I am a reluctant insomniac. I mean, sure, it is a fabulous and glamorous lifestyle choice- but my body hates me for it. So this is what I am doing. Frantically typing out words, in a haphazard, last-ditch effort to possibly coax my brain to sleep. As if this will work. Aren’t we supposed to turn off anything that has a screen, hours before the apportioned time allotted for our heads to hit the pillows? Or hit the hay? I’m sorry, to switch subjects here- but where did that saying even come from? Have we been muttering it that long? Just passing down these proverbs since before beds were invented, and our great-great-great cavemen grandfathers were so wise in their colloquialisms that we kept that one? Or are we just too tired to think of a new one?
I wish I could take some sort of drugs for this- Lunesta, or Ambien, or heck, Valium*. But every time I talk to a doctor about it, it’s in the midst of something else. Some other trip to the doctor, that I have attempted to push off until medically necessary. “So, Mr. Roper, tell me about this lump you feel in your testicle.” Well, Doc, I’d love to, but first, can you prescribe something that might help me get some fricking sleep? The results are always the same. The medical community, with the exception of possibly Michael Jackson’s old doctor, is not really that into pushing drugs to help me get any sleep.
So.. not to drop a bomb on you, like “I have testicular cancer” or something. I don’t, but I thought I did. It’s not like I spend an inordinate amount of time feeling around down there, it’s just that this one time in the shower I felt it to be an opportune moment. And, you guessed it, there was a lump. The funny thing is that I didn’t have health insurance at the time. You know, the glamorous life of rockstars? So I actually let it go for about six months, charting its progress diligently every time I showered, and many other times I felt inclined to throughout the day, until a time in my life was able to present itself where I actually could afford some basic coverage. So I went to the doctor. And, it was one of the most awkward and discomforting things that has ever happened to me.
First off, let me disclose some things. Very personal things. When I married my wife, at the ripe old age of thirty-one, I was a virgin. Now, before you either judge me, or think about electing me for sainthood, you should know that it was only partially intentional. I had always wanted to have sex, (oh yes- that glorious holy grail of youthful desire) but two things had kept me from it. First, I am, and was, a practicing Christian. Not that I think I am better than anyone else, or that I did it out of a sense of duty, or anything of the sort. My love for God is real, and I believe that it is also reciprocated. It’s hard to flippantly throw out what is possibly the most important sense of meaning and purpose that I have in the world- but there it is. Without burdening you with apologetics or doctrine, in a nutshell- I hoped that if I could avoid having sex before marriage, as I felt the Bible was asking me to do- God would in some way look upon that favorably. Or at least something magical and good would happen.
It gets better. So the second reason, is that somehow it just never happened. It never worked. I am a super-awkward person, who only dabbles in fraternizing with other people- especially girls. A few times, where one of these occasions happened, and somehow filtered through my good Christian resolve, I just froze up. There were a number of times where girls would proposition me, or even crazier things- like show me their boobs, or their tattoos, or their tattoos on their boobs. But as it unfolded, there was always this voice in the back of my head saying, “Is this REALLY happening?”, and “What do I do now?” Seriously.
Things like this would happen maybe once a year, or every other year. Not frequently enough that I could ever hope to have the whole “sex with a girl” thing figured out. And really- I am awkward. The rest of the time my unwavering will held, or when it broke down, I would be left basically scrambling, trying to figure out how people ACTUALLY got into situations where they were ACTUALLY having sex. I think drinking is involved, but even to this day, I still haven’t figured it out.
So what is a teenage boy to do? I can remember at a low point in my steadfast resolve that was also compiled with another low point in my ability to actually talk to girls- I decided to see if... how should I put this, my equipment even functioned at all. I figured, soap might help. And yes, it did. One bright and glorious afternoon I discovered what my friends and I now jokingly refer to as Defragging the Hard-Drive. It worked. In more ways than one. It also probably kept me from dry humping just about everything and everyone through most of my teens and twenties. There is an old joke passed around between male friends that says that 90% of all guys claim to masturbate, and the other 10% are lying about it.
