There are calls that you want to get at 7 a.m.—like, you won the lottery or were nominated for an Oscar. The kind of call you do not want to get at 7 a.m. was the one that Myron and Penny’s mom, Natalie, placed to me last Tuesday. “The kids can’t go to camp today,” she said. “They have lice. And you probably have it, too.”
Immediately, I envisioned six-legged critters wending their way along my hair follicles. “But I haven’t noticed any itching,” I said.
“Some people don’t,” Natalie said. The kids had just slept at her place the night before; they’d been at mine for the previous week. Now, Natalie was heading to Shoppers to get a special shampoo, which she planned to apply to herself and the kids. “You need to get some, too,” she said.
There was a panicked note in her voice that sounded familiar. Several years back, when we were still married, we’d gone through this with bedbugs. We spent hundreds of dollars on exterminators, because Natalie kept seeing the insects everywhere. I was never convinced we actually had them. I didn’t see a single bug. But I went along with all the washing and bagging of clothes that a bedbug infestation entailed.
And now lice. I considered whether I had to do anything about this supposed lice problem. I’d been worrying about my hair anyway. It’s thinning, and I had been wondering whether I should bother with those pastes and powders that make your hair look thicker by sticking to the follicles.
I asked my fiancée to look through my hair. It took her about 20 seconds to go through the several dozen follicles remaining before she issued her verdict: “Nada.” I went through her thicker locks, feeling like one of those ladies who went from school to school in Windsor when I was a kid, using chopstick-looking things to ferret out the students’ nits. Nothing on her, either.
I didn’t think any more of it until Penny’s soccer game, when the first thing Natalie said to me was, “Did you use that shampoo?”
“I don’t have them!” I protested. But because the kids had been treated, and I hadn’t, Natalie didn’t want us getting too close to each other. Kissing them, for example, was verboten. Same with hugs. I tend to be pretty huggy. It was torture.
“Remember to get the shampoo!” Natalie called out as she left the game.
Possibly, she was being crazy. And probably, there’s a macho code of honour that says, after the marriage breaks up, you no longer have to indulge your ex-wife. Some years ago, I would have fought with her about this. But I’ve learned a lot since we split.
After the game, I biked over to the Shoppers Drug Mart at Queen and Portland and hunted around for the anti-lice treatment. You’d think it would be on the shelves around the dandruff-fighting conditioner, or maybe the $63 Rogaine foam. No and no. Buying embarrassing stuff from Shoppers is one of my most-dreaded tasks. Condoms? I just can’t do it. I turn into a teenager. And yet, because I had to assuage my ex, I gritted my teeth, approached the aesthetician counter, and whispered what I wanted. “Upstairs,” she whispered back. “At the pharmacy.”
“It’s for my kids,” I told the pharmacist, who ignored me and handed over a bottle of something called Permethrin Cream Rinse. Back home, I doused my hair in the stuff, then spent the 10 minutes it was supposed to stay on my head considering the way a divorce between two parents never actually liberates the parties involved. That’s the lesson here. Even though you’re not married anymore, you still have to put up with your ex-wife’s tics. Or, in this case, ticks.