I bite the entire pepper off its stem, holding it carefully with the thumb and forefinger of my right hand to avoid spreading capsaicin to other parts of my body. The plan is futile.
I nibble off the bits of pepper flesh surrounding the stem, so as to be above suspicion regarding eating the entire pepper.
I chew the pepper thoroughly, noting an initial burst of freshness and many individual seeds. Not particularly fresh, as these peppers have been sitting in a fridge for 6 days, but there are notable hints of sweetness. I proceed to chew the entire pepper, “savoring” it slowly. I swallow the entire mouthful.
The next several minutes are a bit of a greyed-out blur. I am aware of Kevin checking the camera, tilting it up to ensure that everyone is in the shot. I am aware of people moving around, being loud, possibly in pain (hard to tell in the state I was in). Ben complains about his ear hurting almost unbearably. Al, I think, says that it has been four minutes. I am aware that there is one gallon jug of milk, but it appears to be empty. Al (again, to the best of my recollection) says that we are almost at five minutes. I assume that this means five minutes was the goal, to wait that long before drinking any liquids. I believe only Ben, Stephen and myself had not yet imbibed at that point. A second gallon jug of milk has appeared and I attempt to pour myself a glass. I believe I may have appropriated someone else’s already finished cup.
These few moments of clarity are all that I am able to recall from amidst the ravaging pain. Soon after swallowing the crushed and ground pepper particles, there is small amount of pain around my mouth. Within a few seconds of that, there is nothing but pain. Lips, tongue, mouth, both sides of the mouth, down into the back of my throat are enveloped in an indescribable, singular pain. My face begins to leak. I am aware that I am about to suck on my own olfactory mucus, as my nose has begin to run profusely. I reach for a napkin (prepared ahead of time, for this eventuality) from my pocket. I noticed that my left eye, in particular, is also leaking profusely. Holding the thick napkin to my face, it appears to be immediately soaked. The pain is unbearable, and thoughts begin to swirl about the necessity of vomiting. I have sat down on a bundle of sticks, and notice that mucus drops (presumably mine) have splattered the hardwood floor. People seem to be moving around, rushing to the outside room. Immediately after the eating, several people seemed incline to hug each other; this seemed premature, as the shared ordeal was nowhere close to over at this point. Additionally, any physical human contact seemed destined to stir the concoction writhing around in my stomach, and cause it to erupt.
Sitting quietly, staring blankly ahead, focusing on trying not to throw up, almost panicking and wondering if throwing up would be a wiser alternative (or merely a physiological necessity). Unbearable pain. It does not fade away. Mildly aware that people are drinking large quantities of milk. As the cup I poured for myself nears my lips, Al (perhaps?) announces the five minute and then six minute marks, meaning that I have succeeded (if surviving can be called succeeding; at this point the distinction meant almost nothing, though I was still determined to fully experience the event).
The first touch of milk seems to immediately boil and evaporate in the cauldron of my mouth. Holding the milk and swirling for as long as I can yields little relief. Realizing that there are now two empty or nearly empty milk jugs, I selfishly pour myself a portion of what little remains, only aware of the immense pain and the miniscule amount of relief milk will bring.
I move chairs, to sit near the table. I am aware of Stephen seemingly being fine. Ben is hardly moving, in a sitting coma. I am staring through the walls. Kevin and others are laughing, at Ben and myself as we appear to be in great distress. I am not disturbed or offended by the laughing; I would join in myself would not the mere thought of curling up the sides of my mouth into a smile cause me intense discomfort. Sitting in the proper chair, my body seems to be telling me that this foreign substance must be expelled. I pick up the large metal mixing bowl and wretch twice; nothing but a few drops of mucus (perhaps from my nose or mouth) violate the reflective surface. I have not shamed myself, and “lost” the challenge by vomiting, though again the thought of dishonor or “wussiness” is a secondary concern to the immediate and intense pain.
