08/20/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Strange Bedfellow

There are just some things I'll never understand. Calculus is one. Pharmaceutical-industry pricing is another. And I'll never understand why I awoke in the night when I was 7 to find a human turd next to my head.

Math and medical money matters I may get to the bottom of eventually, but the mystery of the poo, I fear, will never be solved.

The event happened decades ago, but the memory remains terribly vivid. I awoke suddenly, alone, in my mom's dimly lit bedroom in the middle of a blustery South Florida night. As I slowly came to consciousness, I could smell the salty sea air outside. I could also smell crap.

I slowly opened my eyes, and there it was, maybe a foot from my head, as if someone had taken a pair of tongs and placed it there just for me. I recoiled, and scurried away into a corner like a palmetto bug startled by the light. From my safe harbor, I rubbed my eyes and stared disbelieving at the terrible, motionless log. Was this a dream, or was it reality? I racked my little brain for answers, becoming increasingly agitated.

Had our dog Dipper Dan -- big and husky and named for a nearby ice cream store -- climbed up on the bed in the night and deposited it, mad at me for neglecting to parcel out enough scraps under the table that day? No, it didn't seem like a dog log. It was more... robust than that.

Was it one of my four older siblings trying to break me mentally? Yeah, it's true: not too long before that, my brother Paul -- 11 years my senior -- had handed me a weirdly shaped bottle of cologne and yelled, "Good God! It's a bomb! Run -- run for your life!" Terrified, I scrambled out of the house and tore into the street thinking that was the last I'd ever see my family. But Paul was a nice guy, relatively speaking. I couldn't imagine he'd take a dump next to me in the night. At least not intentionally.

I moved in closer, peering gingerly at the sizable thing. Would Don have done it? Fourteen years older than me and pretty sly, Don had been known to do some pretty vexing things. He would hit the brakes on his Pontiac GTO abruptly over and over again, and then turn to little me sitting in the passenger seat and barely tall enough to see out the window, and yelp, "Stop!" as if I was obsessively pulling some lever somewhere and ruining our trip to the 7-Eleven. Don also was fond of warning me that if I sniffled instead of blowing my nose when I had a cold, I would develop webbed feet. He'd hold up his own bizarre, Aquaman-looking dogs and say, "You really don't want to end up like this, chief. Have a Kleenex." Clearly, Don was doing his part to mess up my head. But would he sidle up and drop one next to me as I slept? I really didn't think so.

And what about my older sister, who would hold me down while her boyfriend tickled me until I screamed and cried and thought for sure my organs were going to explode? Nope, she was mean back then, but she wasn't the pooping sort. And neither was my other sister, who was generally too swept up in her tennis-team competitions and her huge lapel-wearing boyfriends to mess with me.

My last guess was my mom, whose bed I was in. After my parents divorced when I was 4, I used to crawl in that bed in the middle of the night, or just go to sleep there to begin with, if Mom let me. Ensconced in her king-sized Serta with the garish gold headboard, I was in a cocoon of safety and joy. But it was a mixed blessing. Soon after my parents split up, Mom took to partying. I'd fall asleep next to her while she watched Dick Cavett or talked on the phone, then hours later I'd awaken in the dark alone. Usually there wasn't a turd there, though.

Sure, the fresh deposit could have been Mom's, but I knew that generally moms didn't shit the bed. And if they did, they'd likely clean it up before they went out dancing.

So who then?

Suddenly I remembered the dream I'd had the night before. George Washington was chasing me through the woods. The woods were dreary and cold and George was very, very mad. I awoke that night shaken. Standing there in my nightgown, then, on the night of the turd, I wondered for a minute if George perhaps had returned, doling out the only punishment he could muster from the other side. But really, that didn't seem likely.

Then a heinous possibility arrived in my head. Could I have done it? Big, hot shame began to crawl through my chest and stomach, but I stopped it in its path. That was far too abominable a scenario to bear. Besides, I reasoned, if I'd done it, how had it gotten up by my head, huh? I worked hard to block out the fact that the night before, when George was pursuing me mightily and gnashing his teeth, I'd woken up with my tousled dome down where my not-yet-webbed feet should have been. Yes, I was a thrasher, so it's possible that my butt could have been up by the headboard at some point in the night. But I was no baby pooping all over the place. I was big! I was 7!

