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Trade Paperback
245 pages
Jul 2005
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Flashbang: How I Got Over Myself

by Mark Steele

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the stones

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The first time she dialed emergency that year was not as earth-shattering as the second, but nevertheless uncomfortable. That first time, my wife Kaysie was dialing 9-1-1 for the pain inside of me. Me. The Dad.

I always prefer that any danger in the vicinity will first apply to me. At  least I do in theory, because I find it easier to suffer physical pain than emotional anguish, which is what happens to me if the physical pain is thrust upon anyone else important in my life. It has only now dawned on me that this makes me selfish, instead of fatherly. But isn’t that almost the case with any father: that he takes the weight, the brunt, the pain, the cold slice of pizza for the sake of being (or at least appearing) stronger? I believe a father would bring on the pain at any and all times—welcome it, in fact— for the sake of that ever-elusive impression of strength.

Unless, of course, the pain in question feels like a monkey is attempting to escape from the father’s abdomen.

The specific pain in question that required a call to 9-1-1 began subtle, like food poisoning (i.e. that which was consumed for a meal is now alive and retaliating from inside—and it is obligated to smell like some sort of cleaning solution whose ingredients include ammonia and something citrus), but digressed quickly. It moved to a very specific pinpoint somewhere in the vicinity of the six-pack of abs I would have if I wasn’t so infatuated with cake, and began to dig. Dig. DIG. How do I describe the dig? It’s a digging. It’s—no, that doesn’t work ... It’s like a little tickle. You know that little tickle.

Like when a squirrel eats your eye.

There was definitely something wrong. Something incompatible with all that was taking place inside my person. In short, I felt like my insides were chewing themselves outward.

I have attempted to keep portions of myself from you for at least a page, and I’m certain that I will be alternately successful and unimpressive in my attempts to hide more, somewhat valuable facts. However, I cannot proceed with this (albeit clever) anecdote concerning a rather lengthy physical malady (still a mystery) until I make a confession. By the grace of God, I am many things: some decent, some questionable, some whimsical. But one thing that I am which I am uncertain how to categorize is the thing that many people believe I am only. I alluded to this before, but here it is, laid out plain for the world to see.

I am a comic.

Did you enjoy how I said “a comic” instead of “a stand-up comedian” as if that lends the occupation an air of renaissance? Yes. A comic. I like that. It’s not telling jokes. It’s not what your uncle does. It’s art. Unless your uncle is named Art, in which case, it isn’t like that at all. I am a comic. Not an “angry young man” comic, utterly disappointed by everything and everyone. I am not that. I mean, I am disappointed. From time to time. Often. As a matter of fact, hundreds of times. Let’s take this opportunity to name eight of them.

1. When the primary Christmas present was a parakeet.

2. The second time she dialed emergency.

3. Two out of three Matrix films.

4. When the needle was the size of a McDonald’s straw.

5. The way I respond to other people’s faults as opposed to the way I hope they respond to mine.

6. Two-hundred and twenty-seven pounds!

7. When I went back into the woods.

8. Bad eggs in Iowa. These are disappointments. And sometimes they are, in fact, comedy.

Nor am I a “Christian comedian,” a label which I resist because Christian comedians as a rule are not funny—and unfortunately, funny is a necessary sum of the parts of a comedian. So, I am not a Christian comedian. I am a follower of Christ. And, thank God, sometimes I am funny for profi t, gain, and unhealthy doses of adoration by others. I did, however, participate in a Christian comedy tour during the year 1994.

And we did, indeed, take a brief but life-altering stop in Iowa. This brings us back to the first time I had food poisoning, which, again, is not the mystery illness I am building toward in the “digging” story that began the chapter, but IS important to where we are going. I cannot convince you of this. You will simply have to trust me.

So quickly—before I resume the mystery—I will refer to the time years prior that I came face to face with bad eggs in Iowa.

I have nothing against Iowa. One of my closest friends in the world is from Iowa. That’s not necessarily his fault. But I am disappointed in Iowa’s preparation of omelets. For instance, a Denver omelette should, when prepared with knowledge, include diced ham, sharp cheddar cheese, and eggs that will not kill you.

Well, I simply hurled for days.

And understand that this was the deep-cleansing, brace-your-knees-on-the-toilet-spine sort of throwing up. The sort that is exaggerated over generations into a tale of one brave soul losing his lunch so violently, the large intestine urps outward, unscrolling into the crack of a whip, single-handedly flaying a wildebeest. Nevertheless, the bad eggs were a process that began with a pinpointed ache in the abs. This same ache was the one returning to frighten me the night Kaysie called emergency.

The location of the pain was reason enough to consider this new, dingo-sawing-on-my-liver sensation the product of a bad meal. I obsessed on the pain, lying there in the fetal position next to my sleeping and pregnant wife at three in the morning. It simply had to be an extreme case of food poisoning (it wasn’t—and I tell you this only to regain the air of mystery that I sense is being lost on you). I made my way to the bathroom and waited for my Extra Value-Sized meal to take leave.

Waiting. Nothing. Waiting. Nothing.

I finally realized that whatever was holding on was holding on hard, and that my lunch was going to lollygag1 around until I asserted myself into the process. So I tensed every muscle I could avail and gave my intended oneway meal a round-trip ticket. In other words, I made my best attempt to throw up.

But, how should I say—something caught.

I suddenly became blinded by my own pain, an intense piercing deep into my gut. It was the fi rst time during a sickness that I had the thought “something is very wrong.” I felt myself turn blue then green then white, but before I succumbed to the growing onslaught of fainthood, I crawled (no joke, literally tugging at the carpet strands for leverage) back to my bed and awakened my pregnant wife.

Note of caution: never wake up pregnant people (you will notice I used the term “people” as to not blame one specific gender). My wife is a gentle woman—kind, very much like Jesus. But put a baby in her, and you might as well invest in gauze and bactine. Not that she wounds me out of anger when she is pregnant—she does not. She wounds me out of clumsiness. This is why one should never put a pair of scissors in a woman’s hand during a season in which she has no peripheral sightline.

But, of course, I woke her up anyway because I could not breathe (which is slightly above mortal fl esh wounds on the list of damage). She woke up in a spasm of fl ailing and was instantly taken aback by the color in my face, as it matched the hue of most dead bodies. This is when she dialed emergency.

The emergency number is 9-1-1—or if you memorize phone numbers by their corresponding letters on the dial, it is YAA! Th e barely lifelike person on the other end of the phone picked up and asked my wife if there was an emergency she would like to report. Kaysie informed her that I could not breathe. The emergency woman responded that this was not a good thing.

My wife concurred with this state of not-goodness. Emergency woman then confirmed that all parties were in agreement in regard to the growing state of emergency. I, in the meantime, was growing more and more aware of the weight of my spleen and seeing visions of friends and relatives at the end of a bright tunnel.

Kaysie asked what should be done in regard to the dilemma of no apparent oxygen traveling to my brain. To this question, the emergency girl responded to keep an eye on me.