Stages of a Prd


I am in class. Presently, my legs are twisted into a corkscrew, my hands pressing down on the back of a chair with enough pressure to snap it. I was speaking a second ago, but I have since stopped so that I could focus every molecule of my being into one act. Or non-act.

All eyes are on me, which just exacerbates my discomfort. They are eyeing me as if I’d done something odd, like suspiciously and abruptly stop speaking in the mid-sentence.

As each teacher understands, your body sometimes has to perform a function when you are in class. Sometimes this is as easily solvable as setting a long task and stepping off to the John. Other times you understand that what has to happen is going to take longer, but it’s OK because it’s not urgent. Other, more unfortunate, times you understand that what has to happen is desperately trying to happen right at that moment.

That’s when you enter DEFCON.

DEFCON 5 marks the lowest level of readiness for these scenarios. But I started out at DEFCON 4, which was my own fault. This past weekend, though it was the first week of May, Prague refused to respect that fact. It had decided instead to stubbornly hold onto winter. Instead of a warm blue weekend, it was gray, rainy, and cold. So I stayed home and made soup. Friday it was a pot of dark beer chili that I could enter into a county fair. Sunday it was a ham and bean stew and Monday it was a small pot of cabbage soup. It provided the comfort that my stormy soul needed in an extended winter weekend.

Like most people in their forties, I understand my body pretty well. Nine minutes after my morning coffee I am going to be in the bathroom with reading material. Two slices of pepperoni pizza will generate enough heartburn to run the electric in my flat. If I enjoy too many carbohydrates, my intestinal system lays concrete in itself, puts up a Road Closed sign, and is completely shut down for a day or two.

I had spent the weekend ingesting lots of beans, processed meat, beef, cabbage, and beer. Do the math. I prepared for the fallout by taking Alka-Seltzer on Tuesday morning and carrying Tums with me as though they were an Epipen.

It wasn’t enough. At DEFCON 4 the urgency and pressure are overwhelming, but with an acute concentration akin to those who live in Himalayan monasteries and say ohm a lot, I manage to stave off the assault. My mantra: maintain. maintain. maintain. When I finally unscrew my legs and wrench my hands from the back of the chair, I set a task and step out into the stairwell. Out here, there’s air, it’s quiet. It’s evening so there are no people around. It’s out here that I can release pressure.

I don’t need to tell you that this doesn’t happen. Not only do we know our bodies, our bodies know us, and they are total impish assholes. So we get stage fright, so we get hit with a bout of diarrhea ten seconds after setting out on a long bus journey, and so when we are finally granted the freedom to do what we have been dying to do for the last nine minutes, it won’t come. I wait, lean and bend into a bastardized sort of yoga ostensibly meant to clear up some inner-channel for that which was knocking persistently on the exit door a moment before. But nothing. So I curse and head back in.

DEFCON 3 comes immediately, as if in retribution for trying to outmaneuver the game. I take deep breaths and look around, maybe I can sneak one out and open the window wide to disperse it. This plan is nixed instantly. A. If it smells there is nothing I can do to contain it. B. If it makes a sound I will have to move to a cave on Mars or, C. if both A and B then I will be forced, by the universal code of humiliation, to jump through the window to my death and kill myself on the way down.

So I breathe.

I also have flashbacks. Whether my brain utilizes them to distract itself from the discomfort or I am hallucinating, I do not know. But both flash back to classroom attacks. In the first grade I squeezed my nose to withhold a sneeze that somehow managed to come out audibly at the other end of my body. The breach was caught by Melissa Wombwell, the 6 year old goddess who sat in front of me. She turned and gave me a look that single-handedly delayed my first kiss by a decade.

The second was Latin class in junior year of high school. It was first period, roughly ten minutes after I’d throw down an egg and pork roll breakfast sandwich. One day I let loose a tiny one and Ms. Atkins cleared out the room, literally sending us to walk through the hallway while the room aired out. To this day, I have never been so proud and disgusted with myself as I was while on that hallway walk.

With two minutes left in class, I reach DEFCON 2. Through a sweaty brow I dismiss the students and gawk in horror as one of them comes to chat with me. I want to tell her that things are imminent, but I lack the linguistic ability in any language at the moment, so I nod and whisper goodnight until she backs out of the room.

When release comes I finally understand what The Quickening is like for Highlanders. I go through a reverse DEFCON trek of pleasure and relaxation so potent that I can’t properly relate it or the visions I was granted during them. I think there was a white rabbit. I meander to the tram, light as a feather, enjoying aftershocks of release as I prance along (NB in only three situations do I allow myself to actually prance, this is one of them). I think I’ll have the rest of my cabbage soup for dinner, because if my body has lived by one rule it’s that it refuses to learn lessons.

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