The night after the TaeKwonDo tournament, Mina awoke at midnight, jumped down from her top bunk and ran to the toilet to puke her little brains out. I had, in that same exact second, just lay my head down to sleep when I heard her little scampering feet and then the retching, which is one of the sweetly saddest sounds known to a mami's ears. My eyes sprung open after just closing them, and I knew I was in for a long one. I ran to the bathroom to see her little thirty-eight pound body leaning over the toilet, hands on knees. Her tiny, tone legs sticking out of flowered undies. Everything else under her draping long hair. "Oh mami," I said, and I swept her hair back and held my palm to her brow. She puked again. She must have gotten a bug from the tournament. After the last tournament, Maya had come down with almost the exact same thing. I guess a packed, stagnant gym of all-aged children and their parents is just one big carrier of the stomach bug. Next time, we may have the girls compete in SARS masks.
The most remarkable thing about Mina and her stomach flu was the utter lack of complaining, whining, whimpering. Nothing. She puked, wiped her mouth with industrial efficiency, rinsed and climbed back up the bunk to bury herself in blankets. "Do you want a bowl up here, baby? Just in case?" I asked her. She said, "I can make it." She kissed me and went right back to sleep. Twenty minutes later this scene repeated itself exactly as before. Husband was up by the third round. I tried to let him take the reins, but I couldn't pretend to catch some sleep as I listened to her sickness. I walked into the bathroom. Husband was holding her hair, and he said, "She's exactly like you. She's an ox."
I'm not a complainer. I was even less of one when I was a kid. Especially if something was really wrong. But I differ from Mina because if we have the same suck-it-up gene, she demonstrates it out of confidence that there is a safety net waiting if things were to go really badly. As a kid, when I was sick or hurt, I sucked it up out of bewilderment and fear. If I didn't know how to fix it myself immediately, I retreated far into myself.
In second grade, my class played a game of freeze tag where we had to unfreeze players by scurring through their legs. As I jammed head-up through a kid's legs, another boy barreled through head down in the opposite direction. We collided violently. I was knocked back a few feet on by butt; spots blurred my vision. I got up without a cry or a word and walked quickly to the bathrooms clear across the playground. I looked in the mirror and saw that the right side of my forehead had swelled to a large golf ball, and both eyes look bruised and bloodshot. Dizzy, I just huddled in the corner of a stall and said nothing until a teacher found me and pulled me out. I was sent to the hospital with a bad concussion. I have a ton of stories like that. Bloodied noses in fender-benders that I pretended I didn't have as I wiped furiously at my face and looked the other way. Getting punched and kicked and acting like I didn't. I even got sniped one time with a b.b. gun as I stood alone on a busy west L.A. intersection. I was fourteen and when I felt the sharp TTHHWAP! hit my leg, I thought someone had thrown something sharp at me; I didn't know what had happened. I didn't look at my leg at all. I just looked around to see who had done it. I limped four blocks to the market, where I was heading, before I allowed myself to look at my leg in the store bathroom. There was a clear-cut round hole in my sweats and when I lifted the pant leg, a metal ball unlodged itself from my thigh and rolled behind the trash. I washed the bleeding hole and ignored the swelling and the huge bruise that lasted over a month. I still have a perfectly round white scar on my leg.
In my early twenties I saw David Lynch's movie Wild at Heart in the theater. I don't remember being terribly impressed, but I remember most clearly and frighteningly the scene where the girl had been in a car wreck. She was standing on the side of the road, bleeding from her head, and all she kept saying was, "Oh, I just need to put on my lipstick. I'm fine. Where's my lipstick?" She frantically rummaged around in her purse, and then she died. And I remember thinking at the time -- without, of course, saying a word to my date --, Holy shit, that's how I'm going to die. I'm going to try to play off a bullet wound or an ax in my head while repeating, "No, I'm fine. Really. I'm fine."
From midnight to 5:30am Mina threw up every half hour to an hour. By the end, when there was absolutely nothing left in her stomach, she let out monster dry heaves that even woke up Maya. From two o'clock on, Mina snuggled in our bed until she needed to jog to the toilet to matter-o-factly take care of her bug business. None of us slept. It was a night that seemed like three. In the tricky haze between sleep and awareness, I thought of the freeze-tag game and the slightest rise of a bump that still exsists on my forehead. I thought of the b.b. gun ball and the other various bloody noses and ignored black eyes. I spooned my little baby ox as I willed the bug to leave her body. I savored the attachment of us lying in half sleep. I soaked in the pleasure of our similarities, but I love how different we really are; how we are different species of oxen.