YOU'VE HEARD of Montezuma's revenge, the stomach illness that afflicts Americans who dare to drink the water in Mexico. Well, I've been afflicted with something far more sickening, malevolent and deadly.
It's called LaVeta's revenge, and it is tearing my body apart.
In order for you to understand the origin of this ailment, you'd have to go back to the first time I dared to write about my wife falling ill. I claimed that my wife had a "sick walk," which was best described as Fred Sanford meets Grandma Dynamite. I said she had a sick sweater - a Mister Rogers number containing legions of lint balls.
I said my wife coughs in sets of three to heighten the drama, and that I could tell exactly how sick she was by measuring her "Misery Quotient." That formula, I said, could be deduced by multiplying the number of coughs by her tissue use, dividing that total by the age of her pajamas, and adding that to the number of lint balls on her sweater.
In retrospect, I should not have written those things. I should have buried them in that dark and secluded place where marriage secrets go to die. But I needed a column that day, and the sick thing was just too funny to ignore.
Still, I shouldn't have told the world that each time LaVeta caught a cold, I imagined Rod Serling appearing in my kitchen with a burning cigarette and his lip curled tightly over his teeth. "Solomon is about to experience a viral apocalypse," he'd say. "But don't worry. The sniffles are only fatal in . . . 'The Twilight Zone.' "
I admit that I was wrong to recount that. Just as I was wrong to reveal that the only thing I could do to make her smile through her sickness was to sing old Negro spirituals in the voice of 93-year-old Sister Suzy Mae Jenkins.
I did it, though, and now I am paying the price. I have been stricken with LaVeta's revenge. I have no one but myself to blame.
It started last week, when I saw LaVeta catch a cold, cough relentlessly and lose her voice. At first, I kept my distance. But as the week progressed and her coughing decreased, I crept closer to her. Then it happened.
On Thursday evening, we were sitting in our back yard together and she turned on an Isley Brothers tune. She looked beautiful in the evening light, and she wasn't coughing as much, so I decided to do the most romantic thing possible. I asked her to dance.
The moment was magic. The sun was setting against an azure sky. The birds were calling in the distance. As we swayed to Ronald Isley's lilting falsetto, neighborhood kids peeped through the slats in our wooden fence, smiling.
I told myself LaVeta was no longer contagious. I told myself she couldn't possibly make me sick. I told myself lies.
Later, as we hugged and coughed on each other, I could see the handwriting on the wall. I knew I was about to get sick, but I didn't care. I figured it was worth it to be close to my wife. I thought I could weather the sickness better than LaVeta.
I was wrong.
The day after our romantic evening, I awakened with my eyes a demonic shade of red. My throat felt like I'd been dining on barbed wire. I eventually lost my voice, and I felt like someone had dropped a tractor-trailer on my chest.
If I had not written about LaVeta's sick clothes, including a sweater that would be in college by now if it were a human being, I could've put on my own sick clothes. I could've hammed it up, moaning in agony after each chest-rattling cough.
I couldn't do it, though. Not after I talked about LaVeta. Instead of playing to the cheap seats in an effort to get the sympathy I deserved, I smiled and said everything was fine, even when my voice was reduced to a whisper.
Had I not made fun of LaVeta, I could have acted as if the viral apocalypse was upon us. I could've done my Fred Sanford sick walk. I could've looked at my wife with pitiful eyes in search of comfort and sympathy.
Instead I had to pretend the sickness didn't bother me. Fortunately, LaVeta saw through my John Wayne act, and though she could've held my past transgressions against me, she decided to do the right thing and nurse me back to health.
I guess LaVeta's revenge isn't so bad after all.
Solomon Jones' column appears Tuesdays. More at SolomonJones.com.