Best Worst Year: Episode 78 (Or, radiocontrast agent)

The light in your eyes is slow to warm–like vacuum tubes inside an old amplifier. It’s not a concussion. At least, it wasn’t a few days ago, but now they’re calling it post-concussion syndrome. You have been burrowing down through stratified layers of thought trying to find bedrock–stable. You find yourself places, not unlike being twenty-one on a Friday night in a college town full of drink specials and happy hours with busted clocks. There is a hyper-reality to it. Just being somewhere all of a sudden. How long has it been? Minutes? An hour. You have had three cups of coffee in the last hour and change–finished none of them–and now sit, going stone cold, in the kitchen, on the bathroom sink, and the dining room table. It’s Monday morning and all you can think about is getting a pizza. Your glasses are a transparent rushhour of smudges and streaks. At first, you think it’s just the fuzziness speaking to you in distorted smoke signals, blurring the vision. You wash your Warby Parkers in the kitchen sink, watch the sun pass through bare branches in the backyard.

Silver nitrate. Ballpoint pen melts into your skull.

It’s been raining paper clips in your desk for several hours. Paper clips everywhere. You pretty much spent your first office job trying to bend paper clips with your mind like a Uri Geller in training. College senior, practicing for the real world. Your halogen lamp would be recalled because it was a fire hazard. You took up smoking, but only when you drank. Your alarm in the morning would constitute the clatter of crushed tall boys and dead soldiers. Broke a toner cartridge, and painted your face. At the tail end of your first professional job, when the bank began repossessing office furniture, you got into the Lord of the Flies feeling by tying your tie to your forehead–such forward thinking would serve you well at last call. You reveled in the lack of originality. You were content to be “that guy,” because it saved you from the act of thinking too hard or caring too much. You hadn’t taken enough bumps, sold enough cheap shots, had your hair mussed up by being an adult yet. You were years away from bad credit and worse dates. The Replacements were not beautiful losers but a design for living. It wasn’t a lust for living on the altar of Iggy Pop’s annihilation church–it was just grinding out the business end of a coffin nail until the ashtray was full and you were empty stumbles. You were the last of your friends to really graduate, stayed on for one more year of lit classes and third shift bars. And what was worse for you was you were good at all of it. Enabled. Encouraged. Forgiven.

Empty church confessional. Votive candles on a birthday cake.

The classroom is nearly empty You lean against the lectern and listen for the tornado sirens to die down They are tested the same time every month This is the sixteenth test you’ve heard and this one sounds different A second voice, barely audible, blending with the blare It sounds likes a child You are in line at Walgreens and the baby has a set of leather lungs Her mother ignores her–knows the drill and is immune to the sound You are holding a bottle of Tylenol and a bottle of water Your scalp itches around a contusion They didn’t need stitches or staples You vaguely remember walking home, crossing Koke Mill to Boysenberry, past the Family Video and the upscale sports bar You are standing in the shower, washing some dried blood out of your hair You are ten minutes into the second period of the Vancouver/Ottawa game. Alexandre Burrows is fed the puck by Bonino and crosses up the Senators goalie for a beautiful top shelf wrister Weren’t you just teaching? The hands on your Citizen Eco Drive fold like they’re praying Time like dominos Pizza for breakfast You have missed two phone calls in twenty minutes You are driving to work in the dark, but the radio is the starless sky you notice You undo your seatbelt and slide the tie clip between the second and third button on your shirt.

Pennies on a train track. Sleeping with my friends.

A note from home tells you The White House’s Christmas tree is coming from your hometown. There was a nursery with a hairpin turn at the bottom of the hill you lived on–the school bus would drop you off there. There as a single-lane bridge over the creek which was damaged in a flood several years ago. The deepest part of the creek was called The Horse Hole because rumor had it a horse and rider drowned there a hundred years ago. When you were eighteen, you were convinced nothing got out of town alive.

She washes dried blood out of your hair.

It’s like all of your words are at the bottom of a pitch black well and you keep sending a bucket to plumb its depths for the right ones to say But there’s a hole in the bucket, and everyone is just waiting on you In reality, you’re standing in your boss’ office trying to report on a project You are the project, and the report is not going so well People are patient and you are red hot embarrassed They are pleasantly patient but the ice is thin Or you think the ice is thin You can’t tell Yesterday, your girlfriend drove you to work because you were afraid to drive She steadies your hand in the dark, replaces your pen with a pencil, brushes the hair out of your eyes and the eraser marks from the page You are relentless in your need to show all your work When the doctor tells you concussion symptoms can show up weeks after the fact, you wonder how long will it take for the gaslights to rise above a dim halo in your head You keep saying sorry Skips on a disc Surface marks on a plastic coating deflecting the laser which reads the data It’s so much less physical and real when it happens on a compact disc Maybe that’s why CD’s are so expendable and everyone loves vinyl records again You are reminded to document all your time off for workman’s comp–just in case There is a thumbscrew vice slowly turning against the grain of your hair In the staff bathroom, you loosen your tie The last thing you remember before being loaded on the ambulance is how they cut your Lands End corduroys off of you Hopefully, you thought, somebody took off my tie. It’s one of my favorites. You bought it in Corning, NY on one of your last vacations from a former life.

Shakespeare text book on a stairwell. My head blossoms on the final step.

Jim Warner is the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program at Benedictine University and the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals including The North American Review, [PANK] Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, and The Minnesota Review. He writes “Best Worst Year” weekly for Sundog Lit. Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.


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