October 29, 2015
The sun is high and bright in the South African sky. The clocks say 7 a.m., but I don’t believe it. It’s got to be noon already. It’s our last morning in Cape Town and my wife doesn’t feel well. Struggling to sleep through the all-night house party a floor above us, she’s felt nauseous all morning. This must be it. She’s pregnant. We been trying since our August anniversary and two months has felt like forever. While she hugs the toilet, I’m standing on our small balcony taking in the views one last time. Our street leads up to Signal Hill; a hill much bigger than any mountain in Wisconsin. In the other direction the street descends into a maze of residential roads. Past the neighborhood’s trees sits a vacant Cape Town Stadium.
Black socks, black shirts, and denim shorts lay on the balcony’s built-in drying racks. Stiff and crisp underwear are spread across the patio table. As I fold our clothes to pack for our next stop, my wife is now peeing on a stick. A brilliant idea pops in my head. I start recording a video diary on the balcony. When she walks out of the bathroom, I’ll turn to her and we’ll have documented the moment our family math added up to three. After about twenty seconds I run out of things to say and sights to film, so I stop the video and wait for her to come out. She stays in there for about ten more minutes. Wow, morning sickness must be really getting her.
When she finally comes out, I’m onto new things. “It was negative,” she says, defeated. Damn. “Maybe the hormones just aren’t elevated enough this early in the morning. We’ll try again later today.* Let’s pack up and get coffee and head to the botanical gardens.”
After a walk to Shift Espresso I take us on an anxiety-inducing car ride to Kirstenbosch Gardens. Driving on the left side of the road from the right side of a car is about as intuitive as wiping my ass with my foot.^ The gardens are breathtaking and I feel like I’m prancing through Jurassic Park. It’s way more amazing than I expected, yet my ghost-of-a-wife is barely keeping up. I’m taking it personally. “You’re not pregnant yet, and we’re on vacation in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Can’t you just suck it up?”
That I am this disconnected from my wife’s needs reveals a much deeper imbalance with my stress and self-happiness. I am ready to quit a job that just a year ago had been very meaningful to me. This sabbatical is my company’s way of thanking me for five years of work, but it’s my way of escaping and spending their money to do it, with two emphatic middle fingers pointed towards Wisconsin. I deserve this, dammit. Now we’re at the edge of the world, and my wife isn’t feeling well. It’s not fair. (Later that day she’ll spend six hours sweating off a really nasty sickness, and I get the honor of staring out at the ocean alone and reflecting on how much of an asshole I have been.)
We sputter to Kalk Bay for a three night stay at a Nordic-inspired guesthouse. My wife goes up to our room — the Impala room, to pass out. I’m still pissy about the gardens. Self-rationalizing that I can’t help her anyway, I make my way down Norman Road to the Main Road shops. I practically sprint into a bookstore, appropriately named Kalk Bay Books, and imagine owning a book store similar to this one. From the bar of the newly reopened Kalk Bay Café I stare out at the ocean, drink white wine and Savannah cider, and write (the drafts of which you’re reading right now) in my travel journal. I chat with the owners about showing the rugby world cup finals tonight on their newly installed flat screen. Springboks vs. All Blacks. They’ll keep the café open if people will come, they say. I never found out if they showed the match or not.
With a little drunken strut in my step I stagger up Norman Road back to the Impala room. The ten-foot-high linen drapes breathe in and out with the ocean breeze. The crisp cool bedding holds me like a cloud coffin. My wife’s fever breaks like a levy while I’m watching the rugby final from bed. She wakes up in a small ocean of sweat. It finally clicks in my big dumb brain that she’s actually just flat out sick.
I mistook the symptoms for something grander.