Radon has been awake for a while, rather unsuccessfully— he hasn’t opened his eyes yet. An inexperienced observer would say he is trying to fall back asleep, since he is counting. “I’m not counting, I’m imagining,” he would respond, quite snarkily, if the whole observer situation hadn’t been hypothetical. He had to imagine, or else he would puke as soon as he got out of bed. “Existential anemia” he called it, begrudgingly. He thought the name was awful; if he’d hear someone else say it, he’d just assume they’re a superficial prick that jerks off to Kierkegaard. But he won’t bother coming up with a better one. The exasperation of hearing it in his own thoughts did not overcome the exasperation of thinking up a replacement for it. It would be useless, he would never talk to anyone else about this feeling, this ritual of loitering. Plus, being good at naming things did not run in the family, obviously. He generally wished people would use words only in the direst of circumstances, clumsily flipping through a dictionary or some government-issued flash cards. Radon would love having no words to say to himself, remembering how to talk only when he has someone to talk to. It would make waking up more successful. He would still think, of course, but in pictures and sensations, without the burden of reasoning, letting the monkey in his brain just enjoy a 7D immersive slide show.
He took a deep breath and had this feeling, like something was evaporating from beneath his skin, like when you turn off the water after a long, hot shower and watch the steam waft away. “Maybe it’s the time I’m wasting, leaving me for a better host,” he thought, then “Bullshit,” and shifted his position to chase this sensation away— “bullshit is the last thing I need right now.” His hip creaked, or maybe it was the bed. Both were probably the same age, though he couldn’t be sure. He wiggled a bit, looking like an absolute fool in the process, in hope he could hear the creaking sound again. Silence, save for the ruffling of the sheets and the faint screeching of the legs against the linoleum.
He saw the bed frame on the street the first day he was in the city. He went to the nearest store, bought a Phillips-head screwdriver and stole a shopping cart. He brought them to the frame and disassembled it right there in the street, on a chilly early September evening, and took the pieces of wood in his apartment, which he couldn’t yet call home, washed them in the tub, and lay them on the balcony to dry, like calf feet at the gate of a slaughterhouse. Then he called his father and asked for money for a bed frame and a mattress, and bought a really expensive mattress instead, plus three sets of those crispy sheets they have at two-star hotels. How much farther away in life would he currently be if his bed wasn’t so excruciatingly comfortable? If it would be easier to get out of it, easier to share it with someone else? The next morning he assembled the frame on the floor, ate a banana for breakfast, and stuck the sticker that was on the peel on a hole that the pressure of the water left in the varnish. “Adult Lego,” he thought while assembling it, and he hated the name; “I could be an engineer,” he thought, and he hated himself even more because he actually could. In his mind, the image of a washer appeared, then a cartoon gear, then a dead lady in a white gown that gave her last breath in this bed, or what the bed used to be, then a pair of tits, then a suitcase overfilled with ties and Oxford shirts and socks, then a cheating man who worked in a cubicle carrying the frame down the stairs because his girlfriend dumped him and forced him to get rid of the bed in one last act of what she hoped would be vindictive humiliation. But all the hypothetical previous lives of this frame did not matter on that morning, because it was his now, and he made it something new. Ariadne, the sad bed of Theseus.
He flexed the muscles in his butt, then the ones in his thighs, then the ones in his chest. His breath shortened, and he tried to remember the things he was supposed to do that day but could not. He flexed his right pec again, and again, and again. It was not noticeable, he was not jacked, not even near it, but his body was aware of the muscle at least. He imagined all his muscles laid on a clothesline, bits of flesh hung out to dry, and his skin shriveled up on the bed, the inside of his nipples touching the inside of his back, like two halves of a clear plastic bag hidden under the comforter. In this vision, his head was intact, and sank into the pillow harder than the rest of his body into the mattress. Stupid poly-memory-foamed mattress with award-winning spinal and edge support. His head was immovable, almost impenetrable. If someone were to come shoot him in the face, the bullet would just pass through his closed eyelids, beyond the pupils and bounce around inside for eternity, faintly rattling every time he lifts his head— if he ever will— like a pearl dropped into a bowling ball. Wouldn’t that be nice, to get shot in the face before you even open your eyes, give your thoughts a chance to bleed away into the sheets? The stupid, crispy sheets. He thought nobody would find him in such a situation, but his dad would drive all 20 hours to check on him if he did not answer his phone for more than 3 days. In that sense, he wasn’t completely alone. But that was of no use at that moment, while he was laying there with insides washed, drying, a bowling ball tied to a deflated whoopee cushion waiting to be stuffed with the organs of a functioning person again. “A person in society.” “Why the fuck do I keep having lame thoughts?” he thought, and he almost opened his eyes in indignation, but his windows faced south, and he knew he could tell what time of day it was from the light in the room. And he would wake up sucker-punched by whatever time of day it was, by morning, or afternoon, or evening, or night. Even if it was a reasonable hour, the first thought of the day once he faced the day itself was always stomach-turning, no matter what. The letter ‘g’, the need for ice, a borrowed sense of novelty, breakfast, an unwritten shopping list, love.
