If not for my problems, I would have noticed Dimitri’s oddities sooner. But when we met I was overcoming the dissolution of the only relationship I had known for the previous seventeen years. My partner had left me for the fourth and final time, the last three instances for the familiar embrace of her fully grown former stepson Cliff. He was twenty when I and his stepmother met, twenty-three when he first made love to her during a weeklong family reunion—her family, not mine—on the shorefront balcony of a hotel room, overlooking the surrealistic embers of the California dusk. The brazenness of her infidelities was always and only matched by the bluntness of her confessions: she would interrupt as I did some mundane task, clipping my nails or crossing redundancies from our grocery list. Without a hint of suspicion from me, it was the morning following the deed in this instance and I was brushing my teeth. She slunk to the door (I imagine because I didn’t hear or see her approach) and told me of the night before—she feared her spine would shatter against the concrete floor, she said with a chuckle that was incomprehensible as either nervous laughter or derision, and the smell of his forearms was reminiscent of her grandfather’s hair, the aroma of which lingered in her nose hours later, she very parenthetically added—and the entire time I could see her moving about in the bathroom mirror: directly behind me, hands hovering above but never touching my shoulders (no eye contact); sitting legs crossed on the rim of the bathtub and shut toilet; leaning against the wall, as I continued to brush my teeth, toothpaste evaporating to minty nothingness in my mouth. I packed my things and went home early.
But I returned to her when she finally arrived, leaving my dignity on the coast. It goes without saying the kid (“the kid,” I call him mobilizing all the false dismissiveness I can) is ballsier than me and, on top of that, will always be twenty-five years younger; and I imagine the former will continue to be true as age supposedly makes us all risk averse. The second-to-last time I saw him was about three months ago (around the same time I met Dimitri), waiting to walk her home after a department meeting, her broken left pinkie in a cast. Maybe it was the harmonious twilight he was standing under or an idea my melancholy mind cooked up, but well into his late thirties, his farmhand shoulders and the pudgy masculinity of his face have not changed an iota. I have also heard he recently won a not insignificant five-figure sum in the lottery, hard for any man to beat that draw, and I would bet the winning ticket included the numbers of his stepmother’s birth month and day. The model and millionaire were the alpha and omega of her signs and symbols. It’s impossible to remember every handshake bet I lost putting money on or against teams because some two athletes wore one and eight, or someone else wore eighteen or eighty-one. I can go on, too, about meals that had to be delayed until the clock ticked forward a single minute, and the parties we could not attend or reservations that had to be cancelled because of the addresses. Strangely, however, my amateur numerologist was unmoved by actual historical echoes. That the British abolished slavery on August 1 while Germany declared war on Russia the same day eighty years later did not interest her, nor did she care for the moving congruence of Galileo, Verlaine, and Bely sharing a date of death, her birthday no less. But that inexplicable and dishonest woman could have had me as long as she wanted.
Katrina had small hands and thin wrists, so much so I swear she could have slipped them through my fists, which was matched only by the slimness of her hips. Those brittle bones had been broken before, the left as a teenager from rolling off a couch in her sleep, and the right as an adult from sideswiping a doorframe as she walked against a flow of exiting students. My regret is not having known her when either happened, because I can envision my present-self, my physical diminishment notwithstanding, coddling that frail and irrational young woman and adult until our hearts’ delights, reality be damned. But these are admittedly dreams of my own: I could not carry her from room to room, bed to couch to kitchen table, even if I mustered every bit of my strength. Moving my own girth has become increasingly difficult, an act that is now preceded by the thought of movement and quickly made plans of action, considerations of how I will rock forward and hopefully upward, or how to reorient myself if the round rocket does not launch. I have even taken to lecturing from my desk. When I was younger, I would parade onstage, scribbling sentences and diagramming thoughts on the board, but those days are long over. Presently, I much prefer and am only capable of sitting and reading my lectures from typed pages. She also teaches but no longer has much interest in her students (as do I, though I at least remain dedicated to the material to which I long ago decided to devote my life). And though we teach at the same institution, I mercifully do not see her very often. It’s as though our lives have been scripted to be a series of missed encounters. I duck into a restroom as she leaves a nearby stairwell, she bends to tie a shoelace as I unknowingly intersect her path. The universe operates with cold logic and a warm heart. One of the tricks I learned from her, however, is writing fake names on my office hours list, thereby preserving a modicum of solitude. At what we call community colleges, the hours are long, there is little respect from your superiors, peers, and society at large, and the pay is insignificant. We dealt with each of these insults together. Without her, I am capable, though less able, of navigating the long hours and lack of respect alone. But money problems can only be solved collectively, hence Dimitri.
