About six months ago, I had surgery done on my foot to remove a bone spur. During the surgery I was given a dose of anesthesia to knock me out and numb the pain. Since the surgery I have noticed many inconsistencies in the fabric of the universe. I have come to the conclusion that one of two things took place. The first possibility is that I am still under anesthesia and currently on the operating table. For this to be true, the anesthesia would have to have distorted my sense of time and what has felt to me to be two months is actually less than an hour. The other possibility is that I died on the operating table and this is either a very strange afterlife or I am experiencing an early stage of death in which the images and ideas in my head slowly become distorted as I lose my connection to what we know as reality.
I know this sounds a bit far fetched, but things have been really strange since the anesthesia went into me. When I was first injected I began to feel extremely sleepy. I tried to talk but it felt like my mouth was filled with peanut butter. My eyes closed and all I could hear were the doctor and one of the nurses talking and that dumb song “Life is a Highway” (the surgery center pumped bad pop music into all the operating rooms to “relax” the patients). I was completely conscious and totally immobile. The song was making me angry. Why couldn’t they have anesthetized my ears? It’s a preposterously stupid metaphor. What the heck does it mean? Life goes on for a long time? Life has exits? If you stay on life for thirty minutes you can get to the airport?
I’m not certain of how I got home. It was late in the day. For the next week I flowed in and out of awareness. Pain and pain medicine shaped my reality. I watched the entire first season of the TV show the old CBS show “Wiseguy” on DVD (mercifully, I only remember about ten minutes of it), I ate pizza, I stared at the painting of a woman on the wall and imagined another head growing out of her neck. I could not shake the feeling that something was wrong. I chalked the whole thing up to oxycodone-induced weirdness and figured I’d feel normal once I got the stuff out of my system.
Time passed. My foot began to heal, I started driving again, I went back to work, and I shed my crutches for a boot. Life resumed, but I could not shake the feeling that the things around me were somehow less real then they had been. It’s not something I can put accurately into words, but it feels quite real. The world seemed similar but not the same.
My first visit to the gym was when things started to get really weird. I slowly moved my way through a few machines and went into the locker room to get the stink off of me. As I walked past the lockers there was a guy in a speedo who looked almost exactly like the guy who played Father Damien Karass in the Exorcist films. I had never seen him at the gym before. He was staring into his open locker and shouting. Most of what was coming out of his mouth was impossible to understand. He was raving. I understood the occasional curse word, but most of it seemed like it was in some weird language that he was making up as he went along. I averted my eyes away from him and sprinted into the shower. When I had gotten out, he was quietly staring with this horrible empty expression on his face. Suddenly, I heard him say in a monotone, semi-possessed voice “Life isn’t a highway, is it Keith? Is it Keith? Is it Keith?”
I felt my stomach leap into my throat. “Excuse me?!?!?!”
He just continued staring blankly into the locker.
“What did you say???” I repeated in a panic.
He did not respond.
I did not tell the thing about “Life is a Highway” to anyone except my wife. I strongly doubt that my wife has launched into a criminal conspiracy with some lunatic at the YMCA to drive me crazy so she’ll be able to drive our Saturn more often, so I have to imagine there are strange forces at work here. But what? Why?
Every time I see this guy, he hums a bar from it and smiles at me. He has a sickly, menacing smile. The type that bankers usually reserve for customers with no hope of getting a loan. He jogs next to me on the treadmill sometimes. Humming. Smiling. Laughing to himself.
The other day, he walked out of the gym at the same time as me. He started repeating the phrase “Do you know where we are? Do you know where we are? Do YOU know WHERE we ARE?” in strange intonations about five feet away from me. At first, I sped up, but when he didn’t stop and continued to follow me I knew I had to take some kind of action. I turned to him and shouted “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? Why are you bothering me?!?!?!?!”
He looked perplexed. The man stared blankly into my eyes and began to speak with a voice that betrayed no emotion whatsoever, “Don’t you know where we are?” He reached slowly into his pocket. I was terrified. What was happening? He grabbed my wrist and shoved a piece of paper in my hand. With a coy smile, he turned on his heels and stumbled back towards the gym.
Maybe it was some explanation of everything. Maybe it was a threat. I needed something to make it all make sense. I swallowed deeply and looked at the piece of paper. This had to be the answer. It had to be. It was a ten percent off coupon for the frozen yogurt store about a mile from my house. The orange rain began to pour down from the sky, washing away the beautiful blue sunset. I sat down on the curb next to my car, put my head in my hands and wept.