Light (CW: substance use + recovery)
Homes would switch without warning. Keys stopped working. That’s what I yelled, banging on the door, “My key doesn’t work!” before finding the concrete planter and hefting it through the sidelight to let myself in.
I’d lived in other places that I didn’t need to get back to. In the backyard of my parents’ house, we had a swinging loveseat that no longer swung, two benches facing each other across a slanted deck. Soap-gray wood that loved to splinter. It had worked once, I was told, but I’d come about too late to see it. Somewhere back in that before time, one thing had slipped free of another, ball and socket separated, and one end of the deck came to rest, stuck. It was never fixed. There was simply so much that nothing could be done about.
It was as good a time as any to dry out again, I was told.
I’d spent too much time stalking old homes, old habits. Too much grease on the wheels and not enough gas. Think of tomorrow! I was told. Meanwhile I broke every rule I placed around my conduct. I drew lines across bottles, crawling down the neck, the shoulder, the body, the heel. I wore sunglasses, a hat. I had a destination every day of the week, circled in red, 10am when the bodegas opened.
“What’ll it be today?” I’d ask, aping a mind to make up. And, “What if I have company?” I knew they knew. I had a drawer by the stove stuffed tight with black plastic bags.
So I was tagged and released with a bracelet to read the sugar in my sweat. I went home—to the right building this time—and waited for the drying to begin.
It didn't take long.
The first day was fine. I was game! A vacation from my vacation. Day two was different. I couldn’t sit still. Standing was no good, either. I was feverish with shivers. Seconds switched on and off while I tried new positions. My calves twitched. My arms itched chlorine. The more I scratched, the more scratching I needed.
“Same old same old,” I said to the phone, holding my temples to keep my brains inside my skull. Then I went out.
I sweated circles around my block. I tried kicking at pigeons. I sat on a bench across the street and counted windows, counted half- and fully-obscured objects in windows, counted bricks. I counted bits of floaty film that fled across my eyes. When I was cold enough, I went back in. I passed a day, maybe three, crossing back and forth over the threshold, always bundling up or stripping down.
My neighbors’ mail collected and disappeared in the front hall. I’d never noticed their padding down the hallway, the drafts they waked past my apartment door. Now they invaded my veins, opening and closing vents to pass steam gurgling up the pipes. And at night their silence tore open space for the voice of the building, which cranked and creaked like an old man settling into a chair.
I consulted the literature. I was right on schedule.
So I went out again. I wasn’t sleeping, anyway. At night, things were clearer. Angles sharpened. Glass frames opened on lighted hallways behind them, the end tables, mirrors, and stairways that sulked daylong in shadow. Streets cleared, and all I could hear was my walking. It was possible, walking. If I stretched the truth enough, anything was technically possible.
It was tough to walk nowhere without going someplace by accident. Sometimes I stood still and let the sidewalks scrawl past me on either side, railings rattling towards their vestibules. I put a hand out for balance and stroked a moving car. Ahead of me, down the middle of the street, I saw the face of a downtown building winking square-eyed. I waited until it was right above me, and then I found my way home.
One time, this was maybe my fifth day of drying, or maybe my fiftieth, I saw a kid pounding on the door of his building.
It was in a neighborhood I’d hoped to avoid, one of those places that seem to flicker into being only when you’ve forgotten where you meant to go. I’d lived there briefly, long before.
“It doesn’t work!” he slurred. The window above the door was closed and dark.
Could it be? I stopped and took stock of the layout—the sidelights, the concrete planter—and saw what he couldn’t: a dark wood mouth set into a jaw of glass.
I began to unbundle.
“Here,” I said. “Let me help.”