The Hebrew Academy was a small Jewish day school in San Francisco, but in my childhood fever dream it had expanded to become the most powerful organization in the world, and it had hatched a plan to make the Middle Eastern desert bloom by dropping all of the world’s water at once on one spot. I was the only one opposing this obviously dangerous plan, bursting into their board room to argue my case. For my insouciance, I was tied to the top of a wall, and all the world’s water was dropped directly onto me. As the dream went on, it narrowed, until just the feeling of the wall against my back and the terror of the water dropping cycled over and over.
Years later, on my second trip to India, I fell ill in Jaisalmer. Lying in bed in our freezing room, I turned to my girlfriend and moaned, “I’m scared.”
“I don’t know!”
I’d gone out earlier to partake in a bhang lassi — a marijuana-laced yogurt drink — and my girlfriend assumed I was just getting hit with a wave of drug-induced paranoia. She reached out to pat me on the forehead, then recoiled when she felt the heat coming off me.
I’ve since learned that a wave of nonspecific fear is often a prelude to serious digestive problems. You know the way your stomach drops when you’re afraid? Well, my brain notices the stomach-drop feeling and tells me I must be scared. I’ve felt it in Mazatlan, and I’ve felt it in Cape Coast. The vomiting is usually not far behind.
In Jaisalmer, I was facing one of those nights where you’re not sure which end to put on the toilet first. What made it worse was that we were staying in a suite in an old haveli — a traditional stone-built mansion — which meant that the bathroom was down a long hallway. Havelis are built to stay cool in the searing desert heat of Jaisalmer, but we happened to be there for one of the five or ten nights per decade when the temperature dropped to near freezing.
As the night wore on, I was afflicted by another recurring fever dream, this time about triangles. There were three menacing triangles, and they operated in succession: first the triangle of my lower torso would spasm to painful life again; then I had to navigate the triangle of bed, flip-flops, and jacket hanging on the wall; and finally there was the triangle formed from the long L-shaped journey to the bathroom. These triangles were my enemy. They were attacking me.
As usually happens, the illness ran its course through the night, leaving me exhausted but recovering by morning. We got a house call from a local doctor, who patted my stomach and gave me rehydration powder and charged me six dollars for his troubles.