My alarm sounded. I walked into the bedroom and shut it off. I had been awake for hours.
My nights had become schizophrenic comas. Something between a lucid dream and false awakening. I couldn’t tell the difference. It was little better than the insomnia I was self-medicating. Dreams were jump-cut nightmares. Psycho cut-and-paste.
Recurring themes. Being chased in darkness. Vertigo. Falling.
I opened my eyes. Was I awake? I tried to blink away the diphenhydramine fog. I had the sudden, heart-stopping feeling that someone was standing over me . . .
I sat bolt upright in terror. “What the FUCK is th. . .”
For a terrible instant I thought I saw a shadow. Something phantom. My eyes cleared as my heart pumped a shot of adrenalin through.
Only a reflection. Light through my bedroom window. I collapsed on the bed and shuddered. I clenched my fists and closed my eyes, listening for anything. Some indicator that something was moving outside of my bedroom.
My jaw felt like a fight gone bad. I must have been grinding my teeth. Controlled breathing brought my heartrate down. I thought about something Conrad said:
It’s not a place I go to. It’s a place I leave.
Small truth wasn’t going to change the way I felt. I threw off my duvet. I splashed cold water on my face and pissed and shuffled into the kitchen.
The place was a wreck. I had barely been home from work, except to toss and turn.
The sink was full of coffee grinds. I’d only washed the same three dishes, over and over. A spoon, a bowl, and my favorite coffee mug. I threw on the light and rubbed my eyes.
I shoved takeout cartons out of the way and set the coffee maker. I bagged the trash. Washed the dishes. Wiped and scrubbed until my hands were pruned. Life maintenance.
The fear faded with the first pot of coffee. I opened the refrigerator. Three empty egg crates and half a container of expired milk. A take-out container of rice.
I tugged on jeans and a knit sweater and dragged the trash out. It was just after five. Pitch black and raining. I slid into my truck.
No one was on the roads. I rolled through empty construction. The grocery store was empty. I pulled a pen and a 3x5 note card out of my pocket.
This was the only time I could bear to be in public.
I couldn’t take the noise. The shuffling, inconsiderate drones. The screaming kids. The witless nitwits that couldn’t navigate a cart down an aisle. Who didn’t know better than to wander leisurely, oblivious to the one person in the store with any sense of task and purpose.
I couldn’t take the endless lines. Watching the light blink over the register as some slack-jawed clerk waited for a manager to punch a code into the machine. The cheap fuck quibbling over twenty cents off a can of some mushy, non-nutritious food-puke.
The neon lights in the beer aisle were off. It wasn’t on the list anyway . . .
Only one teller was working. I stacked my things on the belt. Ten dozen eggs. Milk. Ground turkey. Coffee. Zip ties.
“You have a good morning, sweetie!” she chirped, handing me my receipt.
I smiled. Had I smiled? One corner of my mouth curling into a sneer? It was the thought that counted.
Guys all say the same thing, Conrad told me.
A guy who loses his lower leg says At least I have the other one. A guy who loses both says At least I have my cock. No one ever feels like they deserve to feel fucked up . . . because someone always had it worse.
That didn’t stem the tide of anger. Knowing that all of it was for nothing . . .
While the rest of the world slept. Walked around oblivious. Self-deceiving, permanently comatose. Denial as a defense mechanism.
Or that’s what the book says.
Terror Management Theory had nothing to say about hyper-vigilence. Or the soul crushing effects of sleep deprivation. Yes, death is inevitable . . . There are fates worse than death.
No, I chided myself. Normal people don’t deserve your hatred.
Some struggle to close their eyes. Others struggle to open them.