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The Literary Girlfriend: Sickness and Health

April 7, 2014

LIterary Girlfriend: Grades

When I woke up one Sunday morning with flu-like symptoms, I didn’t want Daniella anywhere near me. I’d already had one bad experience with women and illness. A girlfriend in college had broken up with me because of my behavior when I’d been sick. I had warned her to stay away from me, but she’d insisted, and I’d said something unintentionally rude with snot dripping out of my nose, and the combination of rudeness and snot had driven her away. I didn’t want to drive Daniella away.

As soon as I felt the symptoms, headache/sore throat/coughing/congestion, I told Daniella that I was in no condition for a service and communion, so she went to church without me. After she returned, I still didn’t want her to take care of me, but she didn’t listen. She brought me soup and lots of tissue with a grocery bag to throw them into. She didn’t seem to care about the constant streams out of my nose or my loud coughing in the middle of the night or the constant turning in bed. I offered to sleep on the couch, and she refused to let me.

“That’s what we do,” she said. I knew the word “we” meant “soul mates,” but she knew I hated that term, so she didn’t use it anymore.

Dressed only in my Johnny Quest t-shirt, Daniella propped herself next to me and read as I griped and moaned. Sometimes it was poetry: Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, or Dorothy Parker. I even remember an Anne Sexton poem about Little Red Riding Hood that got kind of intense. She didn’t read any male poets, not even Walt Whitman (the whole “Leaves of Grass” stuff with President Clinton hadn’t happened yet).

When she got tired of poetry, Daniella went back to her trashy romance novel. As much of a germophobe as I was (and still am), she didn’t seem to worry about it.  Through my antihistamine-induced daze, I admired my angel of mercy as she devoured her library book. Then when she finished, she folded the corner of the page and closed the book.

“Hey!” I said, suddenly alert. “You’re not supposed to do that.”

“It’s just… a… book,” Daniella sing-songed.

“It’s not ours,” I said. I was too grouchy to sing-song with her.

“It’s just… a corner… of a page… of a book.”

I had no sense of humor. “What if everybody who read the book folded the page corner when they stopped reading? How could you tell which folded corner was yours?”

“It’s the one… still… folded down.” Then she added, “Duh!”

“But… but what if a bunch of other pages were still folded, or… or… if your folded page unfolded, then how could you tell?”

Daniella grinned at me, opened the book to the last page in the entire novel, a blank page, and ripped it out. Then she placed the torn page inside the trashy romance novel where she had stopped, and unfolded the corner.

“Happy?” She gave me a fake, wide, open-mouthed smile.

At that point, I knew I wasn’t going to win the argument, so I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.

I stayed home from work for a couple days, and Daniella took care of me.   This was a big deal, Daniella missing a couple nights of work, and she didn’t even say anything about it. The thing was, she never got sick. I expected her to start showing signs maybe by Tuesday or Wednesday, but no, Daniella didn’t get sick at all. It almost made me feel inadequate.

When I returned to work on Wednesday, a lot of my co-workers were behind (because they were used to me doing their jobs for them) and asking for help. I was in the middle of getting everybody straightened out in a monotone but thorough way when one of my bosses came lingering around my cubicle. He was almost elderly, balding, stooped a little bit, talked slowly, but he could fire people so nobody made snide comments about him. The three leeching co-workers around me turned silent and backed away from the boss as he pointed at me. At least, I thought he was pointing at me. When he stepped closer, I realized he was gesturing toward the picture of Daniella and me in my cubicle.

“It’s been bugging me for several days now,” he said slowly with authority. “That woman, she’s lovely.”

“Thank you,” I said. “That’s my girlfriend.”

“Lovely woman,” he continued. “I know… I know I know her from somewhere. It’s been bugging me.”

Uh oh, I thought. Without Daniella’s glasses, I realized too late, somebody who’d ever gone to Nero’s might recognize her. I should have thought of that! I never should have put that picture up.

My boss continued. “Then yesterday, I wanted to tell you, but you weren’t here, so I want to tell you now.”

Oh no, I thought.

Then my boss announced, “I remember where I know your girlfriend.”

It wasn’t that big of a deal, I tried to tell myself. If my boss knew that Daniella was a topless dancer, that meant he had gone to Nero’s and he was married, so he really wasn’t in position to judge, except he was my boss, and bosses were unpredictable. I probably wasn’t going to get fired for having a topless dancer girlfriend, but it would make for some interesting talk behind my back, which wasn’t necessarily bad. Having a topless dancer girlfriend would make me more interesting. Co-workers would still wonder about our physical mismatch, but I wouldn’t be so boring to them.

“She goes to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, doesn’t she? I’ve seen her there, I’m sure,” my boss said.

“You go to St. Luke’s?” I said, confused. I’d been to church with Daniella four Sundays in a row before I’d gotten sick, and I’d never seen my boss there. I didn’t even know my boss was Episcopalian.

My boss nodded slowly and thought. “The 8:00 service. When you get to my age, you have no reason to stay up late.”

That made sense. Daniella and I went to the 11:15. But then how did he recognize Daniella?

I pointed to the photograph. “Then how… where did you… when have you seen..?” The question wasn’t that complicated, but I still couldn’t get myself to ask it properly.

“Bible study on Thursday nights,” my boss said. “She’s almost a regular now. Very lovely young lady.”

Bible study? Daniella worked on Thursday nights, but she’d left early the last few weeks to pick up a friend/co-worker, that’s what she’d said. So Daniella went to Bible study before dancing topless. I probably looked befuddled, staring at my own picture and trying to think all this out. When I shook my head clear, I realized my boss hadn’t left.

“Does she talk much?” I asked. I couldn’t imagine her contributing much to a Bible class.

“Can’t get her to stop once the study’s over,” my boss said. “She says she’s waiting for her boyfriend to propose. I didn’t know that it was you.”

Co-workers raised their eyebrows at each other in varying degrees. From their point of view, my girlfriend wasn’t fake, which was good, and she wanted to get married, which made me look even better, but she was sneaking to Bible study behind my back, and I had no idea what that meant. Daniella was still talking about marriage, even though she said she had thought of a new plan and wouldn’t tell me what it was. Bible study and marriage talk, all behind my back. Did Daniella even know this guy was my boss?

This was a lot to think about, and the work day had just started.

*****

To be continued in… The Literary Girlfriend: The Lull .

If you want to read “The Literary Girlfriend” from the beginning, start here.

4 Comments
  1. Sneaking off to Bible study, that’s a new one. 🙂 I love what a complex character Daniella is.

  2. crepe permalink

    I definitely didn’t see attending Bible study coming. Interesting move.

  3. This is awesome, encapsulating! you have a great style of writing. I would love it if you could check out a short story I wrote called disparaged love. http://scottgurney95.wordpress.com/2014/04/05/disparaged-love/

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