Only a complete troll would abandon a loved one who had cancer or who needed one of your kidneys, but it takes a strong commitment to pass the Kleenex to the woman who just sneezed on you. Show me someone who can patiently listen to you complain about an ingrown toenail, and I’ll show you someone who loves you.
I’m not a good patient. I hate to waste a day off just to lie in bed and pop an aspirin every four hours. I have a hard time remembering to take the full dose of antibiotics, so I have a medicine cabinet full of orphaned pills rattling around in their little amber bottles.
Recently I gave in and scheduled the dental implant surgery I’ve been putting off for twenty years. My periodontist, a sincere young man who looks like he just stepped off the set of a family sitcom, described the first procedure, a bone graft, in horrific detail.
“Aha!” I thought, “This will be the perfect romantic date!” I volunteered my fiance, Andrew, to accompany me to the dental college for the surgery. They gave me two little blue Halcion before knocking me out. The last thing I remember is wilting across Andrew’s shoulder while we sat on the plastic chairs in the waiting room.
I gradually floated back to earth to find myself on the couch in our living room while Andrew stood in the kitchen and steeped a tea bag to place on my gums. Over the next few days my diet consisted of chalky pain pills, blended soups, and an antibiotic the size of a small grape. For dessert I swirled a mouthwash that tasted like something that would be used to exterminate wasps. I spent most of my time reclined in a chair in front of the television, with an ice pack of frozen peas pressed to my jaw.
By the end of the third day Andrew had clocked two or three miles jogging back and forth from the kitchen as he changed out my ice pack. Meanwhile I grew to hate the sound of the blender. It hurt to talk, so I resorted to growling at Andrew every time I heard the telltale crinkle that meant he was trying to sneak a handful of hard, delicious, crunchy chips. I began to fantasize about mashed potatoes, the one thing I thought I could manage to swallow with very little chewing.
“Look here!” I pointed to my phone screen, where I had pulled up the menu of a diner near our home. Andrew is a good sport, and instead of arguing whether or not I was ready for solid food, he picked up the car keys and got my jacket for me.
We were walking into the restaurant when I remembered the fading green and purple bruise on the side of my face. The hostess was an older woman with hair dyed margarine yellow. She was wearing jeans and sensible orthopedic shoes. She looked like the sort of sturdy, reliable woman you’d want on your side if you needed to escape a lover who’d turned out to have a short temper.
“Table for two?” she asked as she picked up a couple of menus from the stack by the door.
Andrew was busy glancing at his phone, leaving me to cover my cheek with my hand and pretend to scratch my ear as I mumbled “Uh huh.”
The woman who took our order could have been cast specifically for the role of tired, middle aged waitress. She had frizzy greying hair pulled back in a loose pony tail with a pencil skewered through it. I carefully sat at the booth with my bruised face toward the wall. Andrew ordered the all-day breakfast special with scrambled eggs and buttermilk biscuits, while I requested a side order of mashed potatoes and gravy. I imagined how wonderful the potatoes would taste. Hopefully they would have a generous amount of artery clogging butter, and be drowned in cream gravy so thick it resembled pudding.
When our food arrived I was dismayed to see that the potatoes came, not with the delicious smooth cream gravy in my food dreams, but instead the bowl was awash with a slimy coating of watery, lumpy brown gravy.
“How are your taters?” Andrew asked as he forked up a mouthful of his scrambled eggs. The eggs were runny, which he hates, but he kept eating them without complaint.
I stirred the ugly motor oil colored gravy into my potatoes as I answered, “They’re okay.” I didn’t mention that brown gravy should only be served with potatoes north of the Mason Dixon line.
When we got back to our apartment I took a pain pill and rinsed the taste of the brown gravy from my mouth with the antiseptic, wasp killing mouthwash. My jaw hurt from chewing the potatoes, so I tried my best to send a silent, telepathic “I love you” to Andrew. I reached over to where he was stretched out on the couch beside me, and gave his shoulder a little pat. He sighed, and without saying anything, got up to shuffle into the kitchen. He came back with my bag of frozen peas, which I gratefully accepted, certain that he understood.