It’s not that I just catapulted myself into constant masturbation. It was just there. And despite years of battling between the guilt of losing self-control by succumbing to whatever lustful thoughts could fill my young mind while I went through with it, versus bringing someone else into that selfish act- masturbation was always the lesser of two evils.
Which leads us back to the story. The Tale of Nutty Lumpkins. Yes. Before I met my wife, I had hit a panic state. I was thirty, and closing in on thirty-one. I was very afraid that I was never going to have sex, and I did what anyone does in a panic state: I started trying to make deals with God. “Okay, God. If I stop masturbating, can you please find it in your wonderful heart to not waste any more of this pent-up sexual frustration and provide me with: A. The biblical outlet for the aforementioned frustration, or B. My penis to just fall off?”
I was afraid that the second one was actually happening. I mean, that’s what it’s for, am I right? To put in something? A woman? If even just for the purpose of advancing my awkward genes in the gene pool? Yes, but something kept holding me back. First Corinthians aside, I was still a bumbling and gangly dolt, and by now there was a third reason for me to not have sex before marriage: I had somehow, accidentally become part of this great pantheon of people with self-control. At least superficially. Seriously, I felt like Ghandi. A sexual Ghandi, who sometimes cheated on his hunger strikes by masturbating. The point is, I was a thirty year old VIRGIN. Sometimes, even by choice. This, at least in theory, seemed impressive. Well, to some people. To the rest of you, aren’t you supposed to be Dungeon-Mastering right now?
Anyway, I did make a deal with God. No more masturbating for me, and for Him- some sort of supermodel with a masters degree in Molecular Biology would mysteriously show up at church the next week, flick her hair back and blink her brilliant green eyes, while she explained how cute she thought guys with disproportionately long arms were. My record up to that point was twenty-one days without masturbation. Fourteen days had happened about one hundred times, but was very difficult to press beyond. All of those times usually ended in some mad, guilt-stricken, binge of penis-abusing fury. It could, at times, be terrifying. Ask my mother about the time she accidentally saw it. So what else is a teenage boy to do? Or a twenty-ish something man with the maturity level of a fourth grader- to do? I was seriously pushing it to go beyond the record, which had been set one very cold winter during final exams my sophomore year in college. But this time, I had decided it was all or nothing.
I can’t really remember much from that period. I do remember that I mostly felt like an animal. There are vague pictures buried deep in my psyche of wandering around, just trying not to look at anything. The problem was, when I looked around, to simply take in the world about me or to enjoy the beauty of this lovely planet- anything could trigger an immediate boner. Any sort of cleavage, or female, or magazine featuring females, or book featuring females, or basically... any object within the scope of things outside or inside of the house, up to and including any woman or girl in the known world, equaled an immediate boner. A mad, insatiable desire to hump anything and everything I thought about or saw enveloped me. TV was out of the question. Movies, even rated G, were outside, and that meant women, so also- no. And computers? HAVE YOU EVEN SEEN THE INTERNET? I basically just wandered around stammering, unable to look at things, or talk to anyone- FOR SIXTY DAYS. Sixty days of feeling pretty much insane, and only thinking about my penis - and what to do to make my brain stop thinking about my penis- while not looking at anything. I couldn’t even think straight enough to talk to people. Every thought that entered into my head just trailed off into some sub-plot that involved my penis, or objects or persons that I felt should, under better circumstances, be touching my penis. “Hello, penis. What’s that? Boner? Oh, great, I thought that boobs boner penis. Yes. My penis, too.”
It was an endless cascade of sexual assault, but I pressed on, hoping for that supermodel to just be around the corner, waiting for me in God’s glorious last-ditch timing. After day fifty, it almost seemed to ease up a little, like I was hitting some sort of stride, and it was going to get better. I was a sexual ultra-marathon runner, and I had just passed mile fifty. That was, until I found Nutty Lumpkins.