But the pain now has shifted. My mouth and lips burn, but in a describable fashion, as though I had just eaten some of CaJohn’s Black Mamba sauce. The pain and discomfort now, which has been building steadily, is occurring at the level of the bottom portion of my ribcage. It would seem as though the pepper particles have arrived at my stomach, and my body is not-so-kindly pointing out my stupidity. This is not nausea as I have experienced it so many times before. This is not the stomachache I associate with amoebic dysentery (though that might come later). This is a visceral, immediate, terrifying reaction. My fingers are shaking. My body feels chill, I feel as though putting my hoody back on would be comforting. At the same time there is a persistent feeling of needing to expel this foreign aggressor. Sitting still and staring ahead, as the video camera rolls, as others congregate, disperse, laugh sympathetically or empathetically, seems to be the wisest course of action. People walk by, and the hardwood floor on the second level of the building heaves up and down, creating an unnecessary level of discomfort, as though my chair is situated on the heaving deck of a cruise liner. I am aware of Ben, shockingly still in pain and reduced to leaning into Al’s shoulder. Others seem amazed at how hard we have been hit, particularly the immutable Ben. Some speculate that it is because we held off on drinking milk for so long; I would wonder if it has to do with the amount of chewing and savoring we did before swallowing.
Gourmet vanilla ice cream is presented, along with a communal spoon. A joke is made concerning the sharing of herpes, and whether or not a communal spoon is a wise idea. A small part of my brain hears this, and I use the spoon to scoop a sliver of ice cream, which I proceed to pick up with my fingers and gingerly ingest. Sipping a cup of water, which I seem to have procured from the kitchen, and nibbling on a piece of bread which has been forced my way, seem to offer but momentary relief from the intense discomfort. The pain, the actual pain, has subsided, and is replaced by an actual state of shock, or a reflex of the autonomic nervous system.
A non-participatory bystander has picked up a pepper; some encourage him to partake and join in the shared experience. After he sets the pepper down, we urge him to cleanse his hands. I recommend sticking his fingers into his mouth at that exact moment, as the virgin mouth is the most perfectly attuned to detecting trace amounts of capsaicin without being overly irritated, unlike the eyes or nostrils which might react very differently.
I wander over to my hoody and put it on, still aware of shaking. The crowd congregates in a different part of the space. Ben lies on the floor. Were he not on his phone, he would seem to be in pain. Cuddling ensues as I sit on my chair and stare blankly at various people and objects. My piece of bread, which seems an abomination to actually eat, becomes multiple projectiles shaped by my hands. Most of the pieces miss my targets’ mouths, and Ben mentions the cockroaches which share his place of residence.
Finally the shock seems to be subsiding, but there is the troubling issue of my stomach. I am unsure if I am well enough to drive. I feel past the point of needing to vomit, though Zach Stoner has induced himself in the bathroom. He will not have to deal as aggressively with the effects of the pepper particles moving through the digestive tract. It is agreed that Stephen will drive, after a final few moments (and videos and photos) of all the participants cuddling together on the floor in several more moments of silliness. It remains to be seen what the next several hours will bring as the dreaded substance is fought back by the immediate onslaught of mucus it agitated, and the stomach acids which will surely attempt to calm the raging storm.
After mild waves of stomach pressure and angst, a gentle calming, then another wave of angst, it seems generally gentle enough to attempt sleep. Half an hour into the process, and near the edge of consciousness itself, a large, hard ball, made of iron and prepared with spikes on one end, decides to emerge from my stomach. Sitting on the toilet does not help; the pepper particles have not yet descended low enough to pass entirely through. Guessing from approximate times since initial ingestion, it seems as though the stomach is trying to empty into the small intestine. It is having difficulty. My stomach is engorged; I don’t recall being quite this fat, though I have eaten a lot. Sitting on the toilet attempting to be distracted by Winston Churchill’s description of the Malakand Field Force, Britain’s attempt to subdue tribal upswellings in 1890’s Pakistan/Afghan frontier territories seems to achieve little.
Finally, mercifully, the pain is too much. My arms start shaking and my body decides that this aggressor shall not be tolerated. It cannot be reasoned with, or broken down into passable portions. A small congealed puddle forces its way back up my esophagus, burning slightly due to either stomach acid or the remaining effects of the pepper. Mild relief is at hand, but soon another round of pain strikes. All that is required is a couple of forced wretchings, not even a finger down the throat. Finally, finally the foreign substance seems almost entirely expelled. Relief is at hand. The major battle seems over, and perhaps only minor skirmishes remain. If sleep is near, it shall be interesting to note what transpires when my gastrointestinal tract decides to once again awaken, and finally fully process the horrors I have inflicted upon it.