Hovering directly over the steaming anomaly and feeling jittery and shameful, I knew I'd likely never solve the stinking riddle. I also knew I had no other alternative but to wake someone to assist, as I was too little to negotiate changing the sheets and disposing of the repellent interloper. I went with the least sadistic sibling, Lisa.

"There's poo in the bed," I whispered, shaking her shoulder in the dark. Looking confused and irritated, she ushered me back to mom's room. Miraculously, Lisa didn't linger around reacting to the turd; instead, she just sprung into silent, efficient action. Assuming I did it, I guess, she drew a bath and stuck me in it while she put flowered sheets where solid blue ones had been. I didn't see exactly what she did with the ca-ca. Now I wish I had; it might have provided more closure.

Lisa helped me into some fresh jammies and tucked me into clean sheets, working like a world-weary nurse hurrying to finish the night shift. I passed out straightaway, exhausted from the stressful odyssey and tranquilized by the warm bath. When I came to the next morning, my parakeet was chirping in the next room and Mom was laying in bed reading, taking no notice of the new sheets. Lisa came in and turned on the TV, acting like nothing had happened. She didn't even look at me askance. I pretended like nothing had happened too, wanting more than anything to keep it from my mom, just in case it was actually me who'd given birth to the dung. I couldn't risk the possible humiliation, nor could I risk potential banishment from the big bed. In this zone of silence, I couldn't begin investigative questioning. I would never unlock the origins of the puzzling poo; I had to just flush it out of my head and move on.

Fast-forward many, many years: I'm on the phone, for some reason relating the story to my sister-in-law, the one married to Don, who'd become a prominent businessperson in South Florida. "You know what?" I told her, "I think that's why I've been constipated all these years. Having that mystery turd invade my space like that made me clamp down, I guess. Made my mind go and ruin my digestive tract. Haven't been the same since." She commiserated with me through little bursts of laughter.

Five minutes after we hung up, though, the phone rang. It was Don's wife again, now all agog.

"OK, OK, listen -- I think I have your answer!" she warbled, sounding as if she had insects in her pants. "Don did it! Don just admitted to it!"

I almost dropped the phone, so intense was the sensation of decades of tension and uncertainty peeling away and falling to the floor. Tightened intestinal walls, clenched for eons, began to relax, to finally feel the flow of oxygen and blood that had been trying to reach them all along.

But then, just as suddenly, disgust replaced relief. Christ in a sidecar, I'm related to someone who would crap by my head then not tell me for a generation? And now this guy has two kids and runs a company that's on the New York Stock Exchange? Ugh, I want off the planet.

Then there was a ruckus on the other end and Don grabbed the receiver. "I was just kidding!" he laugh-spat. "I didn't do it! I don't know who did. I didn't even know it happened." I could hear his wife in the background whooping and giggling and admonishing him. It was a gleeful jamboree for them. For me it was an emotional roller-coaster ride, first through Nirvana, then through Hades, then returning to the unfortunate status quo: The clench-down was on again.

I suppose I will never be privy to who produced the mystery doo next to my innocent little head that night. Oh sure, I'd pay good money to get a little scraping of it and do some DNA testing so I could put the whole thing to rest and finally be at peace. But that's a moot point, now, isn't it? That poo is long gone, probably floating in the Atlantic Ocean, continuing its mission by scaring little kids on rafts.

Perhaps my best hope is that one of my immediate kin, purging decades worth of tremendous guilt, will gush forth with the information when I'm on my deathbed, or they're on theirs. Given the improbability of that, I also hold out hope that once I've passed on, some sort of otherworldly being will greet me at the gates and produce the information before putting me through orientation. "Paul did it," they'll tell me in a sing-song voice while harps play and cherubs titter. Or, "It was Lisa... la la la."

Then, finally, I will be whole. Too bad I will have no actual bowels to benefit from it.