Adult Sick Day

Tuesday: self portrait

Tuesday: self portrait

Childhood leaves marks on us. Whether it’s the positive Pavlovian response to Friday afternoon at 3 o’clock, or the negative reaction to getting called into your boss’s office. There are certain things which trigger certain responses.

Yesterday, I shamelessly needed my mommy. I stumbled through my day with a chest cold, wheezing in such a painful manner that Darth Vader would have winced and sent me home early from the Death Star.

After a brief discussion with my boss – who is far lovelier than Mr. Vader – she told me to take the next day off.

I literally gasped. Not because I was about to hack up a portion of my spleen, though, in fact, I did just that. Rather, I was sort of torn. See, I have long been programmed to see sick days as a fun-filled day of Ferris Bueller antics. But my adult self knew things to be quite different.

Basically, I knew what was immediately ahead. The two sick days I have taken in the last five years (and every adult sick day) have been the same roller coaster of emotions and issues. So as I pack my bag and leave with the knowledge that I am staying in bed the following morning, I foresee myself wearing pajamas, eating carbs, drinking hot beverages, and watching bad daytime television.

When I leave the office, I cry a little.

That evening at the market it is clear to any perceptive human that I plan on spending the following day in a matching sweatsuit on my couch. I buy four kinds of broth-based soups, two boxes of crackers, a bag of oranges, oatmeal, a bottle of ginger ale, two Snickers bars, hot dogs and baked beans.

The walk home is long and cold and my chest hurts. I am in the throes of a self pity churro by the time I sneak in my door. I strip off everything and slip into the armor of the forlorn, then I plant my ass on the couch and sip hot toddies in front of sitcoms.

This is it. This is as good as having a sick day gets. There’s the day off tomorrow, the fully acceptable woe is me period tonight, and the encouraged donning of grungy attire and comfort eating. I enjoy it as much as I can, for tomorrow is a fast decline into reality.

As this is my first sick day in about two years, I can’t actually describe the euphoric feeling of not getting up for work in the morning. It’s like a combination of finding that sweet spot in the couch, the warm spot in the bed, and having someone deliver bagel bites to you while another person cues up a list of your favorite shows so you don’t have to move.

I lie as still as possible, occasionally checking the alarm clock and blocking out the B Monster’s soft mews from outside the door. I am as happy as a man can be; well, a man who is alone in bed on a Tuesday morning coughing out his lung. When I cough something up that could request its own area code, I stumble into the bathroom, sad with the knowledge that the joyous part of having a sick day is now over.

This was somewhat different as a kid. But just somewhat. As a kid there was nothing I could do until one of my siblings came home with my mom-demanded homework. Otherwise, the homework I was supposed to do was being checked right now, so there was a joy in knowing that my friends were suffering through sentence diagramming as I was portioning out my fourth bowl of Cap’n Crunch. If you were a kid in the suburbs, this was the nurtured toddler years of your schadenfreude.

On this adult sick day, I spend the late morning-early afternoon period cooking soup and thanking my mucousy lungs for helping me miss all the crap that’s going on right now. Students with no homework. Late comers. Dealing with the outside world. Pants. This period of late morning joy is intense, but ends soon.

In the first place, I don’t like not working. I feel lazy. Secondly, I am a teacher and that means that other people are actively doing my job for 90 minutes today as I cook liver dumpling soup and eat crackers. The guilt grows until I decide that productivity will quell the demons. I head to my office and plan for tomorrow’s lessons.

When I was a kid, the late afternoon hours were the beginning of the bad time. My siblings had had lunch in outside clothes while interacting with other humans. They had been active and were up to date on the affairs of school. Moreover, their day was getting better, for they knew their job would soon be done.

By far the worst part of the day was after the school bell, which I could almost hear from my couch while watching Matlock, and the sounds of my schoolmates and siblings released from their catholic paisley prison into afternoon air teeming with freedom, accomplishment, and art class paste. While I continued to turn into moss on the couch. Now they were free to enjoy their evening, could go and play until they were called in. They could watch TV at night, the shows kids were meant to see on a daily basis, not the awful daytime crotch dramas that I had been forced to endure all day. It was their freedom that tasted worst to me when I had a sick day.

Getting a bit of work done helps me feel better and more productive in the late afternoon hours. I do some writing as well, and cook. But the day is stampeding towards evening and that’s when it’s going to get really bad. I have had a day lacking fulfillment, critical thinking, and bodily hygiene. I can almost imagine my colleagues’ satisfied faces after their lessons are done, their sighs of release as they step into the lift to head out into the streets.

As dinner is finished I step to the window and look out at the tired gait of passersby. I am envious. Envious. While they may have envied my comfort last night and this morning, I now envy their sense of accomplishment for a hard day’s work. I feel ostracized. I can’t imagine how people don’t enjoy working.

It’s just about nighttime now, and I have already told my boss that I will work tomorrow. I head back to the kitchen and do the dishes while making a hot toddy. Irish Whiskey and tea. After a few minutes and sips, the world doesn’t seem so bad. I am prepared for tomorrow, at least. The morning will be here soon enough, allowing me to become a sneezing, wheezing, but productive member of the work force again.

And til then, there’s booze.

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