There’s never enough time. It always starts the same way, with my parents up front while I ride in back, the distant twinkling lights of an oil refinery slowly passing by to one side. At least I think that’s what it is.
The shape doesn’t stay consistent. Sometimes it looks like a city or an electrical station, black silhouettes dotted with illuminated points…difficult to make out against the passing nightscape. What I assume are mountains loom large in the background, though I can make out no detail.
Then the honking begins as we enter the city proper. I cover my ears and complain, but can’t make my voice heard over the din. Honking, shouting and the screech of tires. A bright light suddenly illuminates the silhouettes of my parents in sharp contrast…just before the crash.
It happens so quickly that if I didn’t have this dream so often, I couldn’t tell you what all followed. But by now, every grisly detail is intimately familiar. The abrupt forward lurch of their bodies on impact. The unbelievably swift, violent crumpling of the entire front of the car towards me, crushing both of them into a pulpy red mess before my eyes.
Then it starts over. On the rare occasion that I realize I’m dreaming, by then it’s too late. There’s never enough time! We’re already in the city, the honking and screeching of tires has begun. Before I can get their attention and beg them to stop the car, we crash.
The front implodes, tangled steel and shards of glass rushing towards me. My parents are mangled beyond recognition in the span of a second. The steering column collapses my father’s chest, the shattered fragments of windshield shred their skin.
It’s all too quick. A smeared, unintelligible blur of rubber on asphalt, of steel crumpling against steel. Of shouting, honking, tires screeching and my own futile cries of terror. I never realize I’m dreaming in time! If only I could warn them before we enter the city.
Honk, screech, crash, death. Honk, screech, crash, death. Like a video clip stuck on repeat that I’m trapped inside of. Honk, screech, crash, death! There’s just never enough time. The screaming! My own, and my mother’s for the split second she’s able to.
The screaming continues after I awaken, and after a moment I realize it’s my own. Drenched in sweat, heart racing, my body still convinced death is imminent. After disentangling myself from the sheets, I look over at the alarm clock.
Four in the morning. No chance of returning to sleep. So, after wiping the crust out of my eyes and firing up the VCR, I return to watching tapes. By now they surround me, stacked up over my head to either side of the television.
They were neatly packed away when I found them in a row of moldy old cardboard boxes, here in the shed. I might’ve just tossed them into the truck and put ’em in storage along with everything else, except that curiosity got the better of me.
Every other tape was just junk they’d recorded off television, much of it before I was born. But a few of them were taken on vacation. God, look at me. I must’ve been no older than three! Running down the beach, squealing in protest as mom tried to put my diaper back on.
Just like that, I was ensnared. I didn’t plan to move a cot into the shed initially, but I couldn’t pry myself away from that screen. I might’ve moved the VCR and television into the house, but I haven’t been able to make myself spend longer than a few minutes in there. The air is too thick with memories.
First the cot and some blankets. Then a portable heater to fight back the chill of late nights and early mornings spent staring at that flickering picture tube. I only go into the house to use the bathroom now, or to fix something to eat.
Pretty soon I was set up well enough in there that I stopped driving to and from my apartment, and just started living full time in the shed. It’s difficult to express why, but although I couldn’t bear to spend any significant length of time inside the house, I still wanted to be close to it.
Like hovering near enough to a flame that you stay warm, but not so near that you burn yourself? Something of that nature. Being confronted by their smiling faces, peering at me from every framed photo on every wall was difficult enough that my first attempt to sleep in the house didn’t even last an hour. I thought the shed would be an improvement until I found the tapes.
Never stood a chance, I suppose. I’ve long since stopped checking my phone. It’s not just the messages from work asking where I’ve disappeared to. Ever since my parents died, all these people I don’t fucking know have come out of the woodwork, all wanting something from me.
Sign these papers. Pay these debts. Move this, sell that, sign more papers. No idea what I’m signing either, but their stern voices make me scared not to. None of them seem aware of what I’m going through. Occasional token words of sympathy, like the contents of a hallmark card, are the only hint of recognition. Even that’s scarce.
I couldn’t have found the tapes at a better time, so sorely did I need the escape. From this mess, this burning wreckage of a life, into the world of comforting illusion. The world where they’re still alive, still laughing…just on the other side of the screen.
How many hours have I spent like this? Face inches from the glass, soaking in every fuzzy, faded little detail I’m able to given the terrible image quality. Still, if I squint, I can believe it’s a window. The most tantalizing but cruel window imaginable, which I can never open, break into or crawl through however desperately I wish.
An absolutely impassable barrier between where I am now, and where I need to be in order to go on. As if it’s someplace I can still escape to? Some part of my mind just can’t grasp it. How can they be gone? They’re right there on the screen! I can almost reach out and touch their faces, they’re so close…
It doesn’t help that all my childhood belongings are stashed in here as well. Action figures, building blocks, old game systems and comic books. Whatever they felt was distracting me from schoolwork at the time, or when they just wanted to clear out some clutter.
Nearly every item has a memory associated with it. Brief, dreamlike flashes each time I pick up some relic of my boyhood, slowly turning it over in my hands. There are healthy ways to cope. I know this isn’t one of them. It hurts, but I can’t stop.
I can get away though, now and then. Cracking open the shed door, I shudder at the sudden influx of frigid autumn air. Still dark out, but the local coffee shop opens at 4 for the sake of the poor souls who start work at 5. People who actually have a legitimate reason to be there so early.
I hardly wanted to be around other people right then, but I also had no intention of going back to sleep. So after pulling on some clothes and making a token effort to straighten my hair, I piled into my dinged up little hatchback and set off.
As I pulled up to the coffee shop, I thought I recognized a familiar SUV tucked away in the far corner of the parking lot. Sure enough, Sarah was waiting for me inside. Why do I always run into my exes when I’m groggy and disheveled?
“Why don’t you check your messages?” I winced, and considered leaving. “I swung by the house” she continued, “your car was there but the lights were out. I would’ve given up except for the calls.” She clarified that my boss called her about my recent string of missed days.
“You’re fired, you know.” I’d be surprised if I wasn’t. I asked how he had her number. “You still have me listed as your emergency contact.” It trickled back to me bit by bit. Fragmented memories from what felt like another lifetime, when the two of us sought to entangle our lives as completely as possible. It only created more work for both of us when we parted ways.
She seemed placated when I told her about the non-stop calls from various suited ghouls pushing me to sell the house, the cars, to complete this or that legal process. “Still, you can’t just cut yourself off from the world like that. There are people who care about you, who will help you deal with this if you let them.”
I can’t? Really? Sounds like a challenge. The only part of this world I still want any part of is that warm, faintly glowing screen in that dark little chamber, tapes piled up all around me. I knew I couldn’t say so without worrying her, so I went in a different direction.
Stay Tuned for Part 2!