Last night I woke up in the middle of the night with a sharp pain in my stomach that felt so intense and freaky I was instantly convinced I was going to die.
I'm not normally such a hypochondriac. But this pain was particularly new and exciting. I swear it wasn't your typical stomach deal. It wasn't that "Ate My Weight in Cheese and Now I Just Gotta Sweat It Out" ache, or the "Oh Fuck This Is Totally Food Poisoning Like That Time When I Was Nine And I Ate The Bad Potato Salad" ache, or even the "Please God Get This Chipotle Spicy Burrito Out Of Me And I Promise I'll Devote My Free Time To Charity Work" ache.
I don't know what this was. But at one in the morning, any unfamiliar twinge in your gut can feel like a precursor to that scene in Alien. And this felt sharp, stabby, and altogether unfamiliar.
(Let me skip ahead real quick and say that this ends well. There was absolutely nothing exotic wrong with me. But last night I didn't know that.)
I snuck out of bed. SaucyWench rolled over and mumbled "Arr foof hokay?"
"Tell you in a minute," I said.
Some quality alone time in the bathroom yielded nothing.
I went downstairs to the family room, fell onto the couch and got fetal. Tried to distract myself with some late night TV: that old X-Files episode about the serial killer with yellow eyes who slithers down chimneys to kill people. An infomercial for a new type of Soloflex Total Fitness machine so compact it can fold up to fit in your wallet. A Japanese game show where contestants get hit in the junk with live squid.
Nothing made me feel better. I lay there curled up under a blanket, clutching my stomach, getting scared. Why was this pain so sharp? Was it my stomach or something else? Was it a kidney? Wait, where's my appendix located? I thought about going to the computer to see what WebMD had to say, but didn't -- which was a smart choice. If I'd typed in my symptoms, my search no doubt would've led me to the description of some funky, lethal disease called Acute Gastrointestinal Herniated Inflammatory Carcinoid Dysplasia, which kills instantly, moments after first symptoms are discovered. (People shouldn't be allowed to search WebMD after ten o'clock at night. They should just shut the whole site down during the late hours. No one has ever searched that site after midnight, found what they were looking for and said, "Whew! That's a relief. Back to bed!")
So I lay there on the couch, feeling miserable and very much like a big, big baby. Here's where my imagination took me: What will happen to me if I'm really sick? Who will take care of me? We already have a child of our own to take care of. What if I can't take care of her anymore? I need to man up. Why am I being ridiculous? Wait... am I being ridiculous? What if I convince myself I'm being ridiculous, and then once I'm complacent, something bursts out of my abdomen in a bloody explosion and scuttles into the laundry room? What THEN? While I'm telling myself stupid alien jokes, what if something truly real and bad is getting ready to happen to me? Maybe not now or soon, but someday?
I actually tricked myself into feeling legitimately scared for about ten minutes.
I think everyone deserves the right to regress every so often, and whine or cry or pout for a few minutes. It's probably healthy to let all that out occasionally. The problem with being a baby when you're a male in your late 30s is that you can only be one when nobody's watching.
I finally did sleep, and I woke up the next morning feeling better, of course. SaucyWench asked how I was, and I said fine. My daughter bounced around the house, singing a song she'd made up and looking for her shoes before it was time for day camp. They left ("Bye Daddy!"), off into the green summer morning.
I felt foolish that I'd been so scared the night before. It. Was. A. Tummy. Ache. Geez, I told myself, going back in to get coffee, turn on the computer, and start the day. Get a grip. What kind of pirate are you, anyway?
It wasn't the physical ache that freaked me out, ultimately. It was how easily a random and baseless fear could sneak in and reduce me to a vulnerable kid who shivers in the dark. Ten minutes of that kind of shame can make anyone go fetal.