It was not my most charming habit, but after drinking a can of soda I would sometimes belch "I love you." Steph probably heard me belch "I love you" a hundred times, and it was never cute or charming or anything but disgusting, but she never complained about it. A couple of times she even belched "I love you" herself.
Well, I just drank a can of soda and without even thinking about it, I belched "I love you." Announced it to an empty room.
She complained about my snoring sometimes, because apparently I snore louder than fighter jets or locomotives, so she sometimes shooed me into the next room to sleep on the couch. Other than that, though, Steph hardly ever complained about anything I said or did. Which is weird, because I'm annoying. The vote is close to unanimous from everyone who's ever known me: I'm an annoying person, especially in person. Steph was with me, in person, for years and years and years, yet she almost never complained.
She also never had bad breath. Me, I have halitosis by default, and if I don't brush my teeth after lunch you'll smell whatever I ate on my breath hours later. But Steph could have seconds of liver and onions and her breath would still smell kissably sweet.
Also, her arm pits. Is this too personal to share? Steph was human, she sweated, and her sweat smelled. But even after our longest hikes, her arm pits at their worst had a rather pleasantly sweet and sour odor — certainly better than my pits when I'm an hour out of the shower and haven't exercised at all.
We're wandering toward the disgusting, so I'm wondering, do we need to talk about pooping?
Is this too personal to share? I've hemmed and hawed and hesitated, decided both ways and then reconsidered both decisions. Steph would be embarrassed to read this chapter, but I think she'd also agree that it's something that ought to be shared — it happens to lots of people but next to no-one is brave enough to talk about it. So let's be brave and talk about it, is what she'd say, I think.
Everybody poops, and near as I can figure from conversations with other old folks like myself, everybody loses control of their bowels once in a while, especially when they're old. Stephanie never had a chance to grow old, but she had several chronic health issues, and one of her occasional symptoms was needing to poop — needing it urgently, and sometimes with no warning. It wasn't a common thing, but it happened now and again, frequently enough that Steph had a term for it: "Abdominal distress." If she said "abdominal distress" when we were at a restaurant or at the movies, it meant she needed to get to the ladies' room pronto. If she said it while we were on the road, we'd look for a gas station or fast-food, anyplace with a public toilet. Urgently.
Well, one morning she said those words, "Abdominal distress!", while she was in our bed, and this was after she'd had a leg amputated, and she was using the wheelchair to get around.
So imagine that you really, really, really have to poop, and you're doing all you can to hold it in, and maybe you can hold it in for a few moments more — but while holding it in you also need to wriggle and lift your hips and rear, left, right, left, right, to scoot your body from bed to slideboard to wheelchair, and then you need to roll the wheelchair to the toilet, and then you need to again wriggle and lift your hips and rear and slide across to the throne. Understandably but unavoidably, there's going to be some poop-leakage during this process. Stephanie explained this to me in a panic and in far fewer words, as she started scooting from the bed to the wheelchair. I offered to carry her to the toilet.
"I don't think you want to do that. You'll get my poop all over you."
"I don't care and I don't mind. Do you want me to carry you?"
She looked at me and started crying. "Yes," she said, quietly.
I put my arms around her and lifted, and carried her from the bed to the toilet, setting her as gently as I could onto the porcelain seat. She'd left poop-leakage along the way, in the bed, on the floor, on the slideboard, on the wheelchair, and on me. She was crying, she was tremendously embarrassed, and I was cleaning up the mess and trying to say whatever I could think to say, to ease her awkwardness at the situation.
"I can't believe you're cleaning up my poop," she said. "This is so awful —"
"It's not awful, it's just poop. I've cleaned up my own poop for years, and poop is just poop. Don't worry about it."
I gave up on cleaning the sheets, and started changing the sheets instead. Steph was still crying.
"There goes the magic and mystery of our romance," she said. "How are you ever going to kiss me after cleaning my poop off everything?"
"Well, I'll show you how I'll kiss you," I said, but she held up her hand to say halt, so there were no kisses at that moment. I grabbed some moist towelettes and started wiping the floor and the wheelchair.
"I'm so ashamed," she said, "so mortified," and we continued in this manner — Steph aghast, me cleaning things up while telling her not to be embarrassed.
"Hey," I said. "Do you remember our drive up to Door County last summer?"
"Yeah," she said, "but what does that have to do with —"
"Just listen, and remember that I didn't tell you this then, and I didn't want to tell you this now." She looked at me, slowed her crying, and cocked her head a bit, curious.
"So we drove up to Door County, and we had breakfast at that funky diner. You had ham and eggs, and I had the chili omelet."
"Seems a little off-topic at the moment, but OK, I remember."
"A couple of hours later we were exploring in the woods. Do you remember the place? I was pushing you in the wheelchair on a sawdust trail in the middle of nowhere, a trail that went between and around a bunch of locked-up cabins. It was some kind of public park, maybe a campground, but it was abandoned and the restrooms were locked. Do you remember me checking the restroom door?"
"I think so."
"Locked. Locked tight. And do you remember a few minutes later, when I left you all alone on the trail? I said I'd seen a deer and I'd be right back, and I wandered into the woods."
"Yeah, I remember that. You were acting weird."
"Steph, it was the chili omelet. Something was wrong with the chili omelet and I had to poop. It hit me suddenly — just like this hit you suddenly — and I desperately had to poop and there was nowhere to poop, so I went off the train and into the woods and pooped behind a tree. And it was awful and my poop was wet, and some of it went down my pants, and there was nothing to wipe with, and I wondered if you could smell it on me as we got into the car."
"I didn't smell it. I never knew."
"You maybe remember that we stopped at the some fast-food place where I went into the men's room? Well, I used like half a roll of toilet paper cleaning myself and cleaning the inside of my pants and underpants, and I probably didn’t get it all. And I was terribly embarrassed and I never told you any of this, because I didn't want you to know."
"Well, I appreciate the story, and it does help a little. But you didn't spray poop all over everything."
"Only because I wasn't in a wheelchair. Cripes, honey, if I'd been in a wheelchair and needed to find a toilet and wriggle and squirm my way onto it, there would've been poop everywhere."
"So your point is …"
"My point is, if you hadn't been in a wheelchair, you would've simply hopped out of bed and pooped. I'd still be asleep, and you'd be asleep too because nothing would've happened except a quick poop. The only difference between your story and my story is that I have two legs, and you have only one, so I was able to sneak away quick and poop, and keep it a secret."
"Hmm," she said, pondering. "So your point is that pooping everywhere is part of the curse of being disabled?"
"Well, that's the meanest possible way to say it, but — yeah. If you weren't disabled, what happened just now would've been an ordinary and perfectly tidy poop. No mess, no panic, no embarrassment, and no clean-up. The mess only happened because you had a leg amputated. And that wasn't your fault, so my point is, neither is this."
"Thanks for telling your story, and it helps some. You're right, I guess. Before they cut off my leg, I would've just gotten up and gone to the bathroom."
"Not your fault you're in a wheelchair, so it's not your fault that this morning's poop was messy. Not. Your. Fault."
"I love you, Doug."
"I love you, Steph."
"But I'm still embarrassed."