Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


When I was a boy, five aliens entered my bedroom and shined a light in my eyes that's with me still.

I was eight or nine at the time – just a boy. I shared a room with my brother. We had bunkbeds. He was older than me, and meaner. He had the top bunk. I slept on the bottom. My dad had put in some cloth on the bottom of the bunk with cartoon figures. I spent every night staring down Super Grover, listening to my brother talk in his sleep. Then, I snored a while – probably woke my brother up with my snoring – and lived another carefree kid day. Usually the cat came in and spent the night on the foot of my bed, or my brother’s bed above me.

(The first sign of trouble I recognized was that the cat ran off like something horrible had happened to her.)

I was lying awake, wondering why I felt so strange all of a sudden. Then, there was this flash of light, and time seemed to hiccup. Three aliens appeared in the window. They looked in on me with huge, black eyes - like insect eyes in their lightbulb heads. The light flashed again. They were in the room now, and there were two more of them behind the three, and they were all in the bedroom.

I knew time had stopped working right because of the wind. The streetlamp was right in front of our house. We had bushes. Wind blew, and the bushes blew, and I could see them. (The aliens had been standing just beyond the bushes, peering over the bushes voyeurs with vacant faces.) They came up to the bed. I felt their hands on me like cool, dry sponges wrapped in pleather.

God, I was so scared. I was so scared. I tried to move. I tried to scream. I couldn’t do anything to stop them. I couldn’t move a muscle; I couldn’t move a breath.
I heard my brother’s breathing above me, and the aliens were ignoring him. His breath had been paused. I heard the long continuation of the sound of his breathing. He was exhaling and exhaling and exhaling like he was nothing but air inside of him, like a tire eternally flattening.

I couldn’t move my eyes, but I knew there were five aliens right there.

A light came next. It didn’t just flash in my eyes like a doctor. It reached into my eyes. It dug down into my eyes, crawled past my eyes and into my optic nerve. I felt it past that, too, wiggling through my neurology. I felt it all the way down to the tip of my spine. I felt a loss of control in my spine and muscles. My back arched, though I did not want it to arch. What I wanted was to hold very, very still until the aliens left. (Their hands were still on me. Ten hands, forty spindled fingers, all of them marking my flesh in a hum of unfamiliarity.) The light dug into me and dug into me. I felt my whole self being read like a computer file. I felt measurements, like calipers inside of my head. I felt my brain explode in the light.

Then, as suddenly as they came, the aliens left.

The light stayed with me all night. My back spasmed randomly backwards until I felt my hipbone grinding on the bottom of my spine. I felt the light lingering inside of my neurology.

I felt different.

The next day I didn’t say anything to anyone. I got up. I went to school. I raised my hand in class. I sat with friends in the lunchroom, and talked about rock music and homework and extra-curricular activities.

That night, I didn’t want to go to bed. I wouldn’t have, unless the cat had been there. After running off so scared the night before, tonight she slept blissfully at the foot of my bed. I told myself it was only a nightmare. I closed my eyes. I prayed for sleep. I begged the light behind my eyes to leave me alone, not to kill me, to let me sleep in peace.

I told myself it was just a bad dream. It was irrational, and a bad dream. I tried not think about it.
When I was a boy, five aliens entered my bedroom in the night, when time hiccupped and they flashed a light in my eyes and held me down with hands like dry sponges wrapped in pleather.

I wondered why my brother had been spared this fear, this light.

I started to measure all my friends by the light. Had it happened to them? (No, it hadn’t happened to anyone but me. They were happy, and unafraid of the dark night, of hiccups in timespace and flashing lights.) I was often alone. I never let these strangers that hadn’t experienced the alien light inside to where I carried it.
I wondered about the why of lights. Were they measuring me? Were they re-arranging me? What was it for?

I had to make sense of things.

There was always this part of me, separated from my face, feeling this light hiding in me.

