Friday, January 29, 2010

Anatomy Lesson

I will try to tell you how I feel. One night at the age of thirteen, I became obsessed with the contents of my belly button. I have an innie, and as most owners of innies will know, things (typically lint and dirt) tend to take up residence deep inside the soft inner workings. I imagine it is warm and cozy in there, and were I a solitary piece of lint floating about the universe, I might burrow into a happy little navel and never want to leave. Well, as the keeper of an inward pointer, I have to be vigilant, making sure to wash it well and keep it free of debris and odor.

On that night so many years ago, while sitting on my bed after a long hot day of doing boy things, I noticed a smell, and not a good one. Upon further exploration of my own parts, and an index finger passed from navel to nose, I discovered that my belly button was the source of the putrid but as yet invisible cloud of stink. I had not been very vigilant, and the sweat, lint, dirt, and dead skin inside my belly button had fermented into a corrupt potpourri that assaulted my sense of smell.

I had to do something, so I ran to the bathroom and took a shower. Soap, fingers, and a water heater tank full of hot water made short work of the nasty problem, and I toweled off standing naked before the mirror. I made sure to dry out all crevices and corners on my person, and as I did so inspected my navel one more time, to be sure that I would not wake in the dark to the choking smell of rotten button wafting through my room. It was then that I noticed a sort of grey and booger-looking something deep inside, at the end of my navel tunnel. Frustrated that rubbing the area red and raw with water and soap had not been enough, I searched the bathroom cabinet for cotton swabs and rubbing alcohol. If the little cave of stench refused to release the squatters within it, I would sterilize them out.

Ouch. Alcohol is not meant for application to the belly button, not once the nasty little umbilical tail has fallen off several days after birth, and not once you have rubbed it raw at the age of thirteen. The burning sensation sent me to my knees, tears squeezing out through clenched eyes, screams squeaking out between clenched teeth. A few minutes of intense pain and self loathing and I was back before the mirror, digging once again into the now throbbing belly button, contemplating the possible methods for removing the persistent little grey and booger-like something that I was sure did not belong.

Tweezers, and another ouch, or rather an OUCH! I had successfully pinched at the offensive material and pulled, only to see the light of heaven pierce the ceiling above as I fell to the floor, unsure of my own name the pain was so great. I lay there marveling at whatever it was that my body had been hosting. I wondered if it intended to soon burst forth from my belly button, and if it were it to do so, what would become of me?

Tired of battling whatever it was, and discouraged by whatever it was doing to my body from within, I went to the only source of anatomical knowledge readily available to a thirteen year old at such a late hour on a summer night, my mother.

“Don’t pull on it! You need that, it is part of your body!” My mother exclaimed when I revealed to her my crimson navel and the reason for its redness. It might have been that very moment that I decided I would never become a surgeon; the danger of cutting, pulling, or removing from a patient’s body something that they needed to survive was too great a risk.

And so, back to telling you how I feel. Later that night, as I lay in bed with a red belly, trying to silence the mocking voices in my head and pass into a state of sure to be fitful sleep, I began to feel sick. My innards had been ripped from within me and run through a series of grinders, blenders, and rollers, then placed haphazardly back inside, of that I was certain. I wanted to vomit and expel whatever it was that had snuck through the dark, down my throat, and into my gut, thrashing around with claws and teeth and tail. I felt empty and bursting full at the same time, gaseous and hollow with every gasping breath. Tears and sobbing accompanied every move, and I regretted all that I had done earlier that evening. I wanted to run back in time, breaking through impossible barriers and turning back the clock to a happier time, sitting on my bed with a stinking belly button; a belly button that stank because my day had been full of sweaty outdoor fun with my little brother.

This stinks.

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