A day from 2008:
The work shift ends. I go home, read. Around ten, I try to sleep, but daytime insomnia leaves me up and staring at walls. By noon, I’m irritable with boredom, so I leave the house, drive around.
I don’t have anywhere to be.
I go to a park, take a bench. I breathe slow and just look around for awhile. The world inverts into my senses.
Sun, sky, car-sounds.
A dog rears up, leaps forward. The owner swivels away, runs off. The dog chases. The owner stops, turns around…arms raised, fingers out like claws. A gesture of pretend-menace. The dog plays along: hunkers down…runs the opposite way. The owner chases.
Trees sway. Swathes of grass move in unison. The wind sifts through it like incense. Strong wind. Potent incense; blossoms, cut grass. Things tumble: leaves and paper.
Joggers go by in pairs. Guy with a golf club swings, hits…pauses, swings. A horse in the distance walks slowly, going nowhere. Birds watch other birds. I exist on a bench, in the sun…hands over eyes like a canopy.
The clouds are thin, gauzy. The sky a hard blue plastic. Planes needle into it like splinters. Glinting, slow…threading their silver exhaust.
Owners let dogs off leashes. The dogs chase and play; they nip at one another, circle, bark. Guy on another bench leans forward, looks at the ground, talks on a cell phone. He keeps shaking his head, running a hand through his hair.
The wind finds a new plaything: a large book bag. Orange-colored, empty. It cartwheels through the middle of the park, bouncing, inflated, moving at a quick pace. Behind it…also moving fast, but not keeping up…is a little girl. Around four. She chases it…arms thrust forward…hands opening, closing. She says the word “no” over and over. She’s crying. Behind the girl…also moving fast, definitely catching up…is a mom. She chases the little one…arms reaching out, saying “No, honey! Stop!” over and over. Three points in a line, stretching forward…drawn by wind. Graphing it’s shape over the field of the park.
Book bag hits a shrub, stops. Girl grabs it. Mom grabs the girl. They walk back, hand in hand…girl squeezing the bag to her chest.
People run, walk, play. I take it in beneath canopy-hands. I close my eyes.
The park breathes with people.
Afternoon arrives…I drive to a diner.
I sit, order food, stare at a ceiling fan. It squeaks and wobbles alarmingly.
The diner has thick blinds over the windows, low lighting. I’m the only customer for about 20 minutes. Then an elderly couple comes in, chooses a table. The man pulls the chair out for the woman.
I people-watch, eavesdrop, willfully.
They look at the menu for a long time. They talk over every possible selection, the man saying things like, “This sounds good. Has feta,” and the woman replying, “Oh but feta is so strong. I don’t know. Maybe not that.” The man mentions other options. They back-and-forth over each one. It’s goes on for awhile. The menu: it’s a whole thing.
They order and the waitress returns with a basket full of toast. They chew the bread and stare off into space, the man looking off to the side, the woman looking at the table.
The woman says, “Dr. Bradley told me something about white bread last week.”
The man continues to stare off to the side, lost in thought.
The woman goes on; “He told me that white bread, when it gets into your system, it just turns to sugar. The body breaks it down and turns it into sugar.”
The man says, “Right. I read that one time. I read that calorie book Judy gave me and it said that. I asked Judy if she thought I was fat, givin’ me that book.”
“Well Dr. Bradley,” the woman continues, “he said it’s the white bread that’s making everyone so big. He said it’s okay to eat whatever you want, just as long as you avoid all the breads and such.”
The man says, “I don’t care much for white bread. Never has flavor.”
He looks at the bread basket and says, “You tell Dr. Bradley that it’s the butter they coat these things in…that’s what’s causin’ the trouble. You can’t help but get fat eatin’ that much butter.”
The woman drinks coffee and says, “Rye bread. That’s what I like, if I’m going to eat bread. No one else eats rye anymore, but oh it’s good.”
The man responds, “Barbara’s sister, what was her name? The one with the arrhythmia?”
“Shirley. She used to make the best pumpernickel.”
“I’d tell Barbara, ‘You get that sister of yours to make me some bread!’ Tell you what, I’d eat that any day.”
Waitress brings out their food. It’s quiet for awhile as the couple eats. The man restarts the pumpernickel topic and they discuss it for 32 straight minutes. I’m in awe.
Waitress brings them the bill. They go to the register, pay. The man holds the front door open for the woman as they leave.
I drive to the library.
I read, tap my feet on the carpet. I eavesdrop on silence, stare through windows. I walk up and down the aisles, moving quickly, watching books blur past in my peripheral vision.
I go to my car, dig around for notebooks, pens. I drive to my community Spanish class.
