Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed
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He was paralyzed in his bed not by fear, but of a nightmare that very well could have been reality, and in doing so he had made it jump the expanse into truth.

Pins and needles shot up both of his arms and legs, holding them down to the sheets, unable to move. So was the core in his stomach, pitching and ebbing, worming inside his flesh. He knew the feelings would subside as soon as he moved the blanket off of him and got out of bed, but for far too long, he had ignored those conflicting sensations.

Get out and go.

The sounds of gray rain pinging on the gutter outside and the morning coastal mist obscuring the hills beyond the far bay window told him otherwise. No. He still had the time today. He could listen. He could remember.

The last thing that he could recall before waking into his current state was the green tiled linoleum of his old high school, its waxed surface reflecting the harsh fluorescent lights overhead, with the scent of lavender bleach permeating his nostrils. It was senior year—he can remember that much. Everything before then was like an overexposed film-only abstract snippets of what school was like, anyhow.

He was walking with a short gait, his right arm swinging as he went, one hand clenching the now-useless Economics paper, the other clasping the single backpack strap slung over his shoulder.

What was placed in his head could be described more like a thick fog. Of course there were other concerns, like the snack when he got home, but the majority of his concerns were nothing except the tail ends of the past. They swirled around in his consciousness, taunting him with promises of closure and truth, and when he drew near, trying to understand, they flittered out from his grasp and plunged into the fog, those foothills, far enough away from the valley where he could never track and chase them down, even if he jumped on the trail.

If he ever found the trail.

He could remember the reflection of his face on a trophy cabinet as he passed. The sunken crescents under his lost and loveless brown eyes stood in stark contrast with the gleaming brass and cool black marble of the academic trophies. Accomplishments seem so easy when all you have to remember them by is a shining monolith.

It was then that he felt the fever overcome him, but he forced himself to keep going, feeling his knees go weak. The two heavy doors, inlaid with two large panes of rectangular safety glass, loomed large in his field of vision. Beyond the wire mesh in those windows, he could see the golden coastal hills under a clear night sky.

Just a few more steps, and he could shed that backpack, throw it off, and run. Unlike the tails of those elusive thoughts, which only hung about in a transitory state, beckoning him to follow through when he had other plans, the doors, the golden hills, the sky, and the Pacific were tangible. This was something that he could reach out and touch for himself, to make his own and not leave behind guilt.

He felt himself let go, in his left hand, that Economics paper, and on his right, the backpack. It thudded to the floor, its main compartment bursting open, spilling across that sterile green linoleum, his textbooks, pencils, homework and stray bits of senior year.

He reached out towards the doorknob. For the first time, the wire mesh inlaid within the safety glass, weaving in and out of one another, reminded him of bars in a cage.

The fever had intensified now, and instead of the heated flush he had felt coming on back at the trophy case, it had become an all-encompassing chill. It crept out from his chest to his body, to his cheeks where he felt it cold, down to his legs. Every muscle in his body started to twitch in unison, fighting to keep him from falling numb. It was a strange sensation—the reversal of polarity in a body.

His palm grazed the brushed metal knob, but it never closed around it. His knees, still locked in the spasms from the chills, buckled, giving way. The wooden doors, the hills, the fair night skies, the Pacific that lay beyond flicked up in a blur, out of his field of vision, just like those little revelations within his mind. There was something else too, swimming in between the frames…he saw himself drifting at sea on a wooden raft, watching, as it bobbed up and down, the darkened, pitch black outlines of buildings, houses…shops…streets, along the shoreline. The lights had gone out. He couldn’t quite place why. It was like the photo of Hiroshima in his history textbook, but instead of city blocks it was–

He came to rest upon his laurel of waste.

“Michael! Are you alright?” Black horn-rimmed glasses, stubble, a round, vivid face like that of a new teacher and young father peered over him. He had loosened his necktie, after an exhausting day, it was well deserved, “what’s wrong?”

“Mom, I don’t feel good today. I don’t wanna go to school,” he replied, staring up at the flickering fluorescent lights, and let out what felt like a lopsided smile.

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florecentlights

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A steaming cup of Arabica Black was enough to kill the turnover in his stomach.

He sipped a little bit more for good measure as he cradled the landline receiver on his shoulder, listening to the beeps and cackles of the switchboards routing the call to the office in Santa Rosa.

“Yeah, Rob…don’t feel too good. I’m not coming into the office today….alright, I’ll work more on those take-home data control disks and bring them back in tomorrow.”

He hung up the receiver and let out a slow sigh, changing a moment to look out the open kitchen window framing the view of the barbed wire fence that hemmed his own property to the hills beyond, whose crests were still obscured by the coastal mist.

