The clock ticks. He is awake.
His eyelids are heavy like theater curtains, but last night’s adult beverages bulge in his gut. A struggle between brain and genitals, he muses, as old as time itself.
He rolls over, peeking over the top of his blanket. The window, high and flat, is flooded with bright yellow light. He’d been hoping for the grays or purples of dawn.
The alarm is set for 7:30.
Time to write. His conscience. Nagging. You said you’d write.
He doesn’t move. The time is 7:26.
On his nightstand, a cornucopia of pharmaceutical wonders awaits. Clonazopam, for the panic, 2mg, twice a day. Venlafaxine: depression and anxiety, 250 mg, once daily. Ambien to sleep. Mesalamine for the gut. Benzos, SSRI’s, painkillers. Blue, pink, white, yellow. All the colors of the lunatic rainbow.
He’d had his first panic attack in college, during an exam. Soon, he stopped going to class. Stopped leaving the apartment. Stopped getting out of bed.
The school had therapists. His was a young woman, stern and judgmental.
“What do you remember about our last session?”
He thought back. Small talk. Loneliness. See you next week.
They taped their sessions. His image buzzed to life on her computer screen.
“Look how little you speak,” she says. Your eyes. Your slurred words.
Blame the yellow ones, they make your head cloudy, like metamucil in water.
She had nearly sent him home, she said. What did he have to say for himself?
Jesus, lady, he thought, you’re the worst drug dealer I’ve ever had.
His bedroom is a disaster, a Hiroshima photo; his bed a temple-arch jutting out from the debris. Four weeks worth of laundry overflows from the hamper like pus from a pimple, painting the floor, a Jackson Pollack of jeans and ironic t-shirts.
His workspace is always ready. That’s the easy part. Pencils and pens are arranged, by color and variety, in a neat row inside the top drawer of his desk. Ashtrays, his daily whipping boys, sit clean on both the desk and the coffee table. Still, he manages to miss the dark grime under his fingernails, the matted and overgrowing neck-beard.
He rubs his feet against the sheets of his bed. Back and forth. Repetitive motion mirrors the heartbeat, says Dr. Bob. Calls it soothing. Bob’s one of the good ones. He’s been there before, struggling with inertia, with being stuck. He gets it.
Ritualize the writing. Force yourself.
He can feel bits of dust rubbing against his shins. He should change the linens.
Work is waiting. Not real, nine to five, “sweat on your forehead” work. He’ll never be capable. Instead, it’s the computer that looms, an audacious blank page, its tiny text cursor blinking, blinking, blinking. Wake up. Grow up. Get busy.
If you don’t, you won’t.
Notebooks filled with outlines, plots, and sketches sit on every bookshelf, on the nightstand, on the desk. He worships them, their pages filled with ore. The moments before ideas turn to prose, when he lets them out onto the page, where they can sour like milk.
Writers write, he thinks. What does that make you?
Dr. Bob gave him a book about these monks. They walk from one mountain top to another, then back. No shoes. No breaks. White people come. To challenge themselves; to match the monks’ endurance of body and mind.
It’s all about the destination for outsiders, an elder said. They stare at the mountain top in the distance, instead of their feet, as the monks do, watching the ground as they pass over it it. The weight of the journey ahead breaks the outsiders’ backs.
Each step is a gift. The destination will still be there tomorrow. All you must do, in this moment, is take one step.
Take. One. Step.
Before the minute hand clicks over the six, he clicks off the alarm, and rises.
G.A. Rozen is an MFA candidate for fiction at Columbia College in Chicago, and a graduate of the undergraduate creative writing program at the University of Michigan. He’s afraid of spiders and loves bacon. When not writing short fiction or working on his first novel, he can be found gluttonously consuming film or television, debunking myths and conspiracy theories, or looking for story ideas in the darker, deserted corners of Chicago.
© 2012, G. A. Rozen