The Stranger Upstairs

Spooky, isn’t it,
when you pull into your driveway
and realize you don’t remember the trip,
not one light or turn or stop sign.
While you argued with yourself, heedless to hazards,
your mind, loyal as a dog, brought you home.

For something we carry around every day,
we don’t know much about the brain.
How can a wad of lumpy grey tissue
run the show?
Do our fears and memories live in its folds?
When we sleep,
how can that cold blackness inside our skulls
create the smell of bacon,
a sun-spangled lake,
an orgasm?
How are we fooled night after night,
dropped inside a carnival world,
made to do unspeakable things?
For whose amusement do we perform?

“Where are my glasses?” we say to ourselves,
as if we are speaking to someone else,
a steadfast companion forged at birth.

Just a little bigger
than two clenched fists,
the brain is a riot of neurons:
100 billion twitchy cells,
each one connected
to thousands of others
in a tireless bombardment
of electricity and chemicals.

I picture it as a city.
A crisscross of streets
with lights and signs
controlling the traffic,
some roads well worn,
others unknown;
one ways that limit us,
dead ends that stop us.
There are places we frequent,
shadowy neighborhoods we avoid,
here and there
a rousing new enterprise.

Aim for the horizon
or stay on the tracks—
it’s your life,
at least for a while,
until all the streets
begin to look strange,
one after another
going dark and quiet,
leaving you stranded
in perfect stillness.
Home at last.

Published by

Jean Ryan

Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Lillian, Alabama. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies. She has also published a novel, LOST SISTER. Her short story collections, SURVIVAL SKILLS and LOVERS AND LONERS, are available online. STRANGE COMPANY, a collection of short nature essays, is available in paperback as well as digital and audio editions.

6 thoughts on “The Stranger Upstairs

  1. Jean,
    Beautiful as always….it made me think of countless times i have been on the road not knowing how i got from point A to point B!!! Scarey!!! And when i dream i am never in a wheelchair and i know in the dream that i am dreaming!!! Love your writing my friend!!
    An avid fan,

    1. Thank you? It’s a marvelous thing, isn’t it, the human brain? I have read several accounts of people with disabilities who dream they are unencumbered. Dreaming may serve as a solution, or even an alternate way of living, just as valid as our waking state. In fact, some say we wake only to take care of the body’s needs.

  2. “I picture it as a city.” Jean Ryan!, it is your brilliant, original and gifted Brain that I often think about. I have a list of people to whom I will send your latest Column. Brava! You make the world far more interesting because of your superior brain.

    1. Thank you, John, for this praise, though I strongly disagree with your assessment of my brain–just spent a good five minutes looking for the glasses on top of my head 🙂

  3. I loved this, Jean! (I’ve done that driving “how did I get here?” thing many times!) But I’ve also wondered just what is the difference between the reality of my waking world, and the reality of my dream world. Especially when I “visit” neighborhoods in my dreams that exist only there, and yet I know my way around them so well….

    1. Thank you, Ann! What a fascinating concept–our eerie familiarity with dream locales, even as they shift and change at every turn. And how often do we dream about a known object, like a house, that in the dream is nothing like the “real” house. What is real? And why?

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