The first thing I remember is getting into a beat up 70’s era white van with Benny, Jane, and Rhonda. I don’t recall where we were headed, but our conversation was so rich that I didn’t really pay much attention to the drive. We parked under a gigantic tree on a curbless deteriorating asphalt road.
We got out and looked around – we weren’t quite sure where we were going so we walked across a field of stubble and then a neatly mowed green grass lawn to the back side of a house, to ask for directions. I wanted to just knock on the back door, but my friends said we should call at the front door. They headed through a garage – both ends had no wall so it was more of a covered parking space except the wall on the left was finished.
I tried to go around to the left, but a sprinkler was working hard, blocking my path. I almost got drenched and turned back to walk through the garage. The house looked like it had been built in the 40s or 30s with a traditional foundation. There were two doors with concrete steps leading into the house, one at the front end and one at the back end of the garage. It looked as though the covered parking area had been added some time after the original build. I came around to the front where my friends were waiting on the steps to the front door. I went up and knocked at the door and to my surprise, the woman knew me.
I didn’t know her . . . but I accepted her welcoming embrace, as though I had been gone for a while. The entire house was white walls, austere but pleasant décor, uninteresting furniture. It seemed modern in schema but not in execution. We passed through the living room into the kitchen where I questioned her about where my house was. She pointed vaguely in a direction out the front and to the left and said the number, but I couldn’t get a fix on the number she said. It was four digits but every time I asked her to repeat it, she seemed to be saying something different. At first, it started with an eight, but then it started with a two. She seemed to be reluctant to give me the address of the home in which I apparently lived. A troubled look passed across her face from time to time, like when I commented that I had been a teacher for ten years she had a flash of sorrow and deep concern, but then she masked it and went back to her friendly attitude. All help and kindness.
I said I needed to use the bathroom and she directed me into a bedroom with two single beds and a toilet in the corner, partially masked by furniture, playthings, and some boxes. I was surprised to see a toilet set up in a bedroom and even more surprised when I realized there was a girl lying on one of the beds, reading.
I knew somehow that the woman was a stay home mother with two young girls. I had thought the children would have been about eight and ten years old, but this girl was at least thirteen years old. She seemed unconcerned about my presence, as though she was very familiar with me. She went back to her reading.
After peeing, I went back into the kitchen and asked the woman, whose name I still did not know – wait – she knew my name as Shelley Jensen, so she didn’t know about my name change. This was puzzling. I asked her to write down the address of the house I lived in. She did not question why I wouldn’t know it. When I looked at the paper, it had fifteen or more versions of the address on it. Some were lined out. Some were circled. It was completely random. There was no street name, just the numbers, completely useless.
As I started to ask her to clarify, her husband was there. He had come home from work while I was in the bathroom. He came over, tall and sturdy, and leaned in close to look at the paper, moving his body closer and closer to mine. He casually put his arm around my shoulder with his hand resting on my hip but then he moved his hand sensuously across my bottom, heading for my nether regions. I twisted away just enough to make that difficult and found that his other hand was on my breast. The pencil in my hand flew up of its own accord and smacked the eraser end into his forehead, hard.
He looked flabbergasted, hurt, and in a little pain, but he made no sound and quickly maneuvered his facial expression into something bland. What was this madness?
I moved out to the living room in the front of the house as a group of people were coming in the front door – invited guests filing in, recognizing me or not, uninterested in me, with something else on their minds. Maybe they were coming to a meeting. It was a bit Stepford-wives-ish, but bland, inconsequential.
I moved out the front door, squeezing by the incoming throng, and a teenage boy put something in my hand, saying “give it to her.” I looked at the object, it seemed to be some kind of a key chain with no key. The ring was made of that chain of little metal balls with a clasp that you slide the balls in and out of. There was a lightly embossed globe on the chain – it had a band around the equator that had numbers and letters. You could move the equator band around to position it against an arrow. It was a lock!
I was outside the house on the front porch now, feeling that I had escaped the encounter with the husband. I felt nervous about the lock, that I shouldn’t have it but I was loathe to go back in to the house. I stopped the next person coming in the door and handed him the keychain lock device and told him to give it to the “the mother.”
Then I looked into his face and I didn’t like what I saw. He was creepy, unreliable. He had an unpleasant look on his face. I knew at once that I had made a mistake trusting him with this weird little item. Luckily, another young man came out the door at that moment and I reissued the instructions with him as my witness and I saw that this new person would help see that it was done. They went into the house and I went out on the front lawn, looking for my friends.
I could see from this high point the fields behind the house and an older neighborhood in front of me and to the left. My house was somewhere among them. To my direct left was a field with knee high grass and I could see my friends out there, milling around, talking. I think they were high. Had they snuck off and smoked a number?
As I went out into the field of grey-gold tall grass, I could see flocks of little bugs flying around, like bird flocks. I didn’t think too much about it until one of them flew right into me. The bugs looked like grey-brown roly-poly bugs, only much flatter, with small triangular wings flush up on the sides of their little disgusting bodies.
Many of them landed on me and I fearfully wiped and picked them off my clothing and skin. One of the locals was nearby and they told me that the bugs would not bite me or harm me and that furthermore they were good to eat. That they were valuable. I continued to struggle to get the bugs offa me; some of them had by now crawled inside my clothes.
My friends came to me and helped remove the rest of the bugs and soothed me, walking me back to the short green grass of the mother’s front lawn. They were high; I could smell it.
I asked some of the people, the guests of the mother, about where my house was, what street it was on, but they gave the same kind of indirect information that seemed to be the style here. Was I somehow in the Midwest, where people don’t like to talk about anything directly? I mean they won’t even share a recipe without leaving out the key ingredient that makes it special. And politics and religion? Forbidden. Just talk about the weather and don’t look directly in anyone’s eyes. Am I right?
So my friends and I walked in the direction I thought my house was and they pondered why we were here, that this wasn’t where we had planned to go. I had the same feeling, but how we got here was hazy. I looked back, and in the distance, I could see the white van parked under the tree, getting further away with each step towards a confused future.
I felt that I must go forward, to figure out what the story was about my life in this neighborhood, with these people. How was this even possible? Why did I not remember anything about people who clearly knew me and were comfortable with me. Hell, that handsy man seemed to know me intimately. He was shocked that I rejected his casual advances.
Why was I here? What was the purpose? Why were the directions so unclear? Why did people withhold information from me that I needed to progress?
I felt like I was a time and space traveler, my friends and I. Either that or I had been released from a lunatic asylum before I had a handle on reality. Maybe I was in an alternate universe.
I felt fine, but I was starting to lose connection with what I had been doing before I got into the van with my pals. Where had we been going? Where did I live? How long had it been since I was a teacher? It was all hazy now. This was my new reality. Chapter Two – The Lady or the Tiger?