Image © Tom Moore 2017
|by Greg Burkholder||July 21, 2017|
I remember laying in bed surrounded by buffalo. They licked my face, their tongues like wet sandpaper. The buffalo would impatiently nudge my hand until I flung my blanket off and trampled through my room with them. The carpet swayed like prairie grass and the walls stretched for miles. Time to infinity. I led the stampede through the endless plains of my room, as fleas danced jigs on the buffaloes backs and I laughed at them for being so dirty and they’d retaliate by kicking carpet dust into my eyes. I’d rub it off with the hem of my sleeve but it never all went away. They’d gallop through the long shadows of dresser buttes. I pinched their fur and they’d howl and forget themselves, banging into the pant filled buttes and send picture frames soundlessly clattering to the floor. When we would get tired we’d collapse to the floor and they’d nibble the carpet like it was prairie grass and I’d laugh.
“Silly buffalo, thats carpet,” I’d say, “Not food!” and they’d low and shake their heads and jets of mud would launch off their backs.
In short, we were bros, laughing at each other’s flatulence and punching each other for no reason. Every night, as the darkness slipped through the blinds, I waited for the herds of wild eyed buffalo that pranced in the shadows. Sometimes the only thing waiting in the the darkness would be an iridescent patch of light that could recite last night’s Mutant Turtles episode by heart or a silver cloud bearing tiny gnomes with pitchforks, singing in some foreign language or wide eyed polar bears sipping tea out of an erlenmeyer flask while they leaned against my dresser waiting for me to stop giggling. I didn’t really get along the other nighttime visitors. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them, per se, they just made me uncomfortable. The buffalo were all I cared about.
When I was 7 or 8 me and my best friend Josh were knocking plastic action figures together in my room. I farted and he fell on his back laughing, slamming into the dresser. The picture frames shook and rattled before rolling onto the floor. A glass gash sliced through my families bodies. He gushed apologies and whipped his head around searching for an angry mother bounding up the steps. I explained to him that it was alright. The buffalo destroyed my room every few nights and it was no big deal. He was flabbergasted.
I explained to him the nightly visitors, which I thought was a rote fact of everybody’s lives. Isn’t that why people lied in their beds at night, waiting? Apparently not, according to Josh. I was so confused. I took my questions to school the next day to see if Josh was just messing with me but everyone echoed his words. Some kids called me a nutso and pushed me into the lockers. My head swirled with confused thoughts. At first I refused to believe it. I was just me, a barely operational boy, but as I walked home from school that day I gradually came to accept what should have been plain all along: I had a gift.
You said you were going to fix me. Like all the other times.
Instead you ruined me, drained me of my gift. You stole every one of the buffalo right out from under my eyelids while I drifted through your pretty, puffy anaesthetic clouds. I imagine you laughed and laughed, staring at the poor, helpless boy on the operating table. The nurse’s hand trembled holding the scalpel.
“This operation should be a smooth one” you said, swivelling towards my mom in your chair. Your eyes were so earnest.
“Oh good.” my mom replied. My last few surgeries had been pretty rough and she was grateful that this one would be less intense.
“Our main concern is to get his eyelids to shut all the way. To accomplish this we are going to do some doctor nonsense and big words.”
I stared off into space daydreaming of the buffalo that would come stampeding into my room that night. They hadn’t shown up in a few days so I was sure they’d turn up tonight.
I think they were afraid. They saw you coming.
“Oh. ok?” my mom said pretending to understand.
“The short of it is that after this operation his eyes should now close all the way when he sleeps. This will enable his eyelids to fully blink away some of that ‘sleepy dirt’ you were concerned about.”
“Oh good! We have to spend a lot of time every morning cleaning his eyes.”
“Yes see what causes this phenomena is
Some other nonsense. More lies dumped into my mom’s ear about how this surgery would fix another one of my many problems and how the end of my health troubles was on the horizon. And lord how excited my mom was to hear that her boys multitudes of health problems, the broken parts that ran rampant through my body would soon all be fixed.
Everybody’s eyes fucking glowed.
Your kitchen is so nice, doc. Look at the spotless hardwood floors! The only blemish is this broken window glass strewn everywhere. Sorry! I’ll make sure to clean that up. A marble counter top. Wow! I’m impressed doctor. You must make serious bank blasting through strange nasal cavities, happily lapping up false conceptions of beauty and the vague conceptions of normal, filling your pockets with people’s shame and promising to fix what wasn’t even broken. Impressive! I see a thin wooden board on the countertop. Is this where you slice things? Tomatoes? Yes, duh, I see the knife. Has nice heft to it. Is that…oh doctor I didn’t know you snored. You are not that loud of snorer, don’t be nervous, it’s just that I’m only a hallway away, just beyond the thin frame of your pretty white bedroom door and I can hear every sound you make, every bubble of flatulence. OOOOh! Look at the pictures of your nice family perched on the end table. Are these pictures of your kids? They are indeed adorable. I wonder if they are here too?
