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Friday, October 19, 2012

Romnesia and a Binder of Blunders

Today Twitter is abuzz with a new expression that has actually been around for months: Romnesia. Liberal bloggers coined the term as a way to describe an extreme shift in political positions, or in essence, forgetting what you once stood for. Today Obama used Romnesia in the latest version of his stump speech, and now every news outlet’s headline contains it.
This is on the heels of Tuesday’s debate. Will Obama’s victory benefit him in the polls? Probably a little, but in most cases a good debate performance doesn’t help so much as a bad debate performance can hurt. And it can all come down to a single moment, if that moment is one that captures a weakness that was already brewing underneath the surface. In 1988, Dukakis was cold and clinical when asked if he’d support the death penalty should his wife be brutally raped and murdered. In 1992 H.W. Bush looked at his watch during a town hall meeting. During a 2000 presidential debate Gore sighed and rolled his eyes repeatedly. In 2008 John McCain wandered the stage, seemingly disorientated. And last Tuesday, Romney made his now infamous “binders full of women” comment.
None of these should have been terrible blunders, but they revealed detachment, or cockiness, or confusion, and in Romney’s case, a tendency to be out of touch. And that can lead to what a candidate fears most of all (other than losing) – being mocked.
The funny thing about the “binders full of women” comment is that I didn’t even catch it. I bet a lot of people didn’t. But the next morning it was all over the internet, and now it’s what people remember about the debate, along with the fact checking about Libya.
 If I was the only person not to catch it, I had a good excuse. Tuesday night Monty got back from his six-week trip to Ghana, and it would be the first time we’d spoken since our epic fight from over a week before. He had implored me to pick him up at the airport, but I was still mad. Since part of my anger lingered over his comment that I “have trouble saying no” it seemed only fitting to let him take an airport limo home, rather than cancel my Social Justice seminar and my department meeting, which were both scheduled for that afternoon.
I’d see him when I got home.
Except, late in the day my mother-in-law Natalie texted me. Can you stop and pick up some Gatorade and Tylenol? Monty has a fever and I think he’s dehydrated. I’d give him Advil, but I’m afraid he’d throw it up.
Instantly I felt guilty for making him find his own ride. I was still in my meeting as I read the text, and I looked at the clock a million times before the meeting was finally over. Then the ride home took way longer than normal because traffic was backed up due to an accident, and there was a long line at the drug store, and by the time I finally made it home it was after six.
Natalie met me at the door. She’d been speaking to me as little as possible, ever since I gave her a deadline for when she needs to leave and go back home to Iowa, but on Tuesday she was willing to talk.
“He looks bad,” she said in an exaggerated whisper. Abby and Noah were playing in the next room. “He’s upstairs lying down. You should go up right away. He’s been asking for you. I keep saying you’re on your way, but then he’ll ask me two minutes later, like he’s forgotten what I just said. I hope it’s not that Ebola/Rabies virus. And he held the kids! I went online to see if disorientation is a symptom, but I haven’t found anything.”
I stood there, at the foot of the stairs, clutching the CVS bag filled with Gatorade and Tylenol, and I could feel my throat fill with liquid anxiety. My husband was finally home, and I hesitated, afraid.
“I’ll get him to drink. He’s probably just dehydrated.” I ascended the stairs with feigned confidence.
The lights in our bedroom were off (at least Natalie had relinquished our bedroom) save for the flickering light of the television, which was on mute. MSNBC was on, and Chris Matthews was going on about something. Well, that was a good sign. Monty must have been lucid enough to put on MSNBC, because Natalie never would have chosen that channel.
I sat down in bed and felt his forehead. It was burning hot.
His eyes opened at my touch and he smiled.
“Lucy,” he sighed. “Finally. Wha took you so long?” He slurred and mumbled at the same time. “Starting to geh worried. Did you change the filter on the furnace?”
Over the last week I had been over possible scenarios of what our reunion would be like. They were all variations on a similar theme, and that theme was that we were both still angry. I guess Romnesia actually is a catching disease, because Monty seemed to have forgotten his previous position of being mad. So I played along.
