I was sitting beside my wife in the emergency room as a nurse attempted to place a nasopharyngeal tube. It’s an unpleasant procedure that forces a large plastic tube into the stomach via the nose. As the tube was shoved home, my wife began to gasp and gag, pounding on the bars of her bed. Within a moment she was vomiting buckets of grainy dark blood. It was frankly horrendous, like something from an Eli Roth film. But I was less than shaken. These things happen.
A bleeding ulcer had brought us to this ugly moment. Some might have witnessed this scene experienced a world-changing disgust. Thankfully, for the last decade, my wife and I have been less than precious about our humanity. We talk about the nasty stuff. That’s just our style. It’s not as if we intentionally set out to be completely transparent about our respective grossness. It wasn’t some strategic plan for a happy marriage. It just happened that way. But we’re better for it.
Thankfully, for the last decade, my wife and I have been less than precious about our humanity. We talk about the nasty stuff. That’s just our style.
It might be because when we met I was studying to be a nurse. My awareness was very much in the body. I worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant at a nursing home and later at an AIDs hospice. In both places, it was important to brush off the bodily horrors of the end of life with levity and respect. For her part, my wife worked at a cancer center helping patients with their finances. She also understood the frailty of the human body.
So maybe it was just natural that we talked to each other about our poops and eating more fiber to make them “fluffy and floaty”. She certainly wasn’t squeamish about talking about her period. Neither of us has ever balked about talking about rashes or blemishes or sickness. We see no shame in the things that come out of our bodies. We don’t worry about appearing perfectly put together, or making love before a shower, or performing personal hygiene tasks side by side.
I do understand that some couples lean heavy on maintaining a sense of “mystery”. Some women refuse to be seen without makeup or experience shame in menstruation. Some men go to extraordinary lengths not to talk about their buttholes or the health of their sexual organs. Some couples have separate bathrooms or refuse to be in one at the same time, for fear that if the curtain is pulled back they won’t be desirable anymore.
So what happens when the curtain is pulled back, suddenly and drastically, thanks to an injury, debilitating disease, or bleeding ulcer? The ill person will likely feel acute guilt and shame with their acute pain. Meanwhile, their partner might reel back in sudden awareness of their wife or husband’s sweaty, mucusy, bloody, smelly humanness.
As we get older, things will undoubtedly become more gross but we’ll continue to be desperately in love with the ugly, beautiful humans we each married.
Frankly, that’s not the time to deal with those emotions. In fact it’s probably the worst time ever to deal with them. To know the gross stuff is to be ready for the many things that can break a body down. Because when you get rid of mystery, you understand the person you’ve vowed to spend the rest of your life with is literally flesh and blood through and through.
My wife is fine now. She’s all healed up. Better yet, she hasn’t changed in my eyes. Talking about the gross stuff means that she can be covered in bloody vomit in an ER and still be the absolute love of my life, not when she’s cleaned up, but in that moment when she looks, feels and smells like crap. I take solace in knowing that if our positions were switched (they will be someday) she’d feel the same about me.
We keep talking about the gross stuff. Because as we get older, things will undoubtedly become more gross but we’ll continue to be desperately in love with the ugly, beautiful humans we each married.