Getting There from Here

I inhaled deeply, my torso filling with fresh air. The sky was a vivid and rich azure, with a few cottonball cloud puffs here and there. I was in the back field of my old elementary school, at the base of the hill I used to roll down at recess. The lawn was bright green, without any sign of the dried grass clippings bullies used to shove down the back of my shirt.

The sky darkened as I made my way to the top of the hill, and I knew I would get soaked if I didn't get back to the office before the storm hit. I cut across the fenced in preschool playground, hoping against hope that the door would be unlocked, somehow knowing that the school building would connect with my office. I felt the first drops of rain on my brow as I tugged once, twice, three times at the metal door, which finally swung wide.

Inside, the corridors were exactly as they were on my first day of kindergarten, only much smaller. I saw parents prying tearful children from their legs and passing them to teachers, remembering all too well how traumatic my first day of school was up until 3rd or 4th grade. I could hear the rain outside, though beams of heavenly sunlight danced through the translucent glass along the old stairwell at the end of the hall, the one in which I'd bound down five steps at a time in foolish leaps, and race up two steps at a time when I still had ambition and lacked delusions of mediocrity.

I walked down the hall, noticing how “soft” everything and everyone appeared, a haze obscuring their features. I paused in one hallway, remembering my old brown sweatshirt and how I'd pull the hood up behind my ears and make everyone laugh with my Dopey impression. Kids had made fun of my big ears long before that, but by 3rd grade I think I wanted to take charge; if they were going to laugh anyway it would be on my terms. Teachers told my parents I was so starved for attention I craved any kind, even or especially if negative.

I walked past the gymnasium now, in whose walls resided tables that unfolded at lunch to turn it into a cafeteria. Across the hall was the principal's office, which I knew all too well. I remembered spending time in there for many reasons, including inciting a food fight once. The hall seemed to be getting smaller as I got to the end of it, Thurberian architecture having fun with perspective. There was a line of children on either side, alternately waiting to get into the principal's office or the gymnasium, and I remembered them making fun of me because my dad liked the Yankees and they were all Mets fans.

I opened the door at the end of the hall, which should have let to the parking lot and then the larger playground and field. Inside there was darkness and monkey bars, and the corridor continued to narrow with the added obstacle of those bars at varying heights. With uncharacteristic agility, I pulled myself up, swung forward, flattened, twisted, and did whatever was necessary to move from one end to the other. At the other side, I found myself sitting in the back seat of a large silver Volkswagen Beetle. In it were about 15-20 people, some in the front seat, all of whom I knew were my elementary school classmates all grown up. Occasionally, the interior shifted and looked like a badly lit dance hall with streamers and a disco ball. Outside, the sun was shining and it was Field Day. I could see my 5th grade science teacher, as well as my old gym teacher, the one who rescued me when I got my finger stuck in my teacher's metal desk in second grade and couldn't stand up to say the pledge of allegiance. Neither had aged, and both ran alongside the kids running between traffic cones, yelling at them to be faster if they wanted any of the watermelon that was waiting on a nearby table. The watermelon was always the best part of field day; potato sack races, not so much.

A wind blew across the field outside the car, leaving a desaturated, lifeless wasteland. I felt a pain in the palm of my right hand, as though something sharp was pressed into it, I turned back to the crowd inside the car and saw nothing. It happened again, feeling not unlike the old TB test doctors used to give at checkups. I remember they used to draw with a marker around the spot where they injected, sometimes in the shape of a Mickey Mouse head to make the experience more playful. There was some ink in the palm of my hand now, but it was more like a logo or insignia from a club, like the stamp to get back in. I didn't recognize the girl with the needle, and she explained everyone got the mark for each year in order to be part of the club. I'd been away awhile and she was making up for my missed years apparently. I yelled at her and she wandered off into the crowd in the back of the car.

Someone in the front seat turned around, and I recognized it as another of my elementary school chums that I hadn't seen in years. His older brother became a teacher and a saxophone player, and I still see him once or twice a year in a local band. I recognized the younger sibling from the family resemblance. He handed me some note saying I had a shot with the needle girl and should go for her. I tried to explain relationships and attraction, and trailed off in mid-sentence as I was saying something about not checking the time when you genuinely enjoy someone's company. I noticed I was not wearing a watch as I looked at my wrist for the first time that evening.

“Didja get dinner?” asked my father, who was sitting across from me at the kitchen table. I looked from my bare wrists to the Wendy's bag that was suddenly in my hands. I was partially in the kitchen with my father and partially still in the backseat of that car. I fished through the bag, taking a few French fries to munch on first before pulling out his chicken sandwich, which I unwrapped to make sure it had only lettuce and no sauce or anything else contrary to the old man's diet. I handed him his sandwich as reality solidified and settled on the kitchen at my parent's house, and then I went to work on the rest of those fries.

I opened my eyes, feeling some moisture on my brow, and heard the light rain striking the leaves outside my bedroom window. I reached back with one hand to pull down the curtain, even as my eyes registered a tiny black and white weight on my chest as my cat Chirp stared at me, occasionally gripping me with his claws. I scratched his ears, checked the time, and lay in bed a few more minutes processing the whole bizarre dream before I got up to feed the cat and enjoy a lazy Sunday back in the real world, where the past is the past and the present is never as interesting as the mashups in my subconscious.


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