Borneo: Profiles in Courage

I DID see a leech.

I found one in my pants during lunch.

I stood up to get a cup of coffee and my thigh itched.  When I scratched it, a soft tootsie-roll-thing slid around under my fingers.  I thought at first it was the spare toilet paper that I keep tucked in my wasteband just in case, but the texture was wrong.

I hot-footed it to the bathroom and pulled off my pants. A leech bounced on the floor and spit splattered droplets of blood on the tile floor.


My blood.

I thought I could carry the leech back to our lunch table to show the boys what I’d found, but when I picked it up it dripped more blood.  It was squishy and slug-slimy and it dripped blood.  Bright red blood.

My blood.

I threw the bloated body in the toilet and flushed. Then flushed again.

I jumped up and down and stomped my feet.

I shook my pants in great wrist snapping flaps and panted.  I took off my shoes and my shirt and twitched and scratched and contorted  around the toilet and trash can and hose and puddle of  water found in public bathroom stalls in Malaysia while I inspected my body for damage.

I located a patch of blood below my belly button where the sneaky bastard had done its sucking.


Speaking of sucking, I feel like whenever I get a really impressive bruise, it’s on my beer belly next to the stretch marks that the boys gave me so I can’t show it off to anyone.  It’s not fair.

Once my jacket got caught over the saddle horn while my horse Princess Buttercup was bucking and I got a glorious purple bruise the size of a softball, one of the best bruises I’ve ever had in my life,  that I could never show anyone, not even as a punishment, because my stomach is not for public viewing.

My leech bite was in the same place, nested in the spongy pale acres of my stomach’s no-go zone.

Truth: I have secretly always wanted to be plucky and indomitable.  I’ve wanted to be brave and capable and stalwart.  Having a leech is a big step towards dauntless, but if I couldn’t flaunt my leech bite it’s like it never happened and I’m still in Hood River watching TV and eating cheese puffs on the couch.

I decided to make the best of the situation.  I went back out to our lunch table and showed the boys the blood stains on my pants.

“Check it out,” I said proudly.

This, I felt,  is the story they would tell to their future girlfriends—about how their mother got a leech and didn’t even flinch. This moment would be the ruler by which all the women in their life would now be measured.  This.  THIS is why we travel.

Tavish said, “Oh mom.  Did you pee yourself?”


“No, Tavish,” I said, with pluck.  “I did not pee myself on my belly.  This is, in fact, blood from a leech.  A leech sucked on my stomach and then when it was full, it fell down into my pants and I flushed it down the toilet.”

I struggled to savor my moment with Livingstone-esque dignity.

“Ah, you should have saved it and showed it to us,” Ramona said. “That would have been cool.”


“How’d it get all the way up to your stomach?” asked the British woman. “Mine were all on my ankle.”

How DID a leech get to my stomach? Oh dear.

“It probably got on her ankle and then made its way up her leg until it found a good place to start eating,” Dave said, matter of factly. “Leeches like moist dark places.  You’re actually kind of lucky. It could have been much worse”

“Like between your toes?” the British woman asked.

“Err, yes,” he answered. “But that’s not the worst place. I’ve had worse.”

Everyone at the lunch table stared at me, imagining a leech scanning my ankle, then my knee, then my moist dark places before passing them all by and working his way up to my stomach where, exhausted and too hungry to continue, he finally fed.

I sat down, quickly.

“I’m fine,” I said.


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