I’m still not sure. It seemed real, as real as anything ever. It’s impossible to discuss. I’ve got close friends, sure, but none who would believe this. Among the reasons is I wouldn’t, and I’m more gullible than most. That this happened is inconceivable. It was real. It had to be. Either that or I’ve flipped my lid. I’ve tumbled off into la-la land. It doesn’t feel like la-la land, though. I guess it wouldn’t to anyone who’s ever been there. Perhaps I should just tell the story. There’s no need to rationalize to a laptop. Surely the NSA isn’t watching. If I thought that, I’d really be nuts.
Yes. I was stressed out. I was lonely. I was contemplative. It was the day, or the night after the day, when I learned that, not only were Jean and I apart, but it was going to stay that way. I couldn’t focus on anything. I tried to watch TV. The Red Sox were getting their asses kicked again. Django Unchained was on. That didn’t make me laugh. It didn’t gross me out, either. It was like I was experiencing life through a filter, a buffer, or perhaps even some spongy, gooey layer of … protoplasm, ectoplasm, some kind of –plasm. Plasma, which my phone informs me comes from the Greek for “anything formed.” Yeah. That’s it. Something, a numbing agent, formed in my soul. It wasn’t clinical depression. It was depression for a damned good reason. I had been alone for a while. I hadn’t gotten used to it.
I tried to read. I tried to write. I tried to masturbate. No can do.
I guess it wouldn’t have happened if not for this weird habit I had developed. I was up late, trying to read a book of short stories. I went to bed, though I wasn’t sleepy. The habit was that I had started going to bed with the television on. I’d close my eyes and listen to David Letterman. Usually I made it to the “Top Ten.” This time I made it clear through to Craig Ferguson. The last I remembered was that song he plays every night. By then, the Sandman was at my door, too, thank God.
That’s actually what I didn’t do. Thank God. The habit, remember? When I went to bed with the TV on, I couldn’t concentrate properly to say my prayers. Invariably, I’d wake up sometime during the night, and I’d get up, walk into the den, turn off the cell I’d left charging, and, on the way back to bed, take a leak if I needed to, which I almost always did. Then I’d turn off the TV, climb back in the bed, pull up the covers, and talk to God in the darkness. Don’t worry. He didn’t answer back, though, given my state of affairs, I wouldn’t have minded if He did. Any and all suggestions were welcome. There’s always an element of superstition in prayers. I recite the names of all the people upon whom I wish God’s blessings, and it scares me how I would react if, say, I forgot to mention my ex-wife, and she died in a car wreck the next day. It also scares me that, if it happened, it might not bother me all that much. That’s why my greatest superstition involves remembering to ask Jesus to forgive me for my sins, and I always say, “of which there are many” because, obviously, there is no hiding from Jesus. He’s not only Christlike. He’s Christ.
A storm hit while I was tumbling back to sleep. I started praying the same way I always do: reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Then I commenced the reciting: family first, then local friends, faraway friends, people from college, America, President Obama, and, finally, forgiveness. In Christ’s name, amen. Only this time, it seemed as if a lightning strike, nearby, no gap at all before the thunder, accompanied certain names as I was reciting them, and even as I came closer and closer to sleep, I vaguely noticed there was a pattern. Lightning struck all the names of people I’d known all my life, people from this town, ones with whom I’d gone to school. It was confused, this revelation, because I was losing consciousness, and prone to dead ends when I lost my train of thought.
It wasn’t raining when I awakened. This I knew conclusively because I wasn’t in my bed. I wasn’t in my house. My house wasn’t there. I was sleeping under the cedar tree in the back yard of my house that wasn’t there. The next surprise was that I didn’t hurt. My back hurts when I wake up every day. I felt great, which was ridiculous, because I was lying in the grass that I’d cut the previous day, only, now, it wasn’t a lawn at all. It was a pasture. The sun hadn’t risen yet, but it was getting light. I stood, scratched my eyes, and realized there were cows grazing around me. I was barefoot. I had on the same green sweatpants and gray tee shirt I had worn to bed. I had to hitch up the drawstring on the sweats, and the shirt was two sizes too large. I started walking down the hill, avoiding the white Charolais cows and their piles of manure, some of which were steaming. Oddly, the manure didn’t seem to stink. It was a familiar smell from long ago, and I missed it. It smelled good in a bad sort of way. The dilapidated barn wasn’t dilapidated anymore. The front door of the loft was open, and hay bales were stacked right up to the front, leaving only a small path to the ladder I couldn’t see. Sunglow, the quarter horse, was in the stable, staring at me as if he alone understood my plight. Of course, he did, the gentle giant of my youth. He had been dead for thirty years.
