The Thread


You wake to the splatter.  A cold, wet drip.  The heavy drop of rainwater smacking you right in the corner of your eye.  You’re startled, but it’s not until you’re met by the second drop that you realize what’s happening.  Rain is coming in just above your head.  A tiny crack in the fiberglass ceiling.  You’d never noticed it before.  But as you examine it more closely, you can see it runs all the way back to the top of the windowsill.  A tiny, meandering fissure filled with the grime and mildew of rainy seasons past and the festering springs that follow. 

You hold back your curses as you look for a bucket, a bottle, something to try to contain the water from soaking your one cleanish, flat spot to sleep in.  As you look around, you see the flotsam of your life consolidated in this one tiny space.  A stack of paper documents.  Your guitar, a hopelessly out of tune Epiphone with four rusty strings remaining.  A rickety stack of CDs, no player to play them in of course.  Yet another thing that was a plan on your to do list.  Another box unchecked.  A survey so brief you almost don’t have time to register how pathetic it is.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  Or so you tell yourself.  You had a plan and it looked nothing like this.  This situation, this predicament, this very moment was supposed to be temporary.  A short stopping-off point before you really got going.  And that’s the rub.  A not so subtle irony really.  Just a few months ago when you first made this arrangement, things seemed so great.  You were ecstatic.  Thrilled.  You went to sleep grateful every night.  And every day you woke feeling so much potential.  So much promise.  Like everything was falling into place.  Your plan was coming to fruition.  For every tool, a painted silhouette on the pegboard.  A feeling you hadn’t had since you were a kid and you knew your mom loved you and the whole world was ahead of you.  But that was before the flat tire and the busted alternator the brush with the police at the impound lot.  Everything went from a sense of profound optimism to a bulky, burdensome sense of dread.  Yeah sure, it seemed like a tiny setback at the time.  But now, Oh man! You are in it! The perspective of a little time.  You are stuck, and not only is the mud deep, but the water is coming in. 

And just as you really start to sink.  Just when you’re feeling like there’s no way out.  That’s when you start to feel the itch.  The painful burning itch.  You notice, because you’re not already annoyed enough right now.  It starts at your forearm and then twists around toward your elbow.  It’s kind of like a cross between a mosquito bite and a rug burn.  But it’s deep.  You can feel it lurking under the surface.  And you want to scratch at it so you do.


And when it first started, it wasn’t even that bad.  You could ignore it.  Maybe put some ice on it or some of that pink stuff your mom used to put on your poison ivy so you could sleep at night.  But as that burning itch becomes more frequent, it becomes more persistent.  And now, you can’t just leave it alone.  And not just any amount of friction will do.  You need fingernails on bare skin. 

So you peel your coat off.  The puffy, synthetic stuffing-filled nylon coat with the stain on the sleeve and the fucked up zipper.  You tear it off so you can get to your left arm.  And you pull up your shirt sleeve and you give that irascible little itch a nice hard dig with your thumbnail.  And that’s when you notice the lump.  Maybe lump isn’t the right word.  It’s more like a ridge.  It’s not that long, but you can feel it run along under the surface of your skin about two or three inches back.  It’s coarse and thready.  Almost like there is a piece of fine wire just below the surface.  And as you dig and scratch and the burn comes on, you realize there is in fact something there.  Like a really thick hair.  Maybe that’s all this is, just an infected, ingrown hair.  That would be a relief.  Or maybe it wouldn’t.  But at least it’s a measurable quantity.  Not some unknown to add one more problem to your list. 

And this is when your curiosity gets the better of you.  You have to find your headlamp.  Some light source.  A flashlight, a candle, anything to help you see.  What is this lumpy thread? You tear apart the drawer in the kitchen.  Nothing.  You look all over the counter and under the bed.  You even look in the stinking festering bathroom.  Finally.  Under the passenger seat.  It must have fallen off the dash.  You put it on and flip the switch.  In the dim light of the dying battery, you see what looks like a hair.  But is it? It’s red.  Red like the color of that sweater you used to like so much before you barfed whiskey all over it and left it in the grass.  You haven’t worn that sweater in years.  But this thread, it has that same wooly quality.  The end is sticking out just past the surface of your skin.  But the rest of it is in there.  Really in there.  How the fuck did it get in there? You tug at the end, but you can’t really get a grip.  Your stubby thumbs with the dirty, chewed down nails get no purchase.  You persist, but don’t kid yourself.  You need a tweezer.

