I'm a wuss. It was confirmed long ago. There is no need for me to flex in front of the mirror each night before bedtime. Nobody has to worry about me asking them to feel my muscle. If a confrontation ensues, don't look to me for help. I'll be hiding behind a girl scout.
I'm lucky. Most guys probably go through life with an inflated impression of their machismo. I don't need to perpetuate that facade. I had a revelation. I have experienced a terror that represents a defining moment in my life. A moment of truth. The truth hurts, sometimes.
One night a while back I was re-reading The Fellowship of the Ring, which is the first book in The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien. The news, at the time, of the filming of its motion picture had sparked my need to delve back into Middle Earth. Right before going to bed, I reached a particularly ghostly passage where a Barrow-wight (a ghost) captured Frodo, our hero, and his traveling mates. I won't describe the whole story, but trust me - it's a scary part. Maybe not as scary as The Exorcist or Nancy Pelosi, but scary enough.
It was late and I was tired, so I decided to wait until the next day to see if Frodo and his gang survived (as this was my fourth reading of the book, I was pretty sure they were going to make it, but you never can be too sure with all those book-changing pranksters out there with their white-out and all). Feeling a little spooked, on my way too bed, as I walked through my dimly moonlit living room, I saw a faint image of something I believed to be a human form. Immediately, I reacted by covering behind my flailing arms and falling into the wall. It's quite an effective defense as it strikes fear into the hearts of perpetrators of all kinds.
Now, I'm not proud of how I responded to the apparent trespasser in my home, but at least I wasn't killed. The shame gets worse. The elapsed time between when I detected the "intruder" and reacted to it was probably less than a second. Within that instant I was able to determine that the suspected human form before me was that of an old woman carrying a bag of groceries and smoking a large pipe made of the bone of a wildebeest and covered in a sheath of octopus leather (I may be exaggerating about the details of the pipe or in the fact that there was a pipe at all, but it definitely looked like a hunched, old woman). My mind, hopped up on adrenaline, was able to perceive that the form before me was a harmless old woman, yet I reacted by cowering, like a..a...a..well, like a harmless old woman.
Obviously, the woman must have lost her way home from the grocery store where she picked up a few essentials and beer munchies, and she needed my assistance to find her way. A brave man, or even just a generally polite man, would have helped her home and took out her garbage. And, what did I do? I flailed and fell. I flailed at an old lady. Do you know what that makes me? That's right, it makes me a mountain nymph. Or do you say oread? No, it makes me a coward. A sniveling, spineless, yellow-bellied, cheek-chewin' chicken. I have always thought the yellow on my belly was from all of the butter. At least I now know who I am and can live the rest of my days with peace of mind (while hiding underneath my bed).
It turned out that my enemy was a gaggle of helium filled balloons my wife at the time had brought home from a baby shower the day before. They were tied to one of my kids' play chairs. I don't know what's worse, cowering to a hunched old woman or to a bunch of baby balloons. Had I known they were balloons, I could have easily popped them with my arm hair that happened to be standing on end at the time of the attack. I'm not sure if you can pop an old woman, and I'm not looking to find out.