When an eight year old finds a mysterious gum ball (GBOUKO – “gum ball of unknown origin”) on his dresser, he doesn’t ask questions. He looks around quickly for evidence of foul play, and chews it. Blue was my favorite “flavor,” but given the banality of that particular Sunday afternoon, even a white GBOUKO got me excited.
When animals find something they suspect is edible, most examine and smell the object before ingesting it. There’s a series of skills and internal alarms built into their DNA to guide them in “food or not food” dilemmas. Sometimes they’ll even back away from actual food simply because they’re not completely sure it’s legit. It’s better to go hungry than die.
The eight year old boy is a different species. Its survival instincts have been out-witted by the cunning desire for candy.
No more than two seconds elapsed between me seeing the GBOUKO and putting the GBOUKO in my mouth. I threw it in like the first handful of popcorn from a fresh batch – no doubts, and not a care in the world. I first noticed its rough texture, then the acidic taste of its coating. I’d never seen this kind of gum in the house before – my parents didn’t particularly enjoy gum, and it didn’t really taste like gum – but that was no reason to be suspicious. Who was I to doubt a gift from the magic candy fairy who must have broken into our house for the sole reason of placing one solitary GBOUKO on my dresser?
I did what boys are supposed to do: I chewed it. When my teeth punctured the GBOUKO, I was expecting a light crunch followed by a flow of sweet minty juice. Instead, this particular GBOUKO crumbled into a fine dust and instantly absorbed all the moisture in my mouth. I began to panic, and when the dust cloud drifted from my palette into my sinusus, I realized I’d bitten into a mothball.
An unstable person might proclaim, “Now the ski socks I store in my cheeks are protected from their natural predators!” but even at eight, I understood something horrible had happened.
I didn’t spit the mothball out. The night before, I’d just watched a movie in which doctors decided to leave a bullet lodged in a man’s brain because removing it would be too dangerous. I thought a similar situation was possible with chewing a mothball. I was panicked, and eight years old and not ready to watch movies like that, apparently.
With a mouthful of broken dusty mothball, I ran into my parent’s room where I found my mother reading a book. I opened my mouth, and a small puff of what probably looked like smoke, exited, along with the garbled words, “I think I ate a mothball.” “Was it on your dresser?” “Yes,” I said, exhaling a little more smoke. “Ok, go to the bathroom and spit it out, I’ll call poison control.” She appeared calm. But considering the order of things that are likely poisonous is 1. Snakes 2. Mothballs 3. Dumpster cheese, I’m sure she was freaking out.
I could hear her on the phone. She had to repeat “mothball” multiple times. Then she said, “I don’t know,” followed a little later with “No, I don’t think so.” I’m assuming the other side of the conversation went, “A what?” “Wait, what? Is he of average mental capacity for his age?” “Well, did he swallow it?”
She hung up. “They said to just wash your mouth out and you should be fine.” I washed my mouth and blew my nose incessantly for hours. It was three days before the smell left my sinuses. To this day, if I sniff really hard, I can almost smell my grandpa’s wool checkered blazer.