a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
I had just had one of those dreams again.
The ones where I’m stumbling through the grocery store, tossing jars of jelly and marinara sauce into my cart, only to all of a sudden round a corner. The smell never changes. It’s the same cardboard bread smell that grocery stores always have, only now all the shelves are lined with snake tails in amber decanters. I try to back away, but I get this gut feeling. It’s like in a past life, I was slithering through peat and tangled roots, and now I’m staring out at my hand-me-down corpse, but I can’t for the life of me figure out which one it is. And then the walls start closing in, and the snake-jars shake a little, and I can feel their marble eyes boring into me, saying you were one of us…
And then I wake up.
The amber bedroom glow always gets me panicked for a minute. Then the hall clock starts tick tick ticking to crack my skull open. I picture that the roof caves in a little further with each rhythm, then I picture myself knocking that damn clock into next Tuesday. Whenever it happens, I get this overwhelming need to leave the house. So, after shuffling into the kitchen to inhale a slice of toast, I throw on some shorts and a striped t-shirt, and check my phone. It’s only about 6:30 a.m.
Regardless, I step out my front door to meet the humid morning. It had rained all night, and someone had splattered the sky with peach cobbler.
Living in the veritable armpit that is Oklahoma’s panhandle, you’re not going to get a whole slew of neighbors, but I’ve got a couple. I looked over to see if Mrs. O’Day was out on her front porch knitting or whatever. She’s usually out early, but no such luck. I never really talk to Mrs. O’Day, but if anything happened to her, I think I’d just dig a hole and die. She’s this old lady with the sweetest brown eyes you’ve ever seen. She’s always out with her gray tabby cat that’s named after some household item (Socks, or Spoons, or something), and whenever I pass, she calls out “How do you do?”. Makes my day every time.
Anyway, I had been gardening last night before it rained. I realized then that I had left my spade on the sidewalk. It reminded me somehow of Mrs. O’Day, with her gray tabby and the peonies she tends to so carefully. For this reason, I grabbed it up and tossed it on the backseat of my car. Then I climbed into the front, shoving aside a half-empty water bottle, and was off.
I’ve gotten to know these little Oklahoma towns like the back of my hand. Or rather, like the network of veins that threads itself through the tendons there. Either way, there’s not much to know. Just miles and miles of that sickly amber glow in the shrubbery. If you’re lucky, you might find a horse the color of storm clouds, or a puddle of slick iridescence, or a windmill.
Today I drove East. Normally, I’d keep along route 412, but the nearest towns morphed into blurs in my mind. Like songs heard so many times that they’ve melted to muck. So instead, I took a right about thirty minutes in. Several gnarled elms had put down roots here, all knocked knees and dislocated elbows like someone had tossed them out a car window. Just then, my engine started to sputter on an empty stomach. I pulled off the road in front of a sign that read “Welcome to Silverton” in faded periwinkle. The sign stood tilted on two legs and was painted white, chipped gashes oozing rust like infected wounds. Just beyond that was a small cemetery. Beyond that, a disintegrated jumble of a house had sunk half-way into the ground, windows boarded with overlapping planks.
Cursing, I stepped out of the car. I pulled out my phone to call roadside assistance, but instead wandered through the cemetery gate. Overhead, the words “Silverton Cemetery” had been spelled in wrought iron, wilting bouquets flanking the gate on either side. None of the graves inside were dated later than the 80’s. I moseyed towards a flowering dogwood to rest, but stopped abruptly. Beneath the wavering shade, where sunlight cast lacy patterns onto stone lambs, a baby rabbit lay dead.
There were no signs of predator gore. However, I suspected that an unseen something would soon be hungry for lunch. Where the rabbit lay unmarred by decay, I pictured for it a crown of dogwood blossoms, even as imaginary maggots roiled beneath the surface. At that moment, I found myself shedding angry tears that burned my eyes to ashes. I cried for the rabbit, and the snake tails in my dreams. I cried for Mrs. O’day and the lambs around the dogwood that collected lichens in their stony fleece. I cried until I was all cried out and then through the tidepools of my eyes, I glanced over to find a second rabbit hopping out the doorway of the house.
My final embers leaked from empty sockets. I realized this was the first sentient thing I had seen all day. Knowing someone else was out here had me flooded with relief, like knowing there are others who lay awake at night. It’s like how half the world is sleeping at any given moment, and it’s up to the rest of us to keep things going. I recalled childhood moments of floating between dreams, the drone of a box fan or my parents' voices flitting about my head, just out of reach. That moment could have stretched into eternity, everything giving way to the bleating of stone lambs above me…
. . .
Finally, I called roadside assistance. I then dug a hole with the shovel thrown in my back seat. I shouldn’t have buried the random rabbit I found, something about interfering with nature and whatnot. Yet there I was. Being dehydrated as Hell by this point, I proceeded to down the half-empty water bottle I had brought, and wait for them to show up.
When the triple A truck faded in from the East, a guy in a neon safety vest climbed out with a canister of fuel.
“So, Silverton, huh?” His awkward attempt at conversation as he did his thing.
“The bustling metropolis,” I joked, “Anything East of here? In this town I mean.”
“Not that I could see,” he chuckled like he had told a joke, “As far as I know, everyone in Silverton is dead and gone”.
. . .
When I pulled into my driveway, Mrs. O’Day was out doing yard work.
“How do you do?” She called as I shut my car door.
I responded with “How do you do?” because how else do you respond to that question?
Inside my house, the amber glow had melted into afternoon.
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