FOR A TIME, the hardest parts of my existence were the nightmares. They came, like clockwork, every night at approximately 1:30 AM. At least, I think it was 1:30 AM; it was hard to see the dim glow of the clock radio from under the blankets and boxer shorts. But, on those rare occasions when I could tell the time, I think it was 1:30 AM.
I would be walking down the street - Anystreet, U.S.A. - with Ray smiling from above. I was free of the bounds of the oppressive underwear, and was hanging with my clean-shaven friends Righty and Lefty. We were the Three Stooges, or, like three little Elvis's, more accurately, with Ray serving as our Colonel Tom Parker. We were probably coming from some adventure, like a Beatles' movie, gently poking fun at the Establishment. All was right in our world.
But then, the scenery would change. Like a bad wipe in Star Wars, the scene would change from peaceful Endor to a harsh desert scene of Tatooine. Suddenly, we were sweating, and the heat coming from the sand below was definitely having an effect on my head. I strained to look at my surroundings - everything was barren. Dry. Dead.
The noise came from our side. It was a monster - some sort of lizard with brown hair and scaly skin. We started running away, and the monster followed. It reached out after us with these long arms and these, these...paws...that wanted to rip our warm flesh from ourselves. Righty, Lefty and I could only hope that Ray's legs were strong enough to keep us from harm's way.
Then we fell. I didn't see the fall happen - I was too busy looking at Lefty and Righty curl into their hiding spot, leaving me on my own. I did see what we all tripped on - a Playskool kitchen set, of all things - and the sand was replaced by a rough carpet, and the desert was actually a living room in Pikesville, Maryland. As the blood rushed to the knee and shins, I blacked out. Hard to do in a dream, I'll grant you that, but when I came to, I looked up to see the monster had 30-weight sandpaper and was about to use it on my delicate sides.
I'd snap myself awake, begging for comfort, but unable to find any. The nightmare was so real, so tangible, it couldn't be imagination only, could it? Surely something was causing my mental anguish. I tired to start a conversation with Righty - he's the sensitive one of the twins - but he was sleeping solidly. What I wouldn't give for rest like that...
These nightmares became more real with the passing nights. I dreaded sleep. I'd pester Ray to stay awake. "Just one more website, Ray!" or "Come on, let's play XBox! I'll let you win, dammit!" or "What's on cable, ole' pal?" but when Ray would hit the mattress, I knew I had no more begging for the night.
The restlessness took a toll on relations with my neighbors. Lefty and Righty stopped talking to me, and Andy, the ass who lives behind us, started talking too much. Loud mouth, and the worst breath. Still, not being able to talk to Righty hurt. I always counted on him. He was my rock, and, he was ignoring me.
I started talking to a doctor. She told me I wasn't getting enough exercise, and I could see her point. However, she pointed out that I couldn't work out in her gym, and that nobody works out in her gym. Hmph. She didn't need to be so snobby about it. I don't need to hang out at the most popular club in town, but not sure if I want to go to a club with nobody dancing.
I met a friendly waitress in Annapolis, and while she wasn't able to exorcise the demons, it was nice hearing kind words. She suggested, rather sweetly, that I needed help. With nowhere else to turn, and still being shunned by Righty, I went into therapy.
Through group therapy, I was told I'd never function if I couldn't get these dreams out of my mind. One solution was proposed to me as initially ridiculous, but it seemed like it might be effective. I was told to remember as much I could about a harrowing experience. The idea was that these dreams were being triggered by some sort of trauma, or, even a near-death experience.
After a deep-tissue massage, I went into a quiet, reflective mood, and my mind recalled the events of the evening these nightmares started.
We all had been out dancing with our friend John Enoch, a young, recently-divorced writer from Baltimore. We'd been out at Rascal's, a nightclub in Towson, Maryland. I remember being attracted to a cute blonde, but she was more interested in the emotionally-fragile Enoch. I tucked my pride into my foreskin vest and played the part of the wingman, as once again I was the Goose to Enoch's Maverick. The blonde's friend wasn't awful on first glance, though an awful highlighting job on a lousy haircut firmly rooted the young lady into a swamp of mediocrity. The hair would have worked on an Adam Ant impersonator - I may be a dick, but I have standards. I wasn't interested, but, duty calls, and I knew John needed me if he would have a successful mission. Ray danced with the friend. Ray was polite, Ray was sociable. I wasn't interested, though. I can't emphasize this enough. I didn't show one throb of interest. She didn't even know I had a pulse.
So, back to Pikesville we went, the whole lot of us, to the townhome of the woman with the lousy hair. We watched a movie in the living room, and as I was plopped down into a comfy chair, a TinkerToy poked Andy pretty hard. He's an ass, but the TinkerToy didn't need to be so rude. I quickly summized that this woman had kids, though I could hear none of the tell-tale whining indicative of children.
John and the cute young blonde went downstairs - to do what, I could only imagine. At that point, the friend looked at Ray and Ray's Pants, so I could safely assume she was looking for a piece of me, too. I was SO not into this right now - I really just wanted to go home. I didn't want to work out for anybody, especially one with a hair cut and highlights that resembled wing tip shoes.
She sauntered over to the comfy chair (I could see this through a strategic opening in the boxer shorts and the light allowed through the pant zipper's teeth) and started rubbing Ray's shoulders. According to the internal memo I got from the shoulders, she had the grip of a Teamster. She kissed the back of his neck, and, according to the me-mail I got, her lips were dry. Based on the information I was being provided, my services would not be needed, and I couldn't have been happier.
