As far as I know, it started on November 16, 2003. It may have happened earlier (probably had, in fact), but the sixteenth of November Oh-Three is the day I'll remember as when my problems began. They got worse -- a lot worse -- in the days and months that would follow, but even then things were pretty bad.
I got up at my usual time. I used to religiously set my alarm clock for seven AM every night before retiring, and unless I was dead tired I never failed to wake up at least five minutes before it sounded. GOOD MORNING! the clock would insanely chirp on days I failed to wake up before it bleated its annoying call; Fuck, I'd answer instinctively, too tired to be mindful not to wake my sleeping wife, who'd punch me in the shoulder reproachfully before turning over and falling back asleep on the mornings I did wake her. That was when I had a wife. I still wear my wedding ring, but it's been nearly four years since we divorced. Because of my problems, you see.
The clock's glow-in-the-dark face read ten to seven. That time of year, I should have been able to see what time it was without the luminescence, so I supposed rain (or possibly snow; the temperature had been hovering at just above freezing for the past couple of days) was the temps du jour. I got into the flannel pajama bottoms I'd somehow emancipated myself from overnight, and, in spite of myself, gave a great, loud yawn, the kind of yawn my grandfather used to give when he sat down to breakfast after a night of watching baseball and plowing through half a case of Coors.
My first thought was, I shouldn't feel so damn tired. I'd fallen asleep shortly after making love to Ellen, and it couldn't have been past midnight. I knew this because we'd turned off the television just as Letterman started into his opening monologue, just after I'd come inside of my bride of six months.
But my languor that morning was nothing compared to the awful churning in my gut. After going downstairs and putting on a pot, I unplugged the Braun coffee maker my cousin Tamara had given us as a wedding present when I felt my bowels tighten wretchedly. My teeth hurt, too, and my mouth tasted of metal. I also felt nauseous. What'll it be, Door No. 1 or Door No. 2? I thought. Because I had (key word: had) an acute fear of vomiting -- known medically as emetophobia -- I prayed for Door No. 2.
My prayer was, unmercifully, answered.
I felt my colon tighten to block what felt like a tidal wave of diarrhea. My spine as straight as an arrow, I ran into the first-floor bathroom and dropped trou without bothering to close the door. Another cramp hit me and rang like an abject tuning fork within my intestines, and that's when the proverbial levee broke, testing the small bathroom's white ceramic-paneled walls' acoustics with a symphony of bodily sounds even I'm too shy to translate into onomatopoeia.
Five minutes sitting on the bowl turned to ten, then twenty. My abdomen screamed, and I was wracked by cold shivers. As a third-year med school student, I certainly knew what gastroenteritis was, but until then I had never come face to face with that evil harpy's long claw. Sweating profusely in spite of my shivers, I was sure that's what it was. What else could it be?
I was soon to find out.
Ellen, perhaps stirred from her slumber by my anal jam session, came downstairs and gasped louder than I'd ever heard her do before. The bathroom door open, I knew by her footsteps that she was in the dining room, which directly faced the stair bottom; but I had no idea the source of her astonishment.
"Blake," she said dully, as though she were reading my name on a theater playbill. "Oh, Blake."
Soon after, I heard her walk into the hallway, and even though I knew how foolish I would look when she saw me with my pajama bottoms around my ankles, the bathroom door open, and the fetid smell strong enough to poleax a Spartan phalanx in one fell swoop, I was in too much discomfort to care. This, honey, was what Reverend Thompkins meant when he said "in sickness and in health." "Take It or Leave It" by The Strokes played in the cruelly associative part of my brain.
"God, Blake, what happened?" Ellen said. Her hair was a mess and her face was pale, but opposite her shitcan-bound husband she looked positively angelic.
"Dunno," I tried, and then a staccato fart escaped me. "Stomach flu, I guess." I had explored nearly every conceivable part of this woman's body with hand and finger, tongue and penis, but still I blushed. Here was a road neither of us had been down, and from her expression of uncomfortable shock, I ventured it was one we were unprepared for and, likely, always would be.
"Blake, the turkey."
Turkey? Was she calling me names? The look of bewildered horror on her face indicated she wasn't, but I had no idea what she meant. It was as though she was speaking a foreign language. I wouldn't have been more nonplussed had she said, Blake, driftwood back spasm golf swing; and again, in spite of myself -- Everything this morning is in spite of myself, I simultaneously thought -- I grinned, imagining Ellen as a beat poet.
I hate to say it, but that image never fails to elicit a similar smirk. Whenever I think about Ellen, the good times we had come first (Coney Island on Christmas Day, throwing snowballs at each other and laughing like jackals), then fading memories of torrid sex (how her thighs practically suffocated me during cunnilingus), then her words that day. But on November 16, 2003, it was no laughing matter. This was clear enough when the stark reality of those words finally made sense.
"Close the door, El. I'll finish up and be out in a sec," I said, although the fire coursing through my body's lower half had no such plans; wanted, in fact, to keep this party rolling, maybe forever.
After Ellen closed the door I wiped until my rectum bled -- or so I thought; for the blood, I later discovered, came from further within -- and pulled up my pajama bottoms. Wiping sweat from my forehead with the back of my hand and the sweat on my chest with my palm, I opened the bathroom door with a nervous tremble that ran from head to foot and accentuated itself, like a cymbal rush, in my fingers and toes.
I found Ellen in the dining room. She was sitting in the chair closest to the bay window, holding her head in her hands and looking like the weight was going to topple her to the floor like a reverse Weeble. In front of her and to my right, on the table, was a half-eaten, half-frozen twenty-five-pound Butterball turkey, its juices staining the dining room tablecloth like an ink blot on paper in slow motion, its plastic wrapping torn open in a volcanic shape and pooling water at its base. Ellen and I had purchased the bird the Sunday prior; she was going to cook it on Thanksgiving at our place, her two aunts, their husbands, and the eleven children all four respectively parented in attendance; but if that was still the plan (and I knew then it probably wasn't), another turkey would have be purchased to take its half-devoured cousin's place. This turkey's goose, as it were, was cooked.
"Blake, what happened?" Ellen asked me, raising her face and wiping tears from her cheeks. "I just don't get it."
Neither did I. But I had a suspicion, and it wasn't good. If my border collie, Truman, hadn't died from heartworm two weeks after El and I moved into our new place on Lipton Road (what a great view of the lake it had), maybe I could have pegged him as the culprit, even though that would have been ridiculous, what with dogs lacking opposable thumbs and all. But Truman was dead and buried; and even if he wasn't, can a dog eat half a frozen turkey? Maybe. I didn't think so, but maybe. But there would have been a mess. A big one.
This, I realized as my bowels creaked and whined again for eruption, was of my own doing. Somehow, impossibly, I had gotten up in the night, crept downstairs, wrestled the prodigious bird from its cold tomb in our freezer's bottom drawer, and gone to town. That would explain my stomach ailment perfectly, and my sore teeth, the only question being how I avoided to leave any evidence on my person.
But for that I had an answer, albeit a damning one. My pajama top was slung over the dining room's head chair, the chair's back touching the table so closely a thread of dental floss couldn't slide between the two. The table itself was askew, its cloth drooping noticeably on the right side. As though someone had leaped upon it.
So, I guessed as the numb memory of my ravenous orgy rang in chorus, I sat naked on the dining room table, eating a frozen turkey like a kid bobbing for apples.
That made more sense than anything, and when I rushed upstairs to weigh myself on the bedroom bathroom's scale, leaving Ellen in utter disbelief and further shock in the dining room, it made even more.
Because I had gained thirteen pounds overnight.
This, I think I've mentioned, was the start of my problems.