Sometimes you are putting on a tennis shoe in 1970.
It’s 1970, but it feels like 1954, only more brown, and somehow more hip. The tennis shoe doesn’t quite fit, but you put it on anyway because you don’t’ have any shoes. And you need to run. You need to run fast and you need to run now.
You look around you and even though the faces aren’t completely familiar, it doesn’t matter because you know that everyone is playing for the same team, everyone who is tying their shoes. You are all fighting against the same enemy. You know how to distinguish these people, your friends from your enemies, maybe something you haven’t always had skill for, but is essential as you lace your sneakers.
There’s a shuffle, a capture and escape and again you are ducking in and out of doorways, crawling in dark hallways and making yourself invisible. Along the wall, if you move subtly enough, if you breath is just shallow enough, they won’t detect you. They will go on playing tennis and you will slip by. And then you see the man with the white-scuffled chin, you find the tennis shoes that almost fit and you know it’s time to run. You wonder for a moment if you will see this man on the other end?
You start running. Everyone starts running. You start inside and end up in a world much larger on the outside. The expansion of the world as you hit the daylight is almost overwhelming but you don’t stop to stare or observe. You start running and even though not everyone knows where to go, something is leading you and your feet seem to lead you one right step after another. Everyone has fallen into line, everyone is uniform and you are swimming against the tide, but blending in with the school.
Your focus is fixed forward, but as you run the surrounding landscape communicates. Giant rolling, desert-like mountains turn man into insect, the ground is hard underfoot, almost working against you in its stubborn geology. It’s a place for scorpions, for Taliban, desert rangers and snakes. There is more sand and dirt than vegetation, and even though there are bodies moving all around, everything is more dead than alive. There is a breeze, but it doesn’t elevate from the glaring sunlight and everyone is speckled with steam and moisture. Everyone is left without protection.
The landscape is dotted with giant granary or mill equipment. But that’s less important because everyone knows the purpose. It works, but that’s not the function.
There is a face that pushes out of the sea; it’s coming towards you, growing larger and larger.
I know that face.
You don’t question what he’s doing there; only see that on the edge of his being he has something to share with you, something valuable and urgent.
Your paces collide and for a moment you are moving together. Or not moving at all, though your legs continue to move below you.
“Keep going forward, find the path that pulls left and follow it.”
And in an instant the moment is gone, moving away behind you. The face follows and you dare not look back. Though you are unsure if you will see this face again; the familiarity and fondness settle for a brief second, then depart.
Your gaze is fixed again, straight ahead, the line continues pushing forward against the tide and it seems to work. Or feign working. The bodies pull up a steep hill and the bodies moving against seem to tumble down with an exhausted weight, more like corpses than bodies. More like sandbags than corpses. More like an avalanche.
Then there is another face, a face you would prefer not to see. This one hits you instantly and you have to quell the shock of recognition. The face is not familiar but it doesn’t matter, the identification is clear. It’s a face and a body, standing tall and strong, holding ground and authority and the gaze shifts. You would prefer not to see him, but it doesn’t matter because he sees you first. He sees you and it would seem that he sees through it all. But he doesn’t move. He sees you and he remains. Your heartbeat feels the panic, but you pass him without hesitation.
Maybe he knows something? It doesn’t matter – you are still moving, that’s what matters. You’ve passed the polygraph. The line still moves up the steep slope.
You continue. The group veers right. Right. Right? Wait…wait…that isn’t right. This isn’t right.
Passing through the line you reach the front.
“This way. We need to turn around and follow left. There is a path…see, right here.”
No one questions this; the motion happens like a smooth wave and the line re-forms, following the landscape of another steep desert mountain, in a ravine.
More equipment. Shipping crates come into view. Large shipping crates, so many. Stacks upon stacks and no time to stop and consider. You are a few steps behind the white stubble, curving behind a tower of crates, prisons. You feel the space for breathing, for slowing and planning because you are among the few bodies dancing between the towers of shipment.
And then it falls away. The quickest moment in existence takes you back to a small room. Your heart still beating from the run, sweat from the sun but you are surrounding by darkness. From darkness you came and into darkness you re-emerge. Let the heartbeat slow…and fall back to sleep, never knowing if the bodies in the shipment were released onto dry land. Never knowing why you are always searching, running, why the heart beats out of your chest and colors explode into life.