I awoke yesterday morning in a panic. Sweat oozed down my unkempt bangs. It dripped from my cheeks. My arms were slippery. The sheets were damp. I gulped air. My heart shuddered and seized. My mind was blank. It was another night terror. They’re like nightmares, but empty. There is no memory. There is no object of fear—just fear itself…
…Slowly, a wave of calm pours over me. I can feel my mind anchoring itself to the reality below me. I lay my head down on the pillow. It’s damp, but comforting. As my Zen master taught me, I close my eyes and breathe slowly through my nose. These controlled patterns of breath helped ease the terror into its stall. I close my eyes.
I thought the Vicodin would help. However, the lure of its analgesic bliss had pulled me into the maddening grips of an opioid binge. During the past three days I ate thirty-seven tablets of hydrocodone. The delirium is much softer than the chaotic madness of a speed binge. It sneaks up on you. You don’t notice when it starts, but then the moment will come. Looking around, you will see that the world has become wrapped in cellophane. It looks tight, clean, and shiny—protected and suffocated at the same time. My thoughts were—hell they are—jumbled.
When I think in sentences the words are rearranged. Letters fall into the wrong slots. I feel dyslexic. I remember the image of an image rather than the image itself. I briefly open my eyes to look around my room and an eerie feeling of repetition invades me. Déjà vu? I don’t know anymore. I have suffered from paramnesia since I was thirteen, maybe fourteen. With every year, the experiences become worse. Sometimes I don’t even know if I’m experiencing an actual moment of Déjà vu or just remembering a similar moment of Déjà vu from my past. I am inside the cellophane.
Finally, I open my eyes and stop my meditation breathing. The world seems solid again. The terror has vanished. The safety of my bed and the warmth of my blankets make it hard for me to start my day. Sometimes I lay in bed for hours after I awake. I travel to the past. My brain is like a file cabinet without locks or missing pages. I can remember it all and I do. I travel to third grade and enjoy recess. I see my old friends. I relive old conflicts and torments. Sometimes I revise the files. I make them prettier. I make them uglier. I triumph over bullies who formerly triumphed over me. I win the hearts of the girls who ran off with mine. Those tasks get assigned to the collections department. I always win. I always collect, up here that is. I hold my finger to my forehead.
The office feels a thousand miles away. A journey of a thousand steps may begin with one, but that still leaves nine-hundred and ninety-nine more. I do not have the energy for that. Besides, my cubicle is a prison. My bedroom is a prison. One prison is as good as another, right?
But I have a car payment overdue…and rent. I need some new books too. Perhaps, some more Vicodin. Maybe I can persuade the doctor to prescribe me Xanax instead. Faking anxiety is as easy as love—one part impatience, one part fright, and one part elation.
“Fuck,” becomes my first word of the day.
My knees pop as I force myself to stand up. Immediately, I wish I was back in bed. The hardwood floor chills my feet. “I should buy slippers,” I think. Then I hate the idea. That means more work. That means more time at the office. The less I buy means the more time I have for my own file cabinet. It means more time in bed.
As I walk into the hallway I am again invaded by that sense of duplication. I know that I have stood here feeling this and thinking this sometime before. Another hung-over morning perhaps? No, this is awkward. It’s unsettling. And quiet. Why is it so quiet?
I stumble into the kitchen after using the restroom. The window was left open and a draft tickles my shirtless body. My pjs are simple: cotton pajama pants and nothing else. It’s a good balance of naked and covered. It’s quiet outside too.
The coffee grinder roars to life. It seems fifty times louder than normal. What is this sickening quiet? As my coffee brews I decide to look for answers.
Flipping on the radio welcomes me into a world of static. Nothing. I turn the dial. The same. A mute buzz. The airwaves were quiet too. Subsequently, I can hear every drip of my coffee. Drip. Drip. Drip. It feels in rhythm with my heart. I try to stay calm. However, I can feel my body wanting to descend into panic. The coffee maker gurgles to completion. I pour a cup and head into the living room.
Sitting down, I turn on the television. Nothing. There’s no signal. On any channel. My TV remains an empty blue screen. I gulp my coffee. There’s something odd about the TV itself. It doesn’t feel dead. It doesn’t feel broken. It feels alive, just vacuous. It wants to intercept a signal. It wants to broadcast light. But, it’s starving. There’s no signal to feed on. Just this empty, hungry blue screen. I finish my coffee in a hurry and dress even quicker. Despite my initial reluctance to go to work now I cannot wait to get out of this house.
