In this installment of Love, Recorded, Cathreen’s itch subsides and Matt’s itch gets itchier.
Cathreen tries lotion, Vaseline, constant showers, coldness. The itch from the PUPPP is relentless. She leaves the covers off until she shivers, her fingers hovering over the rash. She asks me to help her, to do something to stop it. I am helpless.
I go to GNC and buy Grandpa’s Pine Tar Soap, which she reads online will help. I try not to move when I’m sleeping, which means I’m always half-awake. I try to keep her from scratching because I don’t want the spots to spread, then when she yells at me I scratch for her.
Of course we try the steroids. We try the Benadryl. We try the topical anesthetic.
Our landlords are moving to California. They are replacing our dishwasher, clearing the lead out of our windowsills. They are moving, packing things into boxes upstairs, shifting and stomping. All the noise is driving Cathreen crazy.
Bear watches the traffic from the window. We’ve moved our bed into the living room, to give the workers space in the back, so everything, the entire mess, is in one place. The litter boxes are in the kitchen.
When we forget to let in the light—Cathreen sleeps all day—Bear paws at the window until the shade slides upwards. Then he adjusts the height, stretching his paws up to pull it down slightly. He sits in the window and purrs.
“Genius,” Cathreen says. She calls her mother, and my mother, to tell them what he’s done. We hesitate to say we want our baby to be smart, since we want her to be healthy, but we want her to be smart. My mother talks about my sister’s dog, who opens the front door and waits for them in the yard.
I wonder why this doesn’t impress me.
Earlier in the week, we found out from Cathreen’s sister that one of our nephews is autistic. There’s been some suspicion for a while. He’s three but still talks nonsense. He doesn’t play well with others. Our other nephew protects him, calls him “baby,” though they’re the same age. Cathreen says that nephew knew something we didn’t.
It is good that the diagnosis is early, everyone says. They can help him. I wonder if he is not just a late bloomer. I didn’t speak well as a child. I could barely balance. I had to take balancing lessons. I had to repeat kindergarten.
Sometimes I wish I could repeat it again.
Finally, my dad and my brother come up and take Cathreen to Connecticut. My brother is fresh from a tour of Taiwan, and has decided to stay with my parents until the summer. Then, later this year, he will go back to Asia. Cathreen was right. Korea will get him, too. He asks me about teaching English.
All you need is to speak English, I tell him. At least in Korea.
The only difficult thing is the prejudice about being Korean—or rather, looking Korean—and teaching a Western language.
“I can help you,” Cathreen says. She helped me and I never left her.
What makes her absence unbearable is that she takes the cats with her. After she leaves, I have plans to get so much work done. That night, I am crippled by loneliness. I stare at my computer screen. I try to distract myself. Watch anything.
There aren’t even those littler bodies walking around purring, demanding.
Come back this weekend, I tell her. The weekend passes.
Her mother wants her to try Oriental medicine. Her mother calls and says she has an Oriental doctor on the other line, the best. Her mother says she will get whatever is prescribed and ship it to America.
So far, she has shipped baby clothes and baby anchovies.
“This is Rome,” Cathreen say when I ask her why she would choose steroids over the Eastern methods. She has the saying mixed up, but I know what she means. Countries have always been pushers of culture.
She takes the steroids, the Benadryl, applies the anesthetic. And when I call her at my parents’ house, she claims the rash is actually getting better. She says she likes it there. She sleeps better. She gets plenty of food. This sounds to me like accusation. I am lonely.
I am frustrated by writing, I tell her, when she asks why I am cranky. And I am. But it also her being in another house and enjoying it.
When I finally get a chance to visit her, it’s for a funeral. I feel bad that we never remembered to send thank you notes. Now I am carrying a coffin, a permanently closed mailbox.
The moment I stepped into the house, Cathreen showed me her stomach. It was true: the dots were mostly brown or even gone. Miracle of miracles. Modern science.
We will have extra ultrasounds now, to monitor the growth of the baby. She will come home for that. I am trying to finish a draft of something, so I tell her later is fine, I will be writing. I will see her on the weekend.
There is family everywhere, in black, with flowers. Family she’s never met before, talking about her belly.
There are mysteries around her, on her skin, inside of her.
When I get home, I miss her so much my dreams are full of itching.
––Photo Vik Nanda /Flickr