November 01, 2019
Josh Husk awoke in a bed that had once belonged to him. The sun peered through the nearby window, gently stroking his face. He lay there for a brief moment, feeling the textures enveloping him. The bed was much too small for him, his legs dangling over the side at mid-shin. He sat up, confused and alert as if he had just left a nightmare behind. He took in the room. It was foreign, yet familiar.
The floor was a sprawling, orange, shag carpet; a disgusting sea of burnt pumpkin. Sparse blotches of brown were mixed in, which seemed more like accidents than artistic choices. The length of the shag bordered on experimental, reaching almost two inches in height.
A dial television set sat on the floor, surrounded by an old gaming console. The controllers sat amongst the shag, their wires tangled in unsolvable knots, snaking through the carpet. Action figures were scattered about like the bodies of fallen soldiers. The walls were blanketed with posters from Saturday morning cartoons and beloved video game characters.
It became apparent to Josh, at that moment, that this was his childhood bedroom.
He was thirty-six-years old, but was somehow sitting in a room from his childhood; from when he was ten, to be exact. Josh had moved around as a kid, his father being a drill sergeant in the military. He had collected an assortment of childhood bedrooms, but this one had always loomed large in his memory. There was a large oak tree resting just outside his window. It managed to block the sun on summer days, allowing him to sleep in late, while also providing autumnal bursts of color as the seasons changed. The shag carpet, although hideous, served as an added cushion for rough-housing, protecting him and his friends from unexpected adventures to the ER. And the walnut wood paneling gave the room the warmth of an old den, like that of an intellectual. It used to make Josh feel older than he was.
He examined the sheets and remembered them immediately. They were the very same sheets his grandmother had given him for Christmas last year. Well, not last year. When he was nine, actually.
Why am I here, he thought. And why am I wearing my fancy jammies?
These were a pair of royal blue pajamas, made up of artificial silk. They were his favorite pair. His mother used to call them his “fancy jammies” because he looked like a young gentleman when he wore them. They even came with a bubble pipe that he would smoke while he read his comic books.
“Welp,” he’d say, gently closing the adventures of some caped crusader. “Time to turn in.” It always got a big laugh from his parents.
But these fancy jammies had obviously been modified to fit a thirty-six-year-old man.
And speaking of his parents: he couldn’t remember them. He knew he had them, a mother and father, he even recalled the places they’d lived and some of the things they’d done as a unit: trips, excursions, routines, etc. He vaguely remembered arguments and lectures, perhaps even a funny anecdote they had said or done, but a mental barrier had been erected in his skull that kept him from tangible remembrance. Their faces, shapes, and voices were absent from even the furthest reaches of his brain. Who were they? What were they like? Did he have siblings? Cousins? Aunts and Uncles? Yes, he knew he had a family. But he could only feel the vague, natural idea of them, the personal specifics being muddied by a blanket of fog, only the shadows of episodes and locations becoming clear in fleeting flashes that lurched at him abruptly and vanished as quickly as they had appeared.
He stood, bewildered and overwhelmed. He hadn’t been able to close his hanging jaw since he realized where he was. He felt compelled to explore the rest of the house.
He opened the bedroom door, which revealed a hallway. He carefully entered the dark hall where he found photos hanging from the shadowed walls. The mental fog lingered, like that of a severe hangover, which was only compounded by the peculiar nature of the pictures housed within the frames. They were of Josh at various ages, enjoying various stages of his life, but he couldn’t quite remember them. His first trip to a famous theme park, the time he made the twelve-year-old little league all-stars, his eighth-grade graduation, homecoming. He recognized them, but only vaguely. There were also glaring omissions. He was alone in almost all of them. It was as if people had vanished from the pictures, or been physically removed, leaving Josh by himself. In some, he had his arms draped around nothingness, the frame of the photo naturally too large for a self-portrait.
The hallway led into the kitchen where the rest of the house could be seen. This house was not the house he remembered. This was a house unlike any house he had ever lived in because every room belonged to a different stage of his life. And they were seamlessly stitched together. The kitchen was the same kitchen his family had renovated when they had moved to Oregon. The living room was the living room from their house in Evanston. Through a sliding glass door, Josh could see the backyard, which was the same back yard he and his roommates from college had thrown many a summer bbq during his time at the University of Chicago. It was a Frankensteined home of memory. Josh stood, gorgonized and incapable of movement.
“Hello?” Josh called out to no one in particular.
His gaze was drawn to the dining room table, upon which sat a sacked lunch with a post-it note pasted onto it. He approached the bag, picking up the note, which had been impetuously scrawled in red sharpie.
