The dream was strange, stranger than normal.
We're fixing a woman's apartment, perhaps her dorm room. It looks like a tornado whipped through. We straighten mirrors, throw away food wrappers. Vacuum. Windex. We replace her old, broken things with new ones. A radio. A television. Then we sneak out. She'll never know who we were.
A grocery store, next. One of those stores where all the produce is stacked in wooden crates to give it a farmer's market feel. The line is slow and we're late. In front of us, the cashier weighs a roast chicken. He smiles apologetically and shrugs as if to say "These things take time." Then he takes the chicken apart and weighs each piece separately.
We get back to campus late. We've missed orientation and the ice cream social they have for new students. The campus is overwhelming. Sure, we know which dorms we've been assigned, but we've forgotten the room numbers. They wouldn't tape our names to our doors, would they?
The uncertainty makes it exciting. The night is fresh and cool around us. The world is endless and full of possibilities.
I wake up knowing I'll never get back to sleep. It's four am. Anything I do will wake you, or the kid, or the dog. I slide the wooden drawers open with a grinding noise that makes me wince, and gather my clothes, my keys, my phone and headset; I'll need to call if I get hurt.
I step outside into the cool air and run. I run like the evil robot from Terminator 2, with large steps, windmilling hands, and a grim determination. I run like Inspector Gadget, with springing limbs far too long. It's night. Nobody can see me.
I hit the end of the neighborhood. This is where I turn, making a mile-long rectangle before I return home. I don't want that. I need to be uncomfortable, scared. I keep going straight, down the long street towards the rest of the dark city.
I want a coffee. I didn't bring my wallet, but have the Starbucks app on my phone. I slip the earpiece on, and it reassures me with a cheerful series of notes. I click it, set it to text, and speak into the air.
I hope you turned off notifications. I have to talk.
I'm winded now. If I get hurt, how will you find me? I click again.
I'm running down. Shoot. I can never remember the street names.
I pass a church. Click.
I'm on the street with the church. Not the one with the big cross. This one has a
It's got something like the Washington Monument in front.
It's the one with the big penis.
Headlights in the distance. I look down at the road to avoid being blinded. The light grows beneath me. If the car decides to run me over now, how would I know? Would the light on the ground change? Would I notice in time?
I'm going to go to Starbucks. The one in the mall by the uh Panda Express. I have the app on my phone so I can pay.
It's been months since I exercised. This week I did two, one-mile runs. My thighs are cramping in protest. Fuck them. We run with the legs we have, not the legs we wish we had.
I want a donut.
I text my personal trainer. Click.
If I'm tired and sore tomorrow, it's because I'm running in the middle of the night, not because I'm a slacker.
I switch my phone back to my wife. Click.
Do you think my trainer likes me or just pretends? How would I ever know?
I see light inside a house. I stop. Is there someone inside unable to sleep like me?
It's beautiful, the home of a tasteful, wealthy family. Dark red, velvet chairs. A painting. Leather couches. No people. It's empty, staged so a realtor can show it off.
I think of the people sleeping in my dark home. My wife. My daughter.
She's not going to be ready for college. I've never taken her to concerts, games, poetry readings. How is she going to talk to other kids, make friends? How's she going to get laid?
I sure never did. Click.
She needs a better life than mine. She should go out into that first night and know that there's something new; her last chance to start over.
I mean okay everyone starts over but it's the first one that counts.
She needs to learn how to talk about what movies she likes her favorite video game. She should know how to dance.
I'm at the strip mall. There's an old, battered, blue pickup truck driving in a circle through the empty lot. I see someone get out and do something in the back where a lawnmower is tied down. He gets back in and drives on, his tires squealing a little as he drives off.
He could run me over.
I'm at the place where our dentist used to be. There's a Chinese dentist there now. The sign is half in Mandarin says Great Care Deal. No. Great Care Dental. Great Care Deal sounds better.
I turn the corner by the Panera Bread and the smell of cinnamon is everywhere. I can see men working inside. Wish they were open. Wish something was open.
The Starbucks is closed. Guess I'll to go to the one downtown.
That's quite a distance. Good. I haven't hurt myself enough yet.
She needs to exercise every day. Get used to the idea. Make it a habit.
Running faster now.
I pass the Holiday Inn Express. They're playing music out their front doors, but there's nobody to hear it. They're playing music to the empty night.
Another car. Click.
Why are people up right now? It's the middle of the night!
I hit a street light and press the walk button. There aren't any cars, but I wait. I'm hungry and sore and winded. Ah, forget going to Starbucks. I don't need coffee. I need to go home.
Green. A little white man with a floating head like in The Legend of Sleepy Hallow beckons. Run.
I pass by that terrible Italian restaurant my parents like. We should try them again.
A carpet store. They're going out of business. Why is every carpet store going out of business?
There's that tiny coffee shop with no windows. Why haven't we ever gone there?
That tiny barber shop with the red and white striped pole in front.
Why do we always go to the same restaurants barbers coffee shops? Shouldn't we go out into the night? Try new places?
There's a full parking lot, but no people, no apartment.
A car audio place.
A Pete's Coffee with nobody inside.
Pete's! Okay, it's not a Starbucks. Their coffee tastes like... Well, coffee. Still, I slow to a walk and turn towards their door. I don't have any money. Pretty sure they won't accept the Starbucks app.
I never went to a big school where you could get lost. Mine was only a few blocks long. Why didn't I go someplace scary?
College would have been so much easier if you had been there. Fun. Knowing I screwed up that first night makes it worse.
I remember that time when a friend invited me to her veterinary hospital. They were tending a baby bear. You could play with it. You held up your hand and it would slap it. I told her I'd stop by in a couple days.
That night, I met someone at a bar where they play movies. 2001: A Space Odyssey. We kept glancing sideways at each other.
Afterwards, the owner of the bar got on stage and talked about how science fiction films had declined. Why weren't they making anything about defying authority, about breaking away from the bonds of society?
"Babylon 5!" the woman and I shouted simultaneously. We had something in common. We agreed to meet the next night at a coffee shop.
But I was visiting my parents. My mother wanted to go out with me. I blew her off.
That night, I waited at the coffee place for hours, then tracked down her hotel. I got them to give me her room number, saw the light under her door, and knocked. Nothing.
Am I creepy?
The next morning I skipped playing with the baby bear so I wouldn't upset my mother again. I thought "I'll never get a chance to play slap hands with a bear again."
Doors close every day.
I remember a girl in college. I saw her crying on bleachers by the little tennis court by my dorm. Blonde. A nose too squashed to call her gorgeous, but who wasn't beautiful in college? She said she was homesick. Everything was so alien in college. Hard.
I made her laugh. Introduced her to the freaks I hung out with. I saw her from time to time, but it was always awkward. Click.
Seriously, am I creepy?
The sun is coming up.
I can't run anymore. I turn back towards my neighborhood.
And he walked back to his safe little home in a safe little neighborhood in a safe little world. The end.
There's something soft under my feet. It's a grey rag. No, it's something else.
Squirrel! Dead. Dead squirrel!