She longed for sleep but achieving it was rarely an easy endeavor. Something so natural and so necessary had become an exertion. As soon as her head hit the pillow neurons started firing in protest, sparking her left hemisphere into overdrive. Thoughts flooded her brain. Every night the same, a body worn from the day versus a mind that was just waking up. The descent through the three stages of NREM was far from smooth. The initial production of alpha and theta waves was lengthened from the average seven minutes to an anxiety-filled twenty to thirty. Did I pay that bill? Could I have phrased that different? Trivialities morphed into potential catastrophes.
She tossed and turned. Eventually, sleep spindles were produced, which slowed her brain down just enough to allow delta production to start. She faded and re-awoke in REM. The air was heavy with the taste of salt. Bright rays of sunlight heated the smooth white maze of adobe structures around her. She remembered this place. Bridges of dark wood connected the small buildings, which seemed to float upon the water. The sea was a shade of turquoise nature could only aspire to achieve. It was uninhabited, but far from lifeless. The methodical lapping of the waves against the wooden pilings lulled her into a trance. She wandered along the familiar pathways. She never entered the buildings, solely peered into the windows and imagined people occupying them. Time stood still in that place. It faded, and she awoke. Three am.
When she closed her eyes again, the village was gone. She found herself in a market looking for something. Instinctively she knew where to find it. She moved forward through the colorful square. People flooded the cobblestone streets, which she navigated with confidence. She stopped here and there to admire the wares; the allure of the items was almost irresistible. Jewelry, spices, bright colors, exotic scents. A combination of the familiar and the foreign. She veered off into a back alley.
The scenery morphed here, brick to wood, like log cabins. In place of windows and doors were sheets of colored clothes. She slid one aside revealing a dimly lit cubical. Whenever she awoke in the market, she would visit her old friend. Long dark hair fastened in a messy nest upon the top of her head, she sat elegantly upon a tattered cloth cot. The woman’s smile gave ignition to a long-dormant ember within herself. She smiled in return and continued on her journey through the hordes of people, bumping shoulders, brushing hands until the street ended at a long red cross-arm. Like the ones, you would find in a parking garage. To the left, there was a path leading towards a beach. This was not a beautiful beach; it was tumultuous and the waves forced a person to walk close to the rocky embankments.
She stepped forward pace after pace, an invisible string guiding her. To her right, the ocean raged and to the left rocks braced a large wall. Her gaze moved upwards along its medieval stonework. Thirty feet up it transformed into open blocks of inaccessible scenes. One after another, as if looking into the back of a dollhouse. She continued walking until she reached a jetty that worked its way up the wall instead of out to sea. The distance had morphed, the wall that she had nearly been pressed against became much further. The jetty offered a direct path to one of those scenes. She began to ascend the rocks towards a fluorescent lit room. At first glance, it resembled a barbershop, but as she approached it became clear it was a tattoo parlor. The scene came to life as she closed in. Three men moved about their tasks like robots. Only one of them responded to her presence. He was much older, gray curls surrounded a pruning face and around his neck hung a necklace with a brilliant emerald as its pendent. He smiled and plucked the jewel from its casing, placed it in her hand and met her eyes.
She awoke to her alarm beeping insistently. Which was more dreaded, the process of waking or sleeping? She laid there trying to reorient to her environment. The scent of the world from which she had been slowly left her nostrils, she wondered if she would ever lose the ability to dream like this. She thought about the price you pay over time for the ability to lucid dream. Your memories become distorted, the lines between reality and dream blur. It was somewhere in that blur that she always longed to be.

The Empty Man

It was the foliage that drew me to those apartments. Looking through the large white gate to the main building, was like looking into the courtyard of some exotic palace. The driveway tiled in red and canopied in green created an illusion of beauty that the dilapidated buildings couldn’t muster on their own. Our home was the first apartment to the left. It wasn’t anything special. There was a large wooden armoire that in unification with the heavy salt air, engendered the mildew which perfumed the clothes that hung inside. A black trash bag fastened with duct tape replaced the glass in the window over the kitchen sink. It didn’t matter how rigorously I scrubbed the small bathroom, it never met the standard of clean that my home in the United States had set.

That night I sat on the doorstep furiously smoking cigarette, after cigarette under the lush canopy. It was so long ago and would happen so often that I can’t recall the reason for his departure on that particular evening. Sometimes he would leave under the pretense of business, or sometimes whatever storm we had created in that palace was big enough to blow him out the door. He would leave, and I would wait. Anxiously anticipating his return that I might get to curl into his arms and receive the oxytocin dose I so desperately craved.

Hours had passed, and once the cigarettes ran out, I retired to the bed. I laid there restlessly until I heard the echo of the gate slamming shut behind him. The footsteps resonated through the corridor, the key turned in the lock and he spilled in. He laid there sprawled on the floor, in a dopamine-induced catalepsy. His brown skin radiant in contrast with the yellowing linoleum. Sweat glistened across his hairline from the exertion of the bike ride home. Dark curls fell in tangles over his back. He was the most beautiful man I had ever seen. All that waiting, and there he was, catatonic, a mess in the middle of my floor.

