He chose to come home for Christmas, I kept reminding myself. He likes me. What had started out as a nice family dinner had gone disastrously wrong.
“I don’t feel well. I think I’ll just sleep,” He said. His olive skin had turned pale.
“Are you sure? The whole family is here, and my Aunt Katie and her family are coming, too.” I had been excited to have him meet more of my family.
There were three long banquet-type tables running the length of the house to accommodate my parents, four siblings and their spouses, my nieces and nephews and extended family.
“I’m really alright,” He said, swallowing.
I nodded and said, “Feel better,” before returning to the chaos of family holidays.
Why couldn’t he push through it? It was the holidays, and the entire family kept asking me “Where’s Mark?”
I tried to push the disappointment away, but the pit in my stomach just seemed to grow. I took a bite of my potatoes, then swirled my fork around the salad. That’s when I realized… It wasn’t a pit in my stomach.
My fork clinked against the table, and I caught the gaze of my brother Matt. His eyes betrayed him. He felt my same agony, and he wasn’t sure what to do either.
I walked to my mom, whispering I was headed to the basement to lie down. Matt was on my heels, nodding his intention to do the same.
It BECAME A SCENE FROM A NIGHTMARE. My mom banished the ill to the basement, and what had once been love and compassion between my brother, Mark, and me became a brutal fight to survive.
“Heather, I need the bathroom!” Mark pounded on the door. “HURRY!”
I was currently doing the double ended elimination technique– garbage can in hands while on the toilet. “Come back later, Mark. I can’t have you by the door right now.”
He pounded louder. “HURRY!”
When I opened the door, he was bent over rocking back and forth. At the sight of an open bathroom, he sprinted past me, almost running me over. He slammed the door on my heels.
I wish I could say it was over. And for Mark at least, it soon was. Matt and I weren’t so lucky. We camped out in the downstairs den and spent the night moaning from body aches and rushing to the restroom.
Mark camped out beside us, and nursed me and my brother. He cleaned out our garbage cans after we puked. It feels necessary to reiterate this. My college boyfriend cleaned up my and my brother’s vomit on his big Christmas visit with my family.
He heard and saw me at my very worst– and I mean worst. I was disgusting. I had purple bruises dotting underneath my eyes. My skin was white, my hair stringy and greasy. I smelled…feral (and that’s putting it lightly). I whined. I was anything but attractive.
And still he was there. He held my hair back, and he gave me water to swish.
I imagine many in his circumstances might act differently. “You know, this isn’t really working out. This whole trip was a good test run, and I think it’s time we went our separate ways. Get better, and while you’re at it– Take a shower. Put some makeup and deodorant on. Maybe I’ll see you around campus next semester.”
But this guy was different. After it was all said and done and we were driving back to school, Mark leaned toward the passenger seat.
“I want to marry you, Heather.”