The room quaked. The yellow walls pealed. The inside of my head hurt. The roar outside was so loud that I could’ve been screaming and I would not have known it. Ordinarily, the unstable bedsprings meant vacation— not the modern-day vacations I took with my family, but the vacations I went on as a boy. My father believed in seeing the scenery as quickly as possible. My childhood was a blur, and it was inexpensive. My father got a good deal— a wife who loved him— a family that didn’t disappoint him— and even if he coped with the 12-hour day that stole the rest of his day with poison, he took it like prescribed medication, and as he got older, he became a baby, taken care of by his wife, and respected in small ways, like the child who gives his lunch away when he doesn’t need it. People liked him, but nobody wanted to be like him. Not that being emulated is any great thing, but it is a marker for how tall you walk, and walking tall is all a man has.
I couldn’t remember who I was in that room. It was like a dream that left me, and waking up further, would not cause me to remember. Going to sleep is no guarantee, and waking up, well… waking up was where I was right now. It felt like I was standing in the sky, so close to people who travelled thousands of miles and wondered why they didn’t change. The jets were roaring. I had to get downstairs, away from the noise, away from people taking trips, and bragging about them, or complimenting themselves. To see someone who has left and come back, who has decided, rather than shooting off in all different directions, and complaining about the weather. I walked down the red staircase to the dimly lit bar with crystal arranged glasses, upside down. The bartender knew something was different. I guess there are a few people who actually watch; not that they care, but watching has given them something to do; they can observe themselves in some small way, and they’ve realized that works better than a psychiatrist.
“We serve coffee, espresso?”
“Yes,” I said.
“What seems to be the matter?”
“I don’t know. It seems like my mind is catching up with me. It feels like the weekend, but that can’t be right.”
“It’s Wednesday. Do you work?”
“I think so, but it must not be important.”
I must’ve been his most interesting customer. He looked amused. He was one of those types that becomes his job. It happens to all of us, if you walk the hallways of a hotel, dry enough glasses, listen to enough gossip, and manage enough people, your hair and face take-on the character of that place.
“Are you a teacher?” He asked.
“I think so, but no, that’s not quite right.”
“Would you like to order breakfast, eggs? perhaps?”
“There is someplace I need to be. I’ll leave you to it.”
Walking through the hallways was like walking off an airplane through the tunnel leading to the boarding gate. It was not home. There was so much anxiety and so much routine there—red carpets, long mirrors, industrial paintings. The rental car caused me to wonder if I owned a car. The traffic was light. It was almost the middle of the day. I drove, listening to smooth jazz, forgettable music. There was some blue sky, and like a blueprint that comes into focus on microfilm, I knew where I worked, in a school, where the walls talked, because the people stayed the same.
When I got there, the secretary looked my clothes over, like she was wondering where I came from, like I was dressed differently, not poorly, but differently. In a place that needs security, you can upset the natural flow if you do something different, and the tides will wash over you like stories to explain what happened.
“It’s been a long time…”
I looked at the teacher, a foot shorter than me. He was smiling, but it was a nervous smile. I wondered who I was, and could I rely on this guy to tell me? Would I get a different answer, depending on who I talked to, and did anybody really know? You can’t just ask someone that.
“How was your vacation?”
“Good, I guess. Say, Randy, where did you go for the break?”
“Hawaii; I told you. Man, don’t you remember anything? How was Paris, with Mary and the kids?”
The thought of a family, was beyond me. I didn’t know where they were. And I thought about answering, but thought better of it. People are always putting the pieces of a puzzle together, but they are always missing one or two or half the picture, and they’ll shove a piece where it doesn’t belong. You can feel trapped by people’s questions. And even if you answer them, they think something else; and if you explain yourself, it doesn’t explain anything.
“Nice talking to you, Randy.”
I left, because people knew what my numbers added up to. Like they had the solution, and I was a negative number. I never wanted to be quantified, because I did not want to know what my number was. I guess I didn’t want the answer. Being moved along by instinct is better than numbers. Instinct feels right.
So, I quit my job without quitting, and I found a green golf course next to a library and the sea, and I played, and read, and lay in the sand, taking in the clouds and words like God was speaking to me. I was not strong enough to face the conditions.
Survival, and self-reliance in the harsh cold is one thing, but loving unconditionally when the rest of the world has so many conditions, they so easily change, is like a legal contract that always finds you guilty and rules in their favor… well, no. I can’t sign that. I am waiting on that beach, watching the waves wash in, waiting until I am ready. It might take a lifetime.