Nutty Lumpkins was discovered on day number sixty-one. A half- inch little mound on the upper portion of my left testicle. I found this lump probably later than I should have because I was trying at all costs to avoid touching my junk. My testicles, at the time, felt like they were being jackhammered. I think that they were a bit on the swollen side from being neglected, and at the point I discovered the lump, my only thought was to cradle them a bit so that the pain might actually stop, and I possibly would not think about them all the time.
And there it was. “Is that a lump?”, I thought. My mind went straight to statistics I remembered from some high school health class. What is the leading type of cancer in young men ages eighteen to twenty-five? Crap. Testicular cancer? All I could think of were two things. One, my nuts really hurt. And Two, there is only one way to find out if this is the leading type of cancer in young men, ages eighteen to twenty-five and sometimes about to turn thirty-one and don’t have health insurance because they are in a very broke rock band, OR- if it is just my left ball trying to slowly explode because I have not masturbated in TWO MONTHS. Basically, it boiled down to science. I, as any respectful person with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of Colorado, had to find answers.
About twenty seconds later, a new record was set, but no new answers were found. As the days progressed I slipped back into my old habits, and although the pain in my nuts and my inability to function outside of my apartment subsided, Nutty Lumpkins did not. Nutty Lumpkins, as this addition to my left testicle was also known as, to myself and the public at large, was still there. I really couldn’t tell if it was getting better or not. I knew that the intense “my balls feel like two oranges constantly bashing into my legs each and every time I take a step” pain, was subsiding. But there was still a definite lump. I resolved to just be vigilant about tracking its size and shape until it got worse, or I was able to obtain some sort of health insurance- which I was told by the nice lady at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Colorado, they did not offer to musicians. She said it was a “high risk” vocation. Apparently she had been to a few of our concerts. “Really?” I asked. “You should try not masturbating for sixty days. It’s very high risk.” We laughed and laughed.
So a month passed. And although bargaining with God has never worked for me, I really did meet the most beautiful woman I had ever laid eyes on. Long story short, she thought my abnormally long arms were cute, she was quirky, and funny, and brilliant and had also been approaching that same thirty-year-old-virgin mark. Six months later, against the well intentioned advice of our parents, we were married.
One of the better things that comes with marriage in this country, for me at least, happens to be health insurance. After our honeymoon, a lackluster early December jaunt to Stowe, Vermont, I decided to finally go get Mr. Lumpkins inspected by an expert. So I called the insurance company and was referred to: Dr. Whoever Was The Closest To Where I Lived. On a bright January morning I proceeded to make an appointment, and later that week, I went to said appointment. The thing is, Dr. Whoever Was The Closest To Where I Lived, was not only pretty fresh into residency, but she was a woman. The last thing I wanted in the world, was to explain my sexual history to a young, fairly attractive, doctor lady.
It was freakishly embarrassing to explain the Nutty Lumpkins saga to her in its entirety, but I felt it needed to be done, so I persevered. Minus a few of the more subtle details. i.e. that I had named the lump on my left testicle, or that I had been describing it to my friends as being either an apartment for wayward sperm, or the Big C. Not to be confused with the “Little C”, which has been pointed out to me by one of my friends- is canker. Canker is bad, and God knows I’ve neglected my fair share of vitamin C. But from what I hear, Cancer is slightly worse.
So, I tell Dr. Whoever Was The Closest To Where I Lived, my story. At which point she explains that she is “not an expert”, and the first step is for her to examine my testicle. I agree to this examination, and with all the courage I could muster, produce the suspect in question, being careful to explain that it may have subsided if in fact it is not cancer, but rather an “apartment for wayward sperm”. This is noted with nervous laughter. As I stand there holding my balls, I attempt to point out the location of Mr. Lumpkins to this very attentive young lady. And wouldn’t you know it, HE HAS DISAPPEARED. What? Yes. Now, after a month solid of unleashing the fury of pent-up sexual frustration as a newlywed, I am now privy to new information. First, it wasn’t cancer. And second, more importantly, I am standing in front of a young, attractive, female resident, stammering about how I just had a lump on my testicle, and now can’t find it. Fantastic. As my balls begin to retreat in fear, much to her credit as a medical professional, she presses on.