Katrina and I shared a garden unit with less light than jail. During winter we shivered, during summer we sweated, and it was the best we could comfortably afford. There were four rooms—a smallish bedroom, slightly larger living room, a sliver of linoleum called the kitchen, and a so-called second bedroom, which is more honestly a largish closet—along with a bathroom where I hurriedly showered while standing for fear of falling, but refused to bathe seated because of greater fear I would not be able to get up. As had been the case before, I fully anticipated we would reconcile—another promise from her to never stray again, another promise from me to make our lives easier—but in the end belatedly accepted what could not be ignored: she was gone and I was destitute. The only sellable things were the few tchotchkes she left behind—miniature glass horses, wine corks she intermittently collected—of little monetary worth to anyone else, which was still less than their sentimental value to me. My only, immediate recourse was a roommate; sneakily living out of my work office the humiliating worst-case scenario.
The ad I placed online was picture-less, direct, and received few responses: “Male, 62, academic, roommate needed ASAP” was its title, and “Compact but comfortable, utilities included. Gender, age, race, and sexual orientation are unimportant, but must be quiet. Call, text, or email for more information …” its content thereabouts. I spoke with a young woman first, who I pegged to be no older than twenty from her voice, and whose honest openness to viewing the apartment and possibly living there scared me from moving forward. In my physical and emotional shape, I could barely summon the energy and creativity to build a sustainable fantasy of myself and this phantasm girl. She is in good shape, of course, but not intimidatingly so (she’s generally muscle-less), has a head of reddish-brown hair, and initially shy, and I am surprised when she sits next to me as I read and undoes my belt, though here the thought’s momentum peters out as I assuredly would have in reality. Nevertheless, the idea of having this embarrassment play repeatedly in my head while we shared an apartment was enough for me to end our conversation abruptly: “Yes, well, I don’t believe such an arrangement would be to either of our advantage for reasons that seem very apparent to me and I’m sure to you as well. Good afternoon (click).” In such poor shape I’m in, I can’t even ask “What if?”
I ignored the next couple of respondents. Emails written that poorly did not bode well for their quietness, and more than that, having rejected a promising candidate, it was unlikely I would find a good one so soon afterward. Call it the influence of Katrina, because I do, having never thought of myself as superstitious. But probabilities are hard to ignore. Of the world’s seven billion people, Dimitri and I cross paths. And most of the others would not have been as perplexing and weird as him. The odds would certainly affirm as much. Think not only of the decisive, well-known moments in history—battles won and lost, natural disasters that wiped out towns but spared outhouses—but the tiny, historically irrelevant events, too—a late-running bus which leads to a chance meeting of two ancestors, a lion eating this troglodyte but not another—that must have happened as they did in order for the two of us to meet. If any part is out of place, I perhaps am the king of the Congo and Dimitri a soldier in Virginia. Considering it this way, the philosophy of the coin flip seems insufficient, and in some regards it is, but I can think of no better way to explain it.
The young man—aged somewhere between Katrina’s beau and my imaginary fling—sent a well-worded, if curt, email, and I invited him to see the place later that day. He arrived on time, fair enough, but I should have gone with my instincts about his appearance. To most people, he may have looked totally normal. But there was something about him that set uneasily with me. His beard, for instance, it was unclear if he had groomed it to appear unkempt, had merely overlooked this necessity, or worst of all did not care to manage this basic act of manhood. The way it hugged his face was also telling. Seeing it, I over-imagined sheep’s wool being used to soak up oil spills, and whenever he touched it, I anticipated seeing his fingertips tinged with black gold. These signs I ignored, along with others: Dimitri said he was a novelist and poet, but I have never, not then or since, found any of his work. Nowhere online does a writer named Dimitri Rauser exists. Before I could bring it up, he also asked if “the building” (hint taken) was typically as quiet it was that afternoon. “It is, I would say the attribute I am most looking for in a prospective room—cotenant, aside from the ability to make rent obviously, is noiselessness,” I answered, “This is nonnegotiable.” He agreed, and I possibly would have overlooked everything else had I been left in peace and quiet.
