Remember the awful, satisfying feeling that set in Halloween night after you'd eaten three or four pounds of mini-Mars bars? Or the descending lurch that swirled your abdomen when the teacher caught you talking in class? Or how about the anger that inflated somewhere around your navel before rising to your throat when Jimmy got picked for the cool kids' dodgeball team even though he always got hit before you did?
There's nothing like a stomachache to induce memories of childhood. No matter how old you are, there's always a flash of 8-year-old left inside to remind you of its versatility and silent, bubbling potency, and the authority you once wielded by being invested with illness.
The stomachache is one of youth's most delicate yet powerful tools. There is no proof it exists, yet threatens to wreak havoc on the affected and anyone within spewing distance. A stomachache is not like a fever, which can be easily disproved with glass and mercury, or the flu, which requires a runny nose and watery eyes, not easy symptoms to manufacture. No, the stomachache lives in a land all its own, visiting the Ferris Buellers of the world with suspicious frequency and helping every child escape at least one looming test.
Wasn't it easy to wake up, decide you didn't want to go to school, and immediately realize you were painfully ill with one of those 24-hour bugs going around? A few looks shot from puppy dog eyes later you were home free, sitting on the couch propped up with pillows and watching Regis and Kathie Lee while your mom called into the office. By noon it was safe to eat lunch, which because you were sick was always something hot, comforting and way better than the soggy PB&J your mom would have tried to pawn off on you otherwise.
The day only got better as it wore on. Eventually your mom would get sick of the endless parade of cartoons you commanded run across the TV screen and either take you to run errands with her (always exciting to be out in public while the rest of the elementary and secondary community was stuck in school) or, even better, make you promise you felt better and then let you out to play. There were no class notes to copy, no 3-absence attendance policies, no jobs and no repercussions to staying home. All you needed was a note from your mom, and you were in the clear. Life was good.
But sometimes the stomachache took control, puppeteering your body while you stammered out a watery excuse and your mind rolled over the realization that you had no one to blame for the pain but yourself. It usually started with the second slice of birthday cake following three pieces of pizza, a couple of glasses of soda and a goody bag of candy. That was when your parents gave you The Look, or perhaps a small, wry smile that clearly said, "I told you so." And then you spent the whole ride home from Chuck E. Cheese bemoaning your gluttonous state, angling for sympathy and praying your mom wouldn't go too fast over the bumps.
But that was okay, too, because once your parents were convinced you'd learned your lesson they packed you into bed with your new She-Ra action figure (the one with bendable knees and a real plastic sword) and told you stories about dragons and princesses.
Even the stomachache that couldn't be fixed by your mom, the schoolache, was a pretty good feeling in the end. It started with a squabble over crayons or kickball, mounted into a bout of name-calling and "Nyah-nyahs," and maybe caused you to lose your best friend for two days. But it was simple and easy, and went away when you kicked at loose stones and let go a few hot, salty tears as you walked home from school.
Now it's not so easy. There are no more Break the Rules days, your mom can't solve all your problems, and if you fight with your friends you just might lose them for good. Even the trusty stomachache, which once signified the end to your problems was near, is now an ensign of trouble glowering dark on the horizon.
Now, a stomachache means you've got to face the problem and find a solution before your body and mind will settle. Your hangover is going to get worse before it gets better and your professor won't accept a note from your mom. When your stomach aches with dread you feel like a little kid again, but not in the cinema-tinged nostalgia of childhood flashbacks. You feel helpless, even if just for a lightning moment.
It kind of makes you wish you'd have eaten just one more Mars bar.
Questions or comments? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.