November 24, 2005

Dead of Night

By Joe Speaker © 2005

The kitchen light is harsh and I shade my night eyes toward the floor, groping with my left hand for the chair I know is there somewhere, cradling my pen and pad in my right. Sleep has eluded me again, pushed aside by the wall of thoughts stacking impenetrably in my head.

I begin to focus, idly noticing how filthy the kitchen is. The single bulb illuminates the dull, hospital green linoleum splattered with all manner of grime; onion husks here, a puddle of godknowswhat there. This evening's party isn't any excuse, either. This is always how I find it when I sneak out of bed to write. The tiny house was once someone's home, I imagine, but to us--myself, my roommates and the revolving cast of overnight characters--it's a purgatory with no discernable exit.

We've lived here far longer than the four months we were promised. Our landlord planned to raze the house and build apartments on the huge lot. A recession nullified that plan and so we continue to live in a squalor we’ve created for ourselves, no longer giddy that our actions held no consequences. We've pushed this house to its limits. Graffiti on the walls, holes where none should be, a forever-clogged bathtub and dirt. Everywhere, dirt.

Like usual, the kitchen this early morning is the only room in the house without a sleeping body, the only place for a conscientious insomniac with demons to confront and apologies to make. One of my roommates secured himself some female companionship. The other with whom I share a room, both of us flopped on the floor in our $49 futon mattresses, doesn't miss me. I can hear Riv snoring from the living room couch, Critter wheezing in his sleeping bag. The regulars, drinking and smoking themselves into oblivion, into easy sleep. I could not envy them any more at this moment.

I start to write, never knowing where to start, sure that it will come out long and circular and meaningless. Life before becoming trapped in this adolescent nightmare, this ritualistic avoidance of adulthood, of responsibility. Like the house, we push ourselves to our very limits. But only in search of escape, never improvement. I've lost my sense of perspective, of past mistakes. In fact, the past continually blurs together, with only bare snatches of recall available. I've been numbing myself for years. My inability to sleep suggests it's not working.

I don't do this to find order. It's dreadful purge. I'd rather the thoughts visited me at noon, exposed to the light. In the silent dark, alone, the hurt is magnified, stumbling upon self-truths, announcing themselves without warning. Sure, they exist inside my head, but until they become tangible words, they're easily dismissed. Instead of searching for a beginning, I tap a random moment, the one that pulled me from my feckless search for slumber.

An afternoon picnic, a cramped dorm room, the two of us heaving, pleasantly perspiring in the dusky light. It was the ecstasy of youth, of discovery, that first connection, form, content, heaven, hell, every mystery suddenly and forever revealed, stripping us raw so we were left only with naked truth split wide-open. There was a soft nature to it all, a slow-motion disbelief that lasted until we could no longer accept each others' gifts and collapsed in exhaustion.

I can't see her face, nor hear her voice, nor imagine her breath upon my skin. Not any longer. But the way she smelled, her strawberry hair mixed with the sweet sweat of passion, tossed with spring's ascension. I can conjure it at will and am transported.

I suppose I'm talking about loss. Of the details. Of the girl. More ceaseless regret. How very fucking unique. "Life has wounded me and I am unable to cope so here I sit with my pen looking for salvation." Very deep, idiot. Honestly, I'd rather just be able to find regular sleep than look for answers. I'd rather the self-flagellation gene were excised and I could go about living again, removed of the weight of all my failure. It's so heavy. Riv rumbles deep in his throat from the other room. It sounds like mockery. This stinking kitchen. This aimless walking through day and tortured endurance of night.

I'll never capture that scent again. Nor anything like it. For a time, all I did was chase that moment, that buzz, too often in the early morning hours. I wish I'd never lived it, never knew an experience that lifted me above common existence. All the events of my life pale beside that afternoon. I've given up my fruitless bids to recapture that feeling, that impossible place. I've been sapped of any motivation to strive beyond the usual, the soul-kicking mundane.

So I write. To remember. To forget. To work my brain to the point where it will shut down, invite sleep. Because I'm so tired.

Joe Speaker is a writer and poker player from Southern California.

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