“Are you excited to get your eyes fixed?” my mom asked me as we drove home from the hospital.
“I guess.” I didn’t know or care what they were going to do to me. Surgeries were a normal part of my existence and I had no reason to wonder at the reason for the latest one.
“It’ll help keep your eyes clean!”
“Ok” I said, then swung my legs. I watched the telephone poles and corn fields roll by the window.
The last time they showed up was the night before the surgery. My mom tucked me in and I gathered my Mutant Turtle blankets to my chest and waited for everyone to pour out of the walls. I hoped the buffalo would come tonight. It had been weeks since they came. I had other visitors, (a bisexual ninja wearing oven mitts) but it just wasn’t the same. After what felt like hours of waiting, I felt a nudge on my shoulder.
A buffalo stood beside my bed, grunting and flinging fleas and dust from his back. I happily wiped the phlegm and mud from my face and hugged his gigantic neck.
“Heyy” I cried. “What happened to you? Why have you been gone for so long?”
The buffalo crooked his head and a thousand buffalo poured from the walls and ceiling. I had never seen this many at once before. They surrounded the bed. They opened up a path and the leader strode through the parted herd. He laid his head on my bed. I pet his head and snuggled his fur.
“Ok that enough of that!” I said, hopping on my bed. “Let’s play!”
I jumped up and down and teased them by making very rude gestures with my hands. None of this fazed them.
“Guys what’s the problem!?” They just stared at me.
So we just sat there quietly for hours until the light stole through the curtains and they shuddered out of existence one by one.
They knew what you were up to, doc. They knew they were about to be ripped away from me. Did you lick the scalpel like a psychopath? Did you hum hymns under your breath while all of my dreams fluttered from under my eyelids like dust-motes? I bet you did. I’m humming now. Do you hear me doc? Naw. You don’t. You are still snoring. I guess you can’t hear the clack of footsteps against the hardwood floors as I walk through this hallway either, huh? You are dreaming, deaf and dumb.
The nurses wheeled me into the waiting room and you smiled at me before pulling the green mask over your face. I felt the rush of gas seep into my lungs and my consciousness collapsed. A black sheet was draped over my eyelids.
Unlike my other surgeries where I had to recover in the hospital for weeks, I only had to stay in the hospital for a few days. It was minor you said. Mom was glad not have to stress about paying for a hotel for two weeks and she was giddy when I’d wake up with clean eyes every morning. After the swelling went down she kept asking me to shut my eyes. They actually close all the way! She exclaimed. There is no white slit under your lids anymore. I didn’t know what she was talking about. I heard pounding in my head.
You came tramping into the hospital room and told me I was a trouper and that if I was ready I could go home. “You handle these operations like a champ” you said with a big, toothy smile and I smiled right back at you, doc. Hey. Guess what? I’m smiling again.
It was strange. I didn’t understand what was happening. At night, instead of my room turning into a kaleidoscope of different creatures and buffalo it was nothing but a flat black void and sometimes worse, a stretch of death-like nothingness. At first I paid this new development no mind. I was used to weird things happening to me after surgeries. I heard lions roaring for a solid month after I had my nasal cavities blown open and I still get flashbacks of sparkles and multi-colored raindrops plummeting from the sky. So this was nothing. But the time kept piling up and still the nights were barren. Months went by. I cried to my mom and asked her where the buffalo went. She didn’t understand. She called the pastor over to lay hands on me in prayer.
I’m no kid anymore doctor. Boy, this bedroom door is really well made. This must be imported! Look at the grains and the paint and they way the sturdy handle glistens! Really quite lovely. I’m no kid anymore, doc. I know that there were no actual buffalo in my room. Don’t accuse me of such banality. I’m not an idiot. Not a psychopath. Unlike you. I know that those buffalo and other assorted creepos patrolling my room at night were REM hallucinations and that somehow my eyes being open a few millimeters while I slept caused all my dreams to happen in my bedroom. Even though they are dreams that doesn’t make them any less important. There is value to be had and friendships to be made in the rapid eye realm between death and life, no matter how many intellectuals like you dismiss the experience as “just a dream”. I seethe as my hand grips the handle of your bedroom door.
