When I was a child, I made a solemn vow: I would never vomit. Vomiting seemed just too disgusting. I was determined to never undergo that indignity. I might become a thief or a murderer or even a Cub Scout, but I would never vomit.
Then, when I was maybe 10 years old, I got food poisoning and vomited enough for an entire daycare center. I was so dehydrated that I began to hallucinate. I was in my bed, watching the movie musical The Harvey Girls on TV. This movie opens with a glorious number called On The Atcheson, Topeka and the Santa Fe, in which a train arrives in a prairie town. In my delirium, I decided that the train was roaring through my bedroom, and my parents found me huddled against the wall, avoiding injury.
About a week ago, I had whatever that current virus is. This resulted in agonizing stomach cramps, a fever and a hideous sensitivity to light. I couldn’t sit down, lie down or stand up; every position made me want to barf and collapse. I couldn’t open or shut my eyes; both options made me dizzy. The most awful aspect of all this was the following: I desperately wanted to vomit, to rid my body of its cackling intestinal demon, but my body wouldn’t cooperate. I would lie in a fetal position on the bathroom floor and then crouch over the toilet, but it just wasn’t happening. I had become the sort of person who yearned to vomit, who dreamt of vomiting, who was praying to every possible vomit god. Finally, I vomited profusely and repeatedly, like a cartoon character or someone in a frat-boy movie. It felt sublime, and after a day or so of recovery, I was fine.
The only possible treatment for this sort of thing, as anyone who’s ever contracted it knows, is the cool embrace of the bathroom floor tiles. These tiles don’t really help matters much, but they seem to at least understand the pain involved. It’s like having a soothing floor-nanny.
Maybe the reason I’d always hated and feared vomiting was the loss of control. And the smell. And the taste.
Now I regard vomiting as a sign of great emotional maturity.
My partner John is going through a prolonged and hideous version of this kind of illness. John’s a doctor, so he knows all the possible causes and not-very-effective remedies. Plus, the cat keeps trying to sit on his stomach. Part of loving someone involves listening to them vomit, and rooting for them. John and I were once on a plane from, I think, Aspen, Colorado to Los Angeles. This flight is so notoriously rough that it’s been dubbed The Vomit Comet, for good reason. John was fine, but I spent the entire flight having that familiar inner debate: should I try to remain disciplined, or just head for the bathroom and get it over with?
P.S. Unless you are truly perverse, never Google “Vomiting” and look at the Images.
P.P.S. One morning during John’s illness, I awoke to discover that the cat had vomited on the floor in sympathy. I made this discovery with my feet.
P.P.P.S. The eternal question: after vomiting, do you look at it? Have you ever experienced a form of forensic nostalgia, a remembrance of lost meals?
P.P.P.P.S. I was once walking up Eigth Avenue, when a sturdy woman, wearing a white tank top and cutoff jean shorts, ran out of a Mexican restaurant. She balanced one strong foot on the base of a nearby lamppost and vomited more than I’ve ever thought a human being was capable of. A lake of vomit formed on the sidewalk. Her friend stood beside her, encouraging her. After the woman was, I imagine, empty, the two women went happily back into the restaurant, to continue eating.