So, almost everyone who knows me in real life knows this story, at least if you’ve known me long enough. But I don’t know if I’ve ever blogged about it — certainly not in recent years — and it seems timely to tell, or re-tell, this story now.
A couple of weeks ago Jason and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary with a trip to Quebec City, where we stayed at the famous (and fabulously overpriced) Chateau Frontenac hotel. We had a wonderful time walking the streets of Old Quebec, eating crepes and fondue, swimming in the hotel pool and generally relaxing/sightseeing. But there’s a very significant reason why I picked Quebec for our anniversary trip and why we had to stay in the Frontenac regardless of the cost, and it goes back more than 20 years, to the summer of 1991.
Jason and I were in our mid-20s then and we had been dating for about six or seven months. However, I was convinced this was not a serious relationship with much of a future. While we had a great time (and most importantly a great laugh) together, I was planning to leave St. John’s at the end of August for a job in Alberta. I didn’t know if this relationship had what it took to survive long distance; I liked him, but wasn’t sure how serious I was about him. I thought me moving away might provide a nice natural ending to things, and we’d both move on.
All that year, Jason and I had both been counsellors in our church’s Pathfinder Club for kids ages 10-15, and during the summer the club took a trip to Quebec for an Eastern Canada Pathfinder Camporee. We spent four days driving to Quebec on a school bus loaded with with kids singing at the top of their lungs, and a bus driver who didn’t believe in bathroom stops. Then we all went to stay at the Seventh-day Adventist church camp in Val d’Espoir, Quebec, a not-very-lovely campsite in the middle of nowhere where the 30C temperatures were exacerbated by the heavy, old-fashioned canvas tents we had to sleep in. It was, to put it mildly, not a dream vacation.
One day the Pathfinders were scheduled to climb back on the bus and go into Quebec City for a tour of the old city. That morning I woke up with a stomach bug — just what I needed to make that trip even more perfect. I didn’t want to stay back at the campsite and be sick alone, so, gambling that I would feel better as the day went on, I got on the bus with everyone else and drove into Quebec City.
My gamble did not pay off. As soon as we got off the bus near the Citadelle, I was sick again. I threw up into a plastic bag that another leader had helpfully given me for that purpose. When I looked up from barfing into the Sobey’s bag, I was surprised to see Jason standing beside me. I was even more surprised when he took the bag of barf from my hands and said, “Are you OK? I’ll take care of that.”
I watched my boyfriend walk away with a plastic bag full of my vomit to dispose of it in a garbage can, and I thought, This guy is a keeper.
I didn’t feel better as the day went on, and after dragging myself with the group of kids around the Citadelle walkway (and posing for a picture, above, in which I look much happier than I was — the caption was intended to be ironic), I knew I couldn’t go on for the rest of the tour. We were near the fabulous, elegant and air-conditioned Chateau Frontenac and Jason suggested that I wait in the hotel lobby for the group to finish the tour, where I could throw up in their lovely washrooms if needed. He went off shepherding Pathfinders while I huddled in misery in the nicest hotel lobby I’d ever been sick in.
Some girls are impressed by roses, diamonds, poetry. Some girls like flashy cars and big bank accounts. I was, and remain, impressed by a guy who’s willing to step up and do the dirty work. The guy who carries the bag of vomit, I thought that day, is probably the guy who will clean the floor when the dog gets sick; who will change the baby’s diaper; who will genuinely be there in sickness and in health. And so far, 20+ years later, I’ve been right about all those things. He was, and is, a keeper, and he’s there for the bad times as well as the good, and we’ve been able to laugh through it all.
I decided that someday, maybe on an important anniversary, Jason and I would go back to Quebec without anyone else’s noisy kids — even without our own! — and stay in the Chateau Frontenac, and nobody would get sick, and we would see that beautiful city as it was meant to be seen and celebrate a relationship that did turn out to be for the long haul after all. Because greater love hath no man than this, than to dispose of a bag of puke for you. Remember that, young ladies, and don’t be led astray by bronzed biceps and a fancy car. Go for the guy who’s there when things get messy; he’s the one you can count on. I know I do, every day.