An excerpt from
“A Day and a Night in an MS Life”
Multiple Sclerosis From Both Sides of the Desk
The forty-minute, thirty-five-mile drive home went relatively quickly as he got off the parkway. The air conditioner was going full blast as he listened to the news declaring that the heat wave would be lasting for the foreseeable future. He had seen at least two cars on the ride home that had pulled over because of the heat. He felt lucky that his car had made it. After turning off the parkway, he followed the main road that led past his town. He made a left onto a secondary road as the trees started to outnumber the telephone poles. Traffic dropped to scant few cars as he turned onto his block. The moment Joseph saw his house, his bladder notified his brain that it had to go wee-wee. He wondered why he always, suddenly, had to go to the bathroom when he knew he was almost home. Accelerating up the hill and passing his front yard, he saw Steph and the baby playing near the sprinkler. They were both smiling.
Joseph loved his new daughter, but he was still getting used to his new position in the lineup. She was the opening act and the headliner. Her material wasn’t any better than his was, he thought. It was just that she was putting a new spin on it:
“Oh, look! She’s spitting up. Hold on. Let Mommy get your nappy and clean you up. You’re soooo cute.”
Joseph knew he had been doing mostly old material for at least several years, but he felt it was quality material. Unfortunately, somewhere, it had lost its sweet naiveté:
“Oh, great. You’re going to throw up. Here’s a bucket. Just make sure you don’t get any of it on the carpeting.”
He had always had a good sense of humor, and he hardly ever worked blue. He couldn’t remember exactly when he first heard himself saying things that were “over the line” while socializing, but Steph had noticed it often enough. It made her uncomfortable, and she let him know it. He figured she was just becoming more conservative as the years went on.
He pulled into the driveway, grabbed his bag and keys, and scooted rapidly toward the front door.
“There’s Daddy,” Steph said, holding Gabby up to look at her daddy.
“Gotta get to the bathroom,” he said in a hushed voice as he reached for the doorknob. Locked! “Dammit! Why is the door locked?” he said to no one in particular. Steph looked up.
“I have the key,” she said, pulling it out of her pocket.
“Why do you have to lock it all the time?” he asked with annoyance.
“We went out for a walk before,” she answered, handing him the key.
He got the key into the doorknob on the fourth try and then turned it. The door wouldn’t open. She had locked the deadbolt!
“Dammit!” he exclaimed as he felt a little urine get somewhere it was not supposed to be. “Why do you have to lock both the knob and the deadbolt?” he asked as he pulled out the key to put into the door handle lock.
“To be safe,” she said as she started to towel Gabby off. He turned the key, and the door opened. He raced inside, leaving the door ajar. He got to the bathroom with little collateral damage. After putting himself back together again, he went back to the front. Steph had laid the baby down in the living room and was changing her diaper.
“Thanks for helping to locate my phone earlier,” he said, trying to make up for his childish behavior.
“No problem,” she said, smiling as she lifted Gabby’s legs and tilted her up to clean her. “You’re home early. Anything go wrong at work?”
“I was feeling like crap,” he began. “Jess said I looked crummy too. I figured I should just come home and get some rest and get an early start tomorrow.” He looked at the mess in the living room and then turned and saw the lumber in the dining room. “I’ll get started on cleaning up all this stuff after I get cleaned up.”
“Okay. I was going to make some chicken for dinner. What time do you want to eat?”
“I dunno,” he said, starting to take off his jacket and tie. “Let me see how I feel after I’m done getting things cleaned up.”
He turned and lumbered up the stairs. Once in the bedroom, he turned the air conditioner on high, tossed his keys on the bed, and got out of his suit. Using his foot, he pushed around a pile of clothes that was on the floor. He picked up a pair of shorts and a faded blue T-shirt. After dressing, he turned back to the bed and saw the phone on the nightstand. He went over, picked it up, and put it in his suit so he wouldn’t forget to take it tomorrow. As the temperature in the room dropped, he began to feel a little more alert again. Steph came up the stairs with Gabby.
“Can you play with Gabby for a few minutes while I get ready to go shopping?” she asked.
“Sure,” Joseph said as he took their baby from her arms. He sat on the bed and stood Gabby up on his lap. He looked at her directly.
“Mommy says someone was tearing up copies of old magazines. Do you know anything about that?” he asked.
His daughter, seeming nonplussed by her father’s questioning, chewed on her fingers.
“Well, if you’re not going to talk, then I’m just going to have to assume you plead nolo contendere.”
Saliva started dripping out of the corner of her mouth.
“Your lack of response and flagrant slobbering force me to find you in contempt of court. You will be sentenced to tickling, which is to commence immediately.” He then placed her on her back and started tickling her tummy. She began to squeal and laugh. Watching her smile filled him with happiness and let him feel more awake and alive.
“Don’t be too rough with her,” Lauren called from the bathroom. “I just fed her, and I want her to fall asleep in the car while I do my errands.”
“I won’t,” he said. “Don’t worry,” he reassured his wife as he stopped tickling Gabby. Once free, she rolled over onto her tummy and then got to her hands and knees. She spied Joseph’s keys at the edge of the bed. Using the reaction time and unpredictable path of a mosquito on crack, she quickly scooted toward the edge of the bed. Joseph, using an outstretched-arms, soccer-goalie-styled dive, landed next to her just as Gabby’s body weight was about to carry her and the keys off the bed and onto the hardwood floor. She squealed as he grabbed her and the clump of keys fell to the floor. Steph came back into the room.
“What was that?” she asked. Joseph held Gabby in his arms.
“Nothing,” he said as he looked at his daughter. “I was just trying to demonstrate how gravity works to our little Ms. Newton.” Gabby started to chew on her fingers again.
“What are you going to do while I’m out shopping?” she asked.
“Well,” Joseph began, “I figured I would start with moving the wood out of the dining room and then cleaning the living room. After that, I’ll either start translating the complete works of John Steinbeck into Old High German or take a nap. When do you think you’ll be back?” He handed Gabby to his wife.
“Probably around four thirty. Maybe sooner if I can find everything I need to get.”
“Sounds good,” he said, kissing Gabby. He looked at Steph as he thought back to the conversation they had on the phone that morning. “I’m sorry for asking you to bring me my phone this morning. That was me being stupid.”
“It’s okay. Did you see the phone on your nightstand?”
“Yes. I already put it away in my jacket for safekeeping for tomorrow.”
“Good,” she said. They kissed good-bye. “Love you,” she said, smiling.
“Love your body, Larry,” he replied.
She went out of the room and downstairs, carrying Gabby. She didn’t even acknowledge the Fletch reference, Joseph thought. “She used to be my audience,” he said aloud to the empty room. “I was the headlining act. Then the kid arrived. Now I’m just a has-been comic working the backroom that takes out the trash and shuts off the lights after the last drunk leaves.” He pushed some clothes that were on the bed out of the way and decided to lie down to take a nap before tackling the work for the afternoon.
“Where did it all go wrong?” he asked as he tried to fall asleep.