So you think you’re kind of popular, even though, at your age, it doesn’t really count any longer. People like being around you, you’re pretty sure. They laugh at your jokes. They think you’re smart. You’re socially acceptable, at any rate.
Until, all of a sudden, you’re not. You’ve become, sad to say, a pariah. You have a cold. Oh, gross.
People struggle to be polite. They look away when you blow your nose several times in a short conversation. They say “bless you” when you sneeze in rapid succession; sometimes, the sneezes come so fast, they sound like they’re stuttering. But it doesn’t matter. Given your pathetic condition and your germ-spraying aura, you’re grateful anybody’s still speaking to you. You say thank you and start to cough.
You never get colds. Well, hardly ever. In fact, it’s been years since you’ve had one. Decades, maybe. One of your companions (that would be your husband of almost 36 years) rather unhelpfully points out that you had a cold last year, which isn’t true. You get into an argument about who gets sick more, each accusing the other of being the weak sister.
You start to cough again, so you lose the argument. He gloats about how healthy he is. You plan to blow your nose in his direction the next time the occasion presents itself.
Do you really have a cold — or do you have allergies? This is a dilemma. A cold is a single, annoying event that can last for days. An allergy is a recurring problem, a pestilence, especially when you live in Austin, the allergy capital of the universe. Although a fascinating topic for cocktail parties, allergies are a major drag. Accordingly, you decide you must have a cold.
Your nose tingles and tickles. You spend half your life preparing for sneezes that don’t come, unprepared for sneezes that do. Formerly, you had the occasional delusion that you lived to create some kind of art. Ha! These days, you know what you live to create: mucus. You are, in fact, very good at this. Prolific.
Finally, you give up. You take to your bed. Your universe shrinks to a few square feet. Here, with your closest earthly companions (several wads of kleenex), you feel at home. You honk and you drip and you feel deeply sorry for yourself. Is it feed a cold and starve a fever — or the other way around? Whatever. You pull the covers up around your face. Grace under pressure, under extreme duress — that’s you, alone and stoic in this cold, cold world.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)