I began to sniff and sneeze. Sometimes, I coughed. My husband said my voice sounded “weird.”
It was a cold, I decided. I made a halfhearted attempt to find Kleenex. Nothing doing, nada. We are not the kind of family who stocks Kleenex, although we usually have a fair supply of toilet paper. Fortunately, though, we do have lots of paper napkins in pastel colors.
It’s hard to maintain your dignity while you are constantly blowing your nose into a series of damp, lime-colored paper napkins, but I gave it my best shot. I am Scots-Irish, I am tough, I don’t whine more than is absolutely necessary. That’s what made this country great: People who don’t whine about colds.
The days pass, the humid lime-colored napkins are everywhere, clinging to the floor, to the bottom of my socks as I pad drearily from room to room. My husband, being a smart guy, leaves town for some talk in Ohio. When he departs, he is sniffling, too.
“You sound horrible,” my friend Melissa says when I postpone lunch.
“I have a cold,” I say.
“It doesn’t sound like a cold,” Melissa says. “It sounds like cedar fever. Everybody has cedar fever right now. You should be taking Allegra — ”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure. Get the time release capsules. Allegra! You got that?”
“Yeah,” I say.
I am nothing if not malleable when I’m sick. I rally to comb my hair, get dressed and drive to a pharmacy. I haven’t been out of the condo in three days. For someone with a cold or cedar fever, a virtual recluse with a lime paper napkin habit, a drugstore is a wondrous place. I am out in the world again!
I buy Allegra, after consulting with the young woman behind the counter. “You’re, like, the third person I’ve dealt with today with this problem,” she says. “You sound just like the rest of them.”
“How do I know if I have a cold or cedar fever?” I ask.
“Same difference,” she says.
I go home and start popping Allegra. I am always happier when I’m developing an expensive new drug habit. Every little capsule gives me a bit of hope.
“What do you mean you’re taking Allegra?” my friend Betsy wants to know when we take our weekly walk.
“I have cedar fever,” I say.
“You do not!” Betsy’s voice rises to a soft bellow. “You have lived here how many years — ”
“Sixteen — ”
” — sixteen years and you’ve never had cedar fever before! I’ve never heard you complain about cedar fever! You have a cold. That’s all. A cold!”
We continue our walk, swapping stories about politics and people we know and people we don’t know. We are both disgusted by Republicans; we always agree on that.
I pop Allegra, I move on to light-blue napkins, my husband comes back from Ohio. Two friends tell me that, since I’m not running a fever, I definitely do not have a cold. My husband says that diagnosis is swill. He says he’s felt much better since his trip. Maybe I should go to Ohio, too.
All this advice and this mucus make me philosophical. I recall that, when I was younger, I used to think pregnant women were weird. I didn’t understand, till I got pregnant myself, that this isn’t true. Pregnant women aren’t weird at all. It’s just that their pregnancy excites everybody else and makes everyone around them weird.
Similarly, getting a cold or cedar fever. Since I am Scots-Irish and I don’t complain, I am not weird or boring. It’s just that everyone around me is driving me crazy. Next time I get sick, I’m keeping it a secret.
(Copyright 2012 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite posts about the neti pot blues