The library has been converted into classrooms for fifth-year students. Shelves emptied and rearranged to fit rows of desks, projector screens, faculty offices and the Office of Student Retention. My exam is running late to complete. I am tapping fingers on the desktop nervously rapping away. My feet twitch uncomfortably. I scribble out essays and vague answers to questions I can only half-read. I don’t have the time. I don’t have the time and this afternoon you’re boarding a bus for a move to LA. It’s your mistake; you’re my mistake: I let you mistake me. I’m coming with you. I should. I spring from my desk and let the stapled papers fly apart through the air at the professor’s head. The race is on skip the elevator and dash the stairs, leave the books behind at the counter I’ll come back for them later if they really mean that much to me. I burst out the doors and check the time on my phone – bright fresh sun, and the aluminum numbness creeping deeper in my lower gut; I know I’m going to be late. I hustle across campus and halfway there double-back the other way; in my haste I made the mistake of trying to cut through the campus construction. But all I find in the other direction are new dormitories and expansions under construction for the new Department of Student Retention and I cannot find the god damned parking lot where it used to be.
Out of breath sucking wind through the sweat and jello’d legs, the aluminum numbness has crept up and blossomed into wilting fireworks of frustration and shame – standing alone on the curb sucking wind, just in time to see the bus trail away. Just a moment too late.
Dream catcher, forever just a moment too late.
I’ve awoken at a desk. Lifeless fluorescent lighting and drool puddled by the keyboard. The office is a warm fuzz of processors and clacking keyboards. Assignments due before the evening commute home, and three hours wasted in a sleep-haze fading out and in, out and in – lonely headlights passing through fog of an empty exurban town. I am standing at dusk at the bus stop with an aluminum numbness curdling my gut. I don’t know the time. But I don’t know the time. There was something I missed, and it still runs unleashed from my grip, ten years now past my prime. I don’t know if the bus is late or if I missed its final run for the day. I may not be home tonight. I may not ever be home again
in time to pay our taxes, or to consolidate our student debt.
Or to find a house to live in,
to keep us off the street.
In time to see the kids grow up,
or in time to grow old with you,
I can’t come home again. Ten years of shame and pain puts no hope to death by stone. Alone, and ripped at the heart, I will sit on this bus stop bench and wait for the late-night bus ride back to the dreams that could’ve been.
[Mick Hugh is the creator of Mick’s Neon Fog. And an all-around bad ass.]