What is life? ‘Tis but a madness.
What is life? A thing that seems,
A mirage that falsely gleams,
Phantom joy, delusive rest,
Since is life a dream at best,
And even dreams themselves are dreams.
(Calderón de la Barca, La vida es sueño, Act II)
You know, we were supposed to be born together.
Yes. There just wasn’t enough room for the two of us
in her belly, so you took over.
Most of me went down the tubes,
but you took the best part under your skin.
So we could share this cramped head!
And now that we are finally talking to each other,
I want to apologize for the bad dreams.
So that was you…
The only time I could try to contact you
was when you were in bed. During the day you
were too busy to hear little old me, drowning in this body.
I think I was around three or four years old
when I first tried to explain you to mom.
Every night you would sneak out from
the corners of my thoughts: this tall,
skinny thing pushing me through a
forever of forest. I would run like heck
with you always closing in from behind.
I couldn’t get away from that sound:
your arms stretched wide, your stick
fingers slapping the tree trunks that
passed by your sides.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
It boomed through my ears!
Then you would wake yourself (and the rest of the house)
with those terrified, faraway screams. Sorry…
She was the one I felt bad for.
I remember the sinking rings around her eyes.
And how she would try to cheer you up-
“See? It’s actually quite a clumsy and sad
sort of creature. I don’t think he means to
harm you at all. He probably just wants to say hello.”
She was right. Man, I loved her for understanding.
But you, you kept running away from me. Except I was
getting bigger and starting to catch up.
I had no idea. I had other things on my mind. I was
starting school. Making best friends with Kyle.
Bringing lice home and sending mom into another one
of her hysterical cleaning frenzies.
And I was more and more part of it, eating up every
detail of every day (even though I couldn’t do anything about it).
Until around third grade, when my night terrors turned
into what the pediatrician called “anxiety-induced” nightmares.
I didn’t mean to stress you out so much, but you were ignoring me.
So at night, you decided to start showing up as a humongous
computerized box hanging from the roof of the garage.
In those low blips and bleeps, you called for me over and over.
They ripped me out of bed and dragged me down the hall,
out the door to where the beat-up Toyota was parked.
Dad would find you standing there, staring up into the empty
space between the boards, a baby whine trapped
behind your chattering teeth.
Shut up! You were creepy.
And then one day, you stopped sleepwalking. No more strange
machines messing with you.
But I tossed and turned. I woke up like five times a night
with sheets snaking up my legs.
Because I was still there.
You didn’t scare me anymore, though. You morphed into
the classic alien: grey skin, hollow eyes, moving all
slow and soft. You were weird, but harmless.
That was the idea.
You tried speaking, but the words drooled out in
muddy pools, saying things like ‘nalan’ or’ suol fasiwi’.
I couldn’t believe you remembered them.
Mom thought they were cool.
It was kind of fun for a while, writing the words
on a piece of paper to see if they would suddenly make sense,
her face peeking over my shoulder to throw out ideas.
But you never tried to talk back to me. All I got were
those half-smiles as you rubbed your pounding forehead.
And soon after that, you would just drift back into a broken sleep.
Then came today, this sticky-hot Saturday two days after
my twelfth birthday. What happened?
What the heck do you mean, what happened? This morning,
a dare from big Mac sent you flying down Killer Miller
to break in your Penny board. Remember? I was begging
so hard for you to stop, I swear that’s what made you
pause at the edge of the steep drop in the pavement.
It was like having an invisible hand
pressing on my forehead.
Didn’t make a difference, though. The digs of our older
brother were too much for your ego, so you clipped the
strap of your neon-green helmet and took the plunge.
I should’ve fallen right away.
There wouldn’t have been so much damage.
By holding it together so long, you must have racked up
at least 30 or 40 miles of speed. But before the left
wheel hit an acorn and sent you into the air, all I could
do was think about how the blur of static green made it seem
like nothing was moving at all; we seemed frozen.
It was a different story when I hit the ground:
me jerking one way, then another. My right arm hit first,
breaking a little to soften the blow on my head, and then
I rolled a while until the curb put on the brakes.
The feeling was stellar.
This is the part I don’t get.
From that first jolt with the road, I suddenly started
getting hold of all the messages that had been going on
between just you and our body all those years.
It was like the crash blew open a locked door,
finally letting me in on the whole game.
Right before we blacked out, I was blown away
to hear MY voice hammering the asphalt around our oozing outline.
And to hear mine, telling you to shut up already.
You shocked the crap out of me.
And now here we are, awake, but our eyes aren’t cooperating very well.
That lazy moon sure is better than the ER fluorescents drilling
into our temples. What’s with everyone?
Listen to Mac. He’s asking why we’re talking to ourselves.
Wait- is he crying?
Shh. Here’s the doctor. I want to hear what he has to say.
Straining through a haze, they follow an oversized envelope dangling from the attending physician’s pinched fingertips, almost imperceptibly wavering forwards and backwards on its hurried path through the doorway and towards the corner of the room. The carrier of the news, Dr. Sorenson, wears heavy features with an oddly kinetic glow about them. This momentum seems to continue through his body as he springs upon his designated circular stool, whips the anticipated film out of its manila coat, and smacks it to illuminator on the wall.
It looks just like the cross-section of a cantaloupe, the butterfly opening of the cerebral ventricles evoking a seeded core. They are hit with a wave of nausea, a rotting scent of the ripening fruit rushing through their nose.
“As you may have presumed, in addition to a fractured elbow and a series of minor contusions and lacerations, your son has suffered a concussion”, he announces to their parents. His index finger presses along the terribly slim oval outline around the aerial view of our brain. “Do you see how little space currently lies between the brain tissue and the skull? This is one of the most severe cases of cerebral edema I have witnessed from a blunt trauma injury. “We need to operate immediately to attempt to alleviate the pressure being generated from all this swelling.”
Mother throws her arms around them, her body a brittle leaf, but they are too taken with the spectacularly radiant orange sherbet melting from a matching melamine dish on the tray beyond her. They are also oblivious to Dad clutching her shoulders, his knuckles taking on the pallor of his face.
Their body is transferred to a gurney and everything is a blur again. A rich flow of color, smell and sound surrounds them. Despite the rising agony, they let out the smile that has been itching to surface from the moment they glimpsed their blossoming likeness in the contrast of the x-ray.
This is really something, being together.
It’s like the whole world is in here with us.
But we’ve really gotta-
-get some sleep.