Navel gazing

Author: Reggie Henke ’12

The dulcet didgeridoos dwindle as silent darkness envelopes me. My shallow breath in the soundlessness is a deafening roar. I hear blood coursing through my capillaries. I surrender to the emptiness. I enter the void.

Cool, now what? Do I just be? The instructional video was disturbingly vague. I start daydreaming about my wild childhood daydreams until I remember last night’s flop sweat nightmare about emails. Wait. Focus. . . . On what?

Should I be frightened? They say it’s dangerous. Not for your flesh but for your mind. “Be careful in there,” I’d been told. “You could find yourself . . . or you could lose yourself.” I am salty. I am buck naked. I paid 60 dollars for this.

I need a goal. Something to aim my brain at. A mental destination. There are stories to break, relationships to dissect, quandaries to puzzle. Which pressing problem should I resolve before returning to reality? The nice lady at the desk for sure said not to pee, right? Why do all the employees here speak in a low whisper?

It’s hard not to pee. I crush a half dozen cans of seltzer every day. Hell, I have entrenched opinions about sparkling water brands. Who am I? I sit in traffic and listen to podcasts featuring my friends. I talk about traffic when I’m not in traffic. I text Oscar winners, “Thx dawg!” I’m the owner of a small dog. And now, I Groupon a sensory deprivation chamber in a Pasadena strip mall. I guess I’m a stereotypical Los Angelite. Wait. Um, Los Angelese? That doesn’t sound right. It’s Angeleno. Yeah, I’m definitely an Angeleno.

My toe grazes the edge of the universe. I reject the wall’s tactile sensation and gently blast off, deep into the ether. A tiny tsunami rages until tranquil seas can self-restore. How much time has passed? How much life has passed? Am I even doing this right? Am I enjoying this?

When I first moved out here, I lied. I’d already been a local for “a few years.” Nobody likes an empty resume. I was but a babe. I didn’t own silverware. I found unpaid work. I was the youngest there. I wrote a script and titled it a poop joke. No one would take me seriously.

I blink. Or I think I blink. It’s too pitch black to tell. I bring a finger to where my nose should be. I poke my eye. Ouch. I’m still here. But am I funny? Am I handsome? Am I talented? Am I too self-involved? I’m floating on hundreds of pounds of magnesium sulfate and drowning in questions.

I’m a recent graduate. Wait. Actually that was sort of a while ago, huh? Without summer breaks and fall breaks and winter breaks and spring breaks the breakless years of adulthood melt into meaninglessness under the ever-present L.A. sun. Senses provide meaning. I am senseless. I fart. It echoes like a gunshot.

I am older now. I am a “team leader” at work. That poop joke script won a film festival. People keep taking me too seriously. I still don’t own silverware but I am maturing. I have my own health insurance. I get car washes. I stopped wearing baseball hats backwards. Time chugs on out there. It’s dead still in here.

I want to have some small pride in my writing. Small pride? The silly picture of itsy-bitsy lions prowling the Serengeti shimmers like a mirage. Am I hallucinating them? I’m a Hollywood success. I have a manager and an agent. They’re impossibly hard to get ahold of. Am I hallucinating them? At least I have my friends.

College friends. There’s a grip of them in driving distance. I see them a lot. I see them too much. We careened together and now we career together. I have new friends, too. Too many friends. I miss having two friends.

I think about Helen Keller. I think about The Who’s Tommy. I might be crying. Again, can’t tell. I think about cephalopods. I think about a plot hole in Finding Dory. Okay, yeah, I’m crying.

It’s darker than dark. It’s danker than dank. Like SoCal dank, not unpleasantly moist dank. If anything, it’s pleasantly moist. The memory of my earliest nine-month lease is less than lucid, but the whole sensory experience feels way more womb-like than tomb-like.

Lack of confidence begets hand-wringing. I don’t know where my confidence is. I don’t know where my hands are spatially. I’d like to get a handle on both of these issues. Do I have enough time in the tank? The didgeridoos fade in. Nope. Maybe next week.

Dim lights brighten. I sit up gingerly. An hour has passed, or maybe a lifetime? I take a deep gulp of air and glance down at my innie. There’s a big hunk of lint.

Reggie Henke’s essay received an honorable mention in this magazine’s 2016 Young Alumni Essay Contest. See the results here.