When I was in my early twenties there were parties to go to every weekend. And if there wasn’t a party, there were bars on every other corner (usually the ones not already occupied by a church) in Buffalo. Some of my favorite memories of that time in my life, insofar as I have memories of those nights, was the unplanned and unexpected conversations with strangers. I loved sitting at a filthy, beer-stained and ash-littered table in some small apartment getting to know someone.
I remember often feeling like I never wanted the night to end, especially if a cute girl was involved.
I think that feeling of wishing a night could go on forever is a pretty universal feeling. But, like anything we might wish, what are the actual consequences of that wish coming true?
In this story I tried to explore that. The elation, confusion, horror, and resignation that realizing a night will continue as long as you want it. I hope it captured some of those feelings for you.
My childhood bedroom was in the front of our house, which meant that the streetlight on the curb threw a lot of light into my windows. At night everything created shadows that, to my overactive imagination, belonged to monsters. I distinctly remember something in my room creating a shadow I was convinced was a dinosaur. Luckily, it was a type of dinosaur I knew to be a herbivore.
Not all of the shadows felt as safe. Many forced me under the covers, convinced that I wouldn’t last the night.
Those memories were the genesis of this story, originally written years ago. But, I also wondered, what would a child do when faced with a real threat? Would they be able to conquer their fears of an imaginary one?
It’s a simple story, told simply. I wanted to layer in a few twists and turns and end on a hopeful note that not all things we’re afraid of are bad. Not too bad for just over 800 words.
Driving at night, especially when it’s raining, terrifies me. My eyesight isn’t great to begin with, and usually by the time night rolls around my contacts have started to dry out. But the thing that bothers me the most about nighttime driving is other people’s headlights. I’m convinced that everyone but me drives with their brights on constantly.
What irritates me most is the light reflected in my rear-view mirror. If the car behind me is close enough, I have a hard time gauging just how far behind me they are. It spikes my anxiety, especially if we’re on a single-lane road and I can’t somehow get them to pass me. Often, I start to feel as if I’m being followed.
What should one do if they’re being followed by a strange vehicle? Try to let them pass? Outrun them? Outmaneuver them? You can’t go home, as that’s completely giving up your safe space. You might get stuck, perpetually followed, until you decide on how it should end.
This story was borne from those feelings. Back when I played hockey at a certain rink I had to drive down Route 476 all the time, often after dark. The lanes on that road between Springfield and Norristown vacillate between two and three, before settling on two as you pass the tolls toward the Lehigh Valley. It struck me how terrifying it would be to look in my rear-view mirror to see nothing but headlights. To be followed, with no recourse, and no hope.
I hope the story makes raises your blood pressure a bit the next time you see headlights in your rear-view.
We all have a tendency to imagine the worst, especially if the anxiety in our lives is heightened. I do this often, usually around how I’d feel if my wife exited my life for whatever reason.
What strikes me about these worries are the things around our house that would most remind me of her. We leave such strong impacts on the world just by interacting with it, and our relationships are no different. Aside from the obvious–the pictures from our wedding that hang out our walls, the clothes in her closet, the pages I’ve written about her–there are more subtle ways we leave breadcrumbs of ourselves in each others lives.
That’s the genesis of this piece. I wanted to capture the routines that break when something changes or ends within a relationship. A favorite book that might lay out on a coffee table. A forgotten dirty glass. The small things that remind us that, holy shit, we’re inextricably tied to someone else.
If my wife were to suddenly disappear from my life, I think those are the things I’d have the hardest time with. The things she does every day that impact me in almost imperceptible ways. And it’s because those nuances of her personality are the reason I love her to begin with. Their absence would be a devastating reminder of what I lost.
A few years ago I stumbled on a browser-based game called Every day the same dream. It’s a short game–should only take you 15 minutes to play the entire thing, should you wish to do that now–but impactful. It’s about a white-collar worker stuck in a rut. The premise of the game is simple: Every day you follow simple clues that lead you to experience one new thing, that breaks your routine a bit, until the ultimate routine-breaking act.
Considering the game was made in six days, it’s expertly crafted. It wraps up a lot of the existential dread (or boredom, more accurately) I, and I think many others, feel day-to-day while providing a sense of catharsis. I wanted to pay tribute to that. Use the game as a way to verbalize my thoughts about being white-collar, living comfortably but perhaps passionless. But I wanted to do it in a more optimistic way than the game.
That’s where the idea sprung from. A combination of my own thoughts and feelings about my life, made digital by this game. Where I changed course from the game is in my approach to the message. Life often feels like its not in your control, and in many ways it may not be, but there are certain things we can do to engage with the world around us. Change our routine a little bit. Eat healthier. Find new perspectives on the things we interact with every day, like leaving from the back door of your house instead of the front. Taking a second to notice a cardinal building a nest. All of it is meaningful if you choose to search for that meaning.
I hope the story isn’t too navel-gazing. It’s a privilege to be who I am, with the job I have, and the existential panic I sometimes deal with makes that easy to forget. Taking control of the small things, inserting minor changes in the day-to-day, can help to keep that in perspective.
Craig Gusmann is a writer currently stationed in PA with his wife and two cats. Sent from the future in a clear homage to The Terminator, he wanted to get a head start on perfecting his use of words. Feel free to let him know how he’s doing.