Thinking for a minute, you know a tweezer is out of the question.  Pliers probably wont do it either.  But a needle? Maybe.  Your quest for the sewing kit takes you to the closet.  It’s actually more like a cubby that you’ve crammed so full of junk that things large and small spill out onto you when you open the door.  You dig under the pile of mostly dirty clothes and pull out a box of old keepsakes.  It’s not until you move that aside when you see what’s lurking behind.  The red bag.  Something you can’t remember the last time you saw.  It’s kind of like a very short velvet or a felt even.  You know precisely what is inside it.  Or what was.  Now, it’s just the box.  A small, wooden box.  And this is when it hits you.  All the misfortune you’ve had in the past several months can all be tied to that box that lives inside this bag. 


For a moment, you just stare.  You look at the bag unsure if you even want to pick it up.  A moment of absolute pause comes over you so strong that when your mind finally starts come back from being completely blank, you contemplate throwing up.  But you persist.  You know all you can do is keep going forward.  So you pick up the bag.  And as you gingerly unfold the flap, you reach inside to pull the box out.  The next sensory overload to hit you is the smell.  It’s not a bad smell exactly, but it’s not good either.  It’s a little musty and a little rotten and maybe a little oily, in an animal kind of way.  Not like damp earth.  More like wet dog fur.  As you’re taking this in, you realize that one of the strangest things about this transition you’ve been in the past few months are the smells.  So much of your life has gone on as normal.  So many of the things you do are the same.  The places you go, pretty much all unmodified.  It’s just that there are subtle little changes in the way you do them or how you arrive at each destination.  And what makes all those little changes so palpable are the smells.  The way cooking smells on your little camp stove versus your old kitchen.  The way your clothes or your bed now smell.  The way the acrid smell of diesel smoke has become a bigger presence in your life.  Or the fumes from the kerosene heater.  But this smell, the smell of the box, this is altogether different.  This is the kind of smell that unlocks an emotional trove so vast words to describe it are completely unavailable. 

You stare one more minute before you finally pull the box completely from the satchel.  It sits flat in your open palm while you gently run your other hand around the edge.  It’s larger than you remember, maybe eight inches in length.  You notice a marred area around the lip of the opening.  Like there used to be a clasp there.  You don’t remember there being any kind of fastener, but clearly there was one at some point.  You can also see a spot where the finish is more worn than in other areas.  As if something had rubbed it.  The large grain of what looks like oak is coarse and raised here.  You run your fingers over this, the thick ribs catching the rough skin of your thumb.  Despite its condition, the box is beautifully constructed.  Each joint coming together with pinpoint accuracy.  You wonder how old it is, something that never occurred to you before.  And finally, after just a second more hesitation, you open the lid. 


The box, as you remember it is empty.  But as the lid comes completely open and the light from your headlamp floods in, you see the note.  Something you’d completely forgotten about.  Setting the box down, you pick up the note and carefully, unfold it.  The paper has become slightly brittle, especially at the fold bisecting the page into two perfectly even halves.  You read it again, perhaps for the millionth time.

Dear Mr Billings,

After many years of searching, it seems I’ve finally found you, or at least your estate.  You’re not an easy man to locate.  The passing years since the war have only made it harder.  Even with newer technologies such as microfiche, my quest for you has been lengthy.  Not to dwell on the details of myself, I will be brief.  Enclosed in this little box, I serve you with this key.  I trust you know what to do with it and how your fate now depends on your actions herein.  Please make no mistake, this is not a hoax.  This pertains to the very crux of our conversation that night in Hamburg.  I hope you’ll not take this responsibility lightly.  I wish you the best, may peace be with you.


