As I described a couple of days ago on the Fat Head blog, I recently started experimenting with intermittent fasting and found it surprisingly painless. The purpose of fasting in this case is to induce hormonal changes that lead to weight loss and better health.

My first attempt at fasting took place when I was 10 years old, and weight loss had nothing to do with it — the last thing I needed at that age was to become any skinnier. However, like most adolescent boys, I felt a deep need to go on a vision quest so I could meet my animal protector and be shown my purpose in life.

I knew all about vision quests because I’d become utterly fascinated with American Indians in third grade. By fourth grade, I’d ploughed through every book on Indians that could be borrowed from the Bettendorf public library. While some boys decorated their bedrooms with posters of quarterbacks and home-run sluggers, mine featured posters of famous Indians: Tecumseh, Geronimo, Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and a few others. I was, as far as I knew, the only kid in town who watched westerns and secretly hoped John Wayne would take an arrow.

Of all my Indian heroes, I liked Crazy Horse the best. He was a brilliant strategist in battle and almost unbelievably brave, riding straight into his enemies without hesitation. But there was a good reason for the bravery: his vision. During a vision quest, a white owl showed Crazy Horse how to paint his face for battle and promised he wouldn’t be killed. Most importantly, Crazy Horse learned during his vision that he was destined to lead his people.

(Just for the record, if a politician in modern times shared a similar story, I’d vote for somebody else, no matter what the owl predicted.)

I’m blessed with a pretty good memory, but 42 years after the fact, I have no idea what personal destiny I expected to be revealed in my vision. If I’d met, say, a golden hawk, and the golden hawk happened to be honest, the message he delivered would’ve been similar to a fortune I once pulled from humorous fortune-cookie:

Your life will be far more ordinary than you ever thought possible.

Perhaps I was merely hoping for some useful tips in my vision, such as: If you wear red boxer shorts every day, you’ll no longer strike out in kickball. Whatever I was expecting, during the summer we lived in Carbondale, Illinois, I grew increasingly determined to have my vision.

Unfortunately, the lifestyle of a white, suburban 10-year-old includes several barriers to a vision quest.  The two biggest are called “parents.”  Mine weren’t very open-minded about me wandering off into the wilderness for a few weeks. They reminded me that when I actually wandered in the woods for a few hours during summer day-camp, I came home with a tick lodged in my scalp and spent the next week worrying that I’d contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. They also couldn’t appreciate the advantages of building a sweat lodge in the back yard — although my mom convinced me that a really hot bath would provide similar purification.

Luckily, after I made a strong case for the necessity of a vision quest, they agreed I could try fasting — a crucial component for achieving a trance state. In retrospect, they probably agreed only because they figured I’d never go through with it. But I did.

At several points throughout the Day of the Vision Quest, my mom attempted to undermine my discipline by preparing some of her most awesome meals: cinnamon toast with hot milk poured on top, Campbell’s tomato soup with American cheese and saltine crackers mixed in, and hamburgers prepped with Lipton Onion Soup mix. Despite the temptation and the recurring light-headedness, I remained strong and went to bed without eating a morsel all day. I was ready for my vision.

When the vision came, there were no white owls or golden hawks. There were no animal protectors at all. My vision was of three men wearing black body-suits and black masks, sneaking into our house through my bedroom window. They were, as any kid could tell you, “Bad Guys.” One of them tiptoed close to my bed and spoke to me. I don’t remember what he said, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t explaining my purpose in life.

I snapped awake, shaking. I knew it was only a nightmare. I knew there were no Bad Guys climbing through my bedroom window. However, the nightmare alerted me to a danger I’d previously overlooked: In this house, unlike in our house in Iowa, my bedroom was on the ground floor … which meant Bad Guys could, in fact, climb through my bedroom window any time the thought occurred to them.

Psychologists tell us the only inborn fears are of heights and loud noises. The psychologists are full of it. Fear of Bedroom Invasion by Bad Guys may not afflict babies, but it develops during childhood as predictably and as naturally as teeth. Parents certainly don’t cause it. We’ve never hinted to our daughters that Bad Guys might show up in the middle of the night. They don’t read books or watch TV shows featuring Bad Guys. And yet soon after we moved to Tennessee, I had the following conversation with my daughter Alana, who was four at the time:

“Do you and Sara like your new bedroom, Alana?”

“Yeah! I really like my tent-bed.”

(Her “tent-bed” is a sleeping nook built into the wall. )

“I really like your tent-bed, too. It’s pretty cool.”

“Yeah, and if a Bad Guy comes into the room, he’ll probably kill Sara first because she’s closer to the door, and then I’ll get away.”

