Throat Afire

It never fails that when I need to be somewhere or do something especially important, I catch a virus. There was that time, after being unemployed for two years, that I was supposed to go to Census-taker training, but got Susanne’s stomach bug instead. I’ve given presentations with 100-degree fevers, and taken the SAT while the chicken pox was still scabbed all over my body. So nobody in my household was surprised when I finally caught Emile’s cold from last week, two days before flying out to LA for the Lambda Literary Foundation’s Emerging Writer’s Workshop.

At first it was just a tickle in my throat—maybe Wednesday afternoon or so. By Thursday night, in which I had go to my first board meeting as a new director for a former prisoner rehabilitation nonprofit, I was exhausted. It wasn’t as bad as that 2003 bout with mononucleosis (which kept me from driving to my sister’s house for Christmas that year, because timing is everything), but I felt weak and feverish. My throat emanated pain and itchiness. The back of my sinus cavity cranked up its production of disgustingness. I clammed my way through the meeting and then made conversation with some impromptu house guests who were spending the night with us. Please, I begged the anonymous virus, get out of here in the next 24 hours. I’ve got a big trip, okay?

Viruses, it turns out, don’t have ears. And they’re sod at telepathy, too. So Friday rolled around and my throat continued to roil, although maybe at a less intense dial number. I took an extra vitamin and chugged a cup of orange juice. Maybe the illness had peaked.

Friends inquired and send little internet missives of wellness to me, and I told myself I was overly attentive to a simple head cold. I chased Emile around the back yard, moving him away from a wasp’s nest, and getting him excited to collect all the sticks in the yard. For the record, there were eight sticks in the yard worth carrying around in toddler hands.

By Friday evening I felt roughly 79 percent my old self, but I was still wiped out. Well, I thought, I can sleep on the flight to Seattle and the long flight from SeaTac to LAX. And I will sleep well tonight.

Oh silly me. I tried to fall asleep from 10:15 until 1 in the morning, and after that I woke up every 40 minutes or so, wearily noting the green digits on the alarm clock. In my addled brain, I calculated the minutes until said clock would start beeping. Three hours. One hour and twenty minutes. Sixteen minutes. 4:45AM couldn’t sneak up on me because I never really fell into sleep. Then I was in the shower, fumbling through the motions of my usual morning routine, kissing my sweet son goodbye and hugging Susanne as the sun peeked over the Blue Mountains.

People trickled in through the door marked Departures, and I packed the perfect bag at 50.0 pounds. The Alaska Airlines employee seemed genuinely impressed when he said, “Nicely done!”

On the plane, I found my seat, stowed my briefcase overhead, and sat down. The man in the next seat had moved toward the middle in some weird attempt to block me. Between my ample ass and his space hogginess, it was a bit uncomfortable. We sat there a few minutes, in silence. And then he turned to me and said, “The row behind you is empty. Why don’t you move there?”


I wish I could write that I popped him in the face, or called him an asshole, or told him to move his bullshit ugly ass back there if he was so astounded by my size. Instead I stood up and told him if someone came on the plane to sit there, then I’d be back in this seat with my fat ass. It was something, and of course he didn’t acknowledge it, and I went ahead and thought awful things about him and his stupid South African accent, as if he were single-handedly responsible for apartheid. It was nice to have my own row, but oh, he was an annoyance after a week of annoyances.

That’s when it happened. After days of soreness, my throat gurgled, rumbling like an angry volcano the nearby residents had presumed was safe for the purposes of proximateness. I felt a cough coming.

I did not take the high road. I did not behave like an adult. I coughed in his general direction for the next 35 minutes, and honestly, I don’t really feel guilty about it. Call it cough-kismet.


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Categories: Travel


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