I'm gonna get you
a lived nightmare
Austin, TX, February 24, 2022: I was in my living room dribbling toothpaste on my sweatshirt when Vladimir Putin started the second Cold War. In the window on my computer screen, Vlad in a crimson tie stared into the camera and when we met eyes, he convulsed. It seemed he was having a seizure, his face turned heavenly white, and I thought he was going to collapse.
But instead he stood erect and the seizing swelled into a vibration. Suddenly from his bald head, lime green hair sprouted, reaching down to his shoulders. Vlad’s features were mutating in front of me, like out of a superhero comic. Until it stilled, a new man wore the same crimson tie. Red lipstick smeared across his lips and up his cheeks.
He mouthed into the camera at me, “I’m gonna get you Arthur”.
I slammed my laptop closed. The pandemic encouraged me to quarantine, isolate myself from my neighbors, but even that was no longer safe. Now a monster aims nukes. It is time to isolate myself from humanity. I will move into the country.
I grabbed my backpack, and tossed in 4 cans of beans, 32 wooden penny matches, and 2 bottles of merlot wishing they were 2 bottles of bourbon. I also tried to cram in a pack of 6 Pilot gel pens and a ream of light green engineering paper, before realizing they didn’t fit. I unzipped the front pouch. A journal! It was labeled: Mexico ———> Minnesota, 2020.
In my mind the streets of Mexico, lined with ceramic tiles, appeared. I opened the journal to the page when I first saw a monster.
Mexico, March 13th 2020: The pandemic frightens me. Government officials had summoned me and my friends back to our home country. Mexico wasn't safe, my president said. And today in a group chat, many friends are saying goodbye, something never considered two weeks ago.
At the start of the pandemic, life had been beachy in Mexico. I lived in a community with friends and strangers and in a home with a girlfriend and neighbors. When I worried, I talked with a friend, or my girlfriend, or simply sat next to a coworker as we worked with headphones on. Being close made the worries go away.
But now tourists no longer arrive, their money no longer feeding the locals. I see people struggling.
This morning while walking around the city, a man runs up on me and whispers in a stabbing voice, “cocaine or ‘chicas’?” Looking at this man, black mascara paints his sunken eyes and I feel the crazed energy of a drug addict. He smiles and the corners of his mouth parse in two, curving up towards his temples, showcasing sharp teeth. I run.
I heard a voice, “I’m gonna get you Arthur”.
I can’t go back outside. Monsters, like this man, lurk in my community. Unfed.
Starting today I will lunch at home, sadly no longer with my nomads. I will workout in house, tragically no longer mingling at the basketball court with locals. When worries arise, I still have Maria, my lovely girlfriend.
Back in my apartment I licked my finger and pressed it to the page. Why did I lost trust in her? I leafed ahead to the page when I left Maria.
Mexico, September 25th 2020: Day #196 of Quarantine. Maria and I are struggling. She craves other people. I crave isolation. Out my window I have mapped the cars in the parking lot. Presently one car I don’t recognize. This is concerning, as it would be for anyone of course. It’s a truck. It has ominous tinted windows and enough room in the cab to shovel a body into.
As I study the truck, someone knocks at the door. Out of the peep-hole, I see Antonio, my neighbor, his eyes sunken. He knocks again, tapping to the tune of a children's lullaby, I swear it, that sounded like “I’m gonna get you Arthur”. Am I losing my mind? Again the tune played, “I’m gonna get you Arthur”. I silence my breath and plug my ears until I eye him walk away as a tail slithers out the back of his shirt, gliding across the street tiles.
Maria from the other room shouts “who was it”? Although I have never lied to her, I did today. “Someone I didn’t recognize,” I told her. I’m ashamed I said that. She’s my girlfriend. I trust her. Don’t I? I can’t tell her these fears. Can’t I? No, if you tell her you hear a voice that someone’s out to get you, she’ll call you paranoid and think you're un-spiritual, someone who doesn’t trust God. I have no one here.
I need to fly home. Back to my people. Back to Minnesota.
Angrily, I closed the journal, slid it behind the ream of paper, and slung the pack over my shoulder. Vlad confirmed my suspicion, people are not to be trusted. Unfed monsters. I hiked due west where I knew of an abandoned cabin on the Pedernales river.
It was 30 degrees outside. No Texan steps out when it’s below 50, so I was surprised when I heard a basketball bouncing on the other side of a church. Around the corner, in the church parking lot, a man bounced a ball. He wore a crimson tie, his face was – painted. I hid behind the church corner. The monster is back.
The basketball stopped bouncing. I’m gonna get you Arthur.
I need to fly away. I hugged my body against the church wall, preparing to spring off and escape down a different street, when an image flashed in my mind of my last day in Mexico.
I stand in my apartment doorway. I just said bye to Maria. My innocent girlfriend hides behind the corner of a wall, unable to watch me leave. I peek my blurry and teary eyes through the crack until she pops her head out. Our eyes meet and between them I close the door.
Onto the church wall, my head falls back in resignation. I didn’t want to run from Maria, I wanted to talk. I wanted to move in close.
I faced the man. He stood in the parking lot with the ball at his hip. Although the voice told me to flee, I approached. After a step, he seemed to shrink in stature. Another step closer, his green hair colored black. Another, his face softened and his crimson tie and black jacket became a hoodie.
When I stepped onto the court, he had mutated into a young lady with the basketball at her hip. It was just a young lady.
"Hi," I said, my voice shaking.
"Hi," she said. "I'm Nissa."
Nissa is a kind name. I asked if it is hard to shoot basketball with cold hands and she told me yes, but “I gotta shoot if I want to make the boys team.” We played PIG. In between shots we talked about the new high school and the guys/girls team and our damn cold fingers.
After our game ended, I picked up my pack and left, eastward I went – back to my apartment.
A block down the road, I put my cold hands into my jacket and remembered a silver lining from Mexico.
Minnesota, November 15th 2020: Back here in the cold my Mom and I walk together daily – no matter the weather. It’s below zero degrees outside? Okay, one extra layer of gloves. We shove our hands into gloves and the gloves into our jacket pockets, and we walk. Our heads down watching for ice. And the only thing that warms us up is to talk.
Talking makes monsters evaporate.
I close my journal. From my pack I pull out a pen, and on the cover, I write a reminder for myself:
War – of the fist and of the mind – isn’t a time to isolate. War is a time to move in closer.
Thank you for reading.