“Fuck this,” becomes my second and third words of the day as I step out the door. A cool snip of air bites me. The day is grey. There are no clouds. There is no sun. Pure overcast. An empty, grey sky…why is today so empty? Why so silent? That’s when I noticed it…
…The street was still crowded with cars. By the time I leave for work, the streets are usually bare. All the responsible cars have gone. Not today. The sides of the road are lined with parallel-parked cars. The narrow driveways are full. It is packed, but there are no people. I don’t see anyone—no one picking up a paper, walking a dog, or going to their cars. Nothing, just silence.
Finally, a breeze sweeps a small pile of leaves down the road. Some of the leaves wander off course and smack into my ankles. I hear a tiny crunch as the fragile leaves crumple under my feet and then a lifeless scrape as their remains travel down the pavement. My head tilts towards the sky. “Am I dreaming,” I think to myself?
Debating on whether or not this is a dream, I decide to close my eyes and deploy a lucid dream technique that I know. It’s simple really. You just say “I am in control,” and focus on opening your eyes—the imaginary ones, not the real ones. For a moment, I feel unhinged. I’m not sure if my feet are on the ground. I get scared and open my eyes. I’m standing in the middle of the road like an idiot.
“Maybe I just mixed my days up again,” I tell myself. So I check my phone’s calendar. “Please be Sunday,” are the next words to leave my mouth, followed by, “Shit.” It was Tuesday. I stretched my arms and ran my fingers through my hair. It took all my strength not to burst into a panic. Where the hell was everyone? Why was everything empty? Why was the world so God-damned silent?
As I drove the road that ran parallel with the park it dawned on me that I was the only person out here. There were no other cars. I passed businesses and their parking lots were empty. The streetlights were off—they were all blinking yellow. I stopped at one anyway. It was the busiest intersection that I cross on my way to work. Typically, I have to wait at least 10 minutes to get through this light. Yet, here I am…stopped at a flashing yellow light…alone.
I threw the shifter into park and got out of the car.
“Hello,” I screamed. “Where is everyone? Anyone?” My voice bounced off the surrounding buildings and returned my calls to me. “I’m here,” I yelled, “I’m here.”
At first, I had said it sarcastically. I didn’t know how else to react. However, as the second “here” left my mouth I began to doubt it. Am I here? Am I really here? And just where is here? This may resemble the world I’m used to, but it’s definitely not the same. Where are all the people? Where is all the noise? Where is all the movement? Empty. Silent. Still.
I climb back into my car. I lay my head on the steering wheel. Tears well up in me, but I do not give in to the urge. “No crying,” I tell myself, “There is a reason. There has to be.”
In frustration, I slam on my horn. It blares into the distant nothingness, lingers, and dies. The world was so quiet that I wondered whether or not that sound managed travel the entire globe round, but who would have heard it? Was it this empty everywhere, or just here…the here with me.
I decide not to leave. I drive into the middle of the intersection and park. The stoplights at this intersection are equipped with video cameras to catch people who run red lights. It would only be a matter of time before someone monitoring the footage would see me sitting out here like a lunatic and dispatch an officer to the scene. Maybe. I wasn’t entirely sure if someone actively monitored the footage. A person at work told me that they did. Although, someone else at work told me that they were only activated as a light turns red. The second idea seemed far-fetched so I decided to believe in the first one. Time to wait and see who was correct. Time to wait for the men transporting the white coat with buckles—it’s warm like a baby blanket. So Secure. So Solid. So decisive. No questions. No confusion. The white room. It will take me away from here…
…Pacing around the car only made me more nervous so I stopped. Instead, I laid down on the hood and stretched out. It still felt warm from the engine and buckled slightly, but held my weight. Hours passed…or maybe just minutes…those empty minutes…minutes so boring they feel a thousand times longer than they are. I could not tell anymore. Perhaps there are no minutes. Perhaps minutes are just a concept of man that is meant to order that which cannot be ordered. Time is like an ocean—not a wheel. We have confused the mechanical rotation of the Earth with the mechanics of time. Time does not revolve—it extends and hovers. Extension blows a mass of experience through our minds like a fast-forwarding movie whereas hovering anchors our mind to a particular point of experience, a metaphysical pause button. It goes and it stops. It’s like these roads and stoplights that I am resting on and in…they extend and stop. And I cannot help but notice the appropriateness of the intersection that sits before me—a place between the extension and the hover—a place of...