As you reread the note for the first time in so many months, you’re struck by both the brevity and the perfect penmanship.  Not only that, but you have no idea who Mr Billings is nor have you ever been to Hamburg.  And microfiche? Seriously? Plus, you never saw any key.  Your confusion is as great now as it was when you received this package in the mail.  The funny thing is that it was addressed to you.  You checked and checked again to be sure.  Your name, your address.  No return, nothing about the sender.  But it was clearly intended for you.  What you also remember quite clearly was what accompanied the note.  What filled the box.  A tiny animal, long dead.  Unpreserved but for the box itself.  You weren’t sure what it was.  Some little primate.  A marmoset perhaps.  Something you’d never seen and aren’t sure you could identify were it next to a live version of itself.  You remember opening the box that first time.  Its gnarled little teeth and its concave missing eye, staring at you.  Perplexed doesn’t even begin to describe your feeling.  Your immediate reaction was to shut the box.  As if closing it somehow made it null.  You remember the smell.  But now it seems stronger, if that’s even possible. 


You’d opened the box once more a few moments later.  You tried to take it all in, just to understand what the meaning might be.  But after that second time, you packed the box back up in the bag that enclosed it and put that back in the cardboard carton that it had been shipped to you in.  You put the parcel in the corner of the bedroom and didn’t open it again for days.  You just left it there, like an unwelcome visitor.  Like a stain you weren’t sure how to treat.  You looked at it askance for weeks.  You passed by it giving it no more than a cursory glance from the corner of your eye.  It registered as no more than a shape in your periphery.  And that’s if you noticed at it all.

But then one day, you decided you couldn’t take it anymore.  The confusion and curiosity of its presence eating at you; the emotional space it was taking up was too great.  You didn’t know what this whole thing was about, you figured it had to be a joke and you weren’t going to be the butt of it anymore.  So you took the box from its soft velveteen bag and you brought it outside.  You buried the animal in your mother’s back yard, next to her roses.  A shallow grave, sure.  But it was a tiny little thing and there was hardly anything left of it.  The tiny beast nearly crumbling as you removed it from it’s tiny casket.  Twenty-four inches down, its brittle bones, like your mind, finally able to rest.  You covered the hole, you put the wooden box back in its enclosure and you forgot about it.  More or less.

Now you find yourself sitting on the floor of what has become your home.  This empty box in your open hand.  You’re left wondering if the events in your life, especially those of the past year are connected to this.  It seems so random.  As if receipt of this package that was likely meant for someone else has brought you to this point.  Like a hex cast upon you.  Thinking about it in these terms for the first time, you begin to wonder.  Should you have tried to find out who the package was really intended for? Should you not have buried the animal? Should you have done something else with it? Or buried the box too? Should you have tried to find the mysterious person who sent it to you? All of these unknowns, all with no recourse.  Now you can only try to move forward.  As you sit, pondering what the next course of action should be, the burning itch comes back to the foreground.  This is when you remember what you were doing when you found the box in the first place.  Looking for your sewing kit. 


Eventually you find the small plastic case, little more than a clear envelope with a half a dozen needles and the remnants of two colors of thread.  It’s buried deep in the pocket of a backpack you’d forgotten you had.  A vestige of a time when you spent your days deep in the mountains, carrying only the most basic of supplies.  Your only goal to escape and let the alpine air subsume you.  Looking at your options, you choose the larger, sharper needle.  Again, you peel back your sleeve.  Peering at the the lumpy ridge and the wiry mass protruding from your skin, you begin to dig.  Slowly at first.  A gentle scrape.  But as your skin begins to numb to the pain, you dig deeper, more vigorously.  A small trickle of blood appears, but you persist until you’ve opened the skin into a tiny canyon running an inch back from the initial opening.  Wedging the needle under the fiber, you’re able to pull it away from the fleshy part of your arm.  As you look more closely, you can see that the thread has tiny little tendrils projecting from its main branch.  Almost like little rhizomes from a plant root. 

As you tug at the bloody end, the thread does not immediately give.  It is strong and stubborn and each tiny protruding hair is firmly implanted in the tissue of your skin.  As the fiber tears away, the itch transforms into a sharp and heavy burning sensation.  The surrounding muscle begins to feel weak, like a weight has been placed upon it and it’s slowly falling asleep.  It’s as if you’re removing a tapeworm or some parasite, its only defense is to release some toxic chemical to protect itself.  Finally, you free the thread of your flesh, its sticky blood-coated length stuck to the end of the needle.  You bring it close and try to inspect it.  After staring at it for a few minutes, you find an almost-clean plate in what passes for your kitchen.  You set it down, promising yourself you’ll come back to it later, when you’re a little more rested and a little less grossed out.

