The one thing I know, perhaps the last thing I know to be true, is that there is a very fine mist between one dimension and the next. And crossing that mist is never good. Because even a shift in the smallest detail offers magnitudes of misfortune.
“Because hard alcohol is just so damned easy,” was the last thing I remember telling myself before drinking into the shiny brass redness of the night.
I woke up that morning as the previous evening began tunneling its worm-like way back into my brightening memory. I drank too much, again. I drank alone, again. The evening’s memories were dim and blurry like dirty binoculars, but a few vivid memories of taking one more drink (just one more) kept creeping into my head.
My head throbbed and my stomach was on the fritz. It was Wednesday morning and my wife was still across the country on a work trip. My son, just two, was crying from his crib. It was about twenty minutes past the time he normally woke up. How long had he been awake? I licked my lips and along the right corner where my upper and lower came together was a dried spot of drool that tasted like something between whiskey, cigarettes, and vomit.
I jump out of bed, already feeling like an asshole before I even brushed my teeth, and began toward my boy’s room. I open the door and the volume of his cries seem to quadruple in my already throbbing head. I can see tears rolling down his cheeks, which means he has been awake for more than just a few minutes. God I’m an asshole.
His hands are up in the air and his fingers are curling and straightening in an effort to hurry me to him. I love his tiny little fingers, but I can’t get past the pulsing in my head that is exacerbated when I bend over to pick him up. My vision goes spotty for a moment as I lift him to my shoulder. Then full black. Then it slowly returns in unfurling, pounding pulses.
My son’s cries slowly lessen over the next few minutes as I carry him out to the living room where I grab him a yogurt and a cup of milk. I put on a TV show and pray that he gives me a few minutes of peace to gather myself and get ready for work. My son miraculously seems to comply with my prayer. I head upstairs and start the shower. Staring at myself in the mirror as the water heats up, I see a pair of gray, bloodshot eyes staring back at me, along with dark bags under my eyes and significantly too much facial scruff to pull off as five-o’clock-shadow-chic. I consider punching the mirror in frustration that I’ve done this to myself again, then think better of it. Instead, I take my clothes off and jump in the shower.
Twenty minutes later, the hangover or something else continues to cast its eerie shadow across every move I make. Even as I load my son into his car seat on a day that is cloudless, there seems to be an omnipotent gray hovering over each spectral scene. It is depressing and ominous. The drive to daycare doesn’t feel any better and I can’t help but think this is something beyond any standard hangover. It is darker, more malevolent somehow. But something tells me that if I can safely get my son to daycare and then just take a deep breath, things will begin to go blue again. That’s what my wife calls it. She says, “whenever you’re having a bad day, just think blue thoughts.” She loves blue. And so do I. It’s the color of water and sky and peace. And I haven’t seen much of it lately.
I pull up to daycare in my standard suburban vehicle. Exactly what you’d expect to see in any upper middle-class neighborhood. White SUV. The make and model don’t matter. If it is reasonably clean. They are waiting for him outside. My brow furrows in confusion that there is a welcoming party today. It’s not that this never happens, but it is rare. Maybe they just saw me pulling up and decided to come greet us. Either way, this welcoming doesn’t help the peculiar sense of unease this day has already greeted me with. Especially because the smiles on their faces look plastic. There is nothing, no humanity behind them that I can sense. They are not smiles of happiness. Smiles of necessity? Smiles of desire? They might as well be doll faces. Welcome to the dollhouse. Wanna come play?
I hesitantly greet the welcoming party, Ms. Greta and Ms. Nina. They say hello in a very strange way. It was hollow. It bounced off my ears and intensified the throbbing in my head. I sped past them with my son in one arm and my other hand against my ear to dull the noise. It didn’t help. They followed me in, now saying nothing, but plastic smiles still glued to their faces.
The inside of the daycare was listless today. Like other daycares, this one, if memory serves, was full of bright colors and laughing, screaming children, and welcoming women who were bright and cheery. Lots and lots of blue. I’m not positive but that is what I remember. My wife usually takes him to daycare. Today the daycare was gray with splotches of black. I suddenly realize that I am sweating, which could surely be from drinking a bottle of whiskey last night, but this seems like something else. Several dozen eyes are on me now. Teachers. Students. Administrators. They are looking at me and each one has a plastic smile. They want me to leave and I’m prepared to give them what they want. But my son. Is this all in my head? I need to clear it. Yes, we’ve been taking him to this daycare for almost a year and a half. I’ll drop him off and then leave work early. I’ll pick him up early and get him out of this gray, listless, strange day. We’ll hunker down at home and turn things back to blue.
