The first thing I hear is voices, the patter of hail on glass and the faint mewling of a distraught animal.
I feel, on my hands and cheek, the shag carpet upon which I lay, its dank smell overwhelming. As I try to open my eyes, I find only darkness, except for a dim, blurry refraction of green light, as one might see through stained glass at a church.
Her voice appeared as though through a speaker, official and tinny, asking me if I know where I am, if I know the date, if I know my name. Of course I know my name. This person needs to stop wasting my time. She asks if I remember the date again. I respond that it’s probably sometime in July. She does not respond to that directly.
Next she asks if I would be okay with a visitor. My friend is in town, she says, and she wants to know if I would be okay with that. “I don’t even know where I am,” I respond. The Voice says, “That’s okay. We’ll be right with you.”
I feel restrained, and weak. My tongue feels dry in my mouth. Despite the mustiness and the shag, I feel like I’m being held down by something, and sense that there are wires of some sort attached to me — to my face, my arm, my throat.
Apparently, I drift off.
I wake up again. The same mustiness, the same dim nothing surrounds me. Still unable to see anything, really, I ask for a drink of water. The Voice comes back saying I cannot get anything to drink, but somebody will be right with me.
“What does that mean!?” I shout back, hoarsely. It’s not even a shout, really, just a dry gasp. It may only be a thought, an urge. I hear the whir of machinery, feel something cold trickling down my throat. A sweet smell, with a hint of plastic, overwhelms me.
“You cannot be trusted to take a drink yet,” the Voice says. I don’t know what that means, but am too tired to respond.
Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m alive.
I try to remember a kiss, a bite of an orange, the sun on my face — there’s a barrier between all of this and the thing I call Me.
Is this what people call a fugue? Dissociation? Is it remotely something spiritual, or simply a phenomenon in my brain?
It feels like a dream within a dream.
* * *
The musty smell has gone away, as well as the feel of shag. A dim recollection of ancient wooden figurines from the East linger on the periphery. Or maybe they are not ancient, but only cheap souvenirs, replicas. There are so many of them; they generate a feeling of crowded claustrophobia.
Instead of laying prone, I am now on my back, the sound of crinkly plastic echoing with my every move. None of my limbs can sway more than an inch or two, but the light has grown brighter, no longer a dim refraction of green out of the corner of my eye, but a clear, small square of blue, somewhere off to the left.
A familiar voice is there, in my ears — or is it just a memory? I listen again, realize I’m able to make it repeat, with a thought. Like lifting the needle to place it back on the edge…
She is singing something, but I can’t make out the tune. I feel generally self-conscious, knowing I don’t want the person behind the voice to see me, to see whatever state I’m currently in. This sense of shame, or discomfort, further confuses me.
From somewhere in my consciousness, I remember sitting in a cafe, writing a letter to a friend. I recall preparing for a trip. I recall taking a nap. None of these things comfort me, as I have no context for what they mean.
The sound of hail on glass returns, but seems different. Almost musical.
Brassy clanging, as of some discordant mechanical machines, crescendos until I begin to scream again. My scream is not a scream but another dry gasp, and I no longer want to put up with the entire situation.
The mewling returns, and I hear the soft step of many people passing by. I force my eyes open and only one complies. The other has something taped over it. The blue square of light has more defined edges now. I see vertical shadows drift by on the other side of its textured, translucent pane.
* * *
From where vertical shapes move past windows, my mind drifts into another memory of the sensations before everything went blank.
Are these actual memories, or simply my imagination trying to fill in the blanks?
The vibration of the engine through my hands. Glancing down, I see that, for some reason, both of my index fingers are cut off at the first knuckle. Like Frodo at Mt. Doom, but on both hands. Nothing seems wrong with my hands, functionally, otherwise – just an old injury.
The next images, which are probably only my imagination fleshing out people’s storytelling, are about gripping tight on the handlebars, trying to melt into the crash.
And by melt into the crash, I mean probably trying to have the softest landing possible. Apparently a witness — perhaps the witness who called it in — saw me go into the off-ramp at much too high a rate of speed, ending up in the ditch — or if not a ditch, then more like the grass between the exit ramp pavement and the rest of the highway.
* * *
At some point, I become comfortable knowing … that I do not know, may never know.
I keep returning to a shuttered house to visit old ghosts, to pay respects to some ancient thing. The feeling is that I do not want to stay there. I want to make it brief. Light the incense and run.
The doctors believe I’ll be able to move, and think, again, she writes. I find this later, long afterward, and it helps me put pieces together.
I try to write from the place with the mustiness and shag carpet and shadows, but cannot. I simply want to respond to what I’m hearing, or ask basic questions, but it’s futile. Nobody can read the scrawl of my sloppy cursive.
It is more than likely my motor skills rewiring themselves. Inside myself, I laugh and know the entirety of me, the part of me that is a grumpy curmudgeon and a whimsical joker, is alive and well. Alive and well and feeling out of time and at the other end of a wormhole. Alive and well and assembled from pieces of the past.
Deep inside the delving I do, the dirges in the dark continue. An aspect of my musings concerns coyotes, and the cold.
* * *
Months after all of this, this phenomena of which I still have only pieces of direct knowledge, I am camping, double-wrapped like a turducken in two sleeping bags on the edge of a forest in Wisconsin. It is in the teens and creeping down to 12 degrees Fahrenheit, which I knew would happen, yet I stubbornly did not change plans. I looked forward to pushing out to the edges, to see what I could take.
Against all reason, three and a half months after the darkness, and two months after my release into the world, I am looking for more silence, more cold, more darkness. I believe it’s a homeopathic experiment to see what comes forth. It’s also, less dramatically, part of an excursion with a brother in the best form of therapy I can imagine.
Coyotes yip, bark, and howl three times in the night, between 10:30pm and 5am. I wonder to myself whether they do it to keep warm, or if it is due to the excitement of finding prey. They sing to each other as whales do, figuring out what to do, and when. Feeling proximity to each other with sound, communicating with each other at a basic level, they head in the same direction, move with the same purpose — like flocks or schools.
Thoughts of my friend, gone in the night to attend to Life.
Thoughts of comfort.
The lack of wind.
The whoosh of about three jets.
The time that is missing.
Mind wandering, I return to the coyotes, like my breath.
* * *