You amble back to your sleeping pad.  Water is still coming in overhead, but the drip has decreased in frequency.  You find a plastic bag and reverse your head-foot sleeping direction, putting the bag over your feet for the night.  When you wake a few hours later, you are cold and groggy and your arm feels like it’s filled with sand.  A gritty ache that is both hot and constrictive.  Sitting at the edge of your bed, you are met with the familiar feeling of time that will not pass.  Or will not pass quickly enough.  But in your dazed state, you also know that your consciousness leaves time immeasurable.  With your legs dangling from the edge of your perch, your blanket wrapped around you, you cannot be sure how much time has passed since you were horizontal.  Moments that could just as easily be seconds as they could be minutes.  Five minutes.  Twenty.  The awareness you feel is still between full sleep and wakefulness.


Continuing to sit in this semi-conscious state, a feeling of liminality comes over you.  Your gentle resting heartbeat becomes a slow pound and you’re overcome with the feeling that you’re before a threshold.  At the top of this precipice is a view; to one side is where you’ve come from.  You can retreat to it, but you know where it will take you.  To the other side, a fog.  You can make out some shapes and possibly even some clearing.  But the developments of this direction are not entirely lucid.  The outcomes uncertain.  What is obvious to you is that you must make this choice and you unquestioningly must choose to move forward in the direction of the unknown.  Even if the outcome is worse, you must move on. 

Your consciousness returns to the present as your stare fixes on the view beyond the curtain.  The rain seems to have stopped.  Both inside and out.  You look out the window and are met with a sky that is a dull blanket of gray.  For the briefest second, you’re tempted to ask yourself how you got here.  But you don’t.  You already know the answer.  It was your choice.  Mostly.  A year ago, you hatched a plan.  It seemed so perfect and so simple.  You had a steady job and you knew you could save some money.  It would be an adventure.  The previous winter, when your grandfather died, you begged your mother not to scrap his old 16 foot RV.  Yeah, it was in bad shape.  But you had some time to fix it up.  To get it running again.  And when you did, you’d make it your home on wheels.  You’d take it down the coast.  You’d see the mountains of Oregon and California.  Surf the best beaches the pacific had to offer.  Maybe even head down into Mexico and further south.  More mountains.  More ocean.  The possibilities were endless.  You could carry everything you needed, be completely self-contained.  And you weren’t getting any younger.  Now was the time!

Your job at the foundry was pretty much a dead end anyway.  It was mindless.  The people you worked with were fine and the atmosphere was OK.  But did you really want to spend another year, another decade in a leather apron and safety goggles machining hardware for heavy farm implements? The job allowed you some freedom.  On the good days it was like a meditation.  Your pressing station a series of rote tasks.  You could zone out and let the hours pass sometimes without a thought in your head.  Each motion of your hands, your arms, a turn of a knob, a pull of a lever—all in a perfect rhythm.  But other times lunch could not come soon enough.  And then when it did, you still had another half your shift left; to amble through.  To grit and bear.  The monotony was eternal.  But it didn’t matter anymore because you had a plan.


Once you convinced your mother to give you the RV, your plan involved moving back home with her.  You’d fix it up in her driveway and help her sort out her father’s affairs.  And she liked having you around more.  It would be a chance to reconnect with her before you left.  But you didn’t exactly hold up your end of the bargain.  You got the RV running but turning it into the retro masterpiece you’d imagined didn’t exactly happen.  And as far as your mother was concerned, you weren’t that helpful to have around.  You mostly holed up in your room playing video games or went to the bar down the street.  Neither of which were really part of the deal.  You saved a little money, but not nearly as much as you planned.  Still, everything was on course.  It was early spring and you planned to get on the road in just a few more months.

