Opening my eyes, my vision is doubled and I feel nauseous, like I’m spinning. I immediately think something is wrong, so in a panic I try to jerk myself awake. The feeling reminds of the time I randomly woke up with vertigo five years ago. I spent two hours spinning, then it just stopped as I sat in the waiting room of the doctor. I never want to go through that again. Luckily this time the sensation passes after a moment.
The glow of the lights outside filters a dark shade of blue through my curtains, reminding me of the lights mounted above the kitchen window of my grandparents’ old house. Funny, the lights outside are usually a lot more yellow. And that shadow is not supposed to be there. I barely make out the silhouette of a person in the corner. Long hair. Glasses. I scramble around madly for a weapon of some type.
I knew it before I turn on the lamp on the bedside table, which illuminates that distinctive face and hair (and those nails). She’s back.
“Be undismayed, Sydney, I’m not going to hurt you.” Val Glendale half-speaks, half sings.
“How the hell did you get in here?” I scream. I lurch for my CSW which I always keep next to the lamp. 4:44 A.M. April 4th. Oh, I get it now. She quietly shushes me and puts her index finger over her lips, saying that we wouldn’t want to alarm our hard-working nursing student.
“Picked the lock. I’m a secret agent, remember?” Val has a good point. “Come on, you can sleep on the plane.”
My head still groggy, I mutter “the plane” before another bout of nausea hits me and I put my heads in my hands. Through my fingers, I see what I’m wearing and realize I didn’t even change out of the shorts and tank top I was wearing last night.
“Where are we going?” I ask.
“New York,” Val replies.
“We’re in Iowa.”
“I’m going to need to put on some clothes.”
“No need, we’ve got some for you on the plane.”
I look at her bewildered.
“It’s a very nice plane. Come on.” She tosses me the cardigan that I had haphazardly thrown on my desk chair the afternoon before. Before I know it, we’re hopping into a black GMC van and driving… somewhere. It’s too dark and I’m too groggy to establish the usual mental map in my head. Val’s over there yapping about old TV shows and gluten free pasta recipes as if she’d already had four cups of coffee – she might have — and I’m beyond zoned out, half-watching the hazy neon green, blue, and red lights of the vehicle’s display. A song I heard somewhere based on The Odyssey and something about the planet Saturn is playing vaguely in the recesses of my mind…
As my eyes are closing shut from fatigue, I recognize the road we’re on. Looks like we’re heading to the small municipal airport just outside of town. Makes sense I suppose – a government aircraft probably wouldn’t have to go through the hassle of using the commercial airport 50 miles away in Dubuque.
Actually the “Dubuque” airport is in a tiny, very landlocked community south of town called Key West, which is just a tease because it is absolutely not the gorgeous Florida town that also happens to be the furthest south you can get in the mainland United States. I remember Dad took Mae and me on this trip across all of the Florida beach towns over two weeks of summer when I was eleven. He had the summer semester off, so we rented a car and headed down the Atlantic coast from Jacksonville — St. Augustine, Daytona, Port St. Lucie, Palm Beach, Miami.
We spent a day in each place, and we even made a brief detour to Orlando to visit Disney World. Dad even bought me a giant stuffed Piglet, my favorite character from Winnie-the-Pooh. I cherished that thing dearly, until one day it just came up missing from the Sky Roost after I made the mistake of inviting a few too many people over for a party my junior year. I ordered a new one online soon after, but it just didn’t feel right so I gave it to my little cousin.
My favorite stop on that trip, though, was Key West, our final destination before dropping off our car and catching a short flight back to Jacksonville. Dad, distracted by Mae being her typically high-maintenance self, didn’t notice me sneaking off to wander the beach, and even after everything I saw on that trip, I’ll never forget just walking across the path where the water meets the sand.
With the early evening sun beginning to set, it was like the universe was converging in on the horizons and I felt no fear. The opposite, rather, as a strong sensation of courage swept over me, much like a strong wave swept under me and pulled me into the sea at just that moment. In the distance, I could see Dad and Mae, in a panic, running down the path of my footsteps trying to find me. I barely heard them screaming my name, but it didn’t matter because I was in the waves, embracing their tumultuous percussion. The waves were not my enemy. There was no need to fight them. Their warmth keeping me safe, and I was floating on top of them watching the tangential rays of the sun turn the sky all shades of orange, purple, and blue.
Then I felt the inevitable changes. A burst of strong wind, a giant wave crashing over my, and the current pulling me under. I still didn’t feel fear, rather curious concern about what the next few moments of my life were going to look like. And at the moment when I finally lost my sense of direction – when I began to long for the air I didn’t understand I truly needed – I felt another pull. This time not of the waves, but of my dad’s arms saving me from the tempest.
I got a serious talking-to once we got back to shore and I shook all the water from my ears, but I knew I was going to be okay. There would always be something to —
“Sydney! Wake up, we’ve got to get on the plane! Geez, girl, you’re like some kind of narcoleptic.”
A new section is released every Monday! Next week we’ll be continuing Chapter 4: “4/4 4:44” As always, I welcome your feedback in the comments. 🙂