Wednesday, 14 January 2009
I've been ill with stomach flu on and off the last month or so, and it's got me mindful of throwing up.
Throwing up is a true curiousity. Vomiting may indicate that we are sick, may even cause us to die in some cases, and yet - at the same time, it is a simple process by which we may correct an illness and quickly feel well again.
Dogs famously eat grass in order to induce a good vomit; some thinkers have suggested that humans may better themselves with a regular voiding of the stomach as well. In the case of women, throwing up may even be cause for rejoicing, morning sickness signalling the beginning of a pregnancy.
As far as protocols in polite society go, it is scarcely possible to imagine doing anything in public more taboo than vomiting. Suddenly one's very body is beyond their control, and - with usually only a few seconds notice - the individual finds themselves in a most undignified position, often bent over, trying to avoid splashing themselves, striving to be as quiet and considerate as possible about something which is the very essence of loud and indiscreet. One is helpless, subservient to their internal organs, conscious but out of control.
Of course it is this very taboo that charges vomiting with such a power to shock, a potency present in the works of innumerable performance artists, from the cathartic purgings of the Vienna Actionists to the critical disgust displayed by Toronto's own Jubal Brown, who famously puked in primary colours on a Mondrian and a Dufy, protesting the art's "lifelessness".
The first time I can remember throwing up, I was very young, perhaps four or five.
I was sick and it was late at night and my parents led me to the bathroom. I remember leaning over our bathtub, the lights dimmed, the feeling of something exploding within me - and suddenly my insides were outside and I was spraying the floor of the bath with stomach acids and whatever it was I'd last eaten. I felt ashamed and was horrified by this event; I resolved then and there that throwing up was not something I was interested in ever doing again.
The next time I was 'physically ill', I was at grade school - Grade Four, I think.
I had my hand up for what seemed like a half hour, but the teacher was ignoring me. I knew something terrible was about to happen. In desperation, I did something I had never done before, something that had been drummed into me as being simply unimaginable, beyond the pale - I stood up from my desk and just walked out of the classroom.
I got all the way down the hall and to the stairs before I couldn't hold it in any longer, and blew chunks all over myself and the hall floor. Appalled, I raced down the steep stairs and outside, only to flash again on the pavement. I walked all the way home, sickened by the stench, terrified to venture back in and explain this sudden exit. The next day some wit asked me why I would've thrown up outside, only to come inside and do it again.
A decade passes without incident. I discover alcohol, and shortly thereafter the routine of puking the morning after a bender. This is vomiting as an ecstatic ritual: party 'til you puke, the t-shirt says. A sure sign that one has had a good time, the chunks on your arms may be worn as a badge of pride, and may inspire respect where before there was only revulsion.
My fear of throwing up however goes up a notch or two. Worse than the deed itself now is the imminent awareness of it, the nausea and the dread, the sure knowledge that, sometime very soon, I will be bent over and vomming my guts out.
I find that my mind plays tricks on me in these slow-motion periods: that everything I see and touch and even think about causes me overwhelming disgust. I imagine that this focus, whatever it is that occupies my mind at that second - a bedsheet or light through a window or music playing or an idea - is the very thing that is making me sick. I find solace then only in blocking everything out; curling up in a ball with the lights off, focusing on a cool absence of anything, as much as possible.
Of course, there is the exception to every rule: on a couple of occasions, I have positively revelled in my hurl. At the end of one crazy night, I was given a martini in a mug, which I dutifully drank down and then threw back up the next day on the streetcar, and again on the subway back to my apartment. Riding public transit, there was no escaping the caged humility of it all. Instead, I embraced the yak and the fetid afterbirth of same, feeling something that, if not pride, was certainly in the other direction from shame.
Still, even this was nothing compared to a one-time consumption of ketamine, a drug I found endlessly fascinating, and which found me actually laughing out loud between hurls.
In time, I become a very fervent, loud puker. I would frequently puke so hard I would give myself a ruddy complexion of burst blood vessels, a puke tan. My ribs would ache with the intense strain, and I would frequently feel sore for days afterwards. I have rarely had a problem making it to a toilet or tub though; no embarrassing clean-ups for me. Now, I feel incredible in the wake of a good puke. Cleansed, purged. I am hugely relieved and I fall asleep.
It's easier too. The last time I threw up, I simply stuck my head into the toilet and took a nice, big whiff of my surroundings. Bingo.
With the advent of the internet, we now know that there are those who are turned on by vomiting (emetophilia), and alternately those who harbour a great fear of vomiting (emetophobia).
Puke porn is an extreme fetish, a potentially dangerous act which of course involves bodily fluids and which may also involve toxins in addition to the usual fluid-exchange STD risk. The recent viral video known as "Two Girls, One Cup" was the introduction for many into this strange world, and many times (as in a few famous cinematic sequences) the very sight of someone vomiting may be enough to induce the viewer to do the same, creating a chain reaction of wrinkled noses, tightly clenched eyes, and voided stomachs.
Between puke fetish porn, relaxed attitudes towards public drunkenness (which has some areas considering whether to make vomiting in public a crime), and the widespread phenomenon of anorexics bingeing and purging, throwing up seems to be undergoing a public re-evaulation of sorts. Why, there's even a site called Rate My Vomit. Will our grandchildren see our attitudes towards vomiting as retrograde, fuddy duddy? Only time will tell.