I knew something felt off. But I couldn’t put my finger on it. The days of off-ness turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into a blur.
It all started on New Year’s. I normally begin a new year with a feeling of freshness and clean-slatedness. This time around the sun was different. I felt hopeless. My life had come to be rather nihilistic. The gray cold and hollow winds of the skies matched my interior. One could simply pass it off as a dip in the doldrums. After all, I had been through different ebbs and flows in my time on this earth. This was a low tide moment and I just knew that it would eventually rise again. Except it didn’t.
it. hung. on.
And wouldn’t let go. It felt as though my soul were stuck in the sticky wicket of a Venus flytrap. I couldn’t get out. Darkness seemed to close in around me like the midnight fog that routinely rolls through the winter-dry creekbed that runs behind our house.
I sat on the back patio one chilly morning and listened to the minor chord wind chimes soberly swoon in the wind. It came to my attention that a bobwhite was nearby cooing the sing-songy sounds from which its name is derived. It’s a melancholy sound, but familiar. It took me back to my childhood when I would go fishing early in the morning in my grandparent’s pond.
I would sit on the wet rust-colored banks of the pond in my uncle’s boots that were too big. I would patiently watch the red and white bobber on the other end of my line. The smells of dewy trees, spider webs, and bug spray weighed down my overalls. I loved the quiet. I loved the sound of the big frogs croaking back and forth at each other. I loved the splash of a big bass or catfish determined not to come ashore. One time I accidentally hooked a turtle. It was impossible to reel in and broke my line. The turtles were notoriously tricky and could snatch my worm as cleanly and quietly as a professional pickpocket.
“Hey! You need to do the dishes!” My wife called from the back door. Reality snapped back at me like one of those turtles and I was instantly on edge.
“Ok, be in in a minute.” I mumbled back. I took another drink of my black coffee, no cream, no sugar. It was toasty with a hint of toffee, but mostly just bitter. It tasted as sour as my new mood and I gulped it down hard.
I hate dishes. They never stop reproducing. They’re like ugly bunnies. Like energizer bunnies. They just keep coming and coming and coming. Ugh. I angrily turned on the hot water and began scrubbing the aged cast iron skillet that my wife had let sit on the stove a little too long after emptying its contents.
“You know, if you would just rinse these damn things as soon as you’re done they wouldn’t get this difficult to clean!”
“If I cook, it’s your job to clean up, not mine. So blame yourself, wise ass.”
I got mad at the skillet and scrubbed harder. A wine glass broke at the bottom of the dish pile succumbing to the rising pressure in my body.
“Damn it!” I yelled.
“I broke a wine glass.”
“There’s only three left now! You need to chill out and be more careful!”
“Oh like you don’t ever break things!”
The Venus flytrap gripped a little tighter and my breaths became shallower and shorter. I was suffocating and the pressure release valve was about to blow. I threw the rag down into the sink with the speed and violence of a major league catcher trying to throw an opposing runner out at second base. I gripped the edges of the copper sink with both hands and locked my elbows. My shoulders pushed upwards and my head hung low. After a moment, I stomped back to bed. I threw my shoes off and covered my head with a pillow. My jaw was tight and I could hear the sound of my teeth grinding in my head.
“Where is this coming from? I don’t understand!”
I lurched out from the covers and stomped to the medicine cabinet. I grabbed two ibuprofen, swallowed them sans water and flung myself back into the bed. I texted my boss and told her I was sick. I laid on my side and glared out the window. I could still hear the minor chord chimes faintly. The trees in the backyard were swaying in the wind. Looked to me like they weren't enjoying themselves being pushed this way and that by the atmosphere: things beyond their control.
“What do you want from me?” The stranger asked.
“I don’t want anything from you,” I said disgustedly as I turned to walk away.
“You don’t understand what I’m asking you.”
“What do you mean?” I asked angrily with my back turned to him.
“I mean that I can give you anything, all you have to do is tell me what it is you want. What do you want from me?”
A long pause ensued as the stranger’s presence suddenly wasn’t confronting me, it was comforting me. It was at that moment that I realized I was dreaming. Or was I? What was this dissociative state I was in? Was it a world between worlds? I’ll never know. Somehow though I did know that this stranger and this question were real.
“I want to feel happy and purposeful again,” I said from the depths of my soul, which was still lying clinched in the Venus flytrap.
“Ok, very well.”
I don’t know what happened next. But I woke up a few hours later and remembered the encounter. You know how sometimes you wake up from a dream and the moment you wake up the dream disappears from your memory? Other times you wake up and you can remember the dream in vivid other-worldly detail, especially the ones where you find yourself running naked through your old high school. This was the latter. Minus the nakedness.
As I blinked my eyes open and laid there for a moment recalling this encounter with a stranger between worlds, I noticed that the branches of the trees had just started to bud. They were no longer bare. They actually seemed to be dancing.
I needed to talk to someone. I shuffled in my slippers to my wife’s work-from-home office. I opened a desk drawer and shuffled through some papers in it and found the old business card I was looking for. She looked at me suspiciously with a side-eye glance and said nothing as she plugged away at the keyboard. As I was leaving the room I turned and looked at the back of her head and noticed a few more colorless hairs streaking through her long auburn hair. She was still as beautiful as ever. I said nothing and shuffled back to the bedroom. I sat down on the bed, and stared at my therapist’s card. I pressed the number slowly into my phone. I took a long breath and sighed. I hit the green call button.
“Hello, Dr. Perry’s office.”
“Hi, I need to make an appointment.”
“When would you like to come in? We actually had a cancellation and there is an opening this afternoon at 4.”
“Sounds good, I’ll take it.”
The Venus flytrap began to unfold.