February 18, 2009
when I first noticed the hole, it was small, really small. i was getting ready for work one morning, brushing my teeth, that stuff, and all of a sudden there it was, on my stomach, a few inches west of my belly button. small — had maybe the circumference of a BB, the hole. i didn’t remember getting shot with a BB recently and getting shot with a BB is the sort of thing you remember, you know? so it wasn’t that, i was pretty sure. i poked the hole and it didn’t hurt or anything so after staring at it for a second i just buttoned my shirt and left for my first call of the day. i was already running late and, really, who has the time to sit around staring at their stomach all day, hole or no hole?
the weird thing about the hole, though, besides the general fact of it being a hole on my stomach where there was no hole previously, was that it was totally black inside, pitch black. usually when you get a cut or whatever, you see the layers of skin and blood and biological stuff underneath, all the goop that keeps us alive. when we were kids, my brother caught his leg on a merry go round at the playground and snapped his shin right in half. the bone popped out of the skin and tore open his leg and what i remember most besides him screaming like a little bitch and the pee puddle he left in the sand was how white the bone looked, white and bony, just like skeletons looked in comic books
inside my hole, though, it was different, you couldn’t see anything — inside was just dark blackness and…black darkness. i don’t know, i guess i”m not very good at describing things, but what i can tell you for sure is it was weird, i can definitely tell you that much, definitely weird and also definitely dark. it didn’t make sense that something in my body could be that dark.
still, despite the darkness and the holeyness and all that, i didn’t think much of the hole. sometimes the body does strange and unpredictable things. i saw a TV documentary once about siamese twins joined at the head and another show about people who have honest-to-god tails. life is a mystery and i’m no detective, so i ignored the hole and went on with my day. things were going pretty good then and i didn’t really feel like spending my time sitting around thinking about holes.
i had actually completely forgotten about the hole when shelley noticed it a few nights later, in bed. we had been getting high and eating food and watching cartoons like we did most nights. it was a good thing we had going. shelley had been sort of unconsciously rubbing her hand along my chest and stomach which was kind of nice and love-like except that she had been eating cheetos and so her fingers had that cheeto crud on them which i hated, god, and which was sticking to my skin all grossly.
then, for some reason, her hand stopped. she said something, i don’t remember what exactly, pulled back the covers and sat up. i didn’t know why she was doing it at the time but i was annoyed because it was a pivotal moment in the show and the disruption was disrupting me.
“what’s that?” she said, pointing. i looked down at my stomach, past the orange streaks of cheeto crud, and saw the hole. it seemed that it had grown — it was now dime-sized.
“oh, that,” i said. “i don’t know. a hole. it’s pretty weird, right?”
“yeah,” she said.
she stared at it for a second and then ate another handful of cheetos and we went back to watching the cartoon. the one we were watching, the 12:15 cartoon, was about some kids who get magical dental work that gives them superpowers, like one of them has a retainer that shoots laser beams and another has a lasso of floss, and they’re fighting this villain made entirely of taffy and ABC gum and his head is a caramel apple. it was decent.
at that point, though. i couldn’t focus on the TV, because then i was thinking about the hole and how it kind of hurt a little. not much, not even enough to really call it hurting, it just felt like after somebody pinches you and your skin sort of tingles, i guess.
eventually the show ended and there were commercials and shelley was back at the hole like a pig in shit (or in a hole). she stuck the end of her little finger into it and then quickly pulled it out, testing. it felt strange when she did it, like if someone could tickle you from the inside. when she pulled out her finger, it was dry, no blood or goop or anything. it was weird.
“it feels kind of cold inside,” she said. “cold and weird.”
