pulitzer prize-luminary commended author
Excerpted from "The Day My Brain Exploded: A True Story"
Perverted. Masturbating on your older brother’s wedding day is perverted, isn’t it? Well then, call me a perv. Because that’s what I was doing in my hotel room a few hours before the ceremony.
March 17, 2000. Twenty-five years old.
The day before, I had flown from New York City to Washington, D.C., where my older brother, Prakash, and his fiancée, Karmen, lived and were to marry. At the time of my spontaneous onanism, the rest of my family was out playing tourists. My brother Prakash was in the room next to mine, preparing for his big day.
Now, people practice the art of self-love at various times and for just as many reasons. They might be feeling randy or simply utterly bored. In my case, it was the latter. Weddings don’t make me feel amorous. And so, I prepared myself for a little diversion. I hadn’t yet changed into my formal wedding suit; I was wearing an outfit appropriate for a jerk-off: a ratty ’80s Def Leppard tour T-shirt. Nothing else. I set myself to the task, watching my progress in the big mirror over the dresser.
As my solo act came to its usual splashy end, I felt a sudden, massive pop inside my head.
I had jerked off innumerable times before, but this orgasm was different; this orgasm was unnatural.
Something was wrong, horribly wrong.
I felt a fierce explosion in my head.
In a mere instant, the equivalent of an atomic bomb had been detonated within my skull. Between my ears. Behind my eyeballs.
My brain had become Hiroshima.
Suddenly I could see nothing as the bomb blasted. It was as if a blindfold — making the world darker than a moonless, starless night — had been tightly bound around my head. “Oh my God,” I thought. “I’m fucking blind! That’s what the explosion was. Those rumors about jerking off were right.” Had my palms also become hairy?
Within a second, however, my sight had returned, albeit faintly. Everything was hazy, as if enveloped by fog. Caught between fear and confusion, I fell to the faded hardwood floor, straining to look at the pseudo-crystal chandelier above my head.
I felt as weak as a baby, but not a baby entering this world but rather one leaving it. My head was filled with unimaginable pain; my universe was slowly leaving me. Strange how the body knows what it knows. I knew I was going to die. So my survival instinct took over, and with the little strength and vision I had, I was able to locate the hotel phone. I clawed at the receiver, thrust it to my ear and painfully pushed “0.” I croaked out a plea for an ambulance.
“We’re right next door to the hospital,” the hotel operator chirped, as if she were merely telling me where to find the nearest vending machine. “Is there anyone who could take you there? It would be quicker.”
I gave her my last name, and she paged Prakash. When he answered the phone, I bet he was still fumbling with his cummerbund.
Prakash rushed next door to my hotel room and discovered me on my bed. Surprisingly, despite the brain explosion, my sense of modesty had prevailed. Through the deadly haze and the pain and the panic, I had somehow been able to slip on my Hanes briefs. My brother found me horizontal on the bed, barely lucid, my arms crossed over my chest.
It was an oddly regal pose. Prakash had now discovered his baby brother cast as a dying pharaoh atop a hotel sarcophagus, a seemingly doomed king headed somewhere other than the River Styx wearing nothing but an ’80s metal T-shirt and a pair of tighty-whiteys.
* * *
Time seemed to blaze through a blackened stretch of undiscovered galaxies following my hotel room collapse. When my eyes opened and clear sight had finally returned, I had no idea where I was.
Fuck Fuck Fuck. I was in a bed. But where? I looked up. High above me, a metallic-gray steel ceiling spread out overhead. Then I saw Prakash’s face staring down at me, a terrible mingling of fright, anxiety and terror.
This didn’t look good at all.
“You’re in a hospital,” he said. “They say you’ve had a brain hemorrhage. Your brain bled.”
No way. There was no blood. Just some cum.
“You’re in a hospital,” he repeated when he saw my look of horror. “You don’t remember? I picked you up a while ago from the hotel room and walked you here. You’ve been pretty much unconscious, sleeping since I got you here. The doctors just took a CT scan of your head.”
I then noticed Mom standing next to Prakash.
