Meditations From a Nightmare

by Mark Hahn

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They came in and beat the shit out of me. Then they broke out all the doors and windows in my house. The wind blew icy rain inside my bedroom and the wallpaper rotted and started peeling off the walls. Black mold had been hidden underneath.

My clothes were tattered and covered with blood and dirt. I dragged myself outside. The sky was brooding, filled with heavy dark clouds. The winds picked up as if the clouds were preparing to unleash more torrential rains.

Dead sharp grass was waist deep as I ran from the house to the tumbled down shed at the edge of the property. There were only 3 walls intact. A dirty mattress lay beneath a broken out window. Someone had once slept here. A tattered sleeping bag was bunched up by the mattress.

I had been so beaten and battered inside the house, it was all I could to to lie down on the mattress and pull part of the dirty sleeping bag over myself. I don’t know if I actually fell asleep or whether I was just partially unconscious from all the blows. I had just covered my face as the intruders punched and kicked me. I laid there on the floor motionless when they left me.

Just at the very moment that I was losing consciousness and everything seemed peaceful, the largest of the intruders stomped into the shed and shouted, “Get your ass out here you piece of shit!”

“I can’t get up,” I said.

The intruder grabbed me by the shirt and tried to make me stand up. I just slumped back down onto the floor of the shed. There had been asphalt tiles on a shallow pad of concrete, but after the winds knocked out the wall, everything was buried in dirt and debris. A pile of spiny tumbleweeds filled the corner.

“I’ve already had too much,” I tried to say.

“What’s that, ass-wad?” The intruder mocked.

I lapsed into delirium. I couldn’t take anymore.

“You have to put me in the box,” I said.

“They told me I could go back in the box if everything got to be too much.”

“What the fuck are you talking about homo?” The intruder yelled at me before back-handing me across the face.

“When everything gets to be too much, I get to go in the box. The box is three foot square and made out of smooth concrete. Once I’m inside they slide a concrete lid on it. I can’t hear or see anything,” I tried to explain.

I was really too tired to explain this. My sentences trailed off into half spoken slurred words.

“What kind of freak are you? You aren’t even worth it,” the intruder scoffed as he kicked me in the back with his heavy work boot.

My wet shirt was ripped halfway off my body. The flesh on my back burned where it had been struck by the boot. The intruder spit on me and walked out of the shed muttering more abuse. I sat on the floor hugging my legs. I put my chin between my knees and kept my eyes closed. I didn’t want to see where the intruder went or if he was returning.

I pulled myself into a ball and imagined I was in the box. The air was warm and it was dark and silent. There was no way out and no way that anyone could get inside. As long as I didn’t touch the sides of the box I couldn’t tell where I was. I couldn’t feel how trapped I really was.

When I was really still, I could be anywhere. I walked through a field from my childhood and ended up in the woods. A small stream cut through it. Leopard frogs jumped into the small
pool where the stream took a bend.

Up above the bank, the small round leaves of wild ginger spilled over the edge. Their bright new green leaves flashed in the gentle breeze that made it down to the forest’s floor. Behind the patch of wild ginger, stately primordial ferns rise up. The little leopard frogs slyly poked their heads out of the water from a distance. The scene became its own pristine world. It made me wish I were only three inches tall and living in a small den under the tree roots.

If you’re mindful of your steps while walking through the forest, sometimes you’ll feel the crush of an old tin can that is buried somewhere underneath the blanket of last season’s fallen leaves. Things have been buried in the earth many years ago. Even though the forest looks pristine, at one time much of it was farmland. Even though there is no trace of the old farm houses, the small dumps the owners left behind are still there if you can find them.

Once you locate one, it usually isn’t hard to start digging up the old stuff. Most of what you find is rusted or decayed, but some of the glassware comes out intact. When you dig them out, the little cobalt blue medicine bottles seem the most precious. If you look closely, most will have an “M” inside a circle designating that it was made by the old Maryland Glass Corporation. This had been located in Baltimore. Most the bottles were for Phillips Milk of Magnesia, Bromo-Seltzer and Noxema — three products I have never used, even though they still exist today. The bottles I found in these dumps are probably close to a hundred years old.

I also liked finding the really old half pint booze bottles. The ones that took corks. I liked the idea of always having one in your pocket in case you needed a belt. Rip the cork out with your teeth and pour back the whiskey. When I got older, I wondered why anyone would bother with a half pint anyway. A few good slugs and it’s all gone. When I drank, I wanted to feel like I would never finish the bottle — even though I always did. Who needs sleep when you still have booze to drink?

Booze is just another promise of freedom — it makes you feel as if you are nearly free. You can almost get there. All it will take is one more drink. Then you pass out on the floor or in some strange doorway on the way home. Unconsciousness is not freedom though, so you have to start all over again the next day. It’s an never ending story.

Once, when I went really deep into the woods, I found the jackpot dump. I spent hours digging up amazing bottles. I even found a milk glass pill box. It seemed like it could hold magic. The metal top was pretty badly corroded, but it still closed pretty well. It seemed like a real artifact to me. It was early summer, but very hot. I had so much stuff to take back that I took my t-shirt off and tied the arms together to make a bag. I stuffed it full of bottles and other trinkets.

By the time I was ready to leave, the sun was getting low and the shadows long. Everything looked different. I headed back in the direction that I thought was home, but suddenly everything looked strange and different. I tried to stay calm and walk in a straight line. I went over one little hill after another. Each small leaf filled valley started looking like the last. I couldn’t restrain my panic and clutched my sack of bottles and took off in a run.

I ran as fast as I could. I held on tightly to my sack of booty as long as I could, but at some point I had to just let go of it. I hid it under a large ragged oak tree. I felt confident that I would be able to find it when I came back. I passed a tumbled down triangular corral that was falling to the ground. It could have been built here fifty years ago for all I knew.

The shadows grew deeper and I ran faster — dripping with sweat and fear. I came over a small hill and realized that I had been here before. I had come around full circle from where I had started. Now it was getting critical to get out of the wood before it was dark. Even if there was a moon, scant light would penetrate the broad leaf canopy above. I would be left wandering in near darkness.

I started running in a slightly different direction. I run up and down little hills. While running down a gentle slope, I caught my foot on a fallen sapling that was hidden beneath the leaves. There was nothing to catch hold of and I fell down the hill face first into the soft leaves. I let myself go. I decided nothing was going to happen to me even if I had to spend the night in the woods. Little green shoots grew around me. From where I lay on the ground they looked like tiny trees. Again I thought how much I would like to live here if I was only three inches tall.

I imagined the small houses that people build here one hundred years ago. The houses that the people lived in who made the little dumps that I dug up to find bottles in. I looked at the small sticks laying among the leaves and imagined I could build a tiny house from them. No one would even know I was alive. I built up a complete fantasy of living here — away from everything. It was beautiful and peaceful.

In the twilight, I pulled myself off the ground. I wasn’t worried about anything any longer. I just started walking. I kept walking. I walked until I made it out of the woods. It was as if nothing had ever happened.

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