Downtown Mt. Clemens, MI
It’s 1 AM on a Saturday night and I’ve just clocked out of work. My apron, removed from my waist and folded sloppily into thirds, lies in the crook of my right elbow, it’s threaded compartments overflowing with ink-stained ballpoint pens and crumpled bits of green paper. Scribbled messages litter the lined guest checks, written in a language only fellow servers could interpret.
6 wings, Mango Hab, Bl chz, cel.
Patron Marg. on rcks, w/s – NO LIME
I shuffle my feet carefully on the soapy, tiled floor of the kitchen, as though it’s a frozen pond.
The back door, propped open with a large white bucket, provides a brief reprieve from the pungent smell of chicken grease and dirty dishwater, hanging over the tiny space like a noxious gas.
“Guys, I’m heading out!” I yell, my voice ricocheting between the worn, steel kitchen appliances and bounding over sauce-stained counter-tops.
The freezer door squeaks open and a large shadow looms in the dim light of the kitchen.
“Okay, baby, be safe,” hums a voice, as silky as the ebony skin of the man it belongs to.
I don’t look back to check if Tony, our lead cook and giant Teddy bear of a man, is watching me make my exit. I already know he is.
Tony’s good like that. Forever on alert, protecting the female servers and hostesses from the dangers of the night.
And there are dangers a-plenty in this neighborhood.
It’s not exactly downtown Detroit, but it’s close enough.
Our back parking lot has long been a breeding ground for drug dealers, crackheads, and thieves.
Driving one street over could land you in a drug-infested wonderland, if you so desired.
I’d vowed to myself that I’d never head in that direction again, after my last experience, nearly a week ago. I’d innocently offered to drive one of the hostesses home that night, and as surely as they say – no good deed goes unpunished.
Upon approaching her house, a man with bulging eyes had approached my rickety jeep’s driver-side window. He’d stared at us, disconcertingly and slowly nodded his head up and down, repeatedly whispering to himself, “Theeeeese… is some young-ass girlssssss.”
The hostess had reached over me and shouted, “No thanks, Morris. We don’t want none!!” and then jumped out of my vehicle, slamming the door behind her.
“DRIVE!!!” She’d yelled as she’d spun on her heels and made a bee-line for her own dilapidated house. And drive, I did. Like a bat out of hell. I’m not proud of it, but what can I say? It happened.
But now, as I make my paranoid trek across the parking lot, I keep a key between each finger of my right hand, just in case Morris should return for an encore. My hand is balled up in a tight fist, the jagged metal poking outwards like a knock-off version of Wolverine. A poor man’s brass knuckles.
I let out the breath I’ve been holding, as I slip into my driver’s seat, doing a quick once-over in the rearview to check for serial killers.
Satisfied with the result, I look up through the glass windshield at Tony, standing in the back doorway of the kitchen, with his arms crossed and muscles bulging underneath his grease-covered apron.
A quick thumbs-up from me, confirms that Ted Bundy has not crawled into my back seat during my shift. Content with my safety, he closes the door, and I’m left alone, drenched in the ghostly-pale glow of the parking lot.
I find the ignition with my former-wolverine-claw-turned-car-key, and start the engine with a faint roar. My right hand absently reaches for the volume knob on the stereo, a habit I’m inclined to, lest the entire neighborhood be woken by the obnoxiously loud Metallica album currently residing in my CD player.
Oddly though, no noise is emanating from my crackly speakers at all, and I realize this at the exact same time that my outstretched arm, lands in a giant black hole.
I shriek, pulling my hand back quickly, as though I’ve miscalculated and accidentally put my hand inside a snake hole. Adding to the sensation, are the free wires that brush my hand as I return it to my body.
I scramble for the overhead button, find it, and illuminate the vehicle instantly.
And there it is… plain as day.
My stereo, has been stolen.
‘What – – oh COME ON!!!’
I scream angrily out into the night.
The broke college student part of me laments the financial loss, although as I think it over, I realize that the stereo itself will probably sell for less money than the Metallica CD that was housed inside it. That doesn’t soften the blow, however.
Aside from the bereavement, another sensation creeps through my veins – one that I can’t quite put words to.
The best way to describe it? I feel…. violated.
Knowing that some asshole has had his grubby fingers inside my dashboard. That some uninvited person had sat in my driver’s seat. Had fiddled with my wires. And I hadn’t been here to witness it.
The intrusion didn’t include just my car. This burglar had somehow managed to strip me of my own sense of safety. He hadn’t just tinkered with my belongings, but left me with an unanswerable question.
A compelling need to know JUST WHAT exactly he had done during his invasion. What all did he tarnish with his slimy, undeserving fingers?