“Have a nice day at work ;)”
While dumbstruck, Josh felt compelled to normalize his situation. If this were a dream, he would inevitably wake from it. And from what he could surmise, he had a job to do.
He showered in the bathroom that once belonged to his family when they had lived in San Diego. It was his favorite shower as it had a detachable head with a massage setting. In his bedroom, he opened the closet to find only one available outfit hanging: a flashy, blue suit. It was the exact suit he had worn to his uncle’s wedding. He was eleven-years-old. He had been convinced that he was fully capable of picking out a suit of his own. After persistent badgering, his parents finally caved. He had settled on a gaudy, blue suit with flecks of glitter stitched into the fabric of the pants and coat.
“What a dapper young man,” all of the adults had said, laughing to one another.
Josh, being unable to pick up on their subtlety, had thrown a look to his parents, as if to say, “Told ya.”
After adorning the suit, he stared into the mirror. It was tailored to perfection. He felt a lump in his right pocket. As he thrust his hand in, he felt the unmistakable shape of car keys. He grabbed his sacked lunch and headed for the door.
The front lawn was the lawn from his family’s Evanston home. It was his favorite lawn as there was a large elm on the front of the property, from which hung the tire swing he had made when he was thirteen.
“Hey, Joshua!” a voice cried from next door.
Josh turned, frightened. There, working on his lawn mower, was George Pennygrove; his old Evanston neighbor. George was always friendly, an enthusiastic charmer who built model airplanes in his garage. Josh had often helped him with their assembly, marveling at Pennygrove’s craftsmanship and many planes fastened to the walls and rafters.
“…hey, Mr. Pennygrove…”
“If you have some time after work, I’m working on a B-29 bomber. She’s shaping up to be a real beauty. You should come by.”
“Oh. Okay, Mr. Pennygrove.”
“Love the suit, pal. Lookin’ sharp. Very dapper.”
With that, George’s lawn mower roared to life. Josh stood and watched him for a moment, amazed by the familiarity. He took in the street, which was much different from what he remembered. That was because, similar to the inside of his house, it was an amalgamation of streets he had lived on. Across from him sat the Graham’s house, home to Steve Graham, whom Josh went to elementary school with. Next to the Grahams was the two-story home of Patty Miller, who babysat Josh when his parents had worked late. Darryl Herb, the friendly dean of his alma-mater, lived down the street. Weirder still, a house over from George’s was a fictional house: the house from his favorite sitcom. He couldn’t remember the name, but it was that one about the wealthy family who had a poor nephew who came to live with them, and boy did he liven things up! Next to that house sat a massive, plain, birdhouse. It was the exact birdhouse that Josh had built in shop class in the seventh grade. It loomed as large as any house on the block. The street was lined with beloved homes from memory, from television, and from imagination.
A chill went down Josh’s spine as he looked towards the driveway and found the car of his dreams. It was a much larger version of a toy car he had owned when he was a boy. It was a 1957 Cadillac Coupe Deville. The car was candy apple red with white-wall tires, large fins with white and red tail lights, and a thick layer of wax that made it sparkle. It was an illustrious work of art.
Josh popped the key into the door, turning it slowly. It opened. He carefully slid into the driver’s seat, as if he were being pulled inside by a manipulative lover. The steering wheel was oversized and polished, resting firmly in his grasp. He put the key into the ignition and brought the masterpiece to life. It purred with American muscle and capability, eagerly awaiting Josh’s instructions.
He put the Coupe in reverse, gently backing out of the driveway. The car drove like a boat, puttering forward with ease. He could feel it burning a museum’s worth of dinosaurs as it hovered above the perfectly paved blacktop. As he drifted down the street, a breeze brushed his chestnut hair, caressing his face. Neighbors, old friends, teachers, familiar television actors, human-sized birds from the birdhouse, all ventured onto their lawns to witness Josh driving past in his chariot. They offered up salutary waves to him as if he were leading an invisible parade. He captained his ship, wading through a sea of jovial worshipers.
Josh relaxed his shoulders, letting all doubt and confusion slip away. Wherever he was, he was welcome. An internal warmth burned inside of him as an easy smile crept across his face. As he turned onto another avenue, it quickly became a highway. Smooth, straight, and empty. Josh accelerated, feeling the power glide the dream car towards the horizon. In the distance, Josh saw a city. It shined like a beacon, its many nitid windows and structures reflecting the iridescent light like a free-standing surface of water. Josh felt the urge to hurtle towards it. He was unsure of the destination, but it gave him the feeling of home. His foot pressed further onto the rumbling gas pedal, pushing the car to its welcomed limits as the wind brushed his scalp with the gentle caress of a loved one.