It was ghostly, like walking on the moors or teeing off in the British Open. My feet were wet, slimy grass wrapping itself around my toes. The house was quiet. My Mustang II, crimson with a white vinyl top that always had mildew running out the sides every time it rained. So was my sister’s Firebird, blue-tinted silver like the Dallas Cowboys’ helmets, and my brother’s hot-rod Ford Falcon, which was silver, too, only not blue-tinted. My dad’s Ford truck. Mom’s station wagon. When I walked through the carport, I could hear the sounds of everyone waking up. It was familiar, like the manure. When I walked in from one side, everyone was expecting me from the other.
“What in the hell?” inquired my father. “Where you been?”
“Asleep,” I said. “Like everybody else.”
My mother was speechless. My brother was amused. My older sister ignored me. My younger sister’s eyes were wide as saucers. My dad rolled his eyes with that “boy ain’t got no sense” glint. All seemed to be waiting for further explanation, which I didn’t have.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I just woke up, on the ground, under a tree. I got no idea how I got there.”
Mom finally broke the silence. “Why, Luke, do you think you could have been sleepwalking?”
My father looked dubious. Whatever I had been doing, he figured it had to be scandalous. Of course, sleepwalking fit in that category, though I’m sure he would have preferred that I’d been passed out drunk because raising hell about that would have been so much easier. Patience, Dad. Patience.
“Sleepwalking,” I said. “I’ve heard of it. But I really have no idea what it is. If I was doing it, I didn’t know it. I don’t remember walking out. I just remember getting up off the ground and walking in.”
Everyone looked concerned. I knew better than to announce that, apparently, I had walked in from the future, and, besides, as Dad pointed out, I had to get ready for school because, insanity aside, I had to be eligible for the football game Friday night, and, me, as confused as I was, I didn’t know what else to do. The stand-up shower, with the translucent door, was cramped, and my elbows kept bumping the walls, and the hot water was long gone, seeing as how everyone else in the house except Mom had already used it, and it was nasty, causing me to remember for the second time what a pain in the ass mildew was. The toothpaste had peppermint stripes. The only deodorant was for women. The cabinet had hair wax the color of rutabagas, handy for crewcuts. I looked in the mirror and was happy my hair was long and parted in the middle. Like Jackson Browne.
What do you do? Go with the flow.
Getting dressed, I started thinking more about where I was going and less about where I’d been. I realized that I had all this wisdom, not to mention the inside information. For instance, I knew my brother was going to trade in his Falcon for a van, and it was because he thought, if he had a van, it would be wall-to-wall pussy, but what was actually going to happen was that no one would let their daughters go out with him, correctly realizing the implications of said van, and within six months or so, he would be trading it for an Olds Cutlass. I could save him so much trouble if he’d listen, which, of course, he wouldn’t. What do you do? Why, you use all that wisdom, that inside information, for yourself. But how? Some things were obvious. For instance, I knew that, in a week or two, the Cincinnati Reds were going to defeat the Red Sox in seven games. Clemson was going to have a miserable football season. All that seemed pretty useless. I didn’t know how long I was going to be here. Would I wake up back in the present (or was it the future?), or would I just live my way back? Was I getting more than half my life to live over? Were there others? Was I now in some secret society? Was this common? If so, it certainly explained a lot. I wished it came with directions.
When I got to school, I saw this kid who was gay, and I wondered what happened – what would happen? – to him, and I wanted to walk over and tell him it was going to be okay, but I couldn’t do that because he didn’t admit to being gay because he couldn’t, and it was possible he didn’t even know it, or that he was in denial. I wanted just to say something general. “Hey, relax. Trust me. Things are going to get better. They are.” What good would that do?
Eventually, it came down to me. It was selfish, yes, but it also seemed more reliable, less harmful, and less vulnerable to unforeseen developments. It would be nice to make the world a better place, but I wasn’t confident it was within my capability to achieve. I wasn’t smart enough to know how to prevent 9/11 from the parking lot of my high school. What I could do, maybe, was fix personal items. For instance, what I needed to get to work on, pronto, was my abject inability ever to get laid while in aforementioned high school. I didn’t learn how to navigate such waters more smoothly until college. I couldn’t make the world any better, but maybe I could tinker with my world a little. I became so obsessed with this notion on my way to school that I stopped for a pack of rubbers because I felt a sense of urgency. It was so invigorating to have my young body back. Of course, I wanted to get some use out of it. I wished it was six months later, and my brother had his van.
