For years, I’ve wanted to write a book about my experiences in my hellish marriage. I used to use these anecdotes at parties, because hey, they were great stories to tell and I could do them in a way that would illicit sympathy, as well as engage people in conversation. The other trick here is that people never really got a chance to know me. They knew my schtick, which is a big reason I stopped telling these stories. But lately, the way things have gotten here on planet earth in terms of people being hypervigilant with avoiding this virus, started making me think a lot about what I lived through.

I can honestly say that I hope this is not the new normal, because seriously, I’ve lived through it as a daily occurance. I don’t want to go back there again. At some point, this hypervigilance is going to just relax and people are going to say to hell with it and just either live or not. That’s the way it always has been, and probably will be as long as there are people.

So, let me tell you about Bleach…

I used to refer to it as the cleaning ritual. Every day, it was the same process. I would come home from work and enter the house through the garage. When I was married, we lived in a split-level home, with an attached garage. Nobody parked in the garage, because we had a feral cat who lived there, but that’s a whole other story.

Anyway, I would come home after a long day at work. My wife at the time would be waiting, usually with the cat in her arms, and she would close the garage door as I stepped in. The ritual began with me stripping down to my underwear and putting everything I was wearing into a hamper by the door. My shoes were left outside in the garage. I had to rub my feet through a couple squirts from a half-gallon jug of Purell by the door too.

She would follow behind me as I made my way to our bathroom three levels up, wiping down the walls and bannister with a solution of bleach and water until I reached the bathroom. After I was done showering, I would get dressed in “house clothes” and then I would be able to return downstairs. Only then could the kids say hello, give me hugs, or even speak to me. She would spray the inside of the shower with a bleach solution and wipe down any fixtures I might have touched or brushed against in my stupid, clumsy movements throughout the house.

No shoes were allowed inside the house. Coats, gloves, all that kind of thing had to be sprayed with lysol spray or thrown into the washer immediately upon returning. The kids also went through this process, until they were pulled out of school to be homeschooled because she couldn’t trust them not to touch their faces or use their wipes unless she was right there.

If we discovered we were out of something like canned beans or milk and I had to go back out, I had to repeat the entire process again once I got home, including showering and the bleaching of everything. The groceries were also wiped down with a bleach solution, or if the packaging was not safe from water, such as a bag of flour or a bunch of onions or potatoes, they were lysoled. Then the floor where the bags had been was also bleached and allowed to dry. This was done with minor trips to the store as well as large runs such as Sam’s Club.

We didn’t eat out for nearly two years, unless it was takeout and it could be promptly brought home and microwaved to kill any pathogens. If the whole family were out of the house, we wiped everything–including our hands–with first Clorox wipes and then Wet Ones.

Each month we bought two or three gallons of bleach, six to eight cans of lysol spray, a four pack of clorox wipes, and at least six packages of Wet Ones wipes. The reason? My ex was afraid of norovirus, as well as other viruses. Noro is the Ferrari of communicable diseases. Most everyone knows of it as the “Stomach flu.” It isn’t a flu, but a virus that is usually transmitted through food, casual contact, but more importantly feces and vomit. It is very hard to kill.

Norovirus isn’t killed by lysol liquid, Mr. Clean, soap and water, or even alcohol. It survives UV light, and even temperatures up to 140 degrees F. At least, that’s what her medical degree from Google U said. I was a culprit in this too, since I read up on it to try to figure out ways around all of this fuckery, but just going along with it beat the hysterics and screaming that would always follow. Unfortunately, bleach stuck, because bleach kills everything. Out and about, when we couldn’t bleach everything, so we used the Clorox wipes first to kill any viruses other than Noro, then the Wet Ones to kill the Noro. Wet ones contain benzalkonium hydrochloride, which kills stomach flu, but not Flu or cold viruses. Clorox wipes or Purell kill those.

They also dry out your hands to the point where they are constantly chapped and bleeding. This stuff will also take your fingerprints off if you do it long enough.

This whole thing because when our youngest was just over two years old. This is before all the cleaning ritual crap began, Halloween, 2012. He had been sick from whatever crud the older kids had brought home from school. His mom had taken him to the doctor, but he was still sick. Not eating very much, and lethargic. After taking his temp, around 100-101 F–I took off from work to take them to the doctor. For whatever reason (maybe I’ll get into that later) doctors and PAs tended to listen better when I was there. This time, however, the doctor–a young Resident, probably about 29 or 30–was about to blow us off and send us home with a prescription of “Make sure he’s drinking Pedialyte and sleeping lots”, when I noticed my son laying back in his stroller, just twitching and convulsing.

“He’s having a seizure.” I said.

The doctor and my ex panicked. The “doctor” started shouting for Valium to give him. They didn’t have any at the clinic. Eventually, the ambulance came and by the time they loaded my son and his mom up in the van, he had already stopped seizing. We sat with him in the ER for another hour or two. The nurse told us he had had a “febrile seizure” which means in little guys, their bodies don’t know how to regulate temperature or handle a fever yet. So they go into a seizure, which is like hitting the Reset button on your XBox. He had been fighting a low-grade fever for days, and because he was dehydrated, his temp never got above 100.

For whatever reason, the nurses at the clinic where he had seized warned his mother that we needed to do everything we could to keep him from being exposed to getting sick again. This translated to the Cleaning Ritual in her mind. Though the house was still cluttered and we had half a dozen chickens, three dogs, and all manner of pet rodents, everything had to be constantly sterilized. The kids and I became the main concern for infection, oddly enough.

