What started out as an innocuous excursion to the convenience store, quickly devolved into a mephitis of nightmare…
Where I live, summer is in full swing. The days have been long and resplendent, and the nights… equally as gorgeous. This means that I have been spending as much time as there is available to me outside, immersed within the saturation of these dog days.
When doing this with a mind like mine; a mind so often weighted by torments of the past, I am left vulnerable to uninvited intrusions of displaced memory. Re-visitations of anguished moments. I never know when they are going to happen, or how long they might last. So, I often navigate this world with methodical attention to detail and observation of surroundings… it’s a little like walking on eggshells—something always breaks—typically… my sanity.
I don’t ask for these things nor do I choose to fixate on them. As I said, I am too busy readying myself for the randomness of daily life to concentrate on anything other…
But, no matter how hard I try, no matter how much I prepare, there is always something… could be a car backfiring, a sudden slamming of a door, unexpected eruptions from patrons in a shared venue, or those god-awful sirens… so many sirens.
Well, today had been a good day. Decent, overall. I had spent some time in the sun, reading from a new book while thinking excitedly about the release of my very-own in just a few short months from now. In the evening, I met with a friend and we shared in coffee and laughter, it was good. It was all really good… so, I let my guard down.
When my friend and I had finished with coffee, we went our separate ways. I had come home to notice that I was out of milk. Now, I can drink my evening tea without it, sure, but I prefer a splash or two of the alabaster. So, I decided to head back outside and into the world. The sky above was now brushed by a brilliant mixture of marigold-honey and watermelon-violet. It was mesmeric. I decided to take the long way to the store. I allowed for myself to enjoy the tranquility of the masterpiece that hung high above as I walked.
A couple of kids rode by on their bikes, laughing and pedalling playfully. They looked like best friends. Reminded me of my own from back home, all those years ago.
My mind was calm, peaceful and at ease. Nature was singing, allowing the birds to be the chorus. It was damn near perfect.
When I rounded the last block before the store, the vigilance of my mind’s eye came back online. I had to ready myself for the possibility of a crowded place. I hate standing in line, if anyone is behind me, I can feel their hot breath stick to the back of my neck before sliding down my spine… I hate it.
I took a deep breath and stopped for just a second before entering in through the doors. A chime went off as the automated glass doors slid open from the middle. I felt a zephyr of air-conditioning as I pushed on through.
I knew what I wanted and what I needed; I always do when having to shop in “normal people” places during “normal people” hours. It’s in and out for me. So, I wasted no time. Grabbed some milk, a bag of chips and some peanuts. Sadly, there was indeed a line-up. Fortunately, it was slight and moving efficiently. I paid for my things, grabbed my bag and started my way towards the doors… and that’s when everything went to shit.
I watched as a troupe of friends walked in. This would have meant nothing had I not seen him… Among the gaggle, was a boy… a boy no older than fourteen. He was tall, lanky, wore unkempt sand-blonde hair and a blue shirt. His resemblance to another boy I once knew was uncanny… frightfully so. The longer I lingered, the more his features changed to match the boy I had known. But it was impossible for this boy to be that boy… because the boy I had known, is dead. I know that because I couldn’t save him. I even confirmed his death with my own hands… eyes, too.
I’m not sure how long I stared for. I have no concept on the passage of time when this happens. And as I am taking him in with my burdensome stare, my nose begins to ignite with a repulsive brume. From inside my nostrils a fire of remembrance begins to sweep through the passages of my airway. Before I could ready myself, the scent of the boy I had known returned to me… the punitive stench of piss. A dead boy’s piss.
The same as I can feel hot breath slink down my skin when there are those behind me, I felt the odious trickle of urine-soaked vapor fill my mouth, nose and lungs. The more I felt myself panic, the more I noticed a bruising ink itself to this boy’s neck… discoloration of where a rope had been. None of what I was seeing was real, at least, not real in this time… but it once was…
I was frozen. Cemented where I stood. Manacled to the linoleum floor of an in-and-out convenient store, bag in hand. I guess it was during my haunted trip through time that someone in the present wanted to get by. They placed their hand on my shoulder and an explosion of sensations ravaged my body and bones. I dropped the bag. Milk, everywhere. Eyes… on me. The boy… the one here in the real world… laughing with his friends at the freakshow by the sliding doors… me.
I jogged from the store. I made it a couple hundred feet away and rounded a corner before collapsing my hands onto my thighs. I had just been lashed by the whip of PTSD.
Embarrassed and ashamed, I slumped my way home. Nothing was beautiful anymore. Even the birds had stopped to stare at the freak.
These are the moments I hate my condition the most. I knew that the boy in the store was not the boy from the basement, but in that moment, I just wasn’t sure. It was like seeing a ghost casually walk in through the same doors as me.
I hate that I couldn’t save him. I hate that I couldn’t bring that boy back to life and tell him just how much more living he needs to do before choosing to die. I hate that I was the one who couldn’t find a pulse. But mostly, I hate the fact that he lives within my veins… that’s not the life I would choose for him, but it is the one he has, for now. A life we share in misery of one another.
When I see him at night, while I’m trying to sleep, I always do as I did on that day some years back: try to cut him down. But cruelty dictates this as futile, because I always wake-up, pawing at nothing but darkened air and empty space.
My therapist always corrects when I talk about him as though he’s there or as though I am seeing him… I get why, it’s important to change the language. I am not really seeing the boy; I am remembering him. Horribly so.
But tonight, tonight was different… there was a real boy, and boy, did he really look like the one that’s dead and gone. A god damn specter buying candies and pop!
I think I’ll finish writing this, drink my tea… my black, milkless tea and go to bed. Tomorrow’s a new day. Maybe the birds ‘ll sing.
Goodnight, everyone. Sweet dreams. I mean it, dream as sweet as you possibly can.
(For those who are unaware… “The Boy” I refer to in the past is a boy I once responded to as a medic. He died by way of suicide. I tried, but… well… you know.)