Cleanliness is next to Godliness.

And when this drought-conscious Californian vacations in a state with ample water, the showers are long and luxurious. I revel in this watery heaven enveloped in lavender steam with warm water pouring down from a rain-shower head.

But these indulgences have consequences: annoying droplets of water that worm their way into crevasses where they shouldn’t. Like in my ear.   

Happily, this is never an issue, thanks to the blessed cotton swab. They’re always there for me–on the basin at home, in a hotel bath, on a guestroom vanity.  I’m not talking about the generic, plastic tube abominations those will never sully my ears. No, my ear canals shall only be wiped well and good by an original Q-tip.

I emerge from the shower as if exiting a dry ice Halloween coffin and wrap myself in the who- knew-terry-cloth-be-this-divine robe. I slip on my Ugg slippers, then head for the vanity for the singular sensation that will cure my singular ailment. IS THIS WORD USED AS A NOUN? (I just looked it up—it is)  I reach for it.  I reach again. Again… and, oh Where for art thou? Where, oh where, …. My basin is bare.

There are no Q-tips. Not on the sink, in the medicine cabinet, next to the toilet paper. This is a Q-Tip free zone.  

There is water in my ear beyond where the towel can reach. I have a cochlear conundrum, I need a cotton swab. I need it badly. I need one NOW.  

It is snowy and cold outside. Everyone else in our group of three families is skiing. So here I sit in this lovely, Deer Valley house with water-logged ears all because my Q-tip Guy is stuck at home.

When his x-ray showed his cold was pneumonia, we knew skiing was not in the cards. So home he stayed.

Like the roots that entwine to sustain fauna, the roots of a marriage lurch and moan, stretch and contract. And grow.  Routines develop without utterance. When we travel as a family, I am responsible for band aids, Purell (it’s hard enough to get them to wash up before a meal when we’re eating at home….)  and for packing antihistamines of all stripes and strengths.

My husband packs the Q-tips. I can’t recall how this division of labor began. It just is. Like so many of our union’s routines.

“I brought plenty of Claritin. Tylenol too,” I tell a fellow house guest.  Just don’t ask me for cotton swabs. Or cotton balls.

I shake my head, jump up and down—but the clog won’t budge. Out, out damned water!

Now, I think I have a demonstrably good marriage… but the idea of a couple of days apart from my beloved appeals after 16-plus years together. Occasional absences do make my heart grow fonder. Except when my ear is water-logged.

When I travel solo, I pack my own Q-tips.  I know it’s all up to me.  But a family vacation means shared chores. My list is long. Q-TIPS ARE NOT ON IT.

I could throw a temper tantrum.  I should. I won’t.

Instead, I shake my head again, whip it back and forth, hop up and down–the droplet won’t budge. I must look ridiculous.  Good thing there are no witnesses.

After all this the droplet remains in my ear. I will never again take a swab for granted.  Thankfully,       s I trust it’s temporary. Like my beloved’s absence.

For better or worse. In sickness and health. I’ll stick with my guy until death does us part.

But, from now on, I’m packing the Q-tips.

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