Thursday, August 16, 2007

Still haunted after all these years

Sun comes up in a cloudless sky and already it’s blazing hot. I stare out the window with too much time on my hands and the house empty of my second soul. Dreams linger like reverberations that never fully fade, threatening to drag me back. And why should I fight them? I’m there every night, regular as clockwork, so why not return during the day. When I’m awake I can control what happens. I can direct the action, cut the scene, call new actors from the sidelines, maybe a starlet or two for extra spice. Someone from my past. Maybe Norma, who carried a sadness greater than my own, or Marissa, or even Pascal. Yes, Pascal would be the ticket, French, shapely, comically innocent and blindingly beautiful.

But it never works that way. It’s a fiction I try to lose myself in. Our complex minds are ridiculously incomprehensible and unruly. Why return to a past we long to forget? I’m standing in a small pool of light outside a convenience store on 29th and York in Denver when fear hits me like a hammer. Little houses line the street and lights shining through the curtains and the streets are deserted and me on the sidewalk paralyzed. I’m having a meltdown as I stare through the store’s windows and see nothing out of the ordinary, the front counter with its displays of cigarettes, candies, newspapers and lottery tickets, racks of shelves filled with cookies and potato chips and outdated cans of vegetables, and in the darkness beyond is something I’m afraid to confront. The key to the front door is in my left hand and my right is staying close to my holstered pistol and the only sounds in the universe are that of my radio softly squawking and the thudding of my heart.

There were other times I was terrified to enter businesses after a burglar alarm sounded but I forced myself to follow through. It was my job, my duty, but more than that it was a measure of me as a man. It defined me. I once had a trainee who bragged how he wasn’t afraid of anything. One night we responded to a carpet store on South Santa Fe just past Mississippi, a scary place with dual time clocks synched to kerchunk one second apart, the sound identical to a shotgun slide racking forward to seat a shell, and this besides the endemic hauntedness of the place, the silent footsteps, the creaking floors, the rustle of fabric and faint voices. After thirty seconds inside he was ashen-faced and begging to leave. He grew up in that instant, confronted by a man he did not know or knew and was afraid to admit knowing, and that man was himself. Less certain, more fragile, more like the rest of us. He didn’t last long.

And sometimes I wonder if decades later he wakes to find himself standing in that hallway where it opened out into the dimly-lit warehouse, and though the time clocks have just shattered his nerves the real terror inhabits the shadows of the room, something he couldn’t name then and can’t name now, or ever. Maybe something that doesn’t even have a name.

Every night I return there, or to a place remarkably similar. I roam dark alleys or brightly-illuminated houses, the homes of rich people who cannot help but look down on me, the low-rent housing projects, industrial warehouses and traffic-choked streets, and nothing I do is ever finished or complete but left dangling with a sense of dread or expectancy. I’m back at my old job in a twisted, surreal fantasy only faintly bordering on the real. If my bladder wakes me the interruption is brief, for as soon as my heads hits the pillow again a new chapter begins. Same situation, different place.

I want to dream something else. When I force them aside I’m back to the Sandia Crest high above Albuquerque in another one of my familiar dreamscapes. I wonder what new devilry is afoot. This goes way back to when I was young enough to have little experience and fewer dreams, but dreams enough to gaze across the rolling terrain between the forested slopes of the Sandias to the high peaks of the Pecos Mountains sixty miles away and wonder what it would be like to cover the distance on foot. I can still smell the thin air of high elevation and see myself ant-like far, far below.

So much for control. Another unfulfilled wish, another deception by a trickster mind.

How I wish I would have done it. Was it failure to plan or failure of nerve? The world has changed, and me with it. Sometimes I take my revolver out and hold it, my fingers curled around the rubber grip, and it’s almost like being in my dreams again. But there I can never fire it, not even when threatened, something always blocks my finger. Looking back on it from a sunny place is like seeing the distant Pecos Mountains and for one moment knowing they’re only a step away. Can I squeeze the trigger when I need to? Can I take that first step? Somehow I missed my opportunity. I’ve grown up and moved on, and yet decades later I find myself on the crest looking to the northeast, mentally choosing a route.

I never did enter the store but drove away in shame. But I’m back there again, every damn night. I like to think that someday I’ll insert the key in the lock and turn it until the bolt snaps too loudly and in one swift move I’ll draw my pistol and swing the door open and step in and shut the door and lock it behind me, and it’ll be just me and whatever it is I’m afraid of. That we’ll finally end it.

And sometimes I think I could reach those mountains if I would just start walking.

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