Five minutes into the most embarrassing point of my life, she decided her inspection was also having no results. So she asked me to wait there, while she summoned the Attending Physician. The blood must have ran out of my face. “It’s okay,” she says, “he has some experience with urology”. At least it’s a man, I thought. Wait a second... a man? Well, one of my fears was at least placated. After I had first dropped my pants, I had this sneaking fear that Dr. Whoever, upon finding no results, thought I was some sort of highly evolved pervert. A pervert with better health insurance than most, who makes delicate appointments to expose himself to female doctors- after filling out the required paperwork, of course.
The Attending Physician, Dr. I Had A Rotation Through Urology Back In The Seventies, arrived about fifteen minutes later. The whole fifteen minutes of which I had stood there with my pants around my ankles, enjoying the mid-January weather. When he arrived, he proceeded to explain to me what a testicular cyst was, feel both of my balls for about ten minutes, and inform all three people in the room that he may have found something. But, as he let me and Dr. Whoever Was The Closest To Where I Lived know, he needed to confirm it with an actual urologist.
So I wait another half hour. Dr. I Am An Actual Urologist finally came in with the two other doctors, and asked if it would be okay for a few medical students to also be in the room. “Sure”, I said, my voice cracking slightly. “Why not?” Why not just print an open invitation for the entire medical community to travel from the world over, to gently feel my balls.
There were five medical students, a very strange definition for a “couple”. And after he confirmed a very small testicular cyst by rolling both nuts around between his fingers for what seemed like an eternity, his verdict was confirmed by three of the five medical students. I felt like leaning out in the hall and asking the receptionist and other patients if they too, would like to examine my balls or any other part of my body. Maybe I would just continue with this pantslessness, and walk home, seeking out amateur testicle inspectors, aiding and abetting them in fostering their craft. It was, as I said, probably the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to me.
In the years since, Nutty Lumpkins has never really come back. No, he was only replaced by something a little more benign: insomnia. It is actually what started me writing this essay. You see, my wife is a flight attendant, which causes her to be gone about three nights a week. And for some reason, when she leaves, I have the hardest time falling sleep. I have tried everything. Exercise, not exercising, Benadryl, NyQuil, Tylenol PM, counting sheep, meditation, reading, and even warm milk. Nothing seems to help. The over-the-counter drugs leave me too groggy to function at work the next day, and the holistic stuff seems to only be a placebo.
What I have discovered is that no space-age memory-foam mattress can replace the sense of peace that I have when laying next to my wife. In the back of my head, there are times that I think that maybe I was wrong to wait until I was married to have sex, there still being some small part of me that worries that I have missed out on something good, but I doubt it. I doubt it because it is 3:30 in the morning, and I’ve been laying here for six hours just trying to force myself to sleep, and I cannot, because she is away on a trip. And I know that if she was here, though I still struggle to get a full night’s sleep sometimes, I would have drifted off several hours back. There is something to be said for having waited for her. Something calms my soul about this situation. That my wife also staved off her body, and every advance from every other boy or man until we were married because she believed that something better was still out there. She is also that strong. Or has had some serious help from someone who is. Either way, it somehow helps me to sleep. To know that beside me, for better or for worse, is a person that fought just as hard as I did, but did it for me. Who hoped against all hope that it would have some greater meaning. It does.
* I wrote this essay about three years ago, well before most of my work in the STBICU at UVA, and was prescribed Trazodone for my PTSD related insomnia. Please see the blog "Used to be a Christian Rock Star Looks Really Bad ons Resume" for details.