Both were silent. Next to them stood a pink-faced man in a white coat. Extremely skinny, balding and sporting a scraggly white beard, he looked like an anorexic Santa Claus.
“Ashok, I’m Dr. Brown. You gave us quite a scare. Let me tell you what happened.”
“Prakash told me I had a brain hemorrhage,” I said.
“Yes, you did. It’s called a Subarachnoid Intracranial Cerebral Hemorrhage, and after taking the CT scan, we discovered the cause of it,” he continued, holding out an X-ray in front of my face.
He pointed to a major dark spot on the bottom left corner of the brain scan. I inspected it. Prakash and Mom moved in closer for a better look.
“See that?” he said.
We all nodded.
“That,” he said, “is an AVM. AVM means Arteriovenous Malformation. I assume you’ve never heard that term.”
Even in my blurry state, I almost replied sarcastically, out of habit, “Duh.”
“An AVM is a tangle of veins and arteries hidden in the brain,” he explained.
Prakash suddenly lashed out at me. “See what you get for all your whacking off?” Clearly I must have told him about my private activity before the wedding, although I couldn’t remember doing it. Mom’s face contorted into a grim, stony-faced mask, looking as though her tightened, immobile lips would prevent her from bursting into a flood of tears.
“An AVM is not caused by anything,” Dr. Santanorexic said quietly. “It is a congenital birth defect — a defect that develops in the fetus during the third month of pregnancy. Behavior didn’t cause it. Ashok was born with it.
“The AVM hemorrhage was going to happen someday — turns out today was the day. It usually bursts in a person between the ages of 20 and 40. Many brain hemorrhages and aneurysms are urogenitally based, meaning that they usually happen when a person’s having sex, giving birth, going to the bathroom. In your case, your brother told me you were masturbating.”
He turned to me. “The second you orgasmed, your blood rushed to the brain with severe pressure. The AVM ruptured because of it, causing your brain to bleed, flooding your head with septic fluid. Ashok, AVM bleeds can be fatal.”
He then looked at my family and said gravely, “It’s a wonder he’s still here.”
The fog in my head scattered with this new information. So this disgusting tangle had been hiding in my brain since I was in Mom’s womb. It was my inheritance: a murderous genetic inheritance.
* * *
Immediately after dealing with an insurance debacle, the real nightmare started. Thoughts churned wildly in my damaged mind as the effects of the explosion made their way through my body. All I really understood was that I was losing my freedom to move. I later learned that, right at this moment, my exploded brain had exposed my body to a tidal wave of murderous bacteria. I was moved immediately from the ER to the Intensive Care Unit.
Though unaware of my actions, I had become hysterical from the hemorrhage, and like an animal caught in an unforgiving trap, I tried to pull my arms free of the IV pole and tried to kick myself off the bed. The doctors were forced to strap me in.
I began burning with a high fever and started vomiting. And as the raw torture caused my consciousness to slowly descend into delirium, my earlier shocks of confusion were lessening, transforming into horror and fear.
My insides felt scalded with the shockwaves brought on by the hemorrhage unleashing too much radiated heat for my body to handle. The pain caused my damaged brain to shut down; I felt my mind rapidly slipping away. The doctors then decided to administer a spinal tap to check the amount of noxious blood and fluid swirling inside me.
I sensed my head being split apart, the middle a bloody yolk. My torn brain was continuing to spill itself into me, flooding my internal organs with an excess of unhealthy cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF.
Another CT scan was performed. While it showed no new complications, this was little consolation; CSF continued its deadly flow throughout my brain.
I sensed I was now bypassing purgatory and going straight into the lake of fire.
* * *
Spanking my monkey into a brain-bleed, of course, was not how the wedding day had begun.
When I first arrived in D.C. on Thursday, I had not felt well. My throat hurt, my nose dripped, my ears ached. Everyone else was excited about the nuptials — but I only felt miserable. I went to a nearby pharmacy, bought some over-the-counter cold syrup and hoped for the best.
The wedding was set for the next day at 5 p.m. But when I awoke that morning, there was little change in my condition.