“i know,” i said. “it is weird.”
i was eating M & M’s at that point, which was awesome. i like to eat three M & M’s at a time. to me, three M & M’s is the exact right amount of M & M’s. one or two isn’t enough of a chocolaty flavor explosion but when you get to more than three, you’re really wasting your M & M’s and making the possible time you could spend with the M & M’s unnecessarily short and also you get that gross feeling of sugar residue collecting on the sides of your mouth. as i was getting another three M & M’s, a difficult thing to do sometimes, one rolled out of the bag onto my stomach, a red one. for whatever stupid reason, shelley picked it up, and, before i could stop her, she popped it right into the hole. i felt it inside me for a second, like floating, and then it just disappeared, gone, no mas.
“oh my god, what are you doing?” i semi-yelled. i sat up fast and reached for the hole, like i could get the M & M back.
“um, I don’t know,” she said. she kept staring at the hole.
“i could get an infection or something,” i said. “that’s not cool.” i tried to bend over so i could look into the hole but i’m not very flexible so i didn’t get far. i couldn’t see any M & M, though, that was for sure.
“sorry” she said, grabbing at my fingers. “it just…looked like it would fit. holes are for putting things in.”
she was really high so i felt bad getting mad at her and it’s not like it would make a difference, anyway. we went back to watching TV. well, she did at least. i tried, but i couldn’t concentrate. my feelings were complicated and blurry. i didn’t know where the red M & M had gone. it had completely disappeared. that didn’t make sense, it wasn’t how bodies worked. i remembered things from science class, random things, solid bold sentences from textbooks and chalkboards. a body at rest stays at rest. matter cannot be created or destroyed. the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. i remembered these things and at first it seemed like they might mean something important and scientific so i rolled them around in my brain for a while but in conclusion they just made me more confused. being confused is not a good feeling but it’s a feeling that everybody has sometimes and i have more than sometimes which is often.
but then also i was distracted because after the M & M had fallen in, there had been this other feeling besides the confused, this nice feeling. it kind of felt like if you have an itch in a place that’s hard to scratch and so you just have to deal with it for a while and try to ignore it but then eventually you can take your sock off or unbutton your shirt or reach around when no one’s looking and finally scratch it and it feels so good, finally, at last like in that song. under the covers, i dropped another M & M into the hole and i had the feeling again, although not as strong as the first time. i dropped in another one and felt nothing.
the hole grew slowly. the day after the M & M’s, i woke up and it was as big as a quarter. after a few more days, it was as wide as a tangerine and the pain was getting kind of distracting. it was weird because it wasn’t like normal stomach pain, there weren’t cramps or nausea. i didn’t really even feel it in my stomach, even though that’s where the hole was. it was like the pain was inside me and outside me at the same time. god, i know that sounds stupid. my grandmother has these reader’s digests in her bathroom and i read one time that when people lose an arm or a leg, sometimes they still feel things in this arm or leg that they don’t have, ghost feelings. that’s what it kind of felt like, i think, although i guess not totally because i didn’t lose anything, as far as i know. i didn’t like it, i’ll tell you that much, that much i can tell you for sure. complicated and mysterious pain hurts just as much as regular pain, only different.
the other weird thing that happened was that with the pain i also began to get this urge to put things into the hole. it was like being hungry, but not like regular being hungry, different. like, i didn’t feel it in my stomach, i felt it everywhere else in my body, in my knees and ears and fingertips, eyelids and armpits etc. when i first started feeling the feeling, i thought maybe i was just really hungry or maybe i had a worm or something, like a tape worm that was eating all the things in my stomach before i could get the good stuff out of them. so i would eat and eat — i would eat an entire pizza, cheese crust and garlic sauce, bread sticks, the whole deal, and it would do nothing for the feeling, i still felt it. it had nothing to do with stomach hunger at all, i found out — i ate so much cookie dough one night that i threw up, but once i was out of the bathroom, the urge was right there again, the feeling.
