You’ve stepped into the room, taking note of the strange squiggled pattern on the worn linoleum floor underneath your tennis shoes. Behind you the key scrabbles in the lock, and the deadbolt clicks into place. You’re alone, you don’t have much time, and you need to figure out a solution to the problem.
The room lacks windows, so the air already feels stuffy, and you’re a bit lightheaded, trying to remember your task.
The scent of mint overwhelms. Three kinds of mint all at once: leaf mint, fresh, picked from an old babysitter’s garden; chewed peppermint gum spit out underneath the bleachers of a school gym; blue mouthwash next to the sink for gargling.
If this were an escape room, friends would surround you, each of you would have paid upwards of thirty dollars for admission, and all of you would work together as a team to find the solution. People go to escape rooms for adventures. The task, the locked room, the limited time in which to find a solution – these things contribute to adventure, the sense of an urgent mission, the development of community. If this were an escape room, you’d bounce ideas back and forth with your companions, like castaways on Gilligan’s Island, except without the lame jokes, the stereotypes, the slapstick comedy, because this is not funny business here in this room.
You would try to find clues, and if you got desperate enough, you’d ask your captors to release a clue, just one.
But for you, this room is different. You’re embarking on your own personal mission to find the urgency in your life. In your days. In your moments. And then express that urgency aloud. You know it’s there, the urgency, but the way your brain works, you find it difficult to isolate the urgent; you tend to give things equal value. Events, problems, simple tasks, conversations, objects, memories, worries, associations. All merge together into one big bolus of thought in your brain. Thus, a recipe for black bean and ham soup is equivalent to a conversation you might have with the soloist after your brother-in-law’s funeral service. Not in terms of the importance the events hold in your heart, of course – their meaning to you and the way they affect you. But the expressing of them as issues requiring reckoning, in any order of priority.
And the utterance. The utterance has become so complicated, in part, because of the nature of your non-linear brain but also because of the complexity of the associations. If you could just prioritize these things in terms of their importance, and then utter them, one at a time.
Utter them. One at a time.
Your cousin Fred, trained as a journalist, unknowingly provided a clue. “You buried the lead,” he said. You called him again after leaving a cryptic message on his cell, not quite proclaiming but implying the death of your shared ninety-five-year-old aunt. You could have just said it. You’d prepared him for the possibility the week before. Instead, you trailed off at the end of the message, unwilling to state the facts.
His first editor had urged him early on not to bury the lead. But you weren’t trained as a journalist, you told him. Argued into the phone in the back yard while you watched your dog roam, looking for a 5:00 p.m. pooping spot. Told him that it wasn’t necessary to lead with drama. And really, wasn’t that what the Trump era was all about with the tweets and the snake-poking? We don’t need more drama, you told your cousin. Why lead with drama?
Yet you knew he was right, and he’d hit on a truth he wasn’t even looking to claim. You always buried the lead. Took the non-dramatic option.
You didn’t even realize how much you buried the lead in your daily life.
Which is why you need the room. To sift through those thoughts in your head in a confined space, on a timetable, to find the one rising to the surface, bubbling up. The one that needs uttering more than any other at that moment, even if it was messy, that thought or explanation or occurrence, messy like all that grease you tried for years to skim off the turkey gravy, even sopping it with a paper towel, watching the oil become absorbed by the layers of the paper product.
You’re tired. But you have some things to say.
About living. And dying. And urgency.
You need to figure out what to say because you’re alone, you didn’t pay the price of admission for this adventure, and no one is going to come back and open that door until those first few words tumble out of your mouth.