We would get into horrible fights over this. We went to California and she had to “sanitize” all three hotel rooms where we stayed, including the Duke of Edinburgh Suite on the Queen Mary. Wiping down all surfaces with lysol spray and waiting a minimum of three minutes for the germs to die. I have spent probably $100 in Targets throughout L.A. just because she couldn’t bring her own cans on the plane. Do you know how hard it is for kids to see the ocean for the first time and not be allowed to swim in it? Oh, they did swim in it, and their mom lost her shit. When we got to the hotel, they had to strip down, shower, change all clothes, etc. We had to stand for 3 whole minutes in place because we were waiting for the cloud of Lysol spray to descend from the air to clean the floor because she was convinced the maids had walked through the room when we were gone.

It was insanity.

I lived like that for another two years. Being accused of walking through the house in my shoes. Cleaning everything. The kids weren’t allowed to touch anything. They couldn’t go to the park or play in the dirt. I was expected to go to work and come straight home again. Christmas party at work? Forget about it. If visitors came over, the SECOND they drove off, we were bleaching the floors. Bathing the dogs they might have petted. The mail piled up because we couldn’t open it for two weeks in case someone infected had touched it before sending it. You can imagine how bill collectors felt about that. Netflix videos. All of it. Our monthly bill for cleaning supplies was around $80.

By the time I left, the bleach fumes had eaten the chrome plating off the fixtures in the bathroom. She got bronchitis which didn’t get better, in spite of having everything clean. I even called Social Services and they wondered what was wrong with having a clean house. Her bronchitis became pulmonary edema and congestive heart failure. I tried to talk to her doctors to tell them “She is aerosolizing bleach and breathing it all the time.” Chlorine gas isn’t good for your respiratory system. You’d think at least one of those doctors would have figured that out.

Finally, I convinced her to stop spraying the bleach. She was on oxygen all the time by then and being tested for sleep apnea. The whole time my brain is screaming “It’s the goddamned bleach you fucking idiots!!” Once she stopped spraying the bleach, things began to improve for her. Almost dramatically. She went from an expected lifespan of almost five years and “we are completely baffled” to “Oh, you’ll probably live another 40 years, easily!”

It was then that I filed for divorce. October 30, 2014.

You cannot imagine how liberating it felt to walk into my own place without stripping down and having someone follow me with a bleach rag because I was a contagion. I dropped washing my hands from 20 minutes per day to about four, total. I could breathe and live and be happy again. And you know what? I didn’t die. I did get the stomach flu once a few years later. I shit and puked for about two days and then I was fine again.

My youngest, who was now four years old when I decided to end the marriage, started going to daycare and caught a virus that gave him a cold and a cough for the next six months. Coughing until he threw up sometimes. Eventually, his immune system hardened off. Now the kid could probably bathe in raw sewage and be fine. He’ll be ten in the fall.

So, with this Coronavirus, COVID-19 bullshit going on, you might be able to see why I am reluctant to buy into all of this horseshit. At some point, the cure becomes a prison. My quality of life was terrible. My sanity was frayed, if not completely obliterated. I was forced into living like that, because anytime I protested, I was screamed at, attacked, and told I was trying to kill her and the kids. I figured it would blow over. It didn’t. It was YEARS of living like that. Being hyperaware of what I had touched. Where I had walked. All of that.

It has taken me five years to be able to touch a stair rail or a doorknob and not need to wash my hands immediately after. And now the government is telling us we are going to kill our loved ones if we do these things?

Maybe now, you can see where I am coming from, and where I am afraid the whole country is going. Sure, stay at home. Flatten the curve. Wash your damn hands! Don’t spread the disease, but at some point we are all going to be exposed to it, and it will be as seasonal as a headcold or the flu. Unless they aren’t telling us something. Which is entirely possible.

You see, you can control a lot of people with a little bit of fear.

We are the descendants of people who have survived polio, the Black Plague, smallpox, and a thousand other diseases that make COVID19 look like a walk in the park. I remember the story of Mother Teresa holding a child with Ebola. They freaked out and she said, “This child isn’t going to hurt me.”

I wish we all had that kind of faith. Maybe it was blind luck. Maybe she was a saint. But I’d rather not live in fear anymore. I did that already. If we have to be “socially distant” I’m fine with that. I’m tired of peoples’ bullshit anyway. I’ll be over here, being an introvert, because I didn’t want to go to your stupid parties and concerts and events anyway.

Right now, I’m what’s in.

6 thoughts on “Bleach

  1. I almost got distracted by the feral cat. But, I didn’t. Your story..gods, how absolutely ridiculous!! I can absolutely see where you are coming from, it makes sense.
    In our county of almost 79,000 we’ve had two confirmed cases since early March. Others we know have been sick from something and are now well. It is silly to ignore it, but to freak out over it is worse. Bless you for common sense and for leaving that sterile hostile world!

  2. “We are the descendants of people who have survived polio, the Black Plague, smallpox, and a thousand other diseases that make COVID19 look like a walk in the park.”

    For sure. If they hadn’t survived we couldn’t be descended from them now could we?

    So yes, (most) people will survive COVID19 if they catch it. But a small percentage will die. And those who recover may be left with after-effects. I’d rather not catch it if I can avoid it.

  3. Love this! Abuse comes in many forms and you survived it. As a nurse i agree with you more than you know. Thank you for sharing. P.S. I think this is a damn fine piece of literature.

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