One of the most difficult things to believe is that he was in and out of my apartment, my life in about six weeks. He brought with him and left behind a small futon and dresser—where he kept an egg-size touch lamp—around which he would drape his gangly frame after pulling it between his legs while sitting on the bed/couch, as he presumably wrote stories or poems in his notebook™ or notebook with guidance of the lamp’s low light. The futon, dresser, and lamp I sold for more than their worth. He brought with him and took when he left those notebooks and his suitcase (from which he never seemed to remove more clothes than were needed at the moment), where he attempted to smuggle away what remained of my peace of mind. Even with some time gone by, or perhaps because of time gone by, I cannot finger exactly when my problems with him began. Presumably it was not immediate, but it wasn’t long before he started to slip into insanity and tried to take me with him. Dimitri’s racket was not aural, however. There was no loud music or late-night guests (I’m unsure he had friends), he never stumbled in drunkenly, and his sleep was snore- and somniloquy-free. Dimitri’s noise was in his and then my head, and it was in his sleep where the commotion was loudest.
From the moment we met, he addressed me as “Stanley Thomson Ross,” as though we lived in an old Russian novel, after which he would greet me “good morning” or “good evening,” or comment on some aspect of the day (the niceness of the weather or the apartment’s quietness), and would eventually reveal to me the impossible madness in his head. I was reading on the couch when he sat next to me, and from my chest and armpits, I immediately began to sweat. “Yes … hi …,” I nervously said. At no time before had I experienced that much discomfort because of him. But on a level I could not access, an animalistic level of action and reaction, mood and sense, I must have known something had changed irrevocably.
“Stanley Thomson Ross, I’m sorry to interrupt, but there’s something I have to tell you that cannot wait. From the night after we first met, I have been suffering from this, this—I don’t know—this phenomenon, something I’ve never experienced before,” he said, “and since your presence seems to be its impetus, I thought I should at least tell you and maybe the two of us could talk about it. (By now, my book was no longer resting on my stomach in reading position but was setting facing pages on my lap; and my heart, presumably pushed to the brink already, pumped as though it would save me by killing itself.) Every time I sleep, I have these dreams that I know aren’t mine. And I wake up knowing fully well what I’ve just seen and experienced belonged to someone else. Have you heard of this before? Can you help me? I fall asleep easily and sleep like a baby, but when I open my eyes, I’m overcome with anxiety. I don’t know if my unconscious was kidnapped or if I kidnapped someone else’s. Have you heard of anything like this before?”
I cleared my throat. My heartbeat slowed, and I could feel myself sweating less, rainclouds disappearing as the sunrays of calm reemerged. I thought to myself “My god, there’s a nut living under the same roof as me” but asked him to tell me more. According to Dimitri, regardless of whether he had met the people or visited the places, his dreams no longer belonged to him. There was an unexplainable, alienating element, he said, which separated him from the people and places in his dreams as well as the part of him that had produced these visions. And moreover, this was not true with daydreams or moments of absentmindedness—with these he felt complete mental and emotional ownership—only in sleep was it the case. He told me, for instance, of his dream from the night before: he was walking along a street, an empty and geographically ambiguous roadway lined with equally faceless and presumably unoccupied buildings, and huge wind gusts kept him from taking more than a half-step at a time. He wore a grey trench coat that was unbelted but which he kept around himself with one hand while the other ensured a black fedora stayed on his head. There was no inclination about to where or whom he traveled, and the scene continued in this fashion until he woke up. The man was unmistakably Dimitri; yet, he said, this was surely the dream of someone else.
“What do you make of this?”
I could not tell him what I honestly felt—that if he had not lost his mind already, doing so was inevitable, how I wished I had never met him and feared what he may do to me. Instead, grasping for an answer, I suggested he “get some sleep.”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right,” responded Dimitri, his voice and shoulders slumping with disappointment, “More sleep could be helpful.”