As the novelty of your mother doing your laundry for you waned, you began to feel an increasing sense of isolation.  Cast aside on your own.  It was strange to feel so sequestered in a life so familiar.  Physically nothing had changed.  You just knew the time was coming and you couldn’t wait to get out of there.  You can’t remember when exactly, but the package showed up some time around then.  Not quite early spring.  You remember finding the box on the doorstep on a damp and blustery 40 degree day.  The driving drizzle coming in sideways, mud encroaching the sidewalks where narrow driveways couldn’t contain the width or weight of vehicles placed upon them.  The shallow ruts packed and flooded like pocket-sized oceans.  The package was tucked in against the screen door, slightly sheltered from the spatter of rain driving in onto the porch. 

As you approached the house, you could see the package from the street.  You didn’t think much of it and didn’t immediately realize it was addressed you.  You just brought it inside.  Casting it off to the corner near the door, you crammed it in against the wall near the table where all the mail gets dumped.  Hours later, before your mom came home, a nagging feeling, part curiosity, part responsibility brought you back to it.  It was then that you realized it had your name on it and no return address.  You didn’t think it was that odd.  You opened it.

April came and the northwest’s soaking rains took their toll.  The wet settled in and began to fester.  So did the relationships with your mother and your boss.  You knew your mother would always love you.  But it was clear that she was sick of having you around.  Your boss on the other hand was making it clear that it was time to go.  One day while tapping a particularly large set of bolts, the clutch on your drill slipped dropping the bit on your workpiece.  This sent a hunk of metal flying.  The sharp corner of which caught you in the ribs, just beyond the seam of your apron.  It was mostly a flesh wound, but you had to be sent to the hospital.  While there, a rather serious bacterial infection developed causing you to miss a month of work.  Legally, you had no problems.  But with the relationship with your boss deteriorating, he was less than sympathetic.  Not being a union shop, you had little choice other than to take the tiny severance they offered you and make your disability claims. 

When you were finally recovered, your mother asked you to move out.  With barely half the cash you’d planned to leave with, you ended up living in the RV, parked on a city street between a residential and an industrial urban neighborhood.  There were a few others parked there at the time so you weren’t alone.  You thought you’d just get another short term job, save a little more and head south toward the end of the summer.  Summer was an easy time to get by in the northwest.  The days were long and warm and the city’s ethos became one of recreation and laziness.  It was a deviation, but it didn’t seem too bad. 

The most immediate problem at the time was that you had to move the RV at least every two days to avoid a parking ticket.  Not a huge problem, but when the RV broke down, it took you more than two weeks to fix it.  Parking tickets piled up and it got towed.  To compound the problem, you were in it at the time.  Sleeping off a bad hangover from a long night with the guy in the rig parked behind you and a cheap bottle of rye.  You didn’t realize what was happening until the vehicle was already in route to the impound lot.  There, in your partially inebriated state, you got into an altercation with security officers who were not that sympathetic to your current dilemma.  Eventually, you got things worked out, you paid your fines and you got the RV out.  But it cost you nearly all your savings.  Just like that, you were back to square one.

And now, the thick of autumn is upon you.  The blanket of gray and fog and the November rains are here for the duration.  You’re working a few shifts a week pulling coffee at a small cafe around the corner.  But this isn’t a place that has the traffic of Starbucks.  People tend to linger taking advantage of the free wi-fi.  Your only benefits are whatever pastries are left at the end of the day.  You might make $25 in tips on a good day.  Living in the RV your overhead is low, but you’re not exactly building wealth.


It’s times like this, when you really start to think about it that the feeling of claustrophobia becomes so acute.  The disappointment becomes a little unbearable and all you can think about is how your plan has slipped through your fingers.  When that feeling of regret really subsumes you is when the itch gets really bad.  It started out as just that one spot on your arm.  And when you dug the thing out, the thread, the object, whatever it was; when you extricated it from your fleshy forearm, you thought you were done.  But since then, new ones have sprouted up.  First one in your leg and then another on your back, near your middle ribs.  They itch.  They burn and the lump is just big enough to rub on your clothes.  Like a stiff little hair, coarse and sinewy, catching on a seam, pulling and then releasing with a snap.  Each time feels like a blast of heat or a quick cigarette burn.  As that subsides, the itch returns.  You take another step and the process repeats.  What is this thing? Will you have to dig them all out? Can you even reach them all anymore? A good hard scratch with your nail feels good for a second, but it never lasts.  The ephemeral satisfaction of a meal eaten too quickly.