one day, it was just all too much and i couldn’t take it anymore so i went into the kitchen to try to find something to put in the hole. i had tried the M & M’s again earlier in the day but a whole family size bag of them had done nothing. looking down at my stomach, i decided that the hole was about as big as an apple and so that seemed like the logical thing to put into it (also, we had just bought apples). i pulled a medium-size granny smith out of the crisper and wiped it off on a hand towel — i don’t know why, it’s just what you do with apples, right? usually when i wipe an apple, i don’t even think about the wiping, it’s a blur, a nothing, but i wiped that apple for a long time, like it was a jewel or something. i wanted it clean, really clean. when i finally couldn’t wipe it anymore, i held it in front of the hole with both hands, looking at it and the hole, comparing their sizes. then i pushed it in and it was gone, zap, the way files disappear from your computer trash can when you delete them.
the relief was amazing and the pain was completely gone. i couldn’t even stand up — i sat on the kitchen floor with the refrigerator open, leaning against a cupboard, breathing. i felt like i had won a war or game of some kind and now it was time for rewards, for settling up, for the bonus round. i sat there on the cold floor and listened to the fan hum and looked into the clear, lighted compartments of the fridge, at all the new possible things i could put in the hole now. in the lowest level of the fridge door, there was a half a jar of maraschino cherries, bright red like drugstore lipstick. i opened the jar and tipped it into the hole, not scared anymore. the cherries plopped into the darkness one by one, riding on the juice. as each one disappeared, i felt a little something all through my body, a little good thing that was fine and all right. as i finished the jar, a few drops of the juice dribbled out of the edge the hole and rolled down my belly, leaving a trail.
but by the weekend, i had gone through a whole fridge full of food and nothing was working anymore, nothing was making the feeling go away — not whipped cream, not sardines packed in oil, not a whole dozen farm fresh eggs. grated cheddar cheese, rocky road ice cream, hot fudge hot and cold, carrots and bell peppers and avocados — nada. nothing would make the pain of the hole go away for more than a couple of hours. for breakfast one morning, i was pouring a box of cereal into the hole, the kind with the colored marshmallows that are shaped like shapes of things. the relief i was getting from this was minimal until suddenly for a second it was much better, so good. i checked the box and realized that i had poured a plastic figurine of a spaceman into the hole, that that was what had made the good feeling. from then on, i put both eatable and uneatable stuff into the hole, anything, just whatever would fit.
the hole and the feelings began to distract me at work, which was no good at all. my job is that i install, service, and repair copy machines locally in the area and no bragging but i’m pretty good at it. it’s not a job that anybody thinks of until they need you and then they think of it and how. people don’t care or think about their copiers even though they probably use them more than any other machine in the office besides the telephone. they don’t understand that each machine has quirks and foibles, a personality — they probably think that all copiers are just copies of each other, of one basic machine that just gets different labels put on it. it annoys me because the copiers (and to a lesser degree faxes) are beautifully constructed and finely tuned machines that get nothing but abuse every day of their lives — people slam or misload the paper trays, overstuff them with toner or try to run them on empty, kick and curse them when they jam.
one day at work, the hole started to hurt so much that i couldn’t even see straight. i was in a little room in the back of this law office, realigning a print head on their ancient Sharp C Series. i was scrunched up, half in and half out of the plastic housing when the feeling hit me like a truck or a ton of bricks or another hard and heavy thing. i pulled myself out of the machine and looked around for things i could put in the hole. but it was a copy room, there was nothing there except paper, loads of white paper in A3 and A4 and A7 and so on. i grabbed sheets of it in big handfuls and crumpled them into balls which i crammed quick into the hole, more and more, until i had finished off a whole carton. the paper was weak — it didn’t make me feel good, but at least it made me feel less bad. a receptionist in a brown skirt walked in, stared at me, and walked out. i left right after that and got a voicemail later in the day that their office would no longer be requiring my services.
eventually, i stopped going on calls and mostly just sat on the couch all day, getting high and watching TV and eating food and putting things into the hole. it would have been awesome, like summer vacation, except for the hole, which kept growing and hurting no matter what i did. i tried to test the hole by alternating periods of putting a lot of things in it and then periods of not putting anything, but it didn’t really seem to make a difference and the hole hurt less, at least, when i was putting things in it so i kept putting things in it. after about a week on the couch, the hole had grown to the circumference of a cantaloupe. it was disturbing to look at all the time so i wore a shirt over it, even though that made it inconvenient when it was time to put things in the hole. i always had to carefully tuck the shirt into my pants and stretch it very tight, because if i didn’t it would get partly sucked into the hole and sometimes i couldn’t get it out again and i only had so many shirts.
