Degrees of Sickness
Once upon a time, I was a master at feigning illness. I pulled the stunt so
many times that doctors wanted to name the disease after me. In fact, I started
to grow a conscience and tell my mom that I was "soooo sick...", then finish the sentence in my head: of school. That was enough to appease the guilt. Self-delusion has always come naturally to me.
The only thing about faking infirmity is that the more you do it, the harder it is to pull off. By age 10, I was researching symptoms of viruses that I couldn't even pronounce. I grew so desperate for "proof of illness" that one day I resorted to searching the pantry for counterfeit vomit, some piece of empirical evidence that my mom couldn't dispute. I found what I was looking for in a can of Campbell's extra chunky zucchini and tomato soup.
While my mom primped herself for work, wondering why she ever had children, I poured the soup in and around the toilet, then began to heave violently.
She materialized moments later and immediately took pity on her poor son. Voilá. Freedom from schoolitentiary.
Those golden days came to a screeching halt one morning when I finally took things too far. I probably shouldn't have played sick on consecutive weeks, but so many other kids were out, and I didn't think it fair for me to be punished for my well-being. I had already exhausted the symptoms of influenza, strep throat, and appendicitis -- not to mention whatever caused the zucchini soup -- so I returned to the basics and heated up the ol' thermometer.
It used to be that my mom shoved that chilly pole into my netherparts like I was a Thanksgiving turkey, but she later changed her ways when I told her that she was violating my human rights. She didn't question me for fear of hearing my answer. So it goes.
On the aforementioned morn, Mom handed me the thermometer and left the room, bestowing more trust in me than she should have. In return for her confidence, I walked the thermometer over to my bedside lamp and heated it up. After 20 seconds, I had a temperature of 99 degrees. No, that wouldn't do. My mom would call me a sissy, and I would have to agree. I returned the thermometer to the light bulb. Ten seconds later, my temperature was 101. Better. But if I could just slip into that zone where I get two days off and still not have to visit the doctor...
I placed the thermometer back under the light and heard an unfamiliar POP!
Oh, no. No. Huh-uh.
I looked at the thermometer and sure enough, I had busted the mercury. My temperature had literally gone through the roof. How could I explain that? I flipped through my research books for a precedent. Not a chance. Typhoid fever couldn't break a thermometer. I heard my mom returning to my room for a reading. I began to moan in a slow crescendo like I was giving birth. To a truck.
By the time she entered, I was writhing in bed and muttering unintelligibly. My mom held me by the shoulders and asked for the thermometer. I couldn't respond. I was dying, after all. She spotted the thermometer on the floor and looked for the reading. Slowly but surely, it began to sink in. I groaned more desperately still. It was not looking good.
"You get out of that bed right now, young man. I don't appreciate being lied to, and I certainly don't appreciate being frightened like that. What a horrible thing to do..."
So my career in daytime cartoon watching came to an end. From then on, if I woke up missing an arm, my mom would suspect mirrors and ketchup. It became easier to go to school than try to convince her that I was ill. My life has normalized, and I get sick as much as the next guy. I have, however, retained my aversion for zucchini and tomato soup.