Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Arrival


Junkies call it jonesin’, kickin’. I would not characterize the minute tremors I was feeling as that severe. But still, I had begun to notice the absence of a drink. My focus was nil, slightly malaised, slanted off to one side. Anxiety, probably more than I realized, searched the haunts of my stomach—that hawk-eyed predator probing dark spaces where anything pre-cancerous might be holding out. I did not shy away even when it stabbed. No. I nearly welcomed the feeling. It had been nearly twenty-four hours since my last drink and here in Iowa, in my room in Ellenville, I felt strangely alive.

I set my bags down, looked around. Not much to see. It was a dormitory room: two beds, two desks, two chairs. I sat on one of the beds, the one under the window. The view looked out on a main road. Beyond the road a park with a concrete skateboarding rink and lots of grass fronted the Iowa River. It careened, serpentine and ever so slowly, through the park’s green precincts. The room connected with a little kitchen, a stove and a refrigerator, a sink and a table that seated four. I was well situated, and at the moment I felt very happy.

“IOWA SIDEBAR: In Case of a Tornado/Severe Weather“—a notice hung on the back of the door. I read with great curiosity:

"The Iowa Severe Weather System whistle will sound a steady three-to-five-minute warning upon the issuance of a tornado warning by the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office. Residents and guests are advised to take shelter in the basement and lower floor corridors or other areas without windows."

Tornados. Areas without windows. Without glass. Here was something I had not considered, not even as a remote possibility. In my world tornados did not exist. Twisters. I drew down on the possibility, just for a moment, and finally chuckled at the remoteness of it all. Oh Toto, we’re not in Jersey anymore.

My phone rang and I rummaged through my bag trying to lay a hand on it. By the time I did it had stopped ringing. I flipped it open to see who had called. Glea. I closed the phone and dropped it on the bed. For a couple of minutes I watched out the window as an occasional car or pickup passed by. A lot of famous writers had come this way. I wanted a drink but a voice in my head kept posing the same question. “Why are you here?” it asked. “What did you come here for?”

To drink or to write? I knew what it was asking, and I needed to decide which. I could not do both. I got up and walked over to where I’d dropped my bags. First order of business, laptop. I pulled it out and laid it on the desk. Several pamphlets were arranged in a sort of desktop holder pushed back against the wall, a kind of welcome package. There was one for a pizza delivery place, “Till 1:00 AM: Seven Days!” Good to know. I set that one aside. Another gave the hours of operation for the university’s office and computer lab.

I flipped through each of them until the word “Alcohol” made me stop. I read, “Melrose House Meeting: 5:30PM” and took it as a sign. God was in this place, God in Ellenville. It was now three. After hitting the head and splashing some water on my face, I returned to the bed. My head hit the pillow as if landing on a stone. I pretended I was Jacob. Even in my sleep-deprived and dreamless mind, I could remember what it meant to just pretend.

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