when the hole had gotten to be about as wide as a basketball, when it covered basically my entire stomach, i went to the doctor. the feeling from the hole had gotten pretty bad at that point, serious. i know i should have gone sooner, i know, of course, if my mom was still with us she’d have yelled at me but i hate going to the doctor, doctors make me nervous. i kept thinking, stupidly, that the hole might go away on its own.
in the waiting room, there was an old lady sitting across from me with a little boy, probably her grandson or something. to try to stop the hole from hurting, i pulled my shirt up a little and shoved some magazines into it, a people and a time and a good housekeeping with a picture of an apple pie on the cover. the boy’s eyes bugged out when he saw. he pulled his t-shirt up really high and started jabbing at his stomach with a rolled up copy of highlights. the old lady snatched the magazine away from him and shot me a dirty look. i felt bad, not only on account of the old lady, but also because the magazines didn’t do much for the hole anyway and afterwards i worried that they might have germs on them that would make me or the hole sick.
in the second waiting room, i was alone. that was good, it made things easier. in the children’s play area, i found a small house built from legos. i thought it was beautiful, a good design, and so when i lifted it into the hole, i was careful not to break it. next to the house, a child had spelled the word “BLUE” with large wooden blocks. i put these into the hole, one by one, B L U E.
when i sat down on the table in the doctor’s office and took off my shirt, the nurse didn’t seem surprised at all by the hole. she just weighed me and took my blood pressure and temperature and left, said the doctor would be with me in a few minutes. she seemed almost bored with me and my hole and that made feel a lot better. nurses have seen everything, i thought. i wasn’t special, this hole wasn’t a big deal at all, i would be fine. i wished i had come to the doctor sooner — this was great, a great thing, a great day. i dropped half a jar of cotton balls into the hole for good measure.
the doctor, when he appeared, gently probed the edges of the hole with his powdery gloves and asked me, over and over again, “does this hurt? what about this? more or less?” i tried to tell him that the hole didn’t hurt on the outside, that it hurt on the inside, kind of, that it didn’t hurt in the way pain usually hurts but hurt in its own special way, but he didn’t seem to understand. i guess it’s kind of my fault; i’m not very good at talking about things or explaining them and also doctors make me nervous.
he had me breathe in and out deeply while he looked at the hole from different angles; he got down on the floor at one point to look up into it, even. he was very thorough. he shined tiny lights into the hole and held his stethoscope over it, listening carefully. i asked him if i could listen, too, like when you’re a little kid and the doctor lets you hear your heartbeat. he gave me the headphones and i listened really carefully but Iicouldn’t hear anything. he stuck a tongue depressor into the hole and pushed it so far that his entire hand and his arm past the elbow were inside me, but then eventually he pulled his hand out, wrinkling his forehead. he pulled off his gloves and flexed the hand a few times. “it’s really cold in there,” he said.
after making some notes on my chart, he pulled his chair up close to me and crossed his legs and said he was sorry but there was nothing he could do about the hole. this was not the answer i wanted to hear or expected. i asked him if the hole would continue to grow. it was already pretty big and i didn’t know how much bigger it could possibly get, if soon there would be more hole than me, if i would be all hole. he said he didn’t think so but he didn’t know, you couldn’t predict these things, holes were unpredictable. it might get bigger, it might get smaller, it might go away in a week, he said. he said that the hole didn’t seem to be affecting any vital functions and that despite the huge mysterious hole in my stomach, i was actually very healthy for someone my age. i said great. if i wanted, he said, he could refer me to someone who i could talk to about the hole, but he didn’t know if it would be covered by my insurance and if not it would probably be pricey. i said no thanks and left, grabbing a handful of lollipops at reception which i shoved into the hole as soon as i got outside.
