On the last Saturday of May, I arrived home to find a flyer on my apartment door from the leasing office. It was late, I was exhausted, and the entire page was filled with two bulleted lists of detailed instructions followed by several paragraphs. It looked complicated. It looked like a pain in the ass. So I tossed it on the kitchen counter and went to bed.
The next morning, I sat down with my first cup of coffee and began carefully reading through the flyer. The word “Notice” was centered at the top in large bold type. It went on to explain that all the windows in my apartment would be replaced over a three-day period beginning the following Friday, June 3. I would have to remove “all furniture and personal belongings a minimum of 4 feet away from all walls with windows in them for the entire length of the wall (corner to corner of room) for the work area.” Given the arrangement of my living room at the time, this meant disassembling the entire room. Since I needed to provide a clear path from the front door to the windows, the glass-fronted barrister’s bookcase I had inherited from my grandmother would also have to be moved, its contents carefully packed into boxes and stashed in my bedroom closet so that nothing would get broken. I knew I wasn’t moving – not yet, anyway – but it sure as hell felt like it.
The first hiccup came when I read that I was to “secure all pets away from work areas and paths.” I have two cats, the younger of which I adopted from a local shelter five months ago. While it no longer feels as though they’re trying to perfect a feline reenactment of the gladiator scene in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (“Two cats enter, one cat leaves!”), they’re far from being good friends. The only “secure” area in my apartment would have been the bathroom. That wasn’t going to work for a variety of reasons.
The second hiccup appeared a paragraph later. It informed me that I would not have access to my unit on Friday, the first day of work activities, between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Therefore, not only would I be need to relocate myself, I would have to take my cats with me. So I called my dad, explained the situation to him, and invited us to spend Thursday night at his house until I received a call that we could return home some time Friday.
The timing for this was less than ideal. I was recovering from the extraction the previous week of two wisdom teeth, and I was still experiencing significant discomfort. After several days of cleaning, packing, moving, and not getting nearly enough sleep, I was becoming emotionally, psychologically and physically exhausted. My friend, Andrea, who had come over to help, was growing increasingly concerned, especially when I had to lie down on the floor because I was dizzy, nauseous, my teeth were chattering, and my all-day headache was transforming into a full-blown migraine.
At one point, she suggested we take my temperature. In retrospect, we both agreed that she should have been the one to look at the digital readout. I remember telling her I had a fever of 101.3. She swears I told her it was 103.1, which explains why she was on the verge of calling 911.
After several time outs on the floor, I decided I was probably stable enough to leave without passing out, provided I took it easy and agreed not to drive. Andrea dropped me and my cats off at my dad’s house at around midnight, a full five hours later than my intended arrival time.
The cats settled in fairly well and began cautiously exploring my dad’s four-bedroom ranch house. We kept the door to the basement closed.
By this time, the inside of my head felt as though my brain were making a desperate attempt to punch its way out of both temples with pick axes while simultaneously burning in lava. On the Numeric Rating Scale, I was between an 8 (utterly horrible) and a 9 (excruciatingly unbearable). I was popping the Vicodin I had been given after my oral surgery like candy. It was barely making a dent in the pain, but it was better than nothing.
I herded my two cats with me into the guest bedroom and unpacked the blue, elastic head wrap I had to wear after my wisdom tooth surgery to control the swelling. I packed both pockets with two of the four frozen gel packs and velcroed it around my head like a headband, positioning the two ice packs over my throbbing temples. By this time, my entire body ached. All I wanted to do was pass out. Waking up again would also be good, but it wasn’t a priority.
It was now about 2:30 in the morning. I’d been tossing and turning, but couldn’t get to sleep. My older cat, Violet, decided she wasn’t happy about the overnight accommodations and had been airing her grievances by meowing repeatedly. Between the nuclear war being waged inside my skull and Violet’s continued complaints, I couldn’t get to sleep despite my utter exhaustion. I had one more thing to try.
I stumbled out to the dining room table and began desperately pawing through my overnight bag for the only option I had left that might provide me with some relief from this excruciating pain and maybe even help me sleep. After finally finding what I was looking for, I shuffled through the dark kitchen to the side door, stepped outside and dropped myself down onto the concrete step.
