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“I should have known it was over in the hospital. Because it never was the lights, it was always you. I loved you.”
This is all Alice said to me the day she closed the door and cut me out forever. But then again that was always her favorite tactic: sting and run. In one fall swoop she’d abandoned me and brought back the sounds of crunching metal and snapping bones that I’d tried so hard to forget. She’d mixed her face with his high beams, aligned herself with my hatred, and forced me to look back.
November 27. Just one of the nights I’d taken the long way home down Mulholland Drive. I liked to speed along the curvy road until the lights became one brilliant stream and I couldn’t make out the cars or the buildings below. I’d race along like I was the only person in Los Angeles, one man on a dark road under the moon above the lights.
It was my favorite thing to do after particularly long days in the fluorescent light of my cubicle. Days where the high-pitched buzz of an ancient PC computer and the tick of a clock in the cubicle next to mine amplified my solitude; my utter isolation behind the two-inch thick cardboard and stucco walls. Every once in a while some doll named Mary would bring memos from the head office commanding me to redo work I’d done thirty times before. Otherwise it was just the lights and I, and the dizzying sensation that came with their incessant flickering. I felt like I was trying to breathe through a pillow under their bright cold burn, like the air was sour. Some mornings I’d spend hours staring at them considering how the room would look if I broke off a leg of my chair and put an end to their bright white shells.
On that night, I took the turns at fifty-five. I stared into the city and ignored the road in front of me. Nothing mattered except those lights. The cold from the canyon pushed through my open window and brought with it the smell of car exhaust and California grass. I wanted to close my eyes, to breathe in the city, but I couldn’t look away from the glow. It was so small below and it seemed to go on forever. Right out to the hills and up to the skyline.
A car horn sounded from the road and broke through the magnetic pull of the city. I turned my attention back just in time to see a Toyota Camry inches from my bumper. I slammed on my breaks and swerved to the right, just barely missing the cracked rusty tail end of his car. I closed my eyes and sighed, then pressed my foot to the gas once more.
But the Camry’s driver seemed to miss the point of the gas pedal. He made his way around the curves, pressing his breaks to an almost stand still every time we came to a turn.
I followed him for fifteen minutes, allowing him to waste 825 heartbeats of what I was trying to pretend was not my life, and then refused to take it anymore. We approached a blind corner, and I wrenched my wheel to the left to pull into the oncoming traffic lane and pass around the slow old man. But as I rounded the corner, bright, round lights appeared in the darkness.
Fog lights advanced closer and closer as a ton dually pickup plowed through the hood of my car. Eyes closed I pressed my hands to the wheel, and tried to distance myself from the disaster. But the thin skin that covered my eyes was no match for the fog light’s glare. Harsh light tore through the lids and broke down my lonely defense against their force.
I tried to lift my arm to keep the lights out of my eyes, but something was pinning it down. I tried to shake my head, but something held it in place. Open them. Open your eyes and face the lights, I begged myself. But panic kept them closed.
And then there was silence. I couldn’t hear metal ripping or glass breaking around me anymore. There was only a pounding white noise that crept from the recesses of my brain to bleed my thoughts dry. It grew louder and louder as it knocked on the front of my head threatening to split my forehead open.
I breathed deeply and commanded the only thing I still had control over: I opened my eyes, but I wasn’t in my car anymore. The high beams had become fluorescent lighting, and I was trapped. I began to squirm, trying to get out from under the bulbs. Surely I would die if they had anything to do with it. The lights, the lights! Turn off the lights. I tried to will them with my thoughts, because my tongue felt glued to the bottom of my mouth.
“Patient’s eyes are open doctor.” I lay prostrate on the cold plastic table and sucked in a stale mixture of disinfectant spray and the stench of decay. Acrid rot made vomit rise in my throat.
“Oh my God Daniel, are you okay? Daniel, look at me! Doctor he’s awake.”
I shifted my eyes to where a shrill female screeched obvious information at the man standing over me and recognized Alice silhouetted against the bright lights. She held my hand squeezing it limp and whispering things to me that I couldn’t hear. The doctor stabbed needles into my arms, and explained what he was doing in words I didn’t understand. But he wasn’t doing anything that could help me. I wanted to scream, needed to scream, to tell them about the lights. To make them turn off the lights.
“I love you,” she whispered, but I didn’t need that. I needed her to understand about the lights. They drown out the voices and whitewashed Alice until she disappeared into them. It hurt to think. I closed my eyes against them, and longed for the dark. I knew the lights were going to kill me.
“Mr. Stana, can you hear me. We need you to open your eyes if you understand what I’m saying.”
It was over. They’d finally won. I was going to die and this doctor couldn’t do a d*** thing. He couldn’t see the lights. The lights that came through my eyelids and burned straight through my head to the back of my skull. There was no solace. I couldn’t escape them when I was the only man in the world. I couldn’t escape them at my wedding, at my birth, and now here they were in my death. Always hanging just above my head.
“I love you,” she repeated from somewhere in the brightness, and my voice exploded.
“Turn the lights off,” I clawed at the bonds that strapped me to the bed and tried to point at the lights. “Turn them off. Do you hear me? I won’t let you kill me. Turn off the lights you incompetent morons. I’m going to die. The lights, the god d*** lights!” Alice jumped up from her spot next to me, her face an apologetic mixture of shock and annoyance. The doctor dropped his needle and called for the nurses. I screamed louder until the words blended together and my voice became a roar. Three nurses pinned me down to the bed while the doctor administered another needle into my arm. I felt the drug spread through my blood stream before it made me close my eyes. But the world still wouldn’t go black.
“Alice,” I whimpered, “they have to turn out the lights.”