As the others headed downstairs to the hotel restaurant for breakfast, I begged off and stayed in my room. I told them I still felt ill.
Most of our family — aunts, grandparents, cousins, et cetera — lived in India. Here in America, we only had a couple of uncles.
Our blood representatives for the marriage, then, were few. Only my mother’s brother, Sunil Uncle, and his two-year-old daughter, Supriya, had come for the wedding. For most people, having so little family in attendance might be depressing, but we were grateful just to have these two. Like abandoned children in an unvisited neighborhood, my small family — Dad, Mom, Prakash and I — had been alone in America throughout our lives.
After breakfast, the five came upstairs to my room with plans to tour D.C. They would take a trolley to the White House, the Lincoln Monument, the Smithsonian and the Arlington National Ceremony. My father had it all planned. I just shrugged. I still felt like shit and was going to sleep in.
Prakash and Karmen, his bride-to-be, were delighted that the family was leaving. After all, they had their own plans: Prakash wanted to hang with his boyz around the hotel; Karmen wanted to have a “beauty” day: spa treatment, massage, skin pampering. She would meet up later with her dad and brother, who had flown in from Florida.
Months after my hospitalization, Mom dutifully described to me the events of that unimaginable day. It was an especially chilly day, unusual even for March. The group left the hotel at 10 a.m. with Dad determined to see as much as he could. I learned later that he kept everyone on the tour despite the cold — even though Supriya, unaccustomed to the frigid weather, was clearly uncomfortable. When Mom asked that they return to the hotel, Dad brushed her off.
“The next stop is Arlington Cemetery,” he said with fervor. “We can’t miss it, I’ve heard so much about it.”
“Why are you so obsessed with that place? Supriya’s not feeling well. Let’s go back.”
Only after they had walked through the miles of monuments and acres of white stone crosses did Dad finally give in. At 3 p.m., they returned to the hotel.
Upon reaching the hotel room all four were sharing, the first thing they noticed was the telephone. Its red light was blinking furiously, insistently, as though it were caught in a seizure. The answering machine display read 25 messages. Dad quickly punched the play button.
“Come quick,” Prakash shrieked. “Ashok is in the hospital!”
That was followed by: “Ashok is in the ER, he had an aneurysm, Oh my God!”
The next 23 messages were variations of the first two, each transmitted in Prakash’s most frantic voice.
After discovering that Dad’s cell phone had been off during the entire tour, Mom turned on him, her eyes blazing.
“How could you waste time in the goddamn cemetery?!” she screamed. “How could you be so oblivious and not turn on your cell phone?!”
Dad didn’t respond but simply opened the door and raced out into the hall. The others followed him down the stairs, through the hotel lobby and next door to the hospital. They found me in the emergency room, lying in a bed, Prakash watching over me.
* * *
This was not to be Prakash and Karmen’s only wedding ceremony; after all, Karmen was a devout Christian and Prakash a Hindu.
The authentic Hindu ceremony was held the day before in a temple in Maryland. Nevertheless, for most invitees, this Christian, all-American hotel version was still considered the “official” ceremony.
The Hindu ceremony had come off perfectly. Karmen was the daughter of a Filipino mother who had passed away years before and a white father. Genetically, it was a lovely combination. In traditional Indian bride fashion, her dark-chocolate hair was parted down the middle and tightly knotted in a heavy, stupa-formed bun. She was quite tall, nearly matching my brother’s six-foot frame.
Karmen had adorned herself in an extravagant red sari with a gold border. On her forehead was a circle of brilliant crimson powder to signify her entry into wifehood. Rich red henna had been elaborately painted on her bare feet.
After Prakash placed the holy wedding necklace, the mangal sutra, around her neck, Karmen clasped hands with him. A priest stood before them. They took seven steps around the sacred fire, symbolizing their commitment, respect and honor for each other. Prakash and Karmen chanted holy mantras, and the ritual was completed. No wank-induced brain-bleed disrupted the happily-ever-after scene. Not that day.
Excerpted from “The Day My Brain Exploded: A True Story” by Ashok Rajamani. Copyright 2013. Algonquin Books. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.