You check the time.  Realizing you have more than four hours until your shift at the coffee shop starts, you decide to head to the library where you can get online.  You spend the next two and a half hours googling your condition and anything you can find that relates to it.  The closest thing you can come up with is Morgellons disease.  And with the exception of a few crazed, Jenny McCarthy-types, no one really believes it’s real.  At least no one in the medical establishment.  So where does that leave you? Crazy? Mentally ill? Cursed? The filaments under your skin are most definitely real.  You’ve been pulling them out.  You have a whole collection of them.  You leave the library en route to the coffee shop feeling dejected and a little hopeless.  You can’t be sure, but you feel like this exacerbates the burning, crawling itch even more.

You trundle down the street, your face set to the biting wind.  The air coming off the water has a slight fishy, salt smell.  You realize it’s easy to feel down like this right now.  Just hours ago, you sat at the edge of your bed with the recognition that you had to make a change.  And not just where you plan your escape.  Although that would be helpful too.  But the feeling you had of being at the threshold has really stuck with you this morning.  Beyond your hopelessness is a sense of resolve.  A notion that you can at least try to deal with your situation. 

Your shift at the coffee shop floats by in a haze.  You’re not sure you’re totally present.  Did you make that latte with soy as you were supposed to? All you can really focus on is what your next move will be.  Thoughts of the possibilities dance through your mind.  You’re enchanted, living in the fantasy.  You decide that the box was indeed a curse and conclude you need to go to your mother’s house in the morning.  You sort of have a plan.  At 8PM you close the coffee shop and walk back to the RV.  $27 cash in your pocket, you realize that your savings is now approaching $1000.  Not exactly a fortune, but enough to pay for fuel down the coast. 

You wake the next morning feeling more optimistic than you have in weeks.  Through the gray you can see spots of blue sky and even a clear patch just beyond the Olympics.  From the floor you pick up the same jeans you wore yesterday.  As you slide them on, you notice a new elevated ridge along your inner thigh.  This makes two now on your right leg.  Slipping your shoes on as you go, you shuffle your way to the cab of the RV.  You fish around for the keys and find them in their usual spot.  The dirty styrofoam cup in the cupholder on the dash.  Probably not the best place to leave them you think.  As you turn the key, you watch the glow plugs slowly heat up and finally the big diesel engine roars to life.  Smoke billows out the back for a few minutes as you let the engine warm. 

You arrive at your mother’s house.  You find her car parked in the driveway which means there is no place to park the RV.  After living parked on the main thoroughfares for the last many months, you’ve forgotten how hard it is to navigate residential streets in this thing.  The narrow roundabouts at the center of the city’s many uncontrolled intersections are basically obstacles you have to decide either how hard to hit, or if you can avoid.  You finally find a spot big enough to park just a few blocks away.  As you make your way up the front walkway of the house, you decide not to go in.  You’re fairly certain your mother is not here; often she leaves her car when she goes to work.  With the wooden box and its accompanying velvet satchel in your hand, you make your way straight for the shed.  Finding a spade and a small shovel, you make a b-line for back edge of the yard.  The rose bush this time of year is more of a thorny expanse than the thing of beauty your mother prunes it to be.


You can see the area you’re looking for.  A disturbance where the grass has not exactly regrown to match the rest of the lawn.  As you start to dig, first with the shovel, you try to be careful.  You exceed what looks to be the circumference of your previous hole.  Digging slowly and with the patience of an archeologist, you gingerly work the spade through the surface trying to get down below the first layer of loose soil to the grave.  Finally, and much deeper than you remembered, you reach the dirty carcass.  It’s not even really a carcass anymore so much as it is a furry pile of bones.  Carefully, you excavate them, trying to keep what remains of the body in a whole lump mass.  You place it back into the box.  A little bit of the muddy soil comes with but you think it might at least cover up some of the lingering smell.  Taking a moment to review the remnants of the decomposed little creature, you stare into the box.  Morning sunlight is now streaming through the neighbor’s stand of evergreens.  The light shining across you warms your back and neck.  With a deep breath you close the box and curtly tuck it back inside its velvety pouch.