My anger towards you didn’t start out as anger at all. It began as a deep, directionless sadness. I grew ever more dreamless and lonely as the nightly expanse of black nothingness spread into the rest of my life. As a child, everyone called me “brave” for handling my health problems “like a champ”. I always beamed with luminescent smiles that lit every damn corner of the room. That light was blotted out by the shadowy ink blooms that you spilled in my head. I became a morose teenager, morose young adult, morose adult. My friends flaked off my shoulders like dead skin. The darkness, your darkness, pooled in thicker and thicker clots until the dam broke and hahahahahaha doc! Guess wha-a-at? I read some Tony Robbins books and I realized my morose attitude wasn’t helping me accomplish anything in life and that if I really wanted to move forward I should have a purpose. Sure you ripped away what may have been a happy childhood and forced me to grow up lonely and black hearted and annoying. Buuuut I’m willing to forgive, my man. As long as you give me what I ask for.
So that’s why I’m pushing open your door right now, good sir, clutching a knife. So shiny! Oh, you look so cute lying there with your wife. Is that your wife? I hope you aren’t up to no good, no extramarital liasons, eh? I stare at you and the old hatred wells up inside me and I see a herd of buffalo running in front of my eyes but I know they are only hallucinations because you killed them all. A bovine genocide, doc, all on your hands, yet you sleep oh so peacefully, one hand thrown over your wife or lover or whatever the fuck and I can’t stand the sight of you, you there probably dreaming, pastel dancers and beige elephants fluttering under your eyelids, while mine are pristine and blank and so so clean.
“Wakey!!!!!!!!” I yell.
Oh, haha how you shoot up out of bed and fumble on your nightstand as your woman screams and points like this is some budget horror flick. I guess I am wielding a knife. I guess my eyes are psychotic. But hey? Whaddya gonna do? You did this to me. You. You.
“Who– “ you scan me, recognition beginning to poke through your eyes.
“Remember me old buddy?” I say.
“Is that little Gregory?” you stammer, your hand on your phone, quivering, while your wife whimpers under the blanket.
“So you do remember me.”
“It’s ok honey its one of my old patients.” you say, patting the trembling lump of your wife. “What are you doing here?!”
I pat the knife against my leg. It’s clear you’re stalling.
“Do you need help?” you say, voice trembling.
I throw the knife at at your feet.
“What…” you stammer “Gregory I-”
“Open my eyes.”
“OPEN MY EYES!”
“Gregory you’re looking right at me, I don’t know what-”
I throw your wife off the bed. Her body makes a satisfying THUNK sound as it hits the floor. I hear her whimper. I throw the sheet off the bed and lay, prone, spread eagle, and waiting.
“Open my eyes!!!”
“Stop this madness Gregory or I’ll call the cops.”
I sit up, grab the knife off the floor and press it to my eyes.
“You know what to do doc. You broke me. You shut my eyes. Now open them! Open them!”
A line of blood trickles down my eyelids.
Your eyes, scared to linger on me, flicker upwards for a moment. They light up with shock and understanding.
“Understand what you’ve done to-?” I say.
“NO!!!” you scream as your eyes watch some faraway object behind my head. Maybe a buffalo shaking its head at you in disapproval.
“Still refusing to accept the error of your ways I-”
“DON’T HONEY HE’S NOT A THREAT!” you wave your arms and dive for me and words are on my lips but white sparkles dance in front of my eyes and the room tilts and yippee it feels like we’re on a roller coaster, my stomach surging into my chest and then
Beige. So much beige and blinding light. And murmuring, far away murmuring. A plastic film draped over my eyes and cotton stuffed into my ears. No wait. That’s just how it feels. Faces, shocked and awed and foreign appear in front of me blurred to putty and bobbing hair. A ringing. Beeping. Light floods the bobbing heads and suddenly the faces, oh yeah faces! Of human beings (I remember those!) come stuttering into focus and I see a nurse. I could recognize the silhouette of a nurse anywhere. The cotton further unplugs from my ears and I hear my mom’s voice, on the edge of hysteria and feel her fingers grabbing my arm (I have an arm!). Her skin is clammy. She is peeled away from me and collapses, sobbing, into the arms of a waiting blob and then…no….no….no….nonononononono…
You appear. Smiling. You pat my mother on the back and aim bullets of charismatic teeth at everyone’s heart. The muted hubbub dies down and as you lean over me everyone steps away and you smile at me and mutter something that I cannot hear and gently, so gently, pat my arm. You slip on a latex glove. You flick a needle.
Greg has Treacher Collins Syndrome, which he loves and hopes you do too. His hearing aid, alas, is broken, but it’s ok. Right now, America is more tolerable on mute. He lives in Lancaster County, PA, with his girlfriend and dog. He’s been published across the internet and is working on a book about facial disorders. Love.
Tom Moore works with Lost History & Found Flowers, Low Spectacle & High Fashion, New Monsters & Old Hollywood, True Crime & False Lashes, Fresh Guts & Worn Clichés, Breaking Hearts & Accelerating BPM. Drawing is séance. Film is spell casting.
They have exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery and the ICA. Their films have been screened at the London Independent Film Festival and Donau Festival. And they’re in the band Body of Work.