There is a bug going around. Every other person I know seems to be coughing or sneezing, in a way that is strangely easy to live with. At the onset, that is. It doesn’t really get you down in the sense that you have to immediately take a few days off to just loll in bed and recover, but it is the sort of thing that just drags on longer than it should because before you realize you’ve pushed yourself too much you wake up one day to find that the sneezing won’t stop and the limbs feel like jelly. Then the scratchy throat follows. And then a few albeit entirely uninterrupted days of bed rest becomes a must. That is what happened to me.
Anyway. I am not here to tell you about how to weather bad cough and colds without surrendering to the use of antibiotics but I can share with you what I did appreciate most about the past few days. This pause, this quiet time, just feels so blessed given how busy my life has been since December (so busy that until now I am still sending out Christmas gifts, and have not opened any of the ones I received, not counting food and chocolates). If there is a good side to this it’s that I’ve caught up with sleep, I have not had to feel guilty about taking afternoon naps, and I’ve had quite enough time to read books and watch new episodes of lovely shows like Downton Abbey and Scandal which I download from iTunes (thank you, Kris, for my fresh supply of iTunes cards!). I’ve also had time to revisit my childhood, too, and remember the many ways my many loved ones took care of my siblings and I whenever one of us was ill.
Growing up in our home, meals were always enjoyed together at the dinner table. No eating in front of the TV, no tray to be brought up to the room just because. It was an unspoken rule, born out of tradition and habit, and we never questioned it. We just followed that obediently the way we did other set ways in the family. But when the flu visits, those restrictions pretty much ceased to apply. Suddenly — and I should say gleefully, because it all seemed so grown-up and forbidden at the same time, a room service sort of thing just falls into place like a warm blanket. Then we could eat in bed, and watch TV all we wanted, and ask for all sorts of things at odd hours. If we wanted to eat a candy bar with rice we would probably get our way, not that that was what we wanted. Thankfully, the meals I remember were more comforting and normal. My sister Caren wired me to also crave corned beef and rice with Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup; that was always the go-to meal. Oh, that was heaven. Even with no appetite (or so it seemed) this combination never failed to soothe and please. And then there was Spam (there forever is Spam), and Vienna sausage that was cooked until the skin is crisp (which also means the sausage was shriveled to just a third of its size) which I loved to eat with cold rice. Until now I like that hot ulam and cold rice combo going on, especially if it’s some de lata treat that the world now teaches us is so unhealthy and bad. Still: It. Is. Sooo. Good.
Lola Apyang, Daddy’s nanny, who would visit us from time to time, would have her own cures. They included leaves and a stampita of a saint that she would lay out on either down the back or on our forehead and with a little sleep and a prayer we would always wake up feeling remarkably well. I just wish I still knew what those leaves were. Oh, why didn’t anyone ask and write it down? Always, she would give us Royal Tru Orange, and that was echoed by Lola Carmen, Mommy’s mom, who always prescribed the same thing. Royal Tru Orange. For the flu. Royal Tru Orange. When bones are weary after too much playing or exercise. Royal Tru Orange. After a long trip when you feel dizzy Royal Tru Orange. I never quite figured out (still haven’t) why and what it exactly cures but it really does bring a level of relief. Well, maybe comfort was more like it. It was the go-to drink for quite a few woes, so much so that, for one heartbreak, I downed a glass of it. It did not make me feel any better. At least I know it has its limitations. But truth be told to this day it is my absolute favorite soft drink and if there was no way that it could make me fat and flabby I would probably take a glass with every meal (why, pray tell, is there not a zero version of that?!). For this particular bout with the flu I naturally turned to Royal Tru Orange, too, again. Twice. It has many nice memories attached to it.
Once when I was in college, I woke up feverish and bathed in sweat to find Lola Carmen seated by my bed. She had a bowl filled halfway with two poached eggs, and with it pieces of white bread she had torn by hand. Gently prodding me to sit up and eat she stayed with me until I finished the whole thing. I cannot remember for sure if she fed me or I fed myself but I know that meal did happen, just that once that way with her, and to this day it remains a tender memory. I thought of her again today when I ate two eggs. They were not poached, just scrambled, and without any bread. But that simple meal had the warmth of her memory attached to it.
Food. It is the most basic of needs but I find it is never more real than when you need to feel well after all the discomfort bad coughs and colds bring. I am at that age when I know what is good for my body in terms of nutrition but I also keep a place for that child in me in myself, even if that can happen only once in a while. Sure, I load up on my fresh juices every day, but I do not overthink when I suddenly crave forliempo or instant noodles or crispy pata. I just eat it. If it is what I crave then maybe it is what my body needs — a little sugar, a little fat, a lot of fun. Then I feel happy and the world seems right and sometimes, for that moment, that is all that matters. But don’t take my word for it, that’s just me. And those are days when I see neither complication nor consequence and the boundary, if any, is only that of moderation. It is liberating, maybe because the entire universe is so tuned into nutrition now that even grade school children are trained to eat brown rice and nothing processed. I don’t think I can survive that in a forever kind of way. I need my Spam, my hotdog, my corned beef with litid every now and then. And oh, yes, of course, my Royal Tru Orange has to be thrown happily into that mix.
All that shared, for tonight all I want really is to snuggle in bed with a good book, with my hot water bottle somewhere near my body (I really like hot water bottles), sandwiched between Richard and Juliana under the sheets in a very cold room. Because right now and always, that is my favorite spot in the world. And I need to make the most of this last stretch of downtime before life sucks me into its busy whirl yet again.
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