on my way home from the doctor’s office, i stopped at the dollar store. the dollar store was a great source of things for the hole. the things i got there weren’t as satisfying as some of the more rare or expensive things that i had put in the hole but there was a very wide selection and the stuff was cheap and small, so as to better fit inside the hole. also, there weren’t many employees so i could easily slip things into the hole right in the store without even buying them. i know that’s bad but i was in a bad situation. besides, if someone saw me and said something (it never happened), i could always show them that i didn’t have whatever they thought they saw me take and also the hole would probably freak them out enough to stop them talking.
at first, i was really into ping pong balls, which at the dollar store came in packages of three in multiple colors and designs. there were also toy soldiers, which i had always loved ever since i was a kid. if i could get them home without opening them, i would play with them a little before throwing them into the hole, have an imaginary battle on the carpet. overall, there was an excellent toy section which i always checked out for new stock first thing but there were also other great items there like sponges and lightbulbs and tiny glass bottles of imitation maple syrup. that day after the doctor’s office, i was really down, though, and the dollar store wasn’t giving me the usual lift it usually gave me, so i didn’t stay long — i just put some hair scrunchies into the hole, bought a few eyeglass repair kits, and left.
next door to the dollar store was a pet shop, a little one, not one of those ones that looks like an alternate walmart but one of those ones that looks like a pet shop in a movie, except dirtier. in the window there were these puppies, the cute, little kind (brown). i mean, i guess all puppies are cute and little at some point but these were the kind that stayed cute and little for a while, maybe for a long while but at least until you got them home from the store. through the window, i looked at the puppies and the puppies looked at me and they played, playfully. i liked watching them, it reminded me of that internet site where they showed videos of puppies all the time, really cute ones. it was popular for a while, and i remember back then it was weird then because girls i knew kept saying they just wanted to eat them and i thought that was weird because why would you eat a dog if you weren’t chinese? i tapped on the glass and one of the puppies barked at my finger but it was cute, little barking, a nice noise.
i went inside and talked to the clerk and as it turns out dogs are really expensive, even the little ones, especially them. i mean, i had no idea, not just the cost of the dog itself but also all the other stuff they make you buy, leash and shots and food and all that. a dog seemed like the right thing for me right then and i wanted one, bad, the cute barking one in particular, but it was just too far outside my budget and so i bought a family of white mice which i said were for my pet boa constrictors and went home.
i tried to make a copy of the hole. i thought that maybe the scanning element of a state of the art xerox 550 or canon CFM professional would be powerful enough to let me see into the hole and figure out what to do about it. i thought i could take a copy to the doctor, a high resolution one on nice paper, good heavyweight stock, vellum, and he might be able to suggest something, kind of like an MRI or an x-ray. so i stuffed the hole as full as i could of sudoku puzzles and rubber bands and then went into one of the offices that i had serviced a couple weeks before, an insurance company. i told the receptionist that i was there for some routine maintenance. she waved me through without even looking at me. in the copy room, i mounted the scanning plate, set the resolution and print quality to the highest setting, knocked down the contrast a little, and pressed “copy.” i could feel the light as it passed through the hole, the line moving from top to bottom. the printer made its printing sound and out popped my image, on A3. at the top of it, you could see my nipples, the little hairs curled up and pressed against my skin, and under that was just flat black, so dark, the toner coming off on my fingers and smearing towards the edges of the paper.
