Books saved my life that week.
While Michael was in town Sunday morning filling my prescriptions, I tottered geriatrically from the bed where I’d sweated my way through the night into the sun-drenched living room.
The sight of the sparkling ocean through the French doors elevated my mood slightly, but I still felt achy and light-headed and angry with my body for betraying me at the start of our long-anticipated vacation.
I was in a sulk.
And then I saw the bookcase.
At first I expected the usual vacation house dreck—fat, pulpy paperbacks caked with sunblock and sand. But these shelves offered much more. Clearly there was a reader of discernment in the general vicinity—whether the owner, the property manager, or just a lucky confluence of previous guests, it was impossible to say. Whatever the source, the result was a gold mine.
I had always been a hungry reader, prone to losing myself completely between the covers of any half well-written book. This little collection promised un-hoped for release from my damp misery.
By the time Michael got back from the pharmacy I was so engrossed in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop I’d almost forgotten I was sick. Between chapters I’d even found the strength to drag myself into the bathroom and wash my face. Now I was draped across a chaise with a glass of orange juice at my side and a light blanket thrown across my knees to keep the shivers at bay.
Michael swung around the corner sweaty but triumphant. “They opened at eleven, just like the doctor told us,” he said, panting slightly “but what he didn’t tell us was that there would be about twenty people waiting in line. It had a slight whiff of Stalingrad about it, but everyone was very pleasant and here I am.”
He dug the bottles of pills out of the paper bag he was holding and lined them up across the rickety table at my side. “This is your antibiotic. This is for your lungs. And I’m not sure what this one is, but it looks fierce. I might try a couple of those myself.” He hurried inside for a glass of water, clearly as anxious as I was to let the healing begin.
Pills duly ingested, I still felt wretched. Michael hovered empathetically, doing his best to be helpful, but there wasn’t much to do. I simply had to sweat it out, literally and otherwise.
“Come on,” Michael said around four that afternoon, jolting me out of my reverie. “We’re going to the beach. You need some exercise.”
I looked at him in disbelief. “You must be kidding.” In my present condition the act of dragging my aching bones the thirty feet separating me from the bathroom was the equivalent of running a marathon. Frankly, the most energetic thing I had on my itinerary before bedtime was swallowing my last round of pills and coughing up an ounce or two of lung tissue.
“I’m not kidding,” he said, his voice dead level. “Let’s go.”
Okay, that’s one of the things about Michael. In general, he’s a loving, thoughtful and all-around great partner, but inexplicably he believes that movement, under any and all circumstances, trumps indolence. Even in cases of illness.
I well remember the day he insisted we go for a bike ride a few hours after I’d had a colonoscopy. When I questioned the wisdom of parking my backside on a hard, narrow bike seat shortly after having a five-foot tube poked up my butt, he brushed aside my concerns with a wave of the hand. And of course, blessed with the will-power of a new-born kitten, I acquiesced.
As I lay there shivering under my summer blanket, I could tell from his expression that he meant business this time too, not because he was uncaring but because he honestly believed that rousing me from my death bed “would do me good.”
Clearly, resistance was futile.
Off we went.