I grew up in Alice Springs, which is a remote and dry part of Australia. It’s classified as desert. A dry riverbed known as ‘Todd River’ runs through the township. They built a road through the riverbed, because it flows so infrequently that it rarely causes a problem. The locals have a saying that goes along the lines of ‘If you’ve seen The Todd flow three times then you’re considered a local’. The idea is that it happens so rarely that to have seen it flow that many times you would have to have lived there for years.
I have recently developed my own similar theory with marriage. It isn’t particularly romantic, it’s an 8/10 on the gross factor scale and also not legally recognised. It’s so brilliant that I would petition the government to change the marriage laws to include it,(seriously, it’s got some genius level underpinnings and theories behind it) but I’ve been signing petitions about that stuff for years and haven’t heard back from them so far.
Here is my law for automatic marriage: If you’ve had Gastro three times in one relationship you are automatically married if you so wish. It’s that simple. It is a law that applies to all consenting adult relationships, whether they be gay or straight because I’m not a fan of discrimination.
You don’t need to provide any documentation or verification of illness or infection to obtain your marriage license. Unlike that time we had to get a pharmacist to witness us make a declaration that we were in a ‘significant relationship’ (whatever the hell they mean by that) when we filled out the paperwork to both be on our daughter’s birth certificate. Pretty sure two people don’t need to be in a significant relationship relationship to make a baby, but here is our letter from our fertility clinic confirming we knew each other at the time of conception and she was not conceived during a one night stand for your records anyway. I’ll just take your word for it that the Gastro happened and not make you relive it, or spell out those sorts of personal details to a stranger. I imagine that feels quite intrusive.
Speaking of personal details, for all who would rather not continue to read about my family’s recent infection with a stomach bug cease reading now. I won’t provide you with any actual pictures of that time, but I will paint you a lovely little word picture you will see in your mind that probably won’t go away. I’m sorry, I get traumatised each time I get Gastro/food poisoning and the events haunt me in vivid detail for years after. Writing is my therapy and I need to move through it, OK? So just bear with me if you’ve come this far, yeah? I promise I will find some deep and meaningful way to tie in everything at the end.
And So It Begins
Our Toddlerbeast got sick first. As a chronic germaphobe and anxiety sufferer, I had literally been visualising and dreading the coming events since sometime during my pregnancy. Actually probably years before that even. She is teething so the first vomit after we put her down to bed we thought could have been from her thrusting her hands down her throat because of the pain and triggering her gag reflex. A couple of vomits later I started to suspect it was the dreaded Gastro. We had trouble diagnosing it because she was just so damn happy in between all the vomiting. Singing, poking our noses, screaming with delight and pointing at the ducks and bear pictures on her wall, trying to play with her toys. Who is that bloody cheerful when they have Gastro? Toddlerbeast, that’s who.
Though we were heartened by her apparent Gastro induced euphoria, it’s still a pretty shitty (yes I went there with the Gastro puns already, sorry puns are also part of my therapy and healing process needed to move through the experience) feeling to realise your child has Gastro. All the terrifying statistics and information you’ve previously read on the internet about small children being most at risk of hospitalisation rush to mind. Quickly followed by that one story your health nurse told you about a mother whose child got Gastro and ended up having a stroke and going blind because of complications from it.
Aside from the terrifying worst case scenario unplaying in your head, you also need to deal with the practical nature of Gastro. A Toddlerbeast covered in vomit that smells like aged Parmesan cheese. Not cheap Coles brand Parmesan, the stuff they serve freshly grated at restaurants and have waiters serve because presumably it is expensive and they want to discourage over use. The cheese guarded preciously like it was made of gold, then very slowly added to your meal as they say ‘tell me when’. You say ‘when’ way too soon because you’re embarrassed to share with the general public just how much you love cheese.
That’s just the situation with the kid. The bed full of vomit. The walls also covered in vomit because she has impressive expulsion skills for someone who barely weighs 12kgs. Without even speaking we both leap into action. You hand me the stinky vomit covered kid and start stripping off the bed, as I strip off the cheesy pj’s and sleeping bag and clean her up. This continues over and over as the night progresses, switching roles with me sometimes wiping down the walls and changing the sheets, as you tend to what has now become the reason we never want to eat lasagna (what she had for dinner) ever again.