“Babe, I need you sit up so you can drink something.” I pulled on his arm and placed my other hand underneath his back. I pushed upwards, but it did little good.
“Monty, seriously, sit up. I got you Gatorade. You need to drink.”
“Tired, Luce. Flight wore me out. Did you change the filter…”
“Yes,” I lied. I would go down and change it in a minute, since it seemed to be so important to him. “The furnace is fine. Now sit up and drink.”
His eyes, which had been half-shut, suddenly widened and focused on my face. “Love you. Sorry about before. Are you still mad?”
I stroked his forehead; it was hot and clammy at the same time. I knew that whatever was wrong with him needed to be taken seriously and suddenly I couldn’t even remember what I’d been so upset with him about. “I love you too. But if you don’t sit up and drink, I’m going to be very mad.”
Dutifully he sat up, and drank from the Gatorade bottle in slow sips.
That night, after I put the kids to bed, I sat in bed with him while he alternately drank Gatorade, dry heaved, and rested his head in my lap while I stroked his forehead. It wasn’t unlike the night before he left, six weeks ago, when the Republican convention was on. Except this time he actually wanted the television on, and he desired my presence as well. Every now and then he’d mumble something like, “Did Romney just call immigrants ‘illegals’?” or “I don’t believe any of these questioners are actually undecided.” But mostly he slept and I worried.
The next morning I cancelled my lecture and took him to the doctor, but there wasn’t much they could do. His diagnosis:
·         The  combination of the nausea from the anti-malarial drugs, plus the turbulence from the plane, plus possibly a stomach virus, made him throw up a lot and thus caused him to be very dehydrated, which only increased his nausea and thus his fever. –Or-
·         He caught some form of the flu on the airplane, in which case he needs to be all but quarantined, because it most likely isn’t what the kids and I have been vaccinated against, -Or-
·         His bad reaction to the anti-malarial drugs has suddenly gotten much worse, so he should go off them. Which he will, but he was supposed to be on them for several weeks even after he got back, so now he’s at an increased risk of contracting Malaria. Again.
So I’m supposed to monitor his temperature, keep him away from the children, and bring him in if he starts to refuse fluids or if his fever climbs higher than 103. As we drove back home, all the good will I had been feeling the night before dissipated, and my own version of Romnesia set in. I clenched the steering wheel with both hands, and Monty sat slumped in his seat. His eyes were closed and he was straining to swallow. In the light of the day I could tell how much weight he had lost – I guessed around ten pounds. Ten pounds in six weeks.
            “I don’t care if I have to chain you to lawn furniture, you are never going back to the African continent again. Ever. And if you think I’ll renege on that, you are so, so wrong.”
            He didn’t open his eyes. He didn’t say anything.
            “Did you hear me?” I demanded.
            “Yes.” His answer was barely a whisper.
            “Are you going to respond?”
            He sighed. “’Renege’ is an awfully pretentious word to use when you’re angry.”
            “That’s not funny, Monty.”
            He opened his eyes and turned his head towards me. “My head hurts like it’s being cut open with a butter knife. I can’t talk to you about major career decisions right now.”
            While rationally I could understand that this wasn’t the time to force the issue, emotionally I couldn’t let it go. I need him to be here, healthy and safe. I wanted him to promise me he’d never go back, and I wanted that promise now.
            “Just say you agree with me, and I’ll leave you alone.”
            He closed his eyes again. “Fine. I agree. Now leave me alone.” Then he turned away, and scooted towards the window, creating as much distance between us as possible.
            So the old Monty, the one who hates being coddled when he's sick, the one who will hold a grudge, was back. The Romnesia was gone, and it's place was resentment. He may be willing to give up his job in the face of overwhelming evidence that he has to, but that doesn't mean he won't blame me for it. I left him alone for the ride home, and I’ve been leaving him alone ever since.  Now he’s struggling to get better from whatever it is that’s making him feel so awful.
And I’m keeping my mouth shut. If one of us is going to talk, it has to be him. I
can’t speak, for fear I’ll make a gaffe that will reveal just how vulnerable I am. I’ll keep my thoughts stored away, in a binder full of blunders.
 *the meme up top was originally posted on

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