I have a dream in which my parents sell off the family homestead to downsize and be safer, and they end up in a three-story ramshackle fixer-upper on a drag strip in Miami. We are all there—my nuclear family of seven, all the grandchildren, and their children too. The house is bursting at the seams with activity and noise, but luckily for me, there’s a gas station where the garage should be, and the gas station serves alcohol. I keep going to the gas station and playing pool until one of my nuclear family members scolds me; they are all better at life than me. In a moment, I am scum and they are hydraulic devices, working like nobody’s business. I become resentful and retreat to a third-floor balcony with a water bottle full of vodka from the gas station to watch the races. Soon, I am pinned to the ceiling watching my mom shop for dresses with my sisters.
In real life, the partridge in my pear tree has died. Two people are divorcing, and three people are sick of me. Five jillion students against one teacher. Seahawks vs. the Broncos. Philip Seymour Hoffman vs. himself.
I side with Philip Seymour Hoffman.
I zip-line into my day by turning the alarm off and lying still. I burst onto the scene of my work by parking. I’m teaching my first class when God tells me a knock-knock joke.
“Knock-knock, who’s there?” the white board says, apologizing in my brain for not being black and chalky anymore.
I glance at my students, still hard at work. Did they hear the knocking? I knuckle up and knock back, four times in a jagged rhythm.
I get four knocks back. I surmise that this is not God, but the teacher in the room behind me. Whoever it is, I’m not going to let the moment go without responding. These people have been loud and up to shenanigans all semester long, and it’s only the fourth week. Whoever’s back there better be paying attention. I knuckle up and sound-volley back: knock-knock-na-knock-knock.
The professor in the room behind me answers back: knock-knock. His room erupts in laughter, which makes my room only titter. I realize that we haven’t been having as much fun as we should be. I am too fresh from playing rock-paper-scissors at yesterday’s football game, losing time after time to the same eight-year-old.
I guilt myself into my office hour, too-strict me.
You want the day to end on a high note. It’s hard when you’re at the doctor’s office and have to turn your wrist up on your right arm and offer your best vein because you’re being tracked. It’s halfway voluntary, halfway essential. You do it because you’re interested in lasting longer around this place.
You’re in the waiting room early and you intend to read your book, a little quiet time. But there’s a TV playing and it’s all Philip Seymour Hoffman, every great role he ever played, every great interview, him at his best. You are essentially in the waiting room for the same reason Philip Seymour Hoffman should have been. You didn’t know he had kids.
You draw on the best that has happened to you in your life before the needle stuck in your arm fills with your blood for testing. You want to pass this time, especially. In your way, you want to blend in and not call attention to yourself, but you do stick out like a needle, at least in your brain.
You small-talk with the phlebotomist about the oldies on the overhead speakers. You tell the girls behind the front desk to have a good rest of their day, and they respond in kind. You hold the door to the doctor’s office open behind you, looking over your shoulder just in case somebody else is coming.