by Scott F. Parker
So it’s after Hood to Coast (and if you want me to I can tell you about that too), but it’s after Hood to Coast and the race is over and we’ve had dinner and all that and some of the people have driven back to Portland already and there’s like six of us left—me, my sister, Danny, Jeff, and somebody else I can’t remember, so maybe five, or maybe I’m forgetting two people—anyway after dinner and everything we go up to Astoria, where we’re going to stay with a guy who’s friends with my sister’s friend Di. Now we get up there and it’s about, say, eight o’clock and the sun is setting—we’re inland from the water and we can’t see it, but it’s about that time—and we’re tired, right. We’ve all been running through the night and not sleeping much. And for me, on top of that, I did a lot of the driving and so had barely slept at all. I’ve been having a hard time keeping my eyes open throughout the day, which maybe explains. So we’re all tired—and we had beer at dinner, so that’s a factor—and we’re going to sack out soon, but first someone is like, Hey, guys, I got this joint off my brother’s roommate in Portland and I’ve been carrying it around since the race started and I’m going to smoke it if anyone wants to join me. Like I said, the sun is setting, which as you know is always a magical time on the coast when the sky’s even the least bit clear, and it seems like a good idea to smoke a little, relax, and pass out on this guy’s basement floor. So we go outside to the backyard, which is just through the door from where we’re going to sleep and Danny, it was Danny’s joint, takes it out and lights it and we progress through the standard ritual of taking a couple of hits and passing it around the circle until we get to that awkward point when the roach is so small no one really wants it but no one wants to miss out either so it keeps going until finally someone has the good graces to say, I think this is cashed. Now this is where my memory gets a little unreliable. We stay outside for a minute trying to talk because it’s so nice outside and the sun’s just gone down and the temperature is comfortable and the ocean air is fresh and it’s wonderful, but the thing is no one’s really saying anything, so as conversations go it’s not much. I wonder if the reason no one’s saying anything is that everyone’s so high. I know I am. But then I get slightly paranoid that maybe everyone’s not so high and that normal amounts of time are passing between comments and it just feels weird to me because I am so high, or maybe they’re so quiet because they can all tell how high I am and they’re communicating about me in some kind of code I can’t pick up on. The point of this is that the amount of time that passes here is indeterminate, but everything from the moment someone mumbles I’m going in and everyone else starts shuffling around to follow it becomes terrifyingly clear. Nothing like this had ever happened to me and nothing like it has happened since, but here’s what happened: I just went blind. Straight blind. Not a single visual input. Nothing. I assume it was due to some combination of the weed, the fatigue, and possible dehydration from the race, but I was blind and since I was blind I decided to be the last one outside so no one would see that I couldn’t see. But this is when being blind took a sudden and severe existential turn. As the shuffling and the mumbling squeezed through the door and faded away from me and I was left behind in the blackness I had the most intense feeling of aloneness I’ve ever known. But it wasn’t a loneliness that could be cured by company. Being around other people would have freaked me out even worse. Someone else’s presence would have intensified it. A witness would have forced me to see myself from the outside too, which would only have made the isolation starker. This was aloneness like the world had ended I was the only person who hadn’t gotten out. I felt myself drifting out into a darkness I would be trapped in for all eternity. The natural comparison that first came to mind was space. If you could survive in space, like breathe and not freeze, that’s what it was like: just me out there adrift, time entirely meaningless. But then somehow—probably because we were in Astoria—space started to morph into the ocean and this wasn’t an ocean that I would get into but one that was coming for me, rising and rising, going to take everything. It occurred to me that being blind I might make the mistake of walking in the wrong direction, in which case there was a good chance I’d end up heading for the very ocean that was coming for me, walking right into it. I knew the ocean was miles away, but I also was convinced, primordially, that it began at the edge of the yard and the only thing that could protect me from it was the house I couldn’t see. This is when I decided to set out on the crucial journey to find my way into the house. I had to act practically. I knew that when you’re lost the best thing is often to stay where you are and not get even more lost. Luckily, I hadn’t yet moved, which meant I was still in proximity to the door. I knew that if I could find the house (as long as it was the right house) I could feel my way around the perimeter until I found the door. The important thing was going to be to make sure that from where I was I aimed at the house and not out toward the ocean, where oblivion stalked. I put my arms up outstretched in front of me and start moving them slowly side to side ready to make contact with something. Feeling nothing but cool air I shuffle my feet slightly forward and continue reaching with my arms. Before long (I’m only like five feet from the house) my fingers scrape against dry wood and I know I’ve found something. I step closer and confirm that it is the side of the house. I run my palms against the wood shingles in the relief that I’ve reached an important destination along my journey. Next, I feel my way to the left, as I recall this is where the door will likely be. When I find the door I spend a few moments locating the knob and making a plan for what I’ll do depending if it’s locked or unlocked. It turns out it’s unlocked. I open it and I still can’t see anything so I get down on my hands and knees and start crawling through the room. It’s silent in there and I hope I’m in the right house. I wish I could hear familiar voices so I’d know I was in the right universe, but if this is the right house, I think, and they are all asleep I won’t have to tell them about how I’m blind. I feel a sleeping bag with my hand and I’m so overjoyed to have returned from my journey that as I start climbing into the bag I fail to realize someone is already in it until my sister says, What are you doing, and I say, Where’s my sleeping bag, and she says, Over there, and I continue crawling. When I find my bag and there’s no one in it and I determine that I have returned, this is when it gets crazy. The only way to say it is I go fucking manic. It’s as if I have access to all the words in language and I have to use them immediately. It’s a huge sprawl of sound that spills out of me all over the room, the house, the ocean, my friends’ ears. I tell them about being blind and what it’s like to stare into the void and the trying journey back and the part about my sister’s sleeping bag and how amazing it was and what joy I feel to be alive. Time is an elastic concept—it stretches and bends with gravity, but it doesn’t break. It feels to me like I told this story, repeated it, made variations, sought new ways to articulate the meaning and mystery of existence for hours. Meanwhile, not one of the others said a word. I asked them, Am I crazy? I sound kind of crazy. I don’t feel crazy, but I sound crazy. I really didn’t feel crazy. I felt blissed out, the best kind of manic: the kind like a battery that will never lose its charge; the kind when the world is a brain and all the neurons are connected, all the synapses are firing, and the action potentials triggered by nothing or literally everything; the kind where time isn’t elastic, it doesn’t even exist. I returned again to theme of communication and how to express what I was feeling inside, how to confirm that they were feeling the same way I was, or if they were feeling some other kind of way could they communicate it to me? To have come so close to nothingness, anything else had to celebrated, exalted, was how I felt. But no one said anything and eventually I fell asleep. In the morning, we got up and loaded up the van and said goodbye to the guy whose house we had stayed at and hit the road for Portland. As we crossed the Old Youngs Bay Bridge out of Astoria, I turned around in the front seat to ask everybody if it was just me or had things taken a bit of an odd turn last night but stopped myself. There was nothing left to say.
Scott F. Parker is the author of A WAY HOME: OREGON ESSAYS and the editor of CONVERSATIONS WITH JOAN DIDION, among other books. His work has appeared in many publications, including Tin House, Sport Literate, Fiction Writers Review, and Oregon Humanities. He teaches writing at Montana State University.