The instructor says things…we repeat them. She lectures, we take notes. It all feels blurry, far away. My brain feels hollow from lack of sleep. I stop taking notes and just breathe and wait. Class ends.
It’s still several hours before work. I can’t bear to go back home. I drive to a movie theater, choose the film that’s starting soonest. The glassed-in cashier tells me what it is…I’ve never heard of it.
I sit in the dark, stare at the screen…press my hands against my face, try to feel comfort.
Insomnia abrades the context from everything, so the film is a series of opaque events and polysemous dialogue. I can’t tell what’s happening.
Credits. I drift through the lobby, the parking lot…glance at the clock in my car. 10 p.m. One hour till work.
I drive to a grocery store, roam the aisles for a bit. I squeeze soup cans, imprint their shape onto my paws. I grasp apples, tap cylinders. I try to decipher facial expressions on cereal box mascots. A few are happy…a few ecstatic. All of them are scary.
I avoid making direct eye contact with bar codes.
Roaming. Up and down aisles. Sunglasses to ward off the hover of florescents.
I drive to work.
11p.m. I gently open the front door to the facility, trying to avoid noise.
The place is dark, quiet. I just hear a TV murmuring in the break room. I go there.
I whisper “hello” to Chandra, the staff person in the room. She’s writing in the log book, yawning. I sit in a roller chair and slowly spin in circles. She describes how her shift went. I don’t say much. I’ve learned that the less I say, the more quickly other staff get annoyed with me and leave.
Chandra talks. I nod and spin. She leaves.
For a bit I just fill out forms, catching up on old paper work. I drink coffee and roam around the facility, looking through windows, listening to the weird hum of distant traffic.
Then it’s midnight…noon to my circadian brain. I sit at a computer, write out everything I can remember from the day. An old habit. I don’t know why. I think it’s a way to get the weight of memories and stray senses to a more neutral place…to get them away from me. Ritual self-soothing.
I sit in the staff room, read for a bit.
At 2 a.m. I hear shuffling footsteps in the hallway. I go out and find Chloe sitting in the common area. The common area is a large, rectangular room with a few old couches and patched-up recliners…a pool table; a large, ancient TV.
She’s sitting in the corner, in the dark, rubbing her eyes.
I sit across from her. “Hey Chloe.”
She pats her pockets and says, “I’m out of cigarettes again.”
Chloe chain-smokes like no one I’ve ever seen. I ask her, “Is that why you’re having trouble sleeping? Craving?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. That’s not it really.”
She looks at me and asks a question I’ve heard her ask hundreds of times before.
“When you look up, do you ever see that woman? That sky woman?”
“No, ma’am,” I say. “I don’t see her.”
“She’s up there. I see her sometimes. And she’s always talking. She just talks and talks.”
“That’s keeping you up tonight?”
“Yes. I just can’t stand it. She talks and talks. And can I tell you something?”
“She’s just as mean as she can be. That sky woman says the meanest things. I tell you what, she’s awful, I just hate everything about her.”
I don’t say anything.
“I’m tired,” she says,”but that sky-lady won’t let me sleep. She just talks and talks.”
Chloe has been in and out of this facility for 8 years. She was first admitted one week after I hired on, so I’m used to this almost nightly conversation about the sky woman.
I say what I always say. “You know, if you can’t sleep, you should at least lie down for a bit. If nothing else, maybe you can a rest a little.”
“Okay. Okay. I’ll try. She’ll keep it up though. She won’t let me sleep.”
I walk Chloe back to her room. She climbs into her bed. She says, “M? Can I tell you something?”
“That sky woman, she wants to tell me a dirty joke. And I bet she could, I bet she tells the dirtiest jokes. And I don’t know if I should let her. I was wondering what you thought. Should I let her tell me a joke if it’s dirty?”
“I don’t know. I guess that’s up to you Chloe.”
I leave but stay in the hallway for a bit. I listen. Sometimes, to drown out the voices, she turns her radio on, plays it loudly. This wakes up other clients, so I stay by her door in case she tries this. She doesn’t turn the radio on, but she doesn’t sleep either. She just lies in bed and talks to the voices. I hear her whispering, over and over, “You’re just mean. Do you know that? You’re as mean as can be.”
I go back to the break room. I breathe and drink coffee and wait out the shift.
Morning; sky brightens. Clients bustle around, leave for their day program.
I complete the daily paper work and go home. I read a little. I listen to the droning of the fridge motor. It secretly hypnotizes me three times a day.
Around ten, I try to sleep, but daytime insomnia leaves me up and staring at walls. Irritable, I leave, drive around.
I don’t have anywhere to be.