He felt slimy, and his face itched. He wished he could go to the bathroom without having to open his eyes. The bathroom part of the whole leaving-the-house process was the only one he was actually fond of. It was like a perfectly planned dance. It was meticulous, yes, but he had the order of the steps memorized, so he could just do it on autopilot. It was one of those things about which he didn’t have to wonder whether the effort is worth it or not. He didn’t have to convince himself taking a shower or moisturizing felt good. They just did. Most of the time when he looks in the mirror his first thought is “Radon, what a stupid fucking name,” and it always makes him smile. It was a joke between him and himself, he had many of those. He had a phase when he absolutely hated his own name, around the same time he had a crush on his best friend and he confessed to her, and she confessed that she thought he was gay because he wore a silk scarf once. He grew out of all that long ago. So in that sense, the name thing is a dry joke between ex-enemies-now-comrades.
The person he used to be would hate how much he loved his dad, in spite of his name-picking ability. Real love, not the one you have when you’re little. That’s contextual. You love your parents because you’re like a dog: as long as you are fed, walked and loved, there’s no reason not to love back. But once you go out into the world, see for yourself that your dad is just some random guy, you need a reason to love him besides the coincidence of being born as his son. He respected his dad, and admired him because it’s really hard to be an idealist when you’re 45. He wouldn’t go so far as to thank his dad for naming him Radon, but there was something so impressive about a guy who loved Marie Curie so much he’d name his son after a radioactive gas. His dad had kept a photo of Curie in his wallet since high school. She was a romantic scientist’s perfect idol: Polish immigrant, survived on nothing but bread and tea for a while just to get an education, two Nobel prizes, died because of what she loved. And somehow was a real human being, had a husband, a family, stayed humble. She did everything. Every day. Radon had to do just one, that day: Open his eyes. Two: Get up. Three: Pull the blinds. Four: Look out the window.
How unbearable, how heart-dwindling is it to look out the window on a day like this? He was a body at rest, and the world was already in motion, and everything that had been happening since the last time he saw it would just wash over him at full speed. He knew that feeling, his lungs filling up with the glycerin-like fluid of a new day, and himself gargling and grasping for regular air, the air in his bed, the air with the windows closed. He felt small, and had tried imagining other people’s windows, but felt weird because he couldn’t comprehend the number of windows in the world. Not even something smaller, not even the ones installed in new buildings, or windows in hotels, or prisons. Or all the doorframes in the city, all the plastic bottles in the dumpster behind the nearest Wendy’s, behind all the Wendy’s in the whole world. All the cashiers at Wendy’s, all the cashiers that quit their jobs that day, all the people who are currently wearing aprons. All the people who are ironing their aprons, all the people who are shaving their legs, all the people who are holding their right hand up because they think it’s a cure for nosebleeds. All the people who are pulling doors that are supposed to be pushed. He got sad. “Imagine being the kind of person that pushes a pull door and gets embarrassed, and thinks of being judged and then spirals into how they might never get married.” “I would laugh,” he said to himself. “I’m a chill guy”. There was this one time he spilled his coffee in the airport and did not clean it up, he just went to the bathroom and played Angry Birds on the toilet until it was time for his flight. He had remembered this at the house party he went to the night before. He went by himself, it was too much work to ask any of his friends to come with. He talked with a bunch of people but didn’t flirt with anyone because the shame of that memory lingered, and his name was Radon and that “has a weird vowel/consonant ratio and did not sound hot unless it was shouted over EDM.” He’s a chill guy. He wanted to clean up the coffee, but he realized that the more he stayed there, the more time people would have to look at his face and form a concrete memory about him in that situation. He thought of glass doors, and then revolving doors, and escalators, and then he spaced out, letting the thoughts drift back and forth, like watching lazy flies circling a watermelon through a peephole.
His stomach grumbled. He unclenched his teeth, then clenched them harder. He started shivering—he had actually left the window open the night before, after half-consciously smoking a hand-rolled cigarette that he found in the pocket of his jacket. He hadn’t bothered to think about where it came from at that moment, but in the morning he figured someone must’ve borrowed his jacket at the party. He wished the jacket would still smell like the person’s perfume. He wished he would be able to think that the person picked his jacket for a reason. That they felt an unexplainable attraction towards it, or at least that they thought he had great style. But nobody besides himself could possibly know whose jacket that was. The person saw a jacket and until he opened his eyes, that jacket didn’t even exist. He thought of this guy his father knew, who inherited a lake house from his great uncle, with the lake included. He threw the best barbecues. The best New Year’s Eve parties. His son knew how to jet ski. He drowned himself in Santa Monica. Everything.