The first day after final exams I did not move. Almost literally. The opening semester of graduate school had ended the day before with two straight hours of handwriting an essay on modern poetry. With a crooked wrist on my writing hand and a brain sweating from exertion, I aimed to be as insentient as possible on my first day of freedom. But it didn’t really feel like freedom to my body. It’s weird how this works: You get into a rhythm so much to where if you’re not living in that rhythm your body begins to crack a bit. Throb. Tremor. Twitch.
This is exactly what happens on my first day off. In a drunken stupor of mental paralysis that spreads to my body, I lie on the couch trying to remember how to do nothing. And my body wants nothing of this. It begins to fidget on its own. I start to empathize with dogs, understanding for the first time how they can sit on the living room rug and stare at their tail while it moves. They’re not taunting themselves with their tails; they’re literally watching a separate being of their body—a wholly opposite entity.
I get up from the couch and make coffee. Then, I move over to my front window and place my blue mug down on my blue bookcase. I stare at them for a moment, entranced by their colorful correspondence and wonder if, at some time in the past, perhaps the same dye used for the royal blue of my mug and the baby blue of my bookcase came from the same indigo plant. Perhaps, as the mug rests on the bookcase, the two hues are taking stock of each other, recognizing one another, and asking, “How the hell’d you get here?” I consider this inaudible interchange to be very likely.
I then look out the window. The house my apartment’s in is basically in Dairy Queen’s backyard. A narrow strip of asphalt they call a street divides me from their parking lot—a strip of concrete made jagged and bulbous enough from years of inclement weather and the weight of big ass trucks to where, if you drive over it, you’ll be convinced that your car, no matter how new it may be, has become the most ragtag jalopy. I’m drinking breakfast coffee, but it’s close enough to lunchtime that the Dairy Queen brazier vents are pouring forth their plumes into the air. Dairy Queen does very good business. Every afternoon, a row of cars snakes around the building and out into the street, choking the restaurant, clogging the parking lot like a turd coughing carbon, and holding up traffic on Northside Drive. I can always hear the drive thru intercom from my apartment. The girl with the headset is black, but the mic makes her voice sound stereotypically Asian.
Sometimes I walk across the street and buy a Blizzard. I’m determined to avoid being known by name there.
Smoke is just pouring into the sky. I wonder how many cows are going to die today. I really want a burger.
In my head, I pretend to calculate how many cows are being consumed today even though I can’t possibly know the number. Plus, I’m no longer good at math. I used to be great at math, but after more than six years of focusing on literary aspects of life, I’ve realized my ability to perform calculations is quickly fading. And I gave away my calculator months ago anyway. That was a dumb choice, I think to myself.
I haven’t taken a math class in seven years.
At some point I’m supposed to do something today, right? (Maybe enroll in a math class.) This is what I wonder while also wondering how many cells of cows are being airborne as I sit there taking it all in. I lie down on the couch to ponder what my next move will be on day one of freedom. Three hours or three minutes could have gone by. I really have no idea.
I had made up a reading list for my Christmas break, so I consider starting on that. Half of it is reading for schoolwork. The other half is reading for fun. I weigh the option of starting the fun reading, but even the consideration of the energy it will take to decode and process the meaning of coordinated ink images on paper starts to make my head hurt. I haven’t even touched the book and my head hurts. Not to mention the effort it would take for my finger to move a page.
I become convinced I can’t do anything today. But I look at my body again and see that it’s not handling this concept too well. It’s twitching. Something’s not right. It’s supposed to be moving. Turning a page at the very least.
When I was a child, I was very hyper. I’m no longer like that, but the main theme of it all still exists and resides within me: I always have to be doing something. So really, when I have these moments where my mind and body rage over how or should or if I rest, I’m really no different than a colicky toddler resisting the nap when the nap is the very thing he needs. Do we ever truly grow up?
Oddly enough, I end up taking a nap. Then I wake up and watch a movie. This is my day. Soon after, the sky is dark. Here’s why I struggle with these days: I’m left with wondering what the point is. What did that accomplish? To me, a day of complete rest that will enable better work in the future is not a good enough purpose. Because what if I die tomorrow and don’t get to that “future” point which I was resting for today? Suddenly the rest seems all for naught. If I’m alive today, there has to be some reason. That doesn’t mean I necessarily have to be the one doing something. Maybe I just have to see something, hear something. Whatever it is I don’t know.
My girlfriend calls me. I pick up the phone. She says do you see the moon? I say no. She says where are you? I say I’m inside. She says well then go outside. I go outside. I see stars, but no moon. I wonder if this is a joke. Then I remember there’s a massive magnolia tree growing over the staircase to my door. It’s probably blocking my view. So I walk down the steps and out into the street made orange by the lamplight. Removed from the doorjamb of my apartment, a chilly breeze whips around my bare legs. Probably low forties. I’m wearing gym shorts, a thin hooded sweatshirt, and slippers. I have a beer in my hand. My beard’s way thicker than I like it to be. If someone were to drive by, they’d probably think I’m lost but not too lost because he has a beer and slippers so we probably don’t need to help him okay keep driving. I’m just standing in the middle of the street, turning around in a circle. I see no moon. This is ridiculous. Freaking Carmen Sandiego stealing the moon. I walk over to another street out of a last ditch effort, turn one way and see nothing, then turn around and there it is.
It’s huge. It nearly fills the gap of sky between the trees lining the street. I’ve never seen the moon so big. A curved chunk is lopped off the top as if the sky’s black eyelid is drooping a bit. It’s so orange it’s almost red. Blood orange moon. Its divots and craters look almost blue, like pockmarks and bruises. This ball of rock floating out there seems to shimmer and hum with life, and I don’t think that was the beer.
There are some sights in life that pause you. And it can sound idiotic, transcendental, mystic, or straight up sloshed to say the following, but it’s true: You believe you were meant to see this. And you want to take it in as long as you can.
And I did, until I couldn’t feel my legs anymore. It may be Georgia, but it’s still December. So I go back inside.
That was my first day of freedom. I didn’t feel very free. I had no academic responsibilities, yet I felt like I needed to have them to be normal. As much as I can sometimes hate the hectic pace of graduate school, I suddenly felt lost when I was without it. People who have been kidnapped and held against their will for a long time sometimes have this psychological shift. There comes a point where the kidnapper no longer has to keep them tied or chained or handcuffed to a pole. They won’t leave their assailant. Their attacker is all they know. I’m not saying graduate school has kidnapped me. But sometimes . . .
I need to rest. I need purposeful rest. I need to remember how. It’s been a while. And I am exceedingly tired and desperately want a burger.