From then on he kept me abreast of many, if not all, of his dreams. A couple of days later he told me of another in which a friend fell fruitlessly in love with someone nicknamed Roachy. In another, Dimitri’s grandfather—his wheelchair-bound and increasingly senile grandfather!—had been elected governor. And when I wasn’t there, he would leave handwritten synopses on the living room’s coffee table or email them to me, at which point he would want my opinion as soon as I returned home. “Get out, get out now! You and your bullshit are going to drive me crazy!” is what I envision myself having replied. But when you are dealing with someone who does not play by the rules of this world, you must tread lightly and pretend everything is okay. Murderers and prophets have depended on this fact for millennia. To the best of my acting abilities I reassured him, told him what he was experiencing was normal and perhaps contradictorily that it was a passing episode. And though I said I was researching possible diagnoses, I did no such thing. But Dimitri’s dreams had other ill-effects on me as well.
After his revelation, I watched him whenever he slept. Whether he was reclined or laid fully stretched out on his futon, dozed off on the couch, or limply slouched over his dresser (pen in hand or computer having slipped into sleep itself), I would stop to observe him. His bedroom was almost directly across the hall from the bathroom; and I would peel open the door to the former, and at night when the latter’s door was nearly shut and the light turned on, Dimitri’s face was visible in the penumbra. If and when Dimitri ever became violent, he would lash out at the person closest to him, and I reasoned this would most likely happen after a particularly upsetting dream. And I knew, above all else, that if I were to survive an attack, the element of surprise was not in my favor. For any chance of survival, I needed to see him coming at the bare minimum, all the better if I could anticipate his actions. But after a few nights I also realized that fleeing successfully would be almost impossible and my bare hands would be insufficient in a fight, so I made sure to have a small kitchen knife with me—compact enough to be concealed in a pocket if he suddenly awoke, but large and sharp enough to save myself if necessary. Mercifully our lives diverged without it coming to that. Concern for my life only partially explains why I observed him, however: my behavior was a result of curiosity as well. I would start by reconnoitering him and every inch of the room where he slept—for any signs he was waking up or possible weapons he could use—but would assuredly end up focusing on his face, which was always still regardless of what he dreamt. And this is what confused and interested and frightened me the most: the calm belying the craziness inside. The amount of hours I spent unsuccessfully looking for a twitch, a grimace, some truth is incalculable. For as long as possible, I would stand and wonder what play was being staged in the theater of his unconscious, what pedestrian performance would be the cause of his consternation when he was finally awake. Soon enough I began to consider if I appeared in any of Dimitri’s dreams, and if so, would he tell me? This thought introduced an element into my waking mind that, along with watching him, kept me up many nights (I canceled classes and fell asleep in others because of tiredness). I must have been in some of his dreams, and he must have decided not to tell me. After all, I didn’t tell him that after our talk he started to appear in mine. My night visions in which Dimitri played a role were more far-fetched, and in my opinion more creative, than the dreams he told me about, though who can say for certain what any of them meant? A night or two after Dimitri revealed his declining psychological state, I saw him traveling down a river of fire in a canoe, paddling with oars made of ice. He appeared sanguine, for lack of a better word, and was oblivious to those of us calling from the banks to get out of the water. Interestingly, however, though we called to Dimitri, we did so in the calmest tones, as though we were coaxing a toddler from yanking a plate off a table. Another was set in my classroom, with Dimitri as teacher and me as one of his students. He was lecturing on the ins and outs of soccer while I, and only I, stood at the front of the class with my disembodied head in my hands.
Whereas Dimitri slept through the night, unawakened by the very imagery that disturbed him, I increasingly woke frequently—to end some abstract show I was seeing or, as I came to believe, to preempt one from starting. My literal wit’s end had been reached.
Photography by David Cordero © 2016
Though it’s difficult to remember all the reasons I thought Katrina would be helpful, meeting her felt like it was the right move. Her intellect was second-to-one, as I liked to playfully tell her; her infidelities notwithstanding, she was truly compassionate and kind-hearted. And as a matter of comfort, after nearly two decades together, she knew me better than anyone else. I admittedly had no idea what I would say to her, but I determinedly went to her office, telling myself along the way “If she isn’t here, I’ll come back later.” It was about noon. I could see and smell people’s lunches, and in my haste, adrenalin overflowing, overlooked the elevator and took the stairs. Two floors later I was tired and could feel the perspiration running along the contours of my face. Her door was open, and on her desk was a soda and bottled water along with a meatball sub that had been cut into more manageable halves.
