I was due to meet up with friends in Montrose, a small town on the outskirts of Los Angeles when a slight headache registered in the back of my head accompanied by an onslaught of the sniffles. Hmm. Should I stay home? Nah, I wasn’t really sick, was I? Besides, I was already dressed in my festive holiday garb with my leopard print Santa hat to match. I applied bright red lipstick to frame my hopeful smile and got in the car.
I wasn’t about to miss our annual celebration in this sweet little town that made the holidays feel like something tangible, magical, and less lonely for a single woman flirting with a midlife crisis. Boutique shops painted their windows with cheery holiday messages. Cider was served. Frosty, buttery cookies were set out in lacy paper cups. Horse-drawn carriages paraded up and down the street carrying happy people singing Christmas carols.
I was one of those happy people. I felt just fine!
I rarely, if ever, catch the flu. I do watch the dystopian-style news coverage with interest, however, carefully monitoring the latest CDC findings and warnings. Once I have the latest stats, I call up friends and ask them if they’re getting the flu shot. No matter what their answer is, I explain how it’s all a conspiracy where fear mongers donned in white coats convince the population they’re going to die and then suddenly every drug store in town is offering free flu shots.
We’re all just fine, I tell them.
When my friend moved in for a hug, I instinctively put up the don’t-hit-your-head-on-the-dashboard- hand. “Don’t touch me,” I warned. “I might be coming down with something. It’s just the sniffles. I feel fine – but just in case.”
She stepped back and gathered her children to her side. There was a contagion in their midst. The kind of contagion that ruins a perfectly good holiday.
There was a Farmer’s Market going on that day. Shiny trinkets and homemade candles and tasty frosted treats and beef jerky made from organic beef all waited proudly for my patronage. I was drawn to some glistening mangos piled high in their stand. Such a lovely shade of orange, I thought. I picked one up and smelled it with my runny nose. I held it in my hands, squeezing it, rubbing it like a genie lamp. “How do you know if a mango is ripe?” I asked its owner. I don’t remember what the answer was. I became distracted by some supersized zucchinis next door. “I’ll circle back,” I said and returned the mango to its pile.
Later, at lunch, I ordered a Bloody Mary. “Wow, is this spicy!” I remarked, as my sinuses began to drain all over my napkin. I asked the server for more napkins. Twice. The mother and her children looked on nervously. I brought up the flu shot conspiracy again, but everyone was talking about something more positive. I started coughing.
“There must be a lot of pepper in this thing,” I mused. I smiled through watery eyes. I adore the holidays, I thought. I love these people. I love everyone. My face felt hot. Was I delirious?
Maybe it was time to go. “No hugs for me” I sang on the way out. “Just in case!”
When I arrived home, it was clear something was very wrong. A mere six hours had passed since that first dull headache. Now, I could barely walk up the six stairs into my building. In the elevator, I leaned against the wall. I took off my leopard print Santa hat and patted my face as the actors do in old Western movies when someone has fallen gravely ill. As the patient clings to life, the caretaker yells, “Get me some water and a clean cloth! Quickly!” As the patient knocks on death’s door, the caretaker pats their face ever so gently and in a few hours, they wake up…and they feel just fine.
I donned my favorite jammies and marveled at how cruel the body can be. How fast it can turn on you. How lonely the holidays are. Everything hurt! This was simply ridiculous! They ought to find a cure for this nonsense, I thought. A vaccine of some sort.
As I drifted to sleep with a thermometer in my mouth, lips still lined in red lipstick, I thought of that lovely mango at the Farmer’s Market and whispered an apology to the good people of Montrose.
Katie Love is a writer, comedian, and the author of the novel, “Cubicide," and the forthcoming memoir, “Two Tickets to Paradise," a comedy-tragedy about growing up Jehovah’s Witness, losing religion, and finding the truth. She has written for the Los Angeles Times, Yahoo News, and the San Francisco Chronicle. She is the creator, writer, and producer of the live comedy talk show, “The Katie LoveShow." Katie resides in Los Angeles with a 20lb cat and no regrets. She is represented by Peter Steinberg of Foundry Media.