Up before dawn with trazodone’s thick fog crushing my face. A vague light glows through poorly closed curtains. 6:23 am. Boyfriend rolls over in the lust of normal sleep. Only sixteen hours to fill before a semi-respectable bedtime.
Coffee. I microwave the milk in the bottom of the mug before adding the caffeine so the whole mess stays hot a little longer. Laptop makes the kitchen glow like TV. Email, facebook, other email whose inbox receives messages from Tripadvisor and Goodreads and my mom, work email, weather, calendar. I spend some time obsessing over a recently created profile on a “the world’s leading site for online work.” No leads yet, but I’m optimistic. Decide to take a formal test to rate my English grammar skills: 82 of 100, top 30th percentile. The sentence structure test doesn’t fare so well because I have no idea what an adverb subordinate clause is. I quit at 12 out of 40 questions. If you leave now, you can’t retake the test for fourteen days. I mock this out loud into an empty kitchen.
Oatmeal’s in a bowl and I relocate to the green chair in the living room. 8:15, boyfriend still asleep. Read Cloud Atlas in front of a space heater until I have to pee and then I just take a shower because I’m already in the bathroom. At its hottest our water is still at least two degrees cooler than I prefer. I want to exit the shower with heat welts on my shoulder blades. I blame this lack on my neurotic landlords, convinced they have tweaked this lukewarm purgatory to their benefit.
Boyfriend wakes up and eats a bowl of cereal. We both work from home. “Will it distract you if I do tae-bo?” I spend an hour with a DVD I had my brother convert from VHS when I was twenty-five. I know every scream and grunt and motivational exclamation. I curse Billy Blanks only twice. Crumbs from the rug embed in the sweaty small of my back.
To the market: bread, bananas, milk, chocolate bar, dinner? The country observes Veteran’s Day and a middle school band marches around the store playing some recognizable unnamable song. I want to take their picture with my ancient cell phone, but they’re moving too fast. I cannot BELIEVE you are missing this. Send picture message without picture? Yes.
Lunch is a tuna sandwich. Boyfriend works from the kitchen table today so I move back to the green chair and write for a couple hours. It’s like putting a puzzle together, searching through nearly identical pieces of sky for the one that fits until your brain feels light and you move onto another section, tricked into believing you are starting something new. I break to pirate latest episode of Fringe and watch wrapped in a blanket, toes tucked into the gap between cushion and chair. I think about how I wish my hair was as long as Olivia Dunham’s, whose real name I can’t remember without searching imdb, but I’d rather accept the gaps in my memory than rely on technology to keep filling them.
I move to the couch for a change of scenery and struggle through the intro of a Q&A I’m putting together for a magazine. Certain assignments evoke the stilted torture of writing high school term papers. I look to other Q&As for inspiration but feel like a thief without an original idea in my head. Get lost in thinking about how all artists borrow from each other and are connected in an endless invisible network of influence.
Boyfriend leaves to go for a run. Q&A on its way to the editor and I reward my efforts with an apple. The sun reflects off dew clinging to the kitchen windows. We have a moisture problem. The neurotic landlords blame it on our hot breath. “Have you ever slept in a tent?” the wife asked, implying that I compare our apartment to a canvas teepee in the woods. Her tone suggests she believes this is the most logical explanation. I cannot argue with belief.
Lock up and walk through the old cemetery behind our duplex. Trying to find the oldest birth date; so far: 1807. It’s November and summer’s corpse spreads itself over the northern hemisphere. Various shades of orange and brown blanket the walkways. Newer headstones feature etched portraits of the dead. Mental note: etched portrait phenomenon seems exclusive to first generation immigrants. Warrants further investigation.
The dewey apartment welcomes me home. Daylight savings has pushed the afternoon into darkness. I move through, turning on the lights, then pause in the center of electric yellow for minutes, staring, wondering what to do next. My sock is bunched inside my boot. Princess and the pea.
Boyfriend watches football on his laptop, periodically fielding calls from his father, who also watches football in a city 3,000 miles away. I decide to read and then I change my mind and write until my face is pressed against the cold levee of imagination. Retreat to dinner: pasta and greens from a bag. Pre-washed but who trusts that claim. I rev up the salad spinner and let it go, shooting spinach water against skim milky white plastic; it sounds like an engine dying. The most gratifying kitchen experience. One more spin.
We eat touching knees under a tiny kitchen table and talk about writing. Some nights this feels like monologues sharing a stage. Alone, together. How much can you ever truly know about someone else’s work? Tomato sauce stains our lips. I illustrate the puzzle metaphor with my hands. He nods. He’s heard this a thousand times. We touch fingertips between empty bowls.
The Plaid Pantry appears to be out of dark chocolate Reeses peanut butter cups. “Maybe they’re discontinued,” I worry out loud. A hooded man slinks by whose movements echo those of an ape—hulking, dragging, dark. Boyfriend discovers desired candy in an unsuspecting spot. We buy it from a girl who doesn’t say hello back and divvy our treat outside on the gummy sidewalk. “I thought that guy was a gorilla,” he says, shoving the whole cup in his mouth. I eat mine like it’s a delicacy, making it last two street blocks.
At home we get under a blanket and watch part of a Harry Potter. Boyfriend has to explain what’s happening between each scene because I’ve never read the books and there are more characters than a Tolstoy novel. Sleep crawls into my peripherals. I lean my head on a shoulder that smells like wet. “Are you falling asleep?” he asks. I am and so I forget to answer.
I am in bed first, every night. Crawl into the cold shell of sheets, glasses off, body tucked into a ball, long, deep breath. I find my way to the puzzle, putting words and sentences together at the edges of consciousness. Every idea feels alive, ingenious. Sleep is at the door, and the ideas become a train I am not on, leaving a station. I reach for one and repeat it over and over in my head.
Let me remember this tomorrow.