As you begin your return back to the RV, it occurs to you that you should see if your mom is around.  You know it’s always unlocked, so you tread your way back to the back door.  You come into the kitchen to find it empty, a sink full of dishes and the heat turned down low for the day.  She’s already gone.  You decide to leave promising yourself you’ll send her a text later letting her know you came by.  Just as you’re about to head out the door, something on the little dinette next to the window catches your eye.  Beneath the ornamental napkin holder lies a stack of envelopes.  Normally this is not a place your mother leaves mail or unpaid bills.  It’s not until you pick them up, thumbing through them you realize they’re all addressed to you.  Most are junk, but one catches your eye.  Emblazoned on the front of the envelope, just above the window is the state’s seal.  You open it to find your disability check.  $887 seems a bit paltry for spending two and half weeks in the hospital and another two weeks in bed afterwards.  But it’s money none-the-less.  You leave the house, heading for the RV.  You’re ecstatic.  For the first time in a long time you feel like the universe is starting to give you a break.  You’re grateful and relieved and even though you recognize the situation is far from perfect, you feel you’ve been given a reprieve.  You vow to save the money and not blow it on something frivolous. 

Deciding to celebrate, you first stop by the coffee shop on your way back to park the RV for the night.  Trying to be amicable, you give your notice—two full weeks.  But really, the idea of sticking around here another two weeks sounds like invasive dental work.  Still in a celebratory mood, you decide to make your favorite meal for dinner, 3-cheese macaroni.  About as gourmet as you can manage on your small two-burner camp stove.  You wash it down with a pint of Evan Williams.  Why not? It was only $7. 

Once you’ve devoured your mac and cheese, you find yourself kicking back at the small banquette that is your dining area.  You’ve got the kerosene heater turned up, the raw, sweet taste of whiskey on your lips, you’re nice and cozy.  The warm hum of the alcohol fills your chest and all you can think about is your luck.  You’ve finally dodged the bullet.  Things were going so poorly there for a while.  But now, you’re almost completely set.  The soft pall of gratitude washes over you.  One more nip of whiskey? Why not? Who did more whiskey ever hurt? Just a wee dram as they say.  For a brief second, you pause to think about how you often make poor decisions when you’re drinking.  This fleeting thought is quickly erased as you refill your glass.  And by this point, you’ve gone from a warm, heady buzz to being fully drunk. 

You decide this is the perfect time to get up to piss.  You pull yourself to your feet and for the first time realize how drunk you actually are.  You stumble into the claustrophobic little closet that passes for your bathroom.  The smell is horrific.  You’ve been meaning to dump the tank in here for weeks.  Tomorrow.  Holding onto the frame of the narrow doorway, you stumble out.  The heated air hits your face, and so do the kerosene fumes.  You briefly rationalize that THIS must be the reason you feel so wasted.  You decide to lay down in your bed for a while, but on your way, you catch a glimpse of the nearly empty Evan Williams bottle on the table.  Might as well finish that off.  There’s only about a shot left anyway.  As the bottle hits your lips, the smell is the first thing to tell you this is a bad idea.  But who are you if not someone that perseveres? You force the last couple ounces down and collapse into your bed.  The whole RV is now spinning.  You try everything you can think of to make it stop.  You put your foot on the ground.  Your hand on the wall.  You take your clothes off.  But nothing seems to help.  You lie there for a while wondering what you’ve done to yourself.  As the time passes you drift in and out of consciousness.

You’re not sure how much time has elapsed, but you’re pretty sure you were asleep when the wave hit you.  You’re overcome with nausea.  You barely make it to the side door when up comes a foul mixture of your Evan Williams and the mac and cheese you ate earlier.  For a moment as you heave, you’re hit with a flash of clarity.  But as you see the chunky, ruddy expanse splatter below you, the dizziness returns.  For a short time, you sit kneeling on the floor, exposed, only in your underwear looking at the pile you’ve just left on the street.  A portion remains on your step, but most of it made it to the curb.  You take in the cool air for a moment trying to catch your breath.  You can’t remember feeling this wrecked since high school.  As you stumble back to your bed, you’re smacked with the next sensation.  The itch.  At first you can almost ignore it.  It’s there, you can feel it.  But it almost feels like it’s under someone else’s skin.  It’s a slow tingle that starts at your mid thigh and extends down around and past your knee. 