I leave him, begrudgingly. I don’t like leaving him, but I need to get a fresh take on the day. I need to recenter and hopefully realize that this is all just in my head and the day has not turned rotten. Turned sour.
When I leave work later that day, things have brightened a bit. The hangover has worn off and I’ve cleared my paranoia, I think. The throbbing in my head has decreased almost to a dull nothing. But at my office, I realize there is almost no one there. Maybe no one at all. Can that be right? There was no one at work for the entire day? My office is small and sometimes people work from home or travel, but no one at all? I suppose not.
I also now realize that my commute to work was basically empty. Have I seen anyone at all since leaving my son’s daycare? I think not. I fear not. Oh god, that can’t be right.
I am driving back to my son’s daycare and even though it is only early afternoon, the sky over an empty suburban highway is turning a bullet gray that is typically only reserved for an overcast twilight. What is becoming of this place? This cloudless, blue, sleepy town full of well-to-do families has suddenly become a graying ghost town of pallid purgatory. As I got closer to daycare, I drove alongside groves of trees that had been full and green but were now arthritic skeletons of creak and shadow.
I pull up to the daycare parking lot and a deep fear creeps over me that I cannot shake. I think that something has happened to my son. Something sinister, not accidental. A lone cloud ominously hovers over the daycare casting even more darkness on an already dreary world. I see a set of eyes, maybe two, peering through the blinds, drawn, of the front window to the daycare. My nerves are twitching and I bolt out of the car and toward the door.
I open the door and there is no one at the window, but the color of the world has changed. It is bright again. Colors are vibrant, kids are laughing and screaming (playfully), and the woman, Ms. Nancy, at the front desk is bright and cheery, no sign of a plastic smile. She is wearing a sweater that says, “Momma Needs Coffee” and gives me a big smile as I approach with confusion and happiness spread all the way across my face. I can see lots of blue again.
“Mr. Grissom, it’s so good to see you!” she says, a perfectly human smile held steady through the words.
I am disoriented by the brilliance of color and happiness that I feel. The world has returned. People have returned. And my son is in this wonderful, happy place. It has never seemed so wonderful to me before, but I now realize just how beautiful it is.
Still unsteady, I put my hands on the desk for balance and attempt to return Ms. Nancy’s smile, but fail, producing only an awkward baring of teeth and uncertainty. “Yes, hi Ms. Nancy. Thank you. I’m here to pick up my son.”
The warm, loving smile of Ms. Nancy that has helped to completely transform my mood is suddenly replaced by a look of dismay. Her eyebrows squinch and her mouth line flattens.
“Hmm, let me check,” she turns to her computer and types a few keys. “No, Devin wasn’t dropped off today.” Her eyes remain fixed on the computer for a moment, then raise to meet mine with fear and pleading that there is a simple reason for this. Perhaps his mom took him for a day out? her eyes say. But I know that is not what happened.
I am back in hell, no longer purgatory, a bright one, full of blue and people. And even with the warmth and brightness all around me, I am frantic and frozen all at the same time. My son isn’t here. I don’t argue with Ms. Nancy because I know that it is true. I didn’t drop him off here. It was like here, but it wasn’t exactly. In some ways, not even close.
For the last five years I have retraced my steps from that morning, trying to find that other daycare; that other- what was it? I never believed in other dimensions or realities. But I do now. There is another world out there. Perhaps dozens. Perhaps infinite. And they live right next to us. A shadow away. A breath. How did I pass into it and how did I get back? How did I bring my sweet Devin there? What were those things with plastic smiles that took my son?
I think the doorway is in the daycare, or near it. But I am not allowed to go there. Even though the charges were dropped against me (they couldn’t find a body, after all), I’m still not allowed to go within 1,000 feet of that daycare. I don’t blame them after the story I’ve told. I can’t recreate it. I’ve got to. I’ve got to get back to that other world.
My wife left me. I also don’t blame her. She thinks that it had something to do with drinking. And while that is possible, I’ve also emptied my fair share of whiskey bottles since that day five years ago to try to retrace my steps from that strange sequence. That, also, hasn’t shown any promise.
No, the world is now constantly full of color. And I’m alone. But I’ve got to find my way back there. I can’t imagine what has happened to him, to my Devin. I rarely sleep. When I close my eyes, I picture those plastic smiles. What were those things? My god.
Credit : Stu Haack
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