He was unusually quiet that evening. The words from his dinner companions passed through his ears, but once inside his head they fell apart into disconnected vowels and consonants. “I’m sorry, what did you say,” was an oft-repeated phrase he spoke throughout out the meal. His pulse quickened, and a slight discomfort scratched at his chest. He began to withdraw from the reality of the gathering, and once he had his fill of pasta and chicken with cream sauce, he excused himself, went outside to the back yard, and lit a cigarette.
As he paced and dosed himself with tobacco, short, staccato moans punctuated his breathing, and a slight unsteadiness assaulted his balance. He became conscious of his breathing, short rapid cycles followed by deep gulps of the warm, humid night air. His mental perceptions tilted a degree or two but not enough distort his memory of the feelings and physical reactions that were occurring. They had happened all too often in the past that their imprint would be with him forever. It had been years, however, since they had so aggressively made their presence known. He was unprepared to feel them again; he had stopped looking over his shoulder.
The illuminated pool water glowed an eerie blue, a fitting backdrop for the world into which he had slipped. Standing in the shadows, he watched his wife and friends inside, chatting about France and relatives and plans for visiting the Brittany coast in two years time. Inside his head, a liquid language was rising, and small-craft warnings echoed along the shore. “Jump in the boat and ride it out,” he told himself and re-entered the house.
“Are you OK?” they asked.
“I’m fine,” he lied.
They drank wine, and he plugged his ears with lemonade. He stood and said, “I need to lay down for a minute.” The living room was only a few paces away, and he made it easily, and then stretched out on the leather couch.
“Are you sure you’re OK?” they asked again.
He was not fine, but at least he was now prone and with his forearm draped across his eyes it made being not fine easier. Ever since he was a child, he had known that demons would not hurt you if you don’t look at them. With his vision arrested, his nervous system attacked him from within. It sent out small, electrical hand grenades, causing his hands to twitch and legs to spasm. “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he chanted to himself, hoping to curse the demons into submission. It was a mantra of frustration, a song of sorrow, and empty linguistic talisman that had never worked before, but he clung to it like a holy relic.
The sound of chairs at work, the movement of familiar feet, his wife and friends were coming into the living room for more comfort and conversation. He knew they could see the spasms, hear the occasional low moan, but they also knew his past and left him alone.
The words, the electric tics, and the mind slips became too much, and he went back outside to stand in the pool glow. He hugged a wooden gazebo post like it was his mother, cheek on grain, longing to be an uncut block of wood. Crickets complained loudly about the night heat, raccoon patrols noisily made their evening rounds on the other side of the fence, the moon smelled of ginger. The sliding glass door swept open, and the woman he has lived with forever stepped out into the night world and said, “Do you want to go?”
He does want to go, but he is trapped inside himself. “No, I’m Ok,” he says. She doesn’t believe him…she knows.
The hosts come out, and he tries desperately to quell the riot in his head. Sitting at the patio table, he is asked a question. He knows it is a question, but has no idea what it is about. A garbled hand full of words escapes his mouth, but he doesn’t understand them. His mind is now fixated on a dog, and he begins to cry. He hates crying. Embarrassment and humiliation pool on the ground in front of him, and he asks himself, “Why now?” It’s been so long. Why now?”
He should know better; he gave up asking “why” long ago. “I think it is time to go,” he sobs, I’m very sorry, but I need to go unconscious.”
(c) Mike Hood 2017