As you lie on your back, you contemplate the itchy sensation coming from your leg.  It’s too far away to reach with your hand from this position so you try to abrade it with your other knee.  That doesn’t really do anything.  The burn comes on slowly and insidiously.  Almost unnoticeably.  Finally you roll to your side so you can lift your leg enough, curl your back enough that your hand reaches the spot.  You dig your rough, stumpy nails in.  With the abbreviated relief comes not only the intense burn, but the realization that barfing cleaned out your system a bit.  Your head is starting to clear but it’s also beginning to throb.  You dig into the itch, pinching the epicenter between your thumb and forefinger.  You squeeze until it feels like molten lava is going to burst out.  It almost feels like something liquid is oozing, but the only light is the sodium vapor leaking in from the street.  Even if you had the wherewithal to move your head enough to look, you wouldn’t be able to see.  As you lie there contemplating what feels like it might be a viscous fluid between your fingers, the burning itch begins to feel like something is crawling under your skin.  It’s like that little ridge just below the focal point is moving, wriggling beneath the surface.  In your drunken state, your mind immediately goes to that scene in Poltergeist where the guy drinks the worm at the bottom of the Mezcal bottle.  For a second you’re petrified, unable to move.  You lie there still, trying to figure out if what you’re feeling is real.  Did the thing just move? Is there actually a living thing under your skin? In your terrified, motionless state, you eventually drift back to sleep.  As the light of morning comes creeping in, you slowly begin to awaken.  Not drunk anymore, but definitely wasted.  Your head pounds and a thin crust of drool is pasted to your cheek.  Your mouth is filled with the most vile taste you think you’ve ever experienced.  Your parched, film-coated tongue is almost stuck to the roof of your mouth.  It’s at this point that your desire for water has become greater than your desire to not move.  As you roll toward the edge of your bed, you realize that a caked bloody rivulet is glued to the inside of your thigh.  This must have been what you were working on so intently last night as you passed out.  The motion of sitting up brings on a new level of pounding in your head.  The rush of blood so loud and so late it almost knocks you back down. 

As the midmorning turns to late morning, you decide it’s time to move.  You’re tired and dehydrated and your body still aches.  But you know you can’t stay here like this forever.  Coffee is what you need.  And the walk will be good for you.  Hopefully.  As you step out into the cool gray brume, you begin to recognize the ephemeral qualities of where you are.  You make your way down the sidewalk toward the coffee shop on the corner.  You start to realize how anonymous everything around you is.  How random each passing car, each bus full of commuters and students and elderly value-shoppers.  They’ve all come together to live in their own little world.  Each barely connected to the one next to them.  For a moment, you’re comforted by the impermanence of it all.  The transience of it.  You realize that you too are just a passerby in everyone else’s narrative.  As you make your way back to the RV, coffee in hand, your headache slowly becomes a feeling of optimism.  You decide you must get on the road right now.  You can’t wait another day.  Certainly not two more weeks.  You’ll text your mom when you get to a stopping point, letting her know you’ve gone.  You know she wont react well, but it’s the only way.  You have to skip town right now.

And so you do.  You have enough fuel in the tank to make it across the Columbia river, and you have enough cash to make the Mexico border.  You sit in the driver’s seat and fire up the engine.  With the sound of the motor coming to life, you recognize that the act of leaving does not solve your problems.  The thready filaments under your skin will not just disappear when you get out of town.  But you know that like their undetermined cause, all you can do is move on.  Take the obscured path of uncertainty.  You take your short stack of savings and begin making your way.  First south to Oregon, then west to the coast and further south from there.  With a newfound sense of optimism, you resolve to let each day pass as it may and to only worry about each obstacle as it presents itself.  Your route begins here, your journey is now.


~ by namderf on May 26, 2016.