“Oh … um, don’t shut that (I was moving to close the door). What do you want, what are you doing here?” She reached into her drawer, pulling out her phone, and her thumbs moved so ferociously I thought they would break. A part of me wished they would since I was the lone person there to help.
“I’m sorry for barging in, should I come back? Feel free to eat while I—”
“I’ll wait,” she said, “Why are you here?”
Before I could speak, a picture frame and chair triggered playbacks in my head as though they were being reenacted for my exclusive pleasure—the frame I bought from a dollar store for the faded photograph her grandparents had taken not long after their wedding, which still hung on the wall above her left shoulder; and the armless chair I implored her to get for the benefit of larger students, the red upholstered seat of which I placed firmly beneath my butt. Seeing both there, where they had been for years, was small but tangible and gratifying evidence that she and I had existed happily in the real word outside of my conception of events. The other seat in her office, which resembled an excavator’s claw I would never escape from, was to my right, and I pulled it closer to support me for when I would eventually stand up. I looked directly at her and she prompted me to speak with “Yes …?” There was nowhere to begin, so to speak, without including her and us and him, which was the prime cause of everything that followed. But in an instant, I knew that mess had to be skipped: she knew those details; bringing it up would have irritated her before she could take my side; and frankly, it’s uncertain I would have survived the discussion emotionally. “I took in this young person, Dimitri, and he’s a nut and he’s going to drive me insane if I don’t find some way to get rid of him …,” I said, “He’s been telling me lately about these recurring dreams with numbers appearing and evanescing against a black backdrop. Sometimes the numbers are one color, but in other instances the figures have colors of their own (I took the last note he had written me out of my inside coat pocket). See, for instance, (holding the paper sideways so that she and I could see it, though Katrina made no effort to look) 18 sometimes has a yellow one and green eight, but in 18,151,919, the one and eight are both blue. Here also the one-five is red, the first one-nine is green, but the final one-nine is purple. It’s gibberish.” I paused. Katrina’s head was angled slightly toward me and her face pursed with a look of concentrated befuddlement, as though I were a lost tourist and she a well-meaning monolinguist. I considered reading her more of the letter, the salutation in which Dimitri used my entire name, or the rambling bits in which he complained about not knowing what any of it meant and asked for my help. But Katrina’s expression did not change. And what I saw I interpreted as a pregnant pause and continued to talk. I shifted the topic, however, to my dreams, particularly the short-short film from the night before: beneath a Weeping Willow was a woman with very dark brown hair that waved with patches of chestnut and strands of gray. She sat on a beach towel next to Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and smiled in the sunbeams. Stay Puft ate a caramel macaroon and signaled with his hand “no more.” A prairie garden was in the background.
And this is when an object, what I quickly discerned was a fist, crashed into the right side of my face and knocked me to the floor. Before my eyes had even reopened from the blow’s surprise and sting, I determined it was Cliff who had punched me and then straddled me, and with his elbow, gave two thudding shots to my ribs. Through bleary eyes, reality then took on a dreamlike complexion. Cliff, for instance, wasn’t grinning or sneering, but the modest bend of his lips tended toward the former. He put a forearm across my throat, adding oxygen deprivation to the illusion-producing mix of shock and pain. And the scent of this limb—muscly and sweaty and with hairs pinpricking my neck—first called to mind young Katrina inhaling the odor of grandfather’s thinning and similarly smelling hair, and then it placed me beneath Cliff on that balcony, a full-circle thought I could have done without. “Stay away from her!” Cliff demanded. Upside down I saw my copy of Hilarioso Melancholia displayed on a bookshelf. Katrina’s expression of dismay—standing above us with both hands covering her agape mouth and eyebrows excitedly raised—looked unreal in my hallucinatory eyes. And though it was the middle of the day, no passersby appeared to take note of what was happening. With another forearm shiver to my ribs, the ordeal abruptly ended. He stood and offered a hand to help me, which I reflexively, and in retrospect ashamedly, accepted. Had my thoughts been clearer in the moment, it would have been preferable to flop around the floor seal-like for as long as necessary rather than taking his help. Nevertheless, I did, and once we were standing, Cliff placed his right pinkie in the sub’s red sauce and tasted it. Katrina said, “I’m sorry this happened, Stan,” hands still covering her mouth but distress no longer stretching her face. I responded “As am I” and haven’t seen either of them since.
