This is a short story that I wrote a while back. A few more are on the way. Hope you enjoy.
Somewhere on the Edge of Sanity, CA
It’s 3 a.m. and I am on my porch again. I am smoking cigarettes and apathy. Or perhaps I am hallucinating again. Because my friends and family are calling me their angel. And so I am flapping my arms in the air. Up and down and up and down. And then my arms are screaming out because they are tired of trying to fly and failing.
“Try again,” I tell my arms. And I try to get them to flap again.
“Fuck you,” my arms say.
“Try again,” I say once more.
“You are fucking nuts,” they respond. “You’re talking to yourself. Do you even fucking realize? Some day people are going to figure it out and you’re gonna end up in the loony bin.”
“Where you belong,” my mind silently adds.
But I ignore their derision and command them. “Fuck you fucking arms. Fucking fly.”
But they remain irreverent. They hang down at my sides. And they are mocking me. Because the longer they don’t fly, the more convinced that I become that they never will.
Because the truth is that I have no wings. And so I cannot fly. And so maybe I am desperate. Desperate to find a taste of what it is like to be angelic. And desperate to make my friends and family proud. Or maybe not desperate enough. Because I haven’t lost all hope yet. And so maybe I am just holding on.
And this one last time I try and will my arms into the air. But I’ve already tasted failure. Because my arms have convinced me that they are just arms. Despite what my heart says. And so I am depressed. And I head straight for a bottle of whiskey.
“Because arms are made for lifting,” my arms say to me cheerfully as I pour myself a drink. And I grin to myself because I don’t have any problem lifting my glass into the air.
I toast to my arms angrily, “To arms made for lifting. To arms not made for flying.” And I drink heartily.
Because part of me is hoping that the whiskey will silence a heart that speaks too loudly. Because it keeps saying to me, “You can fly with or without your arms.”
But one drink is not enough to quiet a loud heart. And so the first drink is gone quickly. And I finish my second and then my third. And then my heart is muffled. The drinks keep flowing and I continue. Another and another until I can no longer count. “Six, seven, nine.” What the fuck does it matter?
“Fly away, Angel boy, fly away,” I say to myself.
And then I am laughing. Because my head is spinning and my heart is quiet and the whiskey has done its job. And suddenly it seems to be much too late and so I decide to head to bed. And there is nothing stopping me from dreaming.
In my dreams, there are people yelling underwater. That murky gurgling sound of people calling out my name. They are saying for me to wake up. They are saying that I have been asleep too long. They are saying that I am getting older.
Or maybe it is just the water. Maybe they are saying none of those things, but it’s only that I am hearing what I want to hear. Ah. The joy of being underwater.
“Are my hands pruned yet?” I wonder aloud in the dream.
And then I am asking nobody-in-particular, “Do your hands prune when you’re ninety? You know when you are all wrinkly from age.”
I pause for a moment thinking. “No… wait… don’t tell me. I want to wait until I am ninety to find out. I don’t want to destroy the experience.”
Because people say that there is little romance in getting older. But sometimes I can’t wait. Because the journey keeps getting better.
And so I’m trying to swim in the right direction. And for the moment that direction seems to be up. And so I swim for the surface above me, but I never make it. And I don’t think I ever will.
Now better writers might end the story there. Or maybe they might tell you how when I woke up that the bed was soaked in urine. Because urine soaked stories are more interesting. And so the reader might think that I was too drunk and couldn’t make it to the bathroom. Or maybe based on the dream the reader might think that when I woke up I was actually ninety and that this whole fucking story was about the strange beauty of losing bladder control as we get older.
But the truth is that this story is not about the beauty of losing bladder control and I wasn’t drunk to the point of pissing myself. From a historical point of view, I have not pissed in my bed for a very long time. Instead, I woke a day older. Still twenty-nine with no Rip Van Winkle complex. Just myself.
But still the world I woke up into was different. Because the bed was really soaked, only it was soaked with sweat and not urine. My head was burning up. And I wanted to cry out, but my mouth was too dry to make a sound. My jaw seemed stuck. Indeed, everything seemed stuck. My arms. My legs. I couldn’t move anything. Because I had woke up paralyzed. And so I just laid there staring at the ceiling.
And I don’t know how long I stared up at the top of the room. Seconds. Minutes. Maybe even hours. I only remember hoping and praying that someone would come. My roommate. His girlfriend. Really anyone. Because right then I was wondering what it was like to die from hunger and thirst. There was this overwhelming feeling of terror. Was it worse to die of hunger and thirst when you are paralyzed? Would anyone come? Would someone finally knock on the door to see if I was okay?
But nobody did.
Eventually I fell asleep again and if I had other dreams I don’t remember. But when I woke the second time, I could move again. The bed had dried. And my head was no longer burning. It was this joyous thing. I wondered at the previous waking moment. “A nightmare?” I questioned. “Some dream within a dream.” Because the temporary paralysis seemed like madness, though it felt so real.
Later, I would discover that it was real and that it had a name. Sleep scientists call it “REM sleep atonia” or “sleep paralysis”. Your body paralyzes you while you are dreaming so that you don’t move around. Occasionally people wake up while in this state. Historically, it was known as the “Old Hag”. Because she would come to you while you slept.
“Terrifying,” I call it. “Fucking terrifying.” Because I can still remember the terror.
And later some self-help asshole on a TV talk show is telling everyone, “There is nothing stopping you from doing the things you want to do. Except for you.”
And my mind is screaming at the TV. “Tell that self-help asshole about REM sleep atonia. Tell that bastard how you were fucking paralyzed. Tell him about how the Old Hag would drive fear into his fucking heart.”
And I pause for a moment to gather my thoughts. “That son-of-bitch-bastard….” I begin to say to nobody-in-particular.
But nobody-in-particular stops me before I can finish. “He doesn’t care,” he says. “He’s just on TV to make money.”
And maybe nobody-in-particular is right. The man is just trying to make money.
And right then I realize that I’ve digressed because we were talking about angels and trying to fly. And I guess maybe I should mention how weeks later while in a partially drug induced haze; I realized that not all angels have wings. Because a friend watched over me. And I watched over another friend. And that friend was watching over another. And I don’t think that any of us knew it. Indeed it was only when I wrote it down in my journal that I realized. And so maybe in some strange way my REM sleep atonia helped me see that truth.
Not long after, I tell the same nobody-in-particular how we are all angels looking out for each other. He laughs out loud and says to me, “Fuck. We should create our own little angel choir and sing songs. And maybe you can play the harp.”
I grin back at him. “Maybe I can play the harp indeed.”