It's disorienting: like someone has startled you out of a really good daydream and you find yourself in class, the professor waiting for the answer to a question you didn't hear.
I feel the warm water ricochet off my back. My head tilts back and the hair mats to the neck and shoulders.
Getting long again. Probably oughta cut it. It's a thought, but it's not my thought.
I'm in a shower. I wasn't here a minute ago. Large hands reach for a bar of soap, dangling on a rope on the faucet in front of me. The hands- not my hands- rub the gritty soap over the hairy, broad body.
I'm back. I acknowledge where I am. Or, perhaps it would be better stated, I am acknowledging who I'm with.
I lead a strange double life. In one life, I'm me: Sarah Peony, nurse. I'm so average, I'm invisible: average height, a bit on the scrawny side, artificially lightened brown hair and lips that hide a wide smile. My most distinguishing feature would be my too large blue- green eyes with dark blue rims. My mother says they make me look like an anime character. She's such a hoot.
I work 3rd shift at the local hospital. It's not bad, after you get used to going to bed at 4 in the afternoon. Otherwise, I love my work: a nurse in the burn unit.
Then there is this other life, this dream life. I have fought beasts so ugly that you cringe just to see them. I have run for impossibly long distances without tiring. I've broken into facilities with bars and guards and secreted people away to safety. It's uncanny how real it seems. I've tasted blood when I didn't block an attack fast enough. I've felt the burn of exertion in my muscles. I've smelled camp fires and rustic meals and the sweet perfume of a foreign forest. I've heard voices, animals. Every sense is clear because it is real.
I know: just call me Madam Butterfly. Except that I know who I am: the invisible woman who works the sleep shift in the mega-hospital. And I know who I'm not: this incredibly strong man whose life I witness in my dreams. Because even though I smell the soap, see the steam mix with the cool morning air, feel the rough texture of the towel, taste the bland, gritty baking powder toothpaste and hear the slap of bare feet on the cool tile, I know these massive hands are not mine, these barrel-like arms do not belong to me. This is not me.
He leans heavily on the sink in front of him, bowing his head, as if concentrating. He wants something to happen. I watch the scene through his eyes, I feel his frustration. Then something far away pulls at me. His head jerks up and I see a distorted, obscured reflection in the foggy mirror.
Don't go. He pleads.
But I have no control over this. The scene fades slowly, as if I'm backing away into a darkened room. As I leave, I feel his grief, his loss and I share it. We're lost- searching for each other. But at least we're lost together.
I wake and slap silent the alarm clock that pulled me away from him.
Groggy, I pull on my shorts and reflective shirt. Kicking aside the unworn sandals and heels with which my mother insists on littering my closet, I search for my worn out sneakers. With a huff, I rock back on my heels, trying to wake my brain enough to remember where I must have kicked them off. I pull my hair into a ponytail without even the benefit of a brushing while I roam the little apartment, punching on the lights as I go, until I stumble across my shoes next to the stuffed backpack resting on its metal frame against the wall by the door.
Fingering the worn fabric fondly, I think: Soon. We're heading to our mountain soon.
The anticipation is thrilling, exhilarating; but I have work to do. It's almost frustrating to press forward into the routine. Tearing my eyes away from the worn symbol of my peace, I stoop to grab a much smaller backpack beside it.
I run to work with the backpack slug over my shoulders. I only live a little over 2 miles from the hospital and I figure I need the exercise, so in the dark night air, I run through the abandoned city streets.