I canceled the remainder of my classes and meetings and sat quietly in my office, brooding about when it would be safe to leave. What had begun as not wanting to show my face after that beating was eventually joined by unwillingness to see or speak with Dimitri. Oddly enough, however, this was the first time I had actively avoided him. Never before had I stayed late for work unnecessarily or even remained in my bedroom for the sake of dodging him. There was, I suspect, some bullheadedness on my part: no way would I let this person upset what remained of my life. But I then realized this disruption had already taken place. Dimitri had ruined what wasn’t in ruins already. Yet this realization was also a sign of hope: whereas the rest of my issues were unfixable, my Dimitri problem could be solved. The young man was a boil not a cancer, which could be quickly gotten rid of. I had to act decisively, though, and regardless how much my choice might hurt him, the decision had to be irreversible. For the first time in a long time, I experienced what it felt like to be in control.
It was nearly ten when I opened the apartment’s front door and, with sense alone, guided myself through the darkness. I paused at the click of the living room lamp—suddenly overcome by not wanting to wake Dimitri—then slowly cranked the switch to kill the light when I saw there was no note. The apartment was a square subdivided into rectangles of different sizes and configurations. The front door opened directly into the largest rectangle, the living room, which wall-lessly transitioned into the kitchen. To the left was my bedroom, the entrance to which was closer to the kitchen than the front door, and to the right a bit of breathing space called a hallway that led past Dimitri’s room on the right and bathroom on the left on its way to the backdoor. Because there were so few dishes, each night I returned my knife to a kitchen drawer to avoid suspicion. I now see how this may have been overly cautious, but at the time, given Dimitri’s unstable psyche, maintaining the appearance of normalcy was simple prudence. With it in my back pocket, I crept to the bathroom, nearly shutting the door then turning on its light. On this night, I twisted the knob to Dimitri’s bedroom door slower and with more caution than I had previously. Even then I thought of the artfulness of my technique: a man my size should not be able to successfully sneak anywhere, particularly into a room where someone is sleeping. But I did. Night after night, I did.
A band of light lay across his chin, throat, and upper chest, grabbing parts as well of an ear and shoulder. I inched closer. He didn’t move. For an unknowable amount of time, this action and nonreaction repeated until I was close enough to trace the bends and turns of what the light laid bare. It was then I knew I had decided to act without knowing what the action would be. And in the same instance, too, I recognized the knife in my hand but could not remember when it had been placed there. I raised it, saw the blade pass through the light, and held it in front of me towards Dimitri’s head. Oh, the young man’s head, the bodied headquarters where the faulty circuitry causing all our problems was kept, lay motionless in the dark. “What part of his brain would I have to get rid of to make this all go away?” I wondered. Lobotomies focused on the prefrontal cortex, yes, and that was at the front of the brain. An effectual kitchen-knife procedure would make me notorious: amateur surgeon arrested for breakthrough operation. My arm made a quick, short, yet unsuccessful thrust. I’ll never know how close I came, but Dimitri continued to sleep. Another jab failed and I was at war with myself, part of me wanting to plunge the knife into the night while another wanted to retreat. There were two, three, or maybe even four or five additional attempts, some short and almost nonexistent, others I suspect dangerously close to contact. And I understand now that if any of those tries had connected, I would’ve had no other choice but to continue. Either he would have awaken, putting me in a fight for my life, or been incapacitated, making half-heartedness a personal weakness rather than criminal defense. But thankfully my better angels began to outmaneuver the devil in my ear, commandeering my legs and forcing me to back out of the room, even as my arm remained tense with the urge to strike. As I withdrew, however, my baby steps were slowed then stopped by a thumping sound. The bump-bump, bump-bump got louder, and I stood motionlessly while staring at Dimitri, wondering if this came from within me or him. The parts of him I could see did not move. My chest rose and fell as expected, given the circumstances, which is to say faster than usual but not with the force of the detonations I heard. Perhaps, though, sense and self had momentarily disconnected, and I could not account for a phenomenon that was wholly within me. My normalness may have been fiction. It was this or something less believable: Dimitri slept so heavily the pounding of his own heart did not wake him; or as I briefly considered, that this episode—from the time I had supposedly waken that morning to the very second I stood there—was part of a dream. But who’s: mine, his, or both? I restarted my escape. The pace of the base drum quickened, as did I. With a final backwards step from his room, I undid everything—reclosed his door, reopened the bathroom door and shut off its light, shuffled backwardly to return the knife to the kitchen and myself to bed, where I finally laid on my back to witness the first gleams of day.