Ray got out of the chair and mumbled something about getting some water. He went into the kitchen, the whole time using our combined brain to figure a way out of this. His friend was in the basement, hooking up with some much-needed post-divorce lovin', and he was trying to avoid what could easily become a desperate, awkward situation.
He came back with two glasses, and saw that the woman had taken her (admittedly) cute sweater off and was now wearing a camisole. Again, from my vantage point, I saw this and really wished she'd have left the sweater on. Ray saw a spare room, and asked what was in there, trying to avoid from having to go anywhere near the 50% topless woman.
"That's the boys' playroom," she replied.
"Oh," Ray responded. "How many boys do you have?" He saw the PlaySkool kitchen set in the corner.
She sauntered over "Well, my the younger is 6, and the oldest is 12."
"12?" Ray questioned.
"Yeah, I had him when I was young and dumb. I was barely 15 at the time I had him."
Ray gulped. Hopefully the PlaySkool set was for the younger child.
She put his arm around his shoulders. Once again, his shoulders sent me the message that this was definitely not something to be pleased about.
"Where are your boys?" asked Ray.
"With their father, my ex-husband," she said. Wispering, she added "We can be as loud as we want."
Another body shudder confirmed my fear that Ray was stuck in a situation where I must fight my general nature, along with Righty and Lefty, to avoid doing ANYTHING to get into a situation where I could see the light of day, or, in this case, the dark of the boy's play room.
That's when the pain began.
I felt it, and I was a good foot or so away. She touched Ray's hand with her palm, and ran it down the length of his arm. The pain sent a shock through his arm and straight into the spinal cord. It was searing, like being burned unexpectedly on a stove, or getting a shock from a lousy electric outlet. Ray looked down at his arm; it had turned red.
"You're revved up, aren't you?" the woman asked toyingly, thinking that I was somehow getting aroused by pain (which, trust me, I simply ain't into. After growing up getting smacked around by baseballs, bicycle seats, toddlers and bad follow-through on a tennis serve, I don't need more pain). I looked down to see Righty and Lefty retreat to their hiding spot. Andy recoiled in fear.
"Um, uh..." Ray stammered out. His arm was red - his arm was sending me messages like 12 year old girls with cell phones - and I could tell his arm was ready to chew itself off. Like so many times before and since, I had to do the thinking for him, but this time, to AVOID sex, but yet, not blow things for John downstairs.
She grabbed Andy. Good for my neighbor that Ray was wearing thick pants, but those pants were touched with the acid hands. They'd be ritually burned later.
Being as close to the Freudian concept of the id as possible, I looked for Ray's basic needs at the time. He was fed, he had clothes, he had water. He had shelter. What he didn't have was a good job. However, he had been talking to a phone company in Michigan about a job, and dammit, it's all I had to work with!
"I'm not sure if this is a good idea," said Ray, suprising himself.
"Huh?" she asked, grabbing Andy again, and slowly reaching towards me and the twins.
More forcefully, Ray repeated his previous statement, and added "I'm going to Michigan for a job interview on Monday. I'm leaving tomorrow morning, and, if I get the job, I'll be moving there in a couple of weeks. I sure don't want to start something that would have to end so soon."
The woman stopped approaching me with her burning hands, but instead looked up at Ray. "Why Michigan?"
I let Ray's brain catch up on this. "See, I work in a specialized field. Not many places around here need somebody like me, so I've got to go where the jobs are. Right now, they're almost 1000 miles away."
She turned away, and started crying softly on the couch. "Right when I meet a guy who I think I have a future with, he's leaving! What the hell?"
I was stunned by that comment. I mean, I'm a dick, but I've NEVER thought about having a long-term relationship with somebody I just met. Psycho! I felt the need to see if her decomposing mother was dressed up in a rocking chair.
After a few minutes, she said "You really are special, Ray. You could have done me all night and just left without a qualm in the world, but, you didn't. You're a good guy for not leading me on." She kissed Ray's cheek with her dry lips.
John came up a few moments later, with a big grin on his face. He and the blonde had been downstairs for over an hour (note to self, must get a cockring with a clock in it), and had gotten it on twice. Bully for him. The girl came up a second later, and saw her friend on the couch with red eyes, and put her arm around her. She told the blonde "He's a good guy right there, he really is. I can't believe he's moving to Michigan, though."
Ray shot John a quick eye flare to make sure John didn't even question this news, but, when John saw the awful highlights in a better lighting situation than the bar, he figured it out. *I* had done the thinking for both of us, and had done well.
I was a happy dick for coming through in the pinch like that.
As we said our goodbyes, John and Ray decided to go stop at a diner. John asked if the girls wanted to go along, but they remained. The blonde gave John a big hug, and the woman got off the couch and gave John a hug, and squeezed his arm. The blonde gave Ray a hug, too, and the woman gave him a hug and a lingering look.
On the way to the car, John asked Ray "You didn't get a handjob from her, did you? Her hands were rough!" Ray said "I noticed, and no, I didn't. I didn't want her to touch me" and he showed John the red marks on his arm.
As we got to the car, the woman came out of her house and ran toward us. John had left his phone downstairs, and she gave it back to us. As she walked away, I could see her green skirt through my denim and zipper prison. Once I got a good look at it, she had a nice ass...