My husband always cleans up when the cat pukes. And our cat is approaching twenty years old, so he throws up a lot.
This led my husband to raze me today about how unfair it is that he always has to do the dirty work until I reminded him it is just because my stomach is so sensitive. I will barf at the slightest provocation.
To keep his teasing going, he pointed out that there is research showing that conservatives have a heightened disgust response. “You must be a conservative,” he taunted.
When I reminded him why my disgust response is strong, his demeanor changed. His face softened, and he said, “I’m sorry.”
My most vivid memories of having my stomach turn are related to lice and mice.
My mother was afraid of Child Protective Services. The State had already kept us in foster care for six months once. So when three of my brothers and I had lice all at once, my mother panicked.
In the 1980s, you needed to go to a doctor to get the special shampoo to kill lice. She thought the doctor would call CPS, and they would remove us from her custody for not keeping us clean.
My mother went to work teaching me how to pick nits on my younger brother’s head. This meant going to the roots of hairs and looking for shiny, black seed-like objects. They looked like poppy seeds.
You had to grab them between your finger nails and pull them up the length of the hair before dropping them into a white bowl Mom had waiting on the table. My brother’s hair was very fine, Scandinavian blonde and about an inch long. There were tiny black dots all over. This was going to take forever.
There were also the lice themselves. They jumped around, and they could be extremely hard to get. But they were also shiny, so they weren’t necessarily hard to spot. You just had to pin them down with tightly pulled hair to grab them.
It was the bowl full of eggs and crushed lice that made me run to the bathroom and get sick. Maybe I thought too much about how all of that had been on my head, too. I don’t know.
The mice were a constant source of disgust. I was taught to think of mice of cute little guys. Mickey. Minnie. So when one of our mousetraps decapitated a mouse, I ran to the bathroom to get sick. Worse than that, it was in my bedroom closet, and I couldn’t find the head. I kept thinking it had been sprung into my folded clothes somewhere. I was beside myself when we could not find it.
Finally, a friend of my mother’s told us that the other mice probably took the head away. I settled down and accepted that answer.
But the mice weren’t done with me
One night I was sleeping when I felt scratching at my back. I leaped out of bed with a speed unknown before or since to me. I saw mice and screamed. My mother and one of my brother’s came running. I barely got the words out to explain what was going on.
They took the mattress and threw it out in the garage. There was a large hole in the bottom where the mice had burrowed in to make their nest.
There was also the poop
We could not afford a pet. Sometimes we didn’t eat enough, so bringing an animal into the house seemed unfair. Still, we finally got a cat who was a good mouser after trying out two who just stared when a mouse ran across the room.
That wasn’t any fun either because a cat playing with mouse are a disturbing scene. Suddenly, you become away your pet is a psychopath who tortures small animals.
Another remaining remnant of those mouse infestation days was my silverware washing. For some reason, the mice decided their bathroom was our silverware drawer. Every time we opened it up, there were small brown turds. Sometimes it would make me sick to my stomach. Needless to say I got in the habit to washing my silverware before eating.
I won’t get even into the hand cleaning of my younger brothers’ and sister’s cloth diapers in the bathtub because we had no money for the laundromat. Thinking back on that makes my latent germ phobia rise to the surface again. Sometimes OCD is born, sometimes it’s made. But my husband’s wrong. I am not letting my disgust turn me into a conservative.