eventually, the pain from the hole got so bad that all i could do was lay on the floor right in front of the TV, occasionally sticking into the hole paperback romance novels and jars of strawberry jam, gumball machine toys, monopoly money, burned CD mixtapes, and neighborhood cats I would lure in with thin-sliced deli meat. sometimes something i would put in the hole would offer a kind of relief but it would usually fade quick. one afternoon, i put a big scrapbook of shelley’s family photos into the hole. she had hid it under the sink behind a pipe and a box of garbage bags because i had put most of the things left in the apartment into the hole at that point. i had only been pretending to sleep when she hid it, though, so i knew where it was. i tried for a while, a long while, it felt like, to not put the scrapbook in the hole because i knew it was so important to her but i just kept thinking about it, about what it would feel like to have it inside me, about how maybe it was the key to filling the hole, one last thing, the cherry on top. one morning, as soon as she closed the door on her way to work, i hobbled my way over to the sink, pulled out the book, and stuck it in the hole without even looking at it.
the relief was immediate. the scrapbook made the pain go away completely, in my whole body. it was incredible, i had fixed the hole, i had finally filled it. no mas. i stood up, i danced, i did jumping jacks, i skipped around the apartment. thoughts raced through my head of all things i could do. i could do anything, i could go to disney world like a football player being interviewed on TV. then, as i was thinking about a beach and umbrella drinks, a wave of pain from the hole hit me and i was on the floor again, reaching for a roll of bubble wrap i had stolen from the recycling bin and saved under the couch.
shelley was so incredible through all of it, even after the scrapbook thing. she set up a pallet on the floor in front of the TV and laid there with me every night when she got off work. even after i put the pillows and blankets and sheet into the hole, still she laid there with me on the bare mattress, shivering. she brought me things, too, special things that she would look for that she thought might help, might solve the hole: a wheel from a unicycle, clown make-up, japanese candy. before the hole we had been having fun together and we liked the same cartoons and stuff but i can’t say it had been anything serious, love-like but not like love. the hole had really brought us together, is what some TV relationship doctor would say.
one night, the pain was so bad that i was laying there just breathing, focusing on my breathing, putting everything I had into “in” and “out.” the TV was on the shopping channel, the sound off, just the light of it flickering above us – a shiny thing was being sold for a price ending in “.99.” shelley was laying beside me on the floor, holding my hand and running her thumb up and down in my palm in rhythm with my breathing, like she was trying to help me breathe, like that’s something another person can do for you if they just try hard enough. it was then that I had to to tell her what i’d been thinking about for days.
“i need you to get into the hole,” i said.
“i can’t,” she said. “no.”
“please?” I said.
she sighed and rolled over and started kissing me on the forehead, little dry-lipped kisses to try to make me feel better. before the hole, before things became like they were, maybe they would have, but now they just weren’t enough, they didn’t do anything. it was like the hole was one of those big movie monsters, like godzilla or king kong or something, and her kisses were just bullets shot by tiny soldiers that bounced off and did nothing.
i put my hand around the back of her head, like i wanted to pull her closer for a kiss, a real kiss, and then i grabbed her hair and shoved her head down into the hole. she screamed and screamed, scraped at me with her fingers, kneed me in the thigh, but even in my condition, i was stronger than her. she was pretty small. the screaming was awful but once i got her head and neck completely in the hole, it wasn’t so loud anymore — i could still hear her but it sounded like when you hear things underwater and they’re all smudged out and echoey. i turned her sideways so that her shoulders and boobs and all the rest of her would fit in and began to pull her, inch by inch. after a while, not even very long, i was pushing down on the bottoms of her little pink ankle socks, still warm, and then she was inside me, gone.
having her there in the hole with me felt so good. the only way i can think to describe it is it felt like after thanksgiving dinner when you’re laying around in the living room and the weight of the food you ate and your blood sugar and that chemical in the turkey is making you sleepy and happy and good. you’re with your family and everybody is loving each other, squeezed into sofas, and they’re all having that turkey feeling, too, and you’re watching a rerun of some old movie on TV and it feels like everything is slow motion and colored funny, like in old pictures of times when light was warm. that’s what it felt like when she got in the hole, times a thousand. it felt better than anything i’ve ever felt in my entire life. but then, five minutes later, it went away. it went away and all i could feel was the hole.
that’s when I went looking for you.
(images from kissing the ceiling by fred muram, via andrew sullivan)