Write about your strongest memory of heart-pounding, belly-twisting nervousness: what caused the adrenaline? Was it justified? How did you respond?
Memories, mine at least, exist on many levels – in this world, in the dream world and in the in-between world. I have distinct memories of “heart-pounding, belly-twisting nervousness” from all three. Now, although I am a jumpy person by nature (sometimes I all but fall out of my chair when a text message chimes in), it also takes a lot to ruffle me in a deeper, unforgettable way. It takes a life-and-death kind of situation.
Take mad barking dogs and zero street lighting, for example. That’s not the image that comes to mind when you think of Bali, right? Leave it to me to find the most isolated part of Ubud to get lost in just as the sun is setting. I’d gotten into the town – Bali’s cultural center – dropped my bags and gone exploring. After doing the touristy streets, I moved on to the side and back streets and out of the blue I was walking down block after block of rice paddies looking beautiful in the dying light. As the light disappeared I was still walking, except there weren’t any more rice paddies, just a whole lot of blackness, a mud path leading off to more blackness and the odd isolated house off in the distance. Understandably I was starting to get a little nervous, so I decided to pop in to the next house and ask for directions. I came up to a two storey house with a big semi-walled in yard. Lights were on, but was anyone home? Well, if you’re asking about me, clearly the answer is “no” because I wandered into the yard even after I saw the dog looking at me funny. Let’s just say his tail wasn’t wagging. But I went deeper into the yard anyway, hoping to find a person. No person, just another dog. And another and another. One of them instigated a bark and that’s all it took. Suddenly all four or five dogs were growling and barking at me like I was an exotic dinner they’d ordered and the delivery was not forty minutes or less. Around this time I decided it would be a good idea to turn around and exit the scene, since clearly they’d smelled my fear, fear being a little bit like BO and not controllable at all. I don’t know if I was imagining it but it looked like they were tightening the circle around me as I squinted my out of the yard, their growls and barks growing more bloodthirsty by the second. For some reason, I didn’t run. I had that much sense, or not. They followed me a good part of the way out, quite the send off, and kept on barking as I resumed my path along the invisible street towards more pitch blackness that didn’t seem so bad after all.
Except it is. Bad, that is. Pitch blackness. New York may be the city that never sleeps but that doesn’t mean I’m gonna stay awake just because I’m there. And sometimes, I’ll stay asleep as if my life depended on it. Which is exactly what it felt like the night that I was in my hotel bed, floating in that milky place between sleeping and waking, when I felt something tugging at my bedsheets, something on the floor at the far left corner of the bed, by my feet. The unlucky thing about being in that in-between place is that you know things you couldn’t possibly know in any rational way, such as the fact that the thing somewhere on the floor beyond my feet, the thing pulling so intensely at the sheets as if it wanted to drag me off the bed, was not a friendly thing. I didn’t have to open my eyes or turn towards the force of the pull to know this. I just knew. And my in-between self also knew that my only defense was to keep my eyes closed and pull the sheets back towards me, that I had to keep doing that and only that until the thing gave up. Sure, this situation is just begging for a joke about some New York creepazoid having crept his way into my room and hidden under the bed or something. But I know for a fact that there was only me in the room, that is until I was kindly otherwise informed. Never thought the most stressful thing about being in NYC would be some thing. Where’s a good old holdup when you need it?
In the dream world, apparently. In this dream memory, I’m in the passenger seat of a parked car. Someone is standing in front of the car, holding a gun. I know I am going to get shot, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t get out of the car. I can’t duck. I can’t talk. I’m in ice cold terror. The person looks at me, raises the gun and fires the shot. Straight at my heart. The bullet smashes through the windshield and explodes my chest.
I woke up feeling like my entire torso was on fire, and also feeling like I would have actually died as if from a real gunshot if I had not woken up. Not bad for a night’s work, with the added bonus that if I ever do succeed in finding myself at the wrong end of a gun in real life – the ultimate “heart-pounding, belly-twisting nervousness” – I’ll know not only what to expect but exactly what to do: wake up!