It’s that thing when you wake up in the middle of the night and you don’t know where you are, and for a few seconds, a few endless, desperate seconds, it’s like every outer space disaster movie you’ve ever seen, where the doomed astronaut frantically lashes out at the control panel to maneuver the battered rocket ship back on course and out of the path of a hurtling, flaming meteor, your brain struggling to return you to the proper place and time. All of this after you had vowed to stop thinking about her, and you had done such a good job, good enough, but then something stupid triggered a relapse, a picture taken on a beach somewhere that someone casually showed you. The whole time that someone was showing you that picture of a couple arm-in-arm with some kid, seventeen or so, tall, broad-shouldered, tousled hair, who is clearly their son, with all her best features and nothing from his father, whoever his father is, this smiling happy family on a beach somewhere, you were pretending to look/not look, and pondering why the fuck are you showing me something like this? and don’t you know I can’t be shown something like this? and how far is something like this going to set me back? Chrissakes.
It’s not until you fully acclimate, your brain finally righting itself, that you’re able to peel off the sweat-soaked sheets and unfold out of bed, this leg, then that leg, damp underwear, and stammer down the stairs, narrowly avoiding that one nail on the next to last step that almost always snags your sock, to grab a note pad and a pen, because you don’t smoke anymore, to write this down the way your therapist told you to whenever you encounter one of these speed bumps as she calls them – a glaring misnomer that implies you were actually moving at the point of impact, which you don’t believe you were, or have been, stuck in neutral for as long as you can recall. Your therapist, with her flowery cardigan and sympathetic disposition and suburban office that reeks of potpourri and scented candles, muted classical music drifting in from the lobby, says that writing this down, journaling as she calls it, will provide you some modicum of control – modicum being the operative word – and save you from surrendering, from disappearing down this abyss, again, and again.
It’s three-forty-five, and you calculate that if you go immediately back to bed you might salvage three hours of sleep before you need to get up for real. But you also realize that it doesn’t work like that, that even if you were to go immediately back to bed, lie down in your sweat-soaked sheets, damp underwear, you would only toss and turn, anxiety-ridden, panic-stricken, over revisiting that dream, whatever that dream was, and seeing her – not as she is now, because you don’t know her as she is now, but as you knew her then, way back when, when you were both young and innocent and in love, before reality and your poor decisions and life intervened, pulled you apart cleanly down the middle. No, you will never be able to go immediately back to bed, so instead, you plop down on the couch, turn on the TV, the remote greasy from the pizza you had for dinner, with the sound muted, not because there is anybody you might disturb, but because you don’t need sound, prefer the quiet, are used to it. You flip through the channels, random scenes of random people in and out of random storylines, never lingering long enough to make any connection, as per usual. You sit there, on the couch, your damp underwear, greasy remote, flipping, flipping, flipping, one random scene of one random storyline to the next, and you wonder if she has ever had any dreams like this about you. You figure probably, most definitely, not, since she was always more together, and, oh by the way, she told you to hit the bricks. Yet there’s a part of you that imagines that maybe, just maybe, she does, and that thought alone renders you ever, somewhat, slightly better, an insomniac’s schadenfreude. Then you remember you should be writing this shit down.
It’s too dark to rummage for a note pad and a functioning pen, a goddamn gazillion pens from a goddamn gazillion different places and none with any goddamn ink. You think, resist turning on the light, not because there is anybody you might disturb, but because you don’t need the shock of that, light, prefer the dark, and there is still a chance you might go back to bed. You open your laptop, only to take notes, only to take notes, you tell yourself, promise, lie. The lure of what lurks on the Internet is too powerful, your weakened constitution, and the low dim hue of the screen seduces you to come inside. A click, and a click, and another, and more, and back to that picture that someone showed you, of her, with her smiling happy family, taken on a beach somewhere, deep blue waves crashing in the background, a gentle breeze ruffling their pastel resort wear, the sun smiling down from the heavens to bless them, as you hunch over your laptop, damp underwear, in that shitty chair you stole from the last place you worked before they fired you simply because they didn’t want you anymore, in the dark and quiet of your starter home and here you are, still not started.
It’s her, you know it’s her. You don’t have to repeat this exercise every time someone inexplicably shows you a picture of her, and when you’ve done such a good job, good enough, trying to avoid her, fending off all those devils that try to trick you to sneak a peek, just a peek, what can it hurt? they whisper in your ear. It’s her, you know it’s her, the same, only different, older but aren’t you both, and happier, much happier than you, she has to be, there’s no way she’s not. It’s her, having moved on well forward and beyond to where she’s supposed to be, well forward and beyond anywhere you could have hoped to be, by now. Fucking speed bumps. It’s her, and you know you shouldn’t be sitting there staring at her because nothing at all can come of it, nothing that won’t cost you two-hundred-dollars-an-hour, even with insurance, to confess to your therapist so you don’t regress. Journaling. But the pain of wedging that dull knife into that festering wound you refuse to let heal is sometimes all you can feel, anymore. So you sit there, and you stare at her, and you stare at her, and you stare at her, and her smiling happy family on a beach somewhere, and think, about everything, and nothing, how your rock’n’roll heroes keep killing themselves, until time passes, as it does, and the sky outside the drawn shades brightens, and the birds have the nerve to chirp. Something urges you to get up, and to get going, because this day might be worth something. You remember you forgot to write any of this down. But you’ll be here again, no doubt, and you can write about it then. You close out the picture, disappearing into the ether, and log off the Internet, not before ordering a set of sweat-resistant sheets, the kind your therapist suggested, and maybe that might help you sleep through the night next time, or at least maybe you won’t wake up with damp underwear. And that should count for something, and so maybe this wasn’t a complete loss after all.