Driving home from a meeting this morning (Citizens Climate Lobby – check it out if you’ve been looking for a way to do something useful about the world) I feel a sudden pain in my abdomen, about an inch to the right of my belly button. In all my years I’ve never felt pain in that spot before. What could it be? What’s inside me right there? Is it an organ? a muscle? How can I know so little about my own body?
As I drive, the pain increases. Is my appendix about to burst? Has a tumor grown big enough to bang into something else in there? Should I turn around and go to Urgent Care? If I lose consciousness will the car smash into a nice soft saguaro? If I’m killed will my daughters suspect suicide?
Who can I call? My daughters all live far away. My close friends are all out of town, every one of them.
I turn my mind to fantasy: my imaginary soul mate is now the one driving the car. I keep him at the ready for moments like this. Yes, the pain is bad, but I’m no longer worried. He’s in charge, he’ll take care of everything. And because he’s perfect (of course) he does it all with grace and charm, and even makes some terrific black humor jokes that get me laughing and feeling suffused with love.
But then the pain ratchets up another notch and I’m all alone in the car again. I start imagining my death.
As usual, it’s not actually my death I imagine, it’s my daughters’ reactions to it. The first time I did this was years ago. One morning I opened my underwear drawer and saw it from their eyes. I saw that everything looked gray and shapeless and sad. I tossed the whole drawerful out, and have been wearing bright-colored scanty little things ever since. When the time comes, I’m sure they’ll stand looking into this drawer and be filled with pride that they had such a cool mother.
I now have imaginary conversations with each one of them and even imagine their responses. We say long deep goodbyes and I find myself all choked up, tears streaming down my face, as I drive through the desert and mountains on this beautiful shiny day. A car passes me – oh god, could they see me through the tinted window? Is it someone I know? – and I’m brought back to the here-and-now with a jolt. Has this pain turned me into a crazy batshit old lady?
I sit up a little straighter (ouch) and turn on my rational brain. Now come on, Liz, it may be nothing. Just stay calm, get yourself home, make a cup of tea and see what happens. Expecting the worst isn’t helpful.
Well, wait a minute. Maybe not helpful, but I must say it is entertaining on this long drive with nothing good on the radio and nobody real to talk to and a pain to worry about. A bit of fake real-life drama to fill the time. Look at that: I’ve had emotionally intense conversations with each of my daughters, and even a flash of warmth with my imaginary soul mate.
But enough is enough. And anyway, here I am at home.
I make that cup of tea, I go sit out under the hackberry tree and get absorbed in the novel I’m reading (Penelope Lively’s How It All Began). When I come up for air, the pain is gone. And it has stayed gone.
What happened to make that pain? What made it go away? I’ll never know. But I think if brain studies were done it might be found that there’s a specific part of the brain that grows huge and lights up in people who live alone, a part that probably doesn’t even exist in the brains of people who have been coupled all their lives. Or maybe I am well on my way to turning into a crazy batshit old lady.