HE FIRST TIME IT HAPPENED, I was buying ramen in the grocery store at two in the morning. I remember every detail. It wasn’t like a witness in a police station trying to describe what happened, the officer sitting at the desk, fingers on the keyboard and eyes locked on the screen, trying to get the event straight for the record, asking about details like, “What color was the truck,” and, “What street did the truck turn down after it struck Sally,” while Sally’s friend Janet is sitting in metal fold- out chair, her mind spinning in her head like a globe her teacher had in the second grade, the seas and mountains blending together and all Janet can say is, “It happened so fast. I don’t know. It just happened so fast.”
I had a second-by-second record of a twenty minute period, like a news crew was in my head with a camera aimed at every sense so they could play it back in slow motion, starting with the second I raised my hand to pull down a red and yellow, beef-flavored ramen package. When I uncurled my fingers to wrap around the ramen, I froze. My organs went nuclear. The AC made the hairs on my arms stand on end. I checked my peripheries to make sure the aisle was clear of enemies. I made a checklist of everything I had on my person. I wasn’t wearing my belt, and the only other things I had was a set of keys and my wallet. I could throw either of them at any threat, and while the threat was involuntarily raising its arms to bat away the keys or wallet I could punch the threat in the throat, the drawback being I would have to neutralize the threat, since abandoning my keys meant I couldn’t get into my car and abandoning my wallet meant losing my credit card, driver’s license, military ID, twenty bucks, and several coupons. The information on driver’s license was out of date, so if the threat used it to try and find me it would lead to my parents’ house. Since they lived an hour and a half away, I could call them so they could prepare for the incoming threat, but the situation wasn’t ideal.
(there was a forest sanctuary on one side of the road) where anything could be hiding, up to and including snipers and bears.
I needed to move. I thought, 'If I stand here in the middle of an empty aisle with one hand by a pack of beef ramen, someone is going to get suspicious. They might realize who I am.' Which is an odd thing to think. I could have thought, 'Man, I must look weird,' or 'What will people think?' No, I was thinking, 'I’ll blow my cover. My enemies will find me. They’ll see right through my civilian attire.' I forced myself to grab the pack of ramen, then selected more and put them in my basket. My joints were full of sludge, I had to relearn how to move. 'How do I swing my arms so I look natural? If I grab too many ramen packs, will I draw unnecessary attention to myself? What if I grab too few? Can I force the hairs on my arm lay down?'
Picture the last time you walked somewhere. Were you watching the ground the whole time? Did you pick a square inch on the floor and line it up with the center of your foot before you stepped, making sure it was firmly planted before taking another step? Were you keeping track of the movement of your toes? Were you calculating the effect the wind would have on your walking speed?
That’s what I was doing.
I went through the checkout line, keeping an eye on the clerk, a fifty year old woman with glasses. She had a lot of space to keep firearms behind the counter. I went to the parking lot, walking down the middle of the lane and listening for footsteps so I wasn’t ambushed, and got into my car, feeling safer (the little red Escort was both an escape and a weapon), thanking God I hadn’t been environmentally concerned that night. My apartment was only a mile away, and I usually didn’t buy much, so sometimes I walked. I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like that moonless night walking past the woods (there was a forest sanctuary on one side of the road) where anything could be hiding, up to and including snipers and bears.
It took me hours to get to sleep that night. I took deep breaths and drank a glass of milk, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone with a knife might be in the hallway or behind the couch. The next morning I made coffee and decided to chalk the whole thing up to a glitch in my brain’s software, something that just happened and wouldn’t happen again, but days later the feeling I might be going crazy still clung to the edges of my thoughts, so I sat down in my living room with my cat and ran through the seconds between when I froze and when I reached the car. I searched through my memory like I was watching a movie in slow motion, looking for an image in the background that I might have noticed subconsciously, but I couldn’t think of anything out of the ordinary (except for my brain), so I thought about what happened just prior to the event.