I fished the lighter and the joint out of the pocket of my track jacket, lit up and inhaled deeply. I looked up into the beautiful, starry night sky, waiting for some relief. Any relief. After I’d smoked my medicine down to a tiny stub, I carefully placed it on a concrete lip next to the step and made a mental note to come back out later to dispose of it properly.
I stood back up, opened the screen door and realized that I had shut the inside door. I also knew without a doubt that I was in such a hurry to get outside and smoke that it never occurred to me to unlock the door first. I grabbed the brass doorknob and gave it a firm twist, anyway. It was locked.
I backed down off the step and, still facing the locked door, dropped my head in defeat and sighed heavily. It was around 3:00 in the morning, and I had just managed to lock myself out of my dad’s house to go smoke a joint. My head still hurt, but maybe not quite so much. Because I was now also stoned, my predicament struck me as funny, and I began to laugh.
I took stock of my situation. I was wearing shoes and a track jacket, so I was warm enough for the moment. I had made a quick detour to the bathroom before heading out, so I didn’t need to worry about that any time soon. I certainly wasn’t making any fashion statements with this ridiculous blue ice pack wrapped around my head which, by the way, had not yet gotten the memo to chill the hell out and stop hurting!
My altered state of consciousness wasn’t going to make this any easier, but I had to do my best. The last thing I wanted to do was wake up my dad, and I was willing to try anything else to avoid that. I trudged around to the back of the house to see if it might be feasible to spend the rest of the night on the deck. When I got there, I tried the sliding door leading to the living room. It was locked.
I surveyed the deck to take stock of my options. It was empty except for a few plastic chairs and some potted plants. The grassy yard was dark and filled with moving shadows in the nighttime breeze. I thought I saw something moving in the grass and nearly jumped out of my skin with fright. Not because I’m afraid of rabbits – because that’s most certainly what it was – but because I was stoned, and everything that moved scared the crap out of me.
Finally, I picked a spot on the damp wooden deck and tried lying down on my side. That wasn’t very comfortable because I didn’t have anything to support my head. Lying on my back wasn’t an option because I knew that as soon as I opened my eyes and looked straight up into the sky, I’d get dizzy and have a panic attack. So I flopped over onto my stomach and shifted around trying to find a comfortable position on the hard planks while at the same time trying to keep the rapidly melting ice packs over my temples where they could do the most good.
After what felt like ten minutes, but was probably only about fifteen seconds, I had what they call in Texas a “come to Jesus moment”: I was going to have to get back into the house, and that meant waking up my dad.
I walked around to the front door and took a moment of silence to acknowledge how badly I felt about what I was about to do. With a heavy conscience and a still-throbbing head, I took a deep breath, pressed the doorbell, then stepped back quickly to the edge of the porch in full view of the front door’s peep hole with my arms at my sides, hoping that would make it easier for him to recognize me.
After what seemed like much longer than it probably was, I heard my dad’s voice from behind the front door.
“It’s me, Dad.” I tried speaking loudly enough for him to hear me, but not so loudly that I woke up any of the neighbors. Also, I didn’t want any more witnesses to my shameful predicament. “I locked myself out of the house.”
Dad opened the door looking tired and confused. I stepped inside, quickly explained to him what had happened, apologized for waking him up, then shuffled back to bed and finally, mercifully passed out.
The next afternoon, still recovering from the migraine, I received a call from the leasing office that I could return to my apartment. I packed my things and began tracking down the cats so I could put them back in their carriers for the ride home.
My youngest, Benedict, however, had vanished. After a thorough search of all the rooms on the main floor, I began to panic as I remembered the last time he got out of my apartment (which you can read about here). He was gone for twenty-four hours before I finally found him hiding in a neighbor’s unit. After a frantic, but mercifully short, search outside, I heard my dad shouting at me from inside the house. To my immense relief, Benedict hadn’t gotten outside, but was, instead, exploring the basement. After about fifteen minutes, we finally located him. I coaxed him out with some treats, wiped the cobwebs from his whiskers and carried him back upstairs, squirming and crying with indignation.
Back in our apartment, the cats were happy to be in familiar territory, and I inspected the brand new windows. I looked around my train wreck of an apartment, wondering with dread how long it was going to take to put it all back together again. Exhausted, I collapsed on the living room futon.