For Eden

I tried to watch Mitt Romney’s speech, but like Chick-Fil-A’s efforts this summer to quell a PR disaster, it just didn’t work out. The week of the Republican convention is never a good one for me; every four years I dig my nails into my palm and wait five straight days for it to be over. This year the convention coincided with the beginning of a new term of teaching, and also with Monty preparing to leave for Ghana. Maybe it was better that way. I was so busy and distracted I could barely focus, so I didn’t watch Rick Santorum make a speech that included the word “hands” twenty-two times (a work friend counted) or Paul Ryan address the crowd with what even Fox News reported to be a bunch of lies.

            But Thursday night I decided I really should tune in. After all, what if Mitt Romney exceeded expectations, and inspired the crowd so brilliantly that his speech was a legendary game-changer? Or, what if he fumbled it? The second scenario is obviously what I was hoping for, and if it happened I didn’t want to miss out. So I put the kids to bed and turned the television on in our bedroom.

            Monty was packing and trying not to throw up. His nausea wasn’t a side-effect of hearing Republican strategist Alex Castellanos say “You didn’t build that” was a damaging and revealing political gaffe, although I’m sure it didn’t help. (For more on my opinions about this supposed “gaffe” click here. ). No, Monty had already started his anti-malarial drug regimen, and unfortunately one of the side effects is nausea. By the time the film biography began, Monty’s forehead was beaded with sweat and his face was both pale and a tad green.

            “Have you seen my blue sweat shirt?” He asked me in a strained voice, just as the film began. Behind him the television played soft music, with a shot of snow falling on an Olympic torch, and Ann Romney saying, “If you want to know how someone will be as president, look at how they lived their life.”

            “I think it’s in your dresser,” I replied.

            He grimaced. “Why? I always put it in my closet.”

            “Do you want me to look?”

            Monty shook his head, straightened himself up, moved towards his dresser, but quickly veered course, and rushed to the bathroom instead. Soon I could hear the steady sound of his retching, and honestly, it was the perfect accompaniment to what was on TV. Between heart-felt testimonials about what an honest, salt-of-the-earth, family/business man Mitt Romney is, my husband was loudly heaving up his dinner.

            Eventually I did the right thing. First I found his blue sweatshirt and put it on top of his bag, and then I went to check on him. He was shirtless, lying on the bathroom floor. The toilet was flushed, but the seat was up, ready to be used again.

            “Sweetheart, do you need anything?” I asked.

            He answered with his eyes closed.  “No. The floor tile feels good. It’s nice and cool.”

            I went to the sink and filled a glass with water, and then I sat down next to him and placed it by his side. When I reached over to brush a lock of hair off his clammy forehead, he weakly swatted me away.

            “I just need to be alone,” he croaked. “Go watch the speech.”

            “It’s going to be a while before it starts,” I replied. “Rubio still needs to introduce Romney, but I guess Clint Eastwood is coming on first. They’re on commercial right now.”

            Monty opened one eye and gave me a skeptical squint. “You waited for a commercial to check on me?”

            I replied very matter-of-factly. “I almost didn’t check on you at all. I know how you are.”

            With that I got up and moved back into our bedroom.

            Now, before you make an assumption that I am uncaring or unsympathetic, let me clarify. Monty hates to be coddled. When he’s sick in any way, shape or form, he’s like a cat. All he wants to do his find a cool, dry place to hide and nurse his wounds. I know his mother struggled with this while he was growing up. He wouldn’t even let her tuck him in when he had the stomach flu.

            Now I was listening to the convention with one ear. I sort of got that Clint Eastwood was talking to an empty chair that was supposed to be Obama, and that at one point “Obama” told him to shut up and go f*!$ himself.  But part of me was too filled with worry to care. How would Monty handle the trip if the drugs make him this nauseous? What if he doesn’t adjust and just stops taking them? He could contract Malaria again, and his recovery may not be so complete as it was before.

            I was chewing on my thumbnail when Monty crawled into bed halfway through Eastwood’s speech.

            “Why’s he talking to an empty chair?” Monty asked.

            “He’s pretending it’s Obama, and he’s arguing with him about policy decisions.”

            “Huh.” Monty propped himself up on a pillow so he could see. “Is Clint Eastwood winning the argument?”

            “As far as I can tell.”
            We watched silently for a little while, until Eastwood made his quip that a lawyer who argues and sees both sides of an issue makes a bad president, but a business man makes a good one. “Doesn’t he realize that Romney has a law degree too?” Monty said. “Why isn’t empty chair Obama telling him that?”

            “Maybe he is and we just can’t hear him.”

            Monty grabbed my hand and gave it a weak squeeze. “Now I know what I’ll do when I miss you. I’ll just find an empty chair and pretend it’s you. We can have heated conversations, and I’ll always win.”

            “That’s great, Sweetheart. I’m flattered.”

            Then he let go of my hand, rolled onto his side, and closed his eyes.

            “Aren’t you going to finish packing?” I asked.

            “Morning,” he mumbled. “Almost done anyway. Really tired.”

            “I found your sweatshirt. It’s on top of your bag.”

            He murmured thanks and fell asleep.

When Rubio came on I turned the volume down, but not so low that I couldn’t hear him say that the greatest American trait was a belief in God. I grunted in disgust and Monty stirred.

            “Sorry,” I said. “Do you want me to watch downstairs?”

            “Do you mind?” said Monty. “I need sleep if I’m going to be in good shape for the flight tomorrow.”

            That’s right. He was leaving the next day. This was to be our last night together for six weeks, as he and his beautiful co-worker Brook (short for Brooklyn) were joining several others from the Roll Back Malaria partnership on a research trip. For much of the time he won’t even be reachable by phone. They don’t have too many cell towers in Ghana.

            I had already ruled out the possibility of a romantic final night together. But I didn’t want to leave his side, since soon he’d be leaving mine. So I turned both the television and the lights off, and let the sound of his breathing lull me to sleep.

            The next day I drove Monty to the airport, and he kissed me goodbye before he joined Brook in the check-in area.

            “I love you, Lucy.” He whispered this in my ear before he pulled away. 

            I told him I loved him too, and then I let go.

            Now I’m taking inventory of all our empty chairs. Which one should be my pretend-husband for the next month and a half? Maybe I’ll just grit my teeth and go it alone.  Because the one positive from the last few days? Eastwooding is now another word for acting eccentrically, and who wants that?  Mitt Romney doesn’t, and right now, neither do I.




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