I could’ve stolen it.
I parked my Mustang, the worst model Ford ever built. Leona Gantry and two of her friends, whose names I couldn’t recall, were standing next to the mechanical-drawing building, smoking cigarettes. I remembered Leona because of her titties. The first time around, they’d been as intimidating as the Rocky Mountains, but I’d never seen them. Her tits were on the border between enchanting and grotesque. I wanted to fondle them, but all I did was bum a cigarette. Her friends were shocked. Leona was amused. They left, undoubtedly to tell everyone they could find. I didn’t care.
She gave me a light and said, “These things are bad for you.”
“Even worse than you can imagine,” I said, mysteriously.
“You ain’t worried about getting in trouble?”
“I ain’t worried about nothing,” I said.
“What’s Coach gonna say?”
“I quit football.”
“Now. I haven’t told nobody. I just decided.”
“Far out,” she said, and blew perfect smoke rings. I knew better than to try.
“Life is fatal,” I said. “Everything is bad for you. Smoking. Drinking. Playing football. Reading. Writing. Probably candlestick making.”
“That’s deep,” she said.
“That’s what my last girlfriend said.” I felt profound. Leona didn’t have to say it. She likely didn’t know what it meant, but I’d gotten her laughing, and that was good.
“You wanna get fucked up?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said. “All of a sudden, I’ve got some free time on my hands this afternoon.”
“I meant now.”
“Well,” and I don’t know why I said this, “I feel like, you know, I ought to go through one day of school.”
“What in hell does that mean?” she asked.
“Oh, nothing. I meant the new me.”
I surprised myself by knowing where to go. I remembered where homeroom was. Why would I remember that? And geometry, where Mrs. Craywick talked in a monotone that put people to sleep, including sometimes herself. I bullshat my way through it all. It came naturally after decades of real-world bullshit. In physical education, we had a substitute teacher, Reverend Philpot, and he just sent us out running laps around the gym floor. Coach Buchanan wouldn’t have made us run. He would have wanted us fresh for football practice, and he wouldn’t have known I wasn’t going to be there because I would have been smart enough not to tell him. After about three laps, I tapped Lee Taggart on the shoulder and ducked into the locker room while the Reverend wasn’t paying attention, and then, following my example, a couple more started dropping out every lap until there were only about five law-abiding nerds left. Then we all started rejoining the fray, a couple at a time, and either Philpot didn’t know any better, or he was too meek and washed in the blood of the lamb to say anything. In history, Miss Bleecker showed slides from France, and when I said what she claimed was a cathedral on an island, looking down at it from the Pyrenees, looked like a rock in the middle of a mudhole, she started crying and told me to report to the office. I told the assistant principal that it didn’t seem appropriate to be punished for participating in classroom discussion, and since I didn’t deem it necessary there, either, to mention I wasn’t playing football anymore, he asked me to go easy on Miss Bleecker because she was under a lot of pressure, and I got off scot free again.
I underestimated the consequences of quitting football, though. I didn’t expect word to spread quite so thoroughly before my absence occurred. Hell, as it turned out, had no fury like those two mousy girls who had been smoking with Leona. We made our getaway, all right, and no one issued an all-points bulletin to the local authorities. The coaches didn’t need to involve the cops. They just called my father. When he found me and Leona, we had each slugged a six-pack of Old Milwaukee, and I had just smoked weed for the first time, or at least the first time in chronological order, and I mention this because I had discovered that I could play guitar retroactively, which impressed Leona so much when I picked up her brother’s and started playing it that she swiped it for the trip.
I don’t think my father appreciated my guitar skills. I was playing it, with Leona’s arms around me and my tongue in her mouth, when he showed up. He tried to kill me. She was there, so there was peer pressure, and I tried to kill him, too. It really upset the peaceful balance of the whole day, and it ended badly because, even though I was alive with the belligerence of Old Milwaukee, I passed up an opportunity, there on the banks of Cornelius Falls, to hammer him across the head with a good-sized tree branch. His judgment was different regarding the shovel in the back of the pickup.
I awakened again, forty years later, lying in the bed of the house on the hill that existed again. My father wasn’t pissed at me because he was dead. I found Leona, but it was on Facebook, where her last name in Reno, Nevada, is now Renfro.
As much as I’d like to claim sanity and eschew mysticism, I’ve never had a dream a tenth as vivid. I’ve never had another one that was in color. I’ve never had one give me a splitting headache and leave a gigantic knot on the back of my head.
I’ve never awakened wearing sweatpants this tight.