This is from the daughter people refer to as “the sweet one.”

When I was her age, my older brother Jerry performed similar calculations, but his intentions were a bit more heroic. He figured since I slept in the bottom bunk, the Bad Guy would bend down and grab me first. So he kept a butter knife under his pillow and assured me he would plunge it into the Bad Guy’s back.

I found this battle plan comforting. I imagined the Bad Guy staggering wide-eyed around our bedroom, trying desperately to reach over his shoulder and extract the weapon, then finally crumpling to the floor, cursing himself with his last breath for being taken out by a six-year-old wielding a butter knife … or perhaps mumbling, “I @#$%ing hate margarine!”

That image was no comfort now, however, because my brother and his butter knife were sleeping in another room, and there was no top bunk from which to launch a successful ambush.  After fasting all day, I was obviously too weak to take on one Bad Guy, never mind three. And for all I knew, the nightmare was a premonition. The only smart move was to get myself as close as possible to the one person I knew who could kill three Bad Guys: my dad.

When the fear subsided to the point that I was no longer catatonic, I slid out of bed and tiptoed to my parents’ room. Unlike my daughters, I never developed the stealth required to crawl into an adult’s bed without being detected, so my mom woke up immediately.

“What are you doing?”

“I had a nightmare. There were these three Bad Guys–”

“Okay. Shhh. Go to sleep. Tell me about it tomorrow.”

When tomorrow finally came, I ate a hearty breakfast. The vision would have to wait.

8 Responses to “Fasting and Visions”
  1. Jan says:

    So, is your favorite John Wayne film The Seekers? 😛

    I once got a real fortune cookie from a real Chinese restaurant that said, “Enjoy yourself while you still can.” Really.

    Geez, that’s a rather sobering thought at the end of a nice meal.

  2. Amy Dungan says:

    This is a great story! And I didn’t know you lived in Carbondale! (Or if you told me I’ve already forgotten.) I live about 20 minutes from there.

    I don’t know if I mentioned it before or not. We were only there for a year.

  3. Aaron B. says:

    Indians and dinosaurs: the two things the schools taught our generation about with a thoroughness. (And to be fair, two things we liked learning about.) Judging by my nieces and nephews, they’re still solid on dinosaurs, but I don’t hear much about Indians. Maybe they’re too un-PC, once you get past the lazy white-man-bad meme. Too bad; there’s a lot of fascinating history there.

    My girls haven’t learned about Indians either, now that you mention it. But they love dinosaurs. If their school doesn’t fill them in on that part of our history, I certainly will.

  4. Mark Green (GHS 77) says:

    Hey Tom- wasn’t one of your favorite books “Bury My heart at Wounded Knee”. I seem to remember you being very zealous for the native american cause- back in the day.

    I see I’m not the only one with a good memory.

  5. Be says:

    LOL – so what you are really saying is that you went Paleo even as a young child.

    Remember the rule about fortune cookies: add “in bed” to the end of it. Yours doesn’t sound so bad now does it?

    I think all kids have these kind of Ninja dreams and dark bedroom fears. I grew up sleeping on the 3rd floor – I always worried about how to get out in case of a fire.

    “Your life will be far more ordinary than you ever thought possible in bed.” Yeah, that does take the sting out of it.

  6. martin says:

    hI Tom
    I always wondered if any other kids played ‘cowboys and indians’ with the indians as the ‘good guys’. And they say us libertarians are WASP worshippers who don’t look out for the underdog! LOL.
    Lovely post, and may the great spirit bless your hunting grounds with abundant fat and slow game!


    Thank you.

  7. Katy says:

    Your stories just make my memories flood my brain! My bedroom was on the second floor of our house, and once my sister and I saw Peter Pan, we no longer were concerned about how to escape in case of a fire: “We can fly, we can fly, we can fly!” My sister used to have frequent nightmares during which she’d jolt me awake by blood-curdling screams. One night, she cried that there was a witch on the ceiling. I told her to do what I did–just don’t look. My friend had a main floor bedroom, though, and she was comforted by the fact that her mother planted some very thorny rose bushes under the window. She knew of their deterrent effect when she tried to climb in her window after she locked herself out of the house.

    For me, it was monkeys playing on top of my dresser at night. My older daughter insists she sees animals in the hallway at night. Either kids see other-world creatures we don’t, or they have great imaginations.

  8. Loralee Kayes says:

    It’s interesting that so many comments seem to focus on me getting sued. I can’t really say I understand the attitude that completely reprogramming something bought at a profit, without EULA, without any contract etc.. should attract a lawsuit.

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