I could have left him there, but with the threat of scorpions ever-present and my determination to satisfy my addictions, I decided to at least get him to the bed. He was heavy and I am small, he mumbled inebriated words under his breath as I clumsily dragged him across the floor. Upon reaching the bed he managed to help me get half his body on. No matter how out of it he was he would never put his shoes in the bed so there he laid legs dangling over the side. I wasn’t satisfied. I waited all night for my fix, this wouldn’t do. I untied the shoes and ripped them off his feet, frustration building with the effort. It was like undressing a corpse. I took off his belt, instantly he pulled himself onto the bed, and curled into the fetal position at the end like a dog. I stared at him filled with disappointment, sick from the nicotine and cortisol overdose.

Arms crossed I sat there brooding, his lips cracked with a blueish hue, I wondered where he had been. How much crack had he smoked? How much booze had he drunk? I wondered if he would die in his sleep. He was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen and the emptiness inside him devoured everything it came in contact with. Anger bubbled inside me. It would have been easier to reconcile if I was angry with him, but I wasn’t. I was angry with myself for choosing to stay with him in the void.

The Horizon

I walked into the room and was greeted with the foul yet familiar smell of sick and shit. The overhead light shone bright fluorescent, illuminating the old man’s form against the hospital bed. We had met a few nights before around the same time. Three am, prime time for vampires. The usual words effortlessly tumbled out of my mouth, “Good morning, Mr. So and So, my name’s Lexi and I’m here to draw your blood.” He was in his sixties and suffering from a presumable heart problem, it was a cardiac unit. Clogged arteries; meat and potatoes diet maybe. On top of that, his immune system had been rendered defenseless by lack of sleep or the cocktail of meds he’d been given. Check the list of side effects. As I came to the bedside to verify his identity and casually scan his arm for my mark, the source of the odor revealed itself. There was a large feces stain across the middle of the mattress. Could have been worse, one time there was a basin filled with feces next to a sandwich when I walked in; at least he wasn’t exposed.

“You are beautiful,” he said as I tied the tourniquet around his bicep.

“Oh yeah?” I replied pressing my index finger into his median cubital area, trying to avoid eye contact; too deep, could roll. I turned his arm over and there it was, right in the middle of the back of his hand. I re-positioned the tourniquet mid-forearm and watched the veins come to life. I kneeled by the side of the bed as if I were proposing, cleaned the area, and pulled the skin tight.

He said, “You are an angel.” I looked him in the eyes and smiled a little “Oh yeah?” I readied my needle, “You are going to feel a slight prick.” Bullseye! Blood flowed graciously into the tubes. “When I get out of here, I’m going to marry you,” he said, gazing at me longingly.

Something about old men with death on the horizon. It’s like they lose all inhibition, propriety be damned. It wasn’t the first time I’d been proposed to in that place, nor the last. In place of what should have been a feeling of pity, there was maybe a touch of envy. Not of the condition of his body, but of the reckless abandon with which he spoke. Those rooms, those old men, I always left feeling a little lighter than when I entered.

The Con Artist

A few days ago, I found myself in such a state of dissonance after witnessing this scene in the Whole Foods checkout line. The woman in front of me was speaking to the cashier about her amazon prime code. If I were to describe her, I’d have to say, rough around the edges, not well educated, and seemed to think that invoking the name of Jesus gave her an air of honesty and credibility. She was rocking a 90’s style flip phone and rambling about how her son let her use his prime membership but had yet to provide her with the code. I wasn’t paying close attention at this point and didn’t want to be nosy or impatient. She tossed out a few numbers until one worked. Meanwhile, the line behind me was growing. If the cashier was irritated, she didn’t show it. The woman was buying at least 100 dollars’ worth of sausage, which she claimed was discounted though it wasn’t ringing up that way. The cashier sent someone to the back to check on the price. While waiting on the other cashier to return, the woman eased right into an elaborate schmooze. Leaning against the counter, in a way that screamed “This ain’t my first rodeo!” she “praised Jesus” and commiserated that, she too, had once been in customer service. She lasered in on the cashier’s hair complimenting her curls and explaining how she couldn’t do it herself but, “Thank the good lord for her hairdresser”. It’s funny to me how god so often ends up synonymous with goodness. The other woman returned and fiddled around a bit on the screen desperately trying to figure out the price discrepancy, while the woman went on explaining the discount she was owed and the line behind me continued to lengthen.
Finally, in a passively glorious conclusive statement, the woman says, “at Kroger when they ring you up wrong, they give you the item for free, but I’m not going to make any waves”. The cashiers exchanged a glance of equal resolve and relinquished half of the women’s meat to her for free. With a “final god bless you and a praise Jesus” she whipped out her EBT card and paid. Shamelessly stereotyping herself. There I was, my first impulse to disapprove but finding myself wavering towards admiration.
The cashier turned to me, apologized for my wait, and gave me my water for free. With a polite, “Well praise Jesus”, I was on my way. Left with the mystery, what was she doing with all that meat?

Before I Begin…

Writing has always been a passion of mine. A way to appease the ever active chatter of my left hemisphere. So for those of you who also experience the ever present inner dialogue that consumes, this will be a relatable pit stop on your internet browsing journey. As I am fairly new at this patience will be required and appreciated. Here is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite writers. This will give you something to ponder on while I get this show up and running.