Parting Shot cover

Illustration by Charlotte Dijkgraaf.

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Illustration by Charlotte Dijkgraaf.

Every night, I stumble into the same maze. After I drowse off into a deep sleep, I suddenly wake up, startled, searching for something on the tip of my monkey mind. Usually it’s something I had forgotten — a password, a luminous idea, a name.

I don’t want to follow up on those things on this ungodly hour. I really shouldn’t. I tell myself to let it go. Forget about it. But I have the willpower of an alcoholic who knows there is a bottle of whiskey in the pantry. Sooner than later, I give in.

As soon as I grab my smartphone, I turn into Alice, following the white rabbit into his hole until she tumbles down behind him. Except, I am not Alice, but her wacky aunt, the rabbit is a rat, and the hole a stinky sewer.

And while Alice finds herself in a long, low hall, with closed doors all along it, mine are wide open, inviting me to enter. I venture straight on a road paved with the contents of Pandora’s box.

Twitter offers a dizzying race for attention from a gazillion opinions. The rudeness is appalling. I find myself in a classroom filled with bullies. Who are these people who scare the hell out of me? Why are they so loud? I am tempted to offer my two cents, but don’t, fearing I will be trashed, although I don’t know by whom. Maybe not even by human beings, but cold bots.

Facebook seems a tad friendlier but confronts me with emotional stuff that is impossible to deal with in the middle of the night. While I am delighted to stumble upon an old friend from high school, I am saddened to learn she is not well. Oh no, this is terrible. But what can I do?

Next, I am shown images of people popping pimples as if they are delicacies. Help, I can’t unsee those images anymore. This site, to my bewilderment, is hugely popular.

To calm down, I visit a site where animals are saved. People go out of their way to rescue a drowning calf, a bird with a broken wing, an itchy dog that was never treated for a skin disease. I get caught up in every adventure, root for each animal, until I realize I already saw that sheep covered in 80 pounds of wool getting sheared.

Haircuts are on my mind suddenly. A girl with long dreadlocks visits a salon. I watch her transformation to the very end. Also that of the homeless man whose beard is shaven for the first time in ages. Apparently, I find this all irresistible at 3 a.m.

But, I need to go back to sleep. Asap. I have a full day of work. But… there still are some drops of whiskey at the bottom of the social media bottle.

There they are, all over my screen. Puppies. The wagging of their tiny tails, those cute noses. I love them all. But really, why am I here? I shoo them away.

Then, just when I am about to fall asleep, I realize I forgot to finish that thought that first woke me up. Whazzit? And that name … whozzit’s name?

Arrggh!!!

Pia de Jong is a Dutch writer who lives in Princeton. She can be contacted at pdejong@ias.edu.

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