by Troy Chapman
I thought I had a heart attack today. All day my left arm had been going numb, so I had to sit up on my bunk and shake it out or massage it as I walked. Then toward the afternoon I got a sharp bolt of pain up the middle left side of my chest. I dropped my book and sat up like there was a spider on my pillow. Checked my pulse. It was racing.
Wait a damn minute. I just thought, “I’m having a heart attack,” which shot a bolt of adrenaline through my system like a pack of hounds after an escaped criminal. Of course my heart is racing. I take a metaphorical look in my chest and see my startled heart, murmuring and beating out of time, looking like a friend who’s just run into the room after hearing me scream like a girl at the top of my lungs. “What? What’s going on?!?” It’s beating hard, thumping, heart-eyes bulging.
“Maybe it’s gas,” I say tentatively.
That’s true, but you do have a murmur and an irregular heartbeat, so the thought of a heart attack at 45 isn’t completely crazy.
Burp. I push in on my belly. Slightly distended, a little painful. Probably gas. I feel a moment of pure happiness, as if I’d opened my door expecting a Mafia hitman and instead found my mother bringing me soup. I’m glad I have gas. When did this start happening? I used to curse gas. Until I started worrying about heart attacks.
This has been going on for awhile — worrying about heart attacks. And yes, I know it’s neurotic. That knowledge, however, has absolutely no effect on the fear. There’s the fear, then there’s me saying, “This is neurotic.”
And neurotic fear laughs in my face. What, you think identifying me is some kind of antidote — like a wooden stake in the heart? Ha ha ha. Try a garlic garland, why don’t you? Hee hee hee.
I listen to the laughter. And an idea begins lurking in the shadows of my mind. If it were a light bulb it would be about 15 watts. Or maybe larger, but not screwed in tightly. It flickers a couple of times and I think, “Why not?”
I try it. I laugh back — at the fear, at myself, at the absurdity of my own mind scaring itself then trying to calm itself down while simultaneously mocking the attempt. Think about it: this is all going on inside my head. I just look at it all and laugh.
Fear gets offended. Stop it! This isn’t funny. It’s scary. I’m fear! You’re going to die. There’s the chest pain again! Feel it?
I do. I rub my belly again. Burp. More laughter. Just a chuckle, but it sends fear into a huff, storming out of the room.
You can’t laugh forever. I’ll be back.
“I’ll be bah-ck,” I say in my best impression of Arnold in The Terminator. I rub my belly, lay back down and pick up my book.