I’m Having An Unshakeable Nightmare

In April 2005, a blizzard forced the cancellation of a week of school and I discovered that we—my high school girlfriend and I—were not so far away as the roads suggested, and that the straightest path to reach each other was for her to walk through her wooded backyard and cross the sixteenth hole of the public golf course and for me to access the fenced-off service road for municipal water well #34 across the street from my house. The true midpoint was a patch of conservation land choked with pines.

We resolved to meet each other at this halfway point after three days of being cooped up in our own homes. Underdressed, I took a sled, hopped a fence, and marooned myself on a snowdrift next to the padlocked water pump. The snow was feet deep, and I couldn’t move much further, so I lied down on my sled to consider the options.

That semester I was taking one of the first online courses our school offered: a survey of creative fiction through a high school web consortium. I read short stories and then tried to emulate them with my own fiction, posting the writing on a message board for a teacher in New Mexico to grade. The week before the blizzard, I read Jack London’s “To Build a Fire,” which is about a man unprepared in the tundra. He lies down in the snow and falls into death like a deep sleep. The story brought me some peace, and I think back on it often.

And so the story was on my mind when I laid myself down on my sled near municipal water well #34, too winded to move any further, and at a time when it was easier to tell stories like this because it was still uncommon for teenagers to have cell phones. I let gravity slide me away into the untouched landscape, let it swaddle me for the long goodbye.

Then the man drowsed off into what seemed to him the most comfortable and satisfying sleep he had ever known.

I wasn’t going to die, and I wasn’t prepared or ready for it, but the Jack London story was still fresh, and I thought if I just lied there and sleep, someone will find me.

Then I heard my high school girlfriend’s voice and looked up to see her, wearing wooden snowshoes, the kind you might see mounted on a cabin wall, the kind that look like tennis rackets. She helped me up and we walked back to her mother’s house. She hopped across the surface of the snow like a Tolkien elf and I slid down banks like a Tolkien hobbit.

I don’t want my last cognitive burst to be a look at my life at hyperspeed. Instead, I want a highly curated, multimedia viewmaster of feelings and smells and moments and poignant nothings, and I want this specific cartridge loaded in, please and thank you, to represent who I was in 2005: me sliding down a snowbank on a plastic sled, ensconced in melodrama, looking through the white-dusted conifers to see my high school girlfriend bounding toward me on decorative snowshoes.

Parquet Courts is back, baby! My current favorite band has a new album out May 18. More information here.

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