With each new wake up we get more and more concerned. I’m worried and your worried, but we try and keep ourselves calm and put on a brave face for the other. Each of us knows that we are both afraid and overwhelmed and panicking on the inside, and probably both thinking about those hospital statistics and that scary story from our health nurse (do those people ever give you information that doesn’t scare the tits off you?!) about the kid that got Rotorvirus and had a stroke.
Toddlerbeast stops vomiting. You get sick the next day on what should have been our date night. The one you planned for us and bought tickets for three months ago. I tell you you’re not gross when you ask, even though we both know that everyone with Gastro is gross. I tell you not to feel bad and that you haven’t ruined our date night, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be than with you, and I even mean it. I make an emergency dash to the shops and spend a small fortune on everything I think might help. I also stop by Kmart and buy you a stuffed toy monkey to cuddle. We name him Gastro Monkey.
I dodge the Gastro bullet for so long that we both start to think maybe I’ve escaped it, but it was just picking its moment as Gastro likes to do. Like that other time I had food poisoning (which also counts towards our overall quota for automatic marriage in my system, as it has the same symptoms) when we had to catch a flight home and I got sick as we got to check in. I was in the bathroom vomiting so violently that it caused people attempting to enter to turn around and run in the opposite direction while uttering ‘fuck no’ under their breath.* We decided that I could not endure the 1 hour flight home. You reassured me that forfeiting the tickets and paying for an overpriced motel near the airport really wasn’t that big a deal, even though it was.
The Gastro strikes me the morning of an important day of work for you. Big important, don’t take a sick day kind of important. The vomiting comes on so strongly that I have to say inside my head between each heave ‘it’s ok, you’re not dying’. Then during the heaving stage where I can’t breathe and I am choking on my own bile my brain screams at me ‘YOU ARE CHOKING, YOU CAN’T BREATHE, OH GOD IT HURTS EVERY WHERE, YOU ARE DYING! ALSO, DIE MORE QUIETLY SO YOU DON’T WAKE THE BABY!’. Eventually the vomiting stops but I can’t move without fearing it will return. Fuck, I can’t even look at my phone without feeling like I’ll puke. You stay home that day and take care of the kid and look after me too. You do your best to mask the worry and stress in your voice when I ask about your missing work.
It Finally Ends
Eventually it ends and we are left talking about the state of our own poos as well as the usual toddler poop discussions.
From what I can tell marriage seems to be about picking the person you want to have next to you while you go through life. It’s easy to focus on the fun stuff you want to do and experience with someone. I know all the fun stuff we have done together is great. It’s easy to pick someone to spend the good times with. Picking someone you want by your side for the bad times, the scary times, the boring and mundane times, and the disgusting times should be done with great thought and care.
I don’t know one other person on this earth I would rather have next to me trying (and failing) to keep my hair from falling in the vomit bucket as I puke, and reassuring me that I’m not going to die (after Googling it just to be sure). There is no one else I would rather have help me juggle a puke soaked toddler while cleaning vomit off the walls and out of bed linen. No one else I’d rather spend a date night with, even if it is spent in a house that smells like shit and disease. No one else I’d rather be scared with, no one else I’d rather be completely and utterly putrid in front of.
The first time I ever knew I loved you my head lay in your lap, as we sat on the floor of an airport gate lounge waiting to board a flight. You stroked my hair gently, told me I would be OK, and passed me some Gatorade.
I think you can find someone to share the good times with in a matter of days, but it takes years to know if they are the sort of person you want around when you are simultaneously vomiting and shitting yourself. You can see now, why the Three Gastro Infections Automatic Marriage Rule is genius right? Imagine how many unsuited marriages could be avoided if couples were A) Together long enough that they had been infected with Gastro three times and B) Had thoroughly tested and confirmed that their spouse was really the person they wanted around during the hard times.
Surviving Gastro three times or more with someone and not walking away is pretty much the definition of a significant relationship if you ask me.
And they all lived happily ever after, never to be infected with the dreaded Gastro bug again. Lol j/k everyone knows that toddlers are festering pits of disease who can’t keep their germy bodily fluids to themselves.
* Not an exaggeration, real life events retold as they happened. I put The Exorcist to shame with my demonic vomit sounds. At least one lady ran screaming from the scene.