Sleep is an enemy. An enemy of the weak.
I’ll admit that.
But, only to myself.
Other people don’t see it. They don’t know how weak I am. How I reject sleep. They think I’m hardworking, that I’m invincible. Unstoppable. Camera crews kill each other for shots of me, and interviewers plague my phone begging for just a second of my time.
They think I’m strong.
But I can’t sleep.
Not because I don’t want to–because I do. Like hell, I do. I’d give my soul for sound nap, and I’d give three lifetimes over for the chance of a full night of rest. But, deals with the devil weren’t my specialty.
So I don’t sleep.
I don’t sleep because I always dream.
I always dream.
Rubbing my eyes, I agree to go out with Kyle. It’s just a few drinks, so why not? I could use a break. Maybe the alcohol will knock me out, give me a handful of minutes that don’t mingle into madness.
So I agree.
I’m an idiot.
Of course it was a trap.
This isn’t just some bar that he’s picked out at random, like I’d thought. This place was picked for a reason.
This is our high school reunion.
“You…” so many bad names and insults flit into my brain that I can’t settle on one long enough to speak it.
“C’mon, don’t be so stingy Ben. Enjoy the reunion! Look, I already got you a beer,” Kyle says, drawing me to a table with Simon and Kent.
I sigh. “Fine. But only because you got me a beer.”
Luckily for me, it’s already at the table. Without hesitating, I put the drink to my lips and take a few large gulps. It allows me to get my bearings.
Everyone, it seems, came.
It chafes my nerves to know that we’re all here. That all our lives are on display tonight. That everyone is going to be asking everyone what they’re doing, how they’re doing, how they got where they are.
The word washes out the bile that the thought of being interrogated brings. And I swallow the comforting word-pill with some alcohol to make it taste even better.
For a while, I’ll be alright.
But as I look at Kyle–who is, fortunately for him, my best friend–I realize I can’t stick around long. Because if everyone’s here, then everyone is here.
And that includes her.
What the literal hell Kyle, I think at my grinning best friend. How stupid are you?
I half-listen to the story that Simon’s telling about he and his wife’s first kid, but I get cut-off because I hear it.
The laugh, actually.
I slam my beer on the table with force, surprising my high school buddies.
“I have to piss,” I announce, and then head towards the bathroom.
Luckily, I calculated right. The bathroom is the exact opposite direction of that laugh.
In the bathroom, I find that it’s too much. That my worst fantasies are here, have arrived in horse and buggy. With bugles and trumpets and red carpet.
Part of me feels like throwing up. That’d be enough to wash the bad taste from my mouth. But that’d be a waste of the beer, and the alcohol still hadn’t kicked in yet. Throwing my stomach away would be a complete waste.
Besides, if I did that, she’d win.
The very notion that anyone, especially her, would win out over me boils me to my bones. It makes me roaring mad. The inferno in me rises up, and I feel the resolve that I came in here to get rest into my control.
I won’t lose.
After I pee for real–because I really did have to pee–I throw the bathroom door back open, ready to fight.
Unfortunately, the bathroom being in the opposite direction of her means that she’ll be in my direct line of sight when I return.
I won’t let her beat me.
She’s already taken over my dreams, I won’t let her take me away from the rest of the things I want.
Wait. Since when did I want to be here?
Huh. That’s strange.
I think that this must have been Kyle’s plan all along. To trick me into coming here, and then reverse-psychology wire my brain into thinking I actually want to interact with these idiots.
I’m back at the table, and I realize I haven’t had the displeasure of seeing her yet.
But I take it as a sign.
Without much ceremony, I chug the rest of my glass. Once more, I slam it down.
“Nice seeing you morons, but I have to be out of here,” I tell them.
Simon and Kent look disappointed, much to my surprise.
“But, Shirley hasn’t seen you in ages. She’ll be upset if you don’t say hi before you go,” Simon tells me.
“Tell her I said tough cookies Simon,” I reply, nearly snarling.
Kent grins at me. “That’s the Ben we all know and love. Not that crummy, soft, heart-warming stuff we see on the TV.”
“Who says I’m soft?” I growl.
Kyle sees my temper starting to rise, so he takes over.
“Easy Ben. No one’s going to make you stay if you don’t want to.”
Translation: go before you make a scene and I have to clean up for you.
I snort. “Fine. Whatever. Later.”
Kyle’s damn lucky he’s my best friend, or I’d have started a bar fight right then and there.
Outside, the wind tries to bite at me. So I spit at it and zip up my leather coat.
“Asshole,” I mutter.
“Who’s an asshole?”
The voice chills me sixty times more than any wind ever could.
“You are,” I reply without turning to find the source. I know who the source is, but I really would rather not know where the source is.
“That’s mean. We haven’t seen each other in ages, and thats’ how you’re going to greet me?”
“I wasn’t planning on greeting you at all, on account of the fact that the last time I saw you you were running away.”