(I started to write not long after that. I was in junior high school, and I started to write poetry – terrible, terrible poetry about buildings that were falling down and puddles of water that were drying up. I drew geometric tessaracts in an unsteady hand. Then, I expanded the tessaracts into a warping landscape of boxes that were locked in multiple dimensions at once, and everything was warped and fuzzy and the third dimension was broken into countless planes. I didn’t know what exactly I was drawing until much, much later, but alien abductees often discover geometric arts.)
When I was a boy, five aliens entered my bedroom in the night. They scanned me, or planted something inside of me. I don’t know why they did it, or what it meant.
I was alone all the time. I came home and went to my room alone. I read books. I performed far below my abilities in school. I read more books. I sat by myself at lunch, or played endless rounds of chess with the weird kid that grew up to be a furry.

I gained weight.

I held conversations with the light.

“What are you doing in there?” I said.

The light shined deep in my spine.

“Why did you single me out?”

The light flickered a little, like it was sending an ecstatic morse code somewhere.

I read more books.

“Are you from the future? Are these aliens really just people from the future who evolved into what they became?”

The light shined deep in my medulla oblongata.

“Do you know something about me that I don’t?”

The light moved deep down into my spine, and I felt it like a chill.

“Will the aliens come back?”

To this, nothing.

They haven’t been back that I can recall.

I don’t trust my dreams.

I don’t trust the night.

I stopped sleeping in beds for a while. I was seventeen, and I stopped sleeping in beds. I slept on the floor, hidden among the clothes and strewn trash. I had a hiking pad and a sleeping bag. When I went away to college, I pushed my bed up against the wall and stayed on the floor. I wanted to be in the wrong place when I was asleep, so they couldn’t find me if they came back.


When I was a boy five aliens, their bodies like giant lightbulbs attached to long, wan, naked gray skin, entered my room in the night and shined a light inside of me.
I stayed awake long into the night. I started drinking coffee and staying awake and wandering into cafes that were open long into the night. I never wanted to sleep. I scribbled the dreams I wasn’t having into notebooks, and slept in the daylight hours.
I had hiding places all over the dormitory. There’s this place where I could huddle into a corner and no one found me until my junior year. I spent two years, alone in the corner at the end of a hall, in this strange lip.

I hid in stairwells and fire escapes. I found quiet places in libraries where I could sleep under the lights.

I asked the light if this was the way it was always going to be now.

The light in my ocular nerve merged with the florescent lights in the stairwell.

I realized I could sleep in a bed when I noticed how my roommate had sleep apnea and snored all the time. As long as he was snoring and it was moving, I could sleep unafraid. I could dream for a while.

Things got better when I slept in beds again.

Sometimes I can’t.

Also, and I can’t explain this, but I figured I had to do something great to justify all this fear. I wanted all this fear, from the aliens that scanned me and maybe had planted something inside of my head – some program, or measuring device – to be justified because unlike my brother I would do something great with my life. I’d do something measurable.

And the only skill I had was waking dreams. I wrote all the time. I abandoned music to write more. I burned love affairs down. I burned friendships. I burned them all at the empty document.

What else could it be, but the pen-fed dreams that’s all I seemed to feel any inklings of greatness?


Now I am a man, and I seem to sleep fine most of the time. They’ve never been back. I still feel something inside of my head, but I don’t know if it’s the same light, or if it is only the haunting of a conscience urging me to work harder, faster, better.
Was it all real or was it only a nightmare? Our family watched the X-Files, after all. I was an imaginative boy, ripe for nightmares. After “Willow” I was terrified of trolls. After “The Dark Crystal” I became obsessed with dreams of survivors after an Armageddon. Maybe it was only a dream.

I don’t like to clean my room. I like to be the only one that knows the path across the floor. I keep my windows closed all the time. I stay awake long into the night. Sometimes I like to sleep hidden in the corners of the bedroom, the living room. One time, I fell asleep in the bathtub, but the backache didn’t make that worth it.

I don’t trust my dreams.

I don’t trust the night.

When I was a boy, the aliens were real to me.

Now that I am a man, it feels real enough. After all the things that were shaped by the aliens, whether they were real or not, they're real now.

When I was a boy five aliens came into my bedroom and shined a light in my eyes that's with me, still.

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