I slept well but not long. In effect, those four hours felt like eight or nine. On the living room coffee table was a note, which I grabbed on my way to see if Dimitri were still in bed. He was not, and I lowered myself onto the couch and experienced the comfort of perfectly finding one’s indentations. The note started as they always did—“Stanley Thomson Ross”—but instead of recounting a dream, Dimitri said “I will be gone by the time you read this. I wish this were ending differently, but I feel myself worsening in your presence. This is not an indictment of you, anything could be the cause. But be that as it may, this is also not exculpatory as I can’t definitively say you weren’t the cause of my discontent. One thing is undeniable: we both need help. Help that neither of us can provide one another. Goodbye friend.” The relief, pure and simple relief, was like drops of warm water running from the top of my head. But before this complete pleasure could settle within me, I noticed there were a few more sentences:
“I was finally able to record all the numbers from my dream. They’re meaningless but mean so much to me. If our paths cross again, maybe you or I will have deciphered it. I wish you luck:
How long had it taken him to do this? The nut had presumably kept a tally of these numeric visions and wrote them in different colored pencils whenever he woke up; and it just so happens he completed the list at the very moment he decided to leave, or vice versa perhaps. Fitting that Dimitri’s farewell also affirmed his insanity. I, nonetheless, also wanted to know if this group of numbers signified anything. If they did, I fully believed the meaning would be hidden from the very person who had dreamed them. Equally fitting that the key to unlocking his sanity may have been kept in the safe his broken psyche created. But I couldn’t decipher them, and though I supposed some hidden logic might be there, I could no longer see the only person who could have helped me.
I did not expect Dimitri to return, and to my knowledge, he has not. Following that morning, I thought of him sparingly but out of curiosity rather than worry: I had to refocus on my problems. After my experience with Dimitri, I refused to take in another cotenant, and a thicket of bureaucratic rules and red tape disallowed me an increase in pay. This fact quickly, and permanently, made me too poor to live alone. And as much as the prospect of living out of my office had turned me off, my only other idea of shuffling between cheap motels and homeless shelters was a nonstarter. In their own ways, neither would have afforded much solitude, and I could see myself embarrassingly crashing through cot after cot at a shelter. And as a matter of fact, during nonwork hours, my office is really quiet. In just two or three nights the janitorial crew realized that my closed door meant the office was off limits—no need to rattle the doorknob and or unlock it. The faculty refrigerators are more than large enough to inconspicuously store the few groceries I need. A few layers of blankets and a comforter provide a decent place to sleep, and the gymnasium is open early enough for me to shower in relative peace. I also move as little as possible, even less than I used to given the distance of my commute, and am especially careful when I eat, so as to not dirty my clothes and keep trips to the laundry mat to a minimum. I can’t be sure, but I surmise my colleagues suspect something unusual about me. If our roles were reversed, I would, too. But their opinions do not concern me much, not even Katrina’s for the most part. I’ve reached the age when the end is foreseeable even if it isn’t seeable, and the important thing is controlling the events that I can. Their whispers and giggles about me are not a part of my dominion, as could be said about what one experience’s in sleep. Just last night I had a wet dream about the old, hunched over woman I have seen mopping the hallways. How perfect that my first shut-eye orgasm in as long as I can remember featured someone whose surface is as rippled as the Atlantic. This has never been a dream of mine.