Two years out of college, staring at a computer terminal, inserting floppy disks, typing out the same strings of code to create, copy and erase data had netted him this view from a stately Victorian nestled in wine country - just southeast of Santa Rosa. And yet, staring at it all, he realized that this solitude and ease hadn’t helped him catch those moments of true rest, and neither did it ever satisfy the craving for running after those tangents that darted in and out of his mind, by racing for those hills.

His eyes fell on the stack of floppy disks sitting on the kitchen table, picking one of them up, reading the big block of text that said IBM Format. Data was cold. They had no thoughts, no rest either. They were only a string of ones, zeros that controlled everything from video games to nuclear missiles. All that work had given him this….to work with machines that were oblivious, naïve to the struggles of the people that wrangled with them.

And, he registered, looking up from the floppy to gaze upon those hills, no longer blockaded by the double oak doors, safety glass, long hallways, if only he were to break that deadlock…

What next came to him was a whirl. He felt himself stumble into the bathroom and turn on the tap, feeling the crisp water splash over his hands, staring in the mirror. The pair of eyes that glared back at him were alert, aware….calculating, flitting from one corner to another.

He shook his head at the figure in the mirror as he threw on a poncho over his sweater, and grabbed the keys to the truck from the pegboard. As he stepped into the rain, he could smell the musk that the rain was releasing from the rich, fertilized vineyard soil.

His hands trembled as he unlocked the driver’s side door to the cream ‘75 International Harvester pickup. He slid behind the steering wheel, inserted the key, and turned it on. The engine sputtered and died the first time. He tried again, with similar results. Then, on the third, the weary former farm truck’s engine caught, the sharp hacking turning into a steady drone as it warmed up.

Shifting into first gear, he eased the International down the driveway and the country road, coming to the T-shaped intersection that he had used so many times going to work. A battered highway sign stood as a lone sentinel, its arms listing loose on its metal bindings in the wind.

To the right, Santa Rosa. To the left, the Coast.

He let go of the brake and shifted into gear.

Click, click, click, click….clack. He thumbed off the signal switch as he finished turning the truck to the left. The rain had intensified now, and the International’s frayed stubs of wiper blades struggled to clear away raindrops that swept across the windshield, but it didn't matter anymore.

“Good morning, Sonoma County! It’s eight-fifteen, March twenty fifth, two thousand and three-”

The International’s speedometer climbed to ten, fifteen, twenty-five, then thirty, against the gnashing of the gears as the road rose in grade, and after what seemed like a endless parade of curves, switchbacks, rolling over the bleached gray asphalt, vitrified by the rain, he crested the topmost hill, and there before him, was the Pacific– gray and wide with many sheltering coves, jagged cliffs and continual surf.

The truck seemed to fly faster and faster downhill, as if he was gliding weightless, unburdened and free from the doors and his old high school. When he finally slammed on the brakes, he found himself in an empty parking lot on a cliff overlooking the ocean.

A small path cut to the right which led down to a cove, surrounded on all three sides by high cliffs. The rocky gravel dwindled down into fine sand, matted by the rain and surf, leaving boot impressions in his wake as he made his way down.

Standing on the beach, he basked in the chill, taking in the briny air emanating from the surf and rotting piles of beached seaweed. Violent in its patterns, it broke over the rocks at the shallow mouth of the cove, spray and froth sent high into the air, suspending for a couple seconds before falling back into those turbulent waters, rejoining as one in the span of seawater that stretched from California to China.

And, he realized, looking at the spectacle, that his own ideas were, in the grand scheme of things, only a drop against the fluid mass that was the ever-turning world. There was no sense catching one specific droplet of water flying through the air when he could just walk to the edge and cup his hands for a hundred.

Try.

To catch those wisps meant running after them into the hills, to the coast, and perhaps then for a few, to dive in and follow. It would mean battling the currents that threatened to sweep him up, out, around, slamming him, transfixed by the prospect, into the roiling sheets, before surfacing again, to gaze at the gray skies.

To even jump on the trail meant that one would have nothing but the sheer desire to see what lay yonder. To go beyond those hills, to run down the slope and dive headfirst, to brave the sea in search of its nest, required even more. And god forbid the looks that folks would give you as you came back!

Try-

Tomorrow he would be heading back to those linoleum hallways, sterile, blank, emotionless, except now accented by the neverending cycle of broad fingers stroking over keyboards, the shuffling of papers, the mechanical clicking of floppy disk drives creating, changing, destroying, spitting, infinite strings of-

Try to rest.

He bent down to scoop up a handful of beach sand, feeling the grains run through and escape the grasp of his fingers before plunging into the foam that swept in with the tide.

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