Two events happen when you get it, and neither can be accurately described. The first is the excruciating pain combined with overwhelming nausea, as if your guts are collapsing in on themselves like a star system, only to explode and rip you apart. When I was a little, I had a piano teacher who had to suspend lessons for months, because, as my mom said, “his stomach was trying to separate from his intestines.”
I imagined it like North and South America, caught in a tectonic plate shift at the Panama Canal, both continents trying to cleave from the other, as angry oceans rushed in. Every time I’m up at 4am with something like this, I think of my piano teacher, and how his Central American isthmus wanted to shred itself, drifting into oblivion.
And that’s the other thing: it only happens at the deadest time of night, the quiet still of a world so asleep that nobody could possibly help. Pain is a solitary venture; it can’t be shared, and at that hour, it can’t earn empathy. This is you, and it might be how you’ll go – many years from now, sure sure – but it’s a possible snapshot of the last thing you’ll ever know. My grandma, beset by a cancer missed by a mammogram she never got… is dying alone optional or mandatory?
I reached a low point last night, a full day after I’d already resigned myself to the ghetto of toast and broth, when I glimpsed “not wanting to do anything anymore.” I saw not wanting to do any of my projects, finish a script, write these words, play in a band, plan any more social events, travel. In that moment, I reached a bottom I hadn’t seen in five or six years, and even the iridescent glow of my family, sleeping in adjacent rooms, barely penetrated the darkness.
I went to bed and pulled the covers up clear over my head like I used to do as a kid in Iowa, during the most brutal winter nights. I remember daring to look out my window at the sub-zero blackness, my chin on the yellow glossy windowsill, my breath fogging the glass, then instantly freezing. I could write my name in the tiny ice with my fingernail.
And then, under covers, trying not to move because my body had formed the only warmth in the bed. I tried to remember what it was like, pillow over my head, the sound of the vaporizer whirring nearby. Maybe my dad was in another room watching “All in the Family” or maybe the house was silent, the peculiar, haunting quiet of a busy train station closed for the evening.
I close my eyes and think of having the adults take care of everything, of not having a plan, sitting in the back seat. I pull the covers up further. Just for this moment, just until I get to sleep, I think of the only thing I want: not to be responsible.