Taking it there was playing dirty. Probably, she just wanted a nice and polite conversation.
Who gives a rat’s ass?
Yeah. She was the one who quit. Besides, she left me. Why the hell would she even want to talk to me in the first place? Aside from rubbing it in.
Yeah. Who cares?
I stop being so damn amicable and keep walking toward my car. I press the button on my key to unlock the doors and climb in.
The second my boarding stops the car from moving, I realize that the car hasn’t actually stopped moving.
Someone else is in the car with me.
Gritting my teeth, I don’t dare look over.
Because I’m afraid.
Supposedly, I’m the boldest man in the country. Brave and strong. A true hero, and a lion-heart.
And I’m afraid of this girl.
Stupid, stupid, stupid…
“Ben, I want to talk to you.”
“Clearly. But, clearly, I don’t really give a shit.”
My harsh words would out anyone else off. Make them leave the car, at the very least. A lesser woman would cry probably.
But not her.
Honestly, that’s why I fell for her in the first place. I’ve always been this harsh. This volatile. I don’t know what instinct I was born with, but it seems to be the exact one that goes against the grains of everything socially normal, acceptable, or polite. Additionally, it seems that I was born with the foulest mouth. One that was designed with blowdarts and a sword tongue. Most people avoided me in my private life for that very reason.
But not her.
Never did she ever think less of me for this weird, backwards way that I was.
But then, she’d left me.
She left, she left, she left, I chant in my head. Trying to force myself to focus on why I couldn’t talk to her. Why I was leaving.
She can’t care about me that much if she left me before, right?
“Ben, I want to talk to you.”
“Are you not doing that right now?” I ask, my tone steely.
“I want to talk to you about why I left.”
“Does it matter? YOU LEFT,” I snap.
And I snap.
Everything inside me is rage now. Inferno times ten. A fire that desired to burn up everything–everything–in its path. I wanted nothing to grow. No green left. I wanted ash and I wanted embers and I wanted cinders and dust.
This fire should have it all.
“But me reason–”
“DOESN’T MATTER,” I roar. “YOU LEFT. HOW COULD THERE POSSIBLY BE MORE TO SAY?WHAT COULD POSSIBLY MAKE IT OKAY WITH ME, HUH? WHAT?”
Now I’m looking at her, because I want her to see the rage in my eyes. The fire that’s burning me up, eating me alive. The fire that’s consuming me, forcing me to run and run and run. A sleepless refugee, using the night for nothing more than slaving away. For nothing but running out of control.
Because if I were to ever fall asleep, it’ll stop.
She’ll get me.
I’ll call her up. I’ll dream about her. I’ll accept whatever reason she’s about to give. Accept why she left and get over it. Forgive her for it. Which wouldn’t be such a bad thing, if it weren’t forgetting. Because, I would.
If I sleep, I’ll forget. The fire will be washed away by the rain that comes at night. By the waters that sneak in while I sleep. I’ll remember how refreshing it is to be cleansed, to be washed, and I’ll forget all about the fire. About all the damage her careless flickering flames caused.
And I’ll go back.
And I’ll get burned.
Again and again.
Better to be the fire than consumed by it. That’s my motto.
But, when I turn to her and look at her, I see in her eyes the water.
“Ben, I left because my mom needed me. My family needed me Ben. You have to understand that.”
The bile builds in the back of my throat, and I regret not throwing up in the bathroom.
“I wasn’t your family? You couldn’t have told me? Asked me for help? You’re just like the rest of them, aren’t you? You think I’m a monster.”
“No, Ben, I never thought that. I just… didn’t want you to get mixed up in the family business, that’s all.”
“The family… the hell? Are you in the mafia or some shit?”
She’s quiet, but when the answer is bad, she’s always quiet.
What the hell…
“I’d like to explain everything to you, if you’ll let me,” she says, her voice silky soft. A pillow amongst a dreamless waste.
I want to say no. Half of me is screaming to. Half of me demand that I reject her.
NO. NO. NO. NO. NO…
But I’ve been without sleep for so long…
“Are you going to explain it right here, or am I taking you somewhere?”
“Whatever works better for you.”
My teeth click silently together as I grit them again. She’s not challenging me, she’s giving me an option, I know that. And I know it isn’t a simple option either. If she left me for a reason, and she’d like to explain it, she probably wants to get back with me. Leaving this open-ended is more than a challenge.
It’s an invitation.
And I’m a weak man.
So, so weak.
Because all I want to do?
“We’ll go back to my place then. I’m beat. I haven’t slept in over a week.”
“Okay,” she says, buckling herself in.
I’m so mad at myself. So, so mad. Because I know that, tonight, even though I’m exhausted…
I’m still not going to sleep.
Because sleep is the enemy of the weak.
Author’s note: Still don’t know if it’s good or bad for them to get back together honestly.
Written on 12/20/17