I place my palms on the steering wheel. Did he have his hands in the same spot as mine? Was he looking out the same windshield, at some point? I shiver at the thought.
I throw the car in reverse, and hit the gas.
But as I drive home in my abnormally quiet vehicle, I feel slightly sick.
I can’t shake the lingering feeling of his palpable occupancy, as though it’s suspended in the air all around me. It may not be visible, but it’s detectable.
And I have no idea how to get rid of it.
October 8, 2019
I reach my outstretched fingers into the last unopened pocket of the large hiking backpack, and pull out 2 chapsticks, a tube of SPF, and a miniature, pocket-sized notebook.
I lay the contents on the hard-wood floor, where they blend together with the rest of the camping gear that’s spread across the room in a half-circle all around me, like a colossal rainbow.
My forehead scrunches as I examine the items individually.
A camp stove with little propane cylinders. A rain-flye. A compass. A hand-drawn map of Des Moines, Iowa’s Adventure Bicycle network. A hunting knife.
I’ve held off doing this for too long now. It’s been 2 weeks since I’ve returned to Michigan, and yet I’ve procrastinated combing through this backpack in it’s entirety.
And there’s no question as to why.
Not terrified of what these bits and pieces will cause me to remember. It’s not the memories themselves that incite terror. That’s not it at all.
I’m terrified, because these items are undeniable proof.
Proof of all the moments that I’ve forgotten.
That there are things that I did last month, items that I purchased, people that I met, plans that I made, that I have no recollection of whatsoever.
I know, it probably sounds like I’m exaggerating this for cinematic effect. I swear to God, I’m not.
I have no reason to. As a matter of fact, this story would be much more interesting if I did remember. I’d love to be able to recount, in great detail, what exactly transpired when I left my hotel room in Minneapolis on September 9, 2019.
I wish I had all the information so I could continue this story in a perfectly linear, logical way. But I can’t do that. Because I can’t fucking remember.
Do you have any idea how horrifying that is?
Have you ever lost time?
Have you ever done things, when you were 100% sober and awake… that you cannot account for?
I have. It’s not exciting. It’s not thrilling. It’s awful.
And this isn’t the first time it’s happened to me.
Years ago, I stopped taking an anti-anxiety medication very suddenly, and I wound up in the hospital having seizures from the unexpected withdrawal. When I finally was cleared to come home, my two best friends came to visit me.
I don’t recall what story I was telling them, but I remember that it was hilariously funny.
Except that when I got to the punch line, instead of laughing, they were both sitting there, mouths agape… looking absolutely horrified.
Confusion had overtaken me, and I asked, “What? What’s wrong?”
They looked at each other, swallowed nervously, and proceeded to inform me that I’d just told them that exact same story. Word for word.
As in, I told them the story, and when I got to the end of it, I started telling it again like I’d never told it the first time.
And if I didn’t believe them… THEY HAD THE ENTIRE THING ON VIDEO.
They were understandably concerned, and we never quite figured out what the fuck happened in my brain that caused it. I always assumed it was the meds they had put me on while I was in the hospital, and maybe that’s it – maybe it’s not.
All I know is that sporadically, throughout my life, I’ve had these little episodes where I’ve seemingly lost time. Which is extremely strange, because in my everyday life, I pride myself on having an excellent memory. And I’m not trying to brag or anything, but my memory is pretty ACE. It got me straight-A’s throughout school, nearly effortlessly. I graduated with a 3.98 GPA in college.
What does it feel like, you may ask, to have a chunk of your life excised from memory?
It feels dirty, like someone’s been poking around in your skull uninvited.
It feels like being robbed.
It feels like having the most important thing in your possession, your very EXISTENCE, stolen from you.
It feels like looking around in your own mind, and there’s this foreignness about it.
It feels like there’s a part of you that’s tainted – touched by another.
It feels like you’ve been violated.
It feels, like being paranoid, I mean absolutely paranoid all the time, that the burglar is going to come back.
And there’s nothing you can do about it. Because the burglar
… is you.
From here on out, I’m going to attempt to tell you what I do remember from my disappearance, because there are plenty of lucid moments sprinkled in with the foggy ones.
But I’m only going to share what I can prove to be reliable.
I could try to fill in the gaps by combing through receipts or asking family. But I’m not going to do that. Because this is my story, and I want to tell you what I experienced. However sparse that experience may be.
I may have been robbed, but she didn’t take everything.
And so we’ll start, with my next available memory.
Which is at a cheap, dingy motel, in Baldwin, Wisconsin. Although I’m not entirely 100% sure how I wound up there.
To be continued…