Strange VHS Tape, Part 4


Read Part 3 here

41 days since Part 3. The first 32 of them I didn’t watch the tape. I didn’t want to write about it or live it or continue indulging any of it. I put the DVD/VHS player back in the basement, in a corner, under a sheet of plastic, making it an opaque ghost. I hid the tape itself in the unused attic, wedged into some insulation with the corpses of decades of insects. The air is stifling above the pulldown stairs. Summer came in its wet anger and now everything is stifling.

Somewhere in those 41 days we went away for a weekend, only a weekend. My partner couldn’t spare much time away from work. Neither of us could spare much money. She has her life, and should anything happen to me, I want it to still be there for her. But even a weekend helped reinforce my denial. Two and a half days, the reset button pressed, the poison fever scraped out of my head. I thought. I let myself believe. Famous middle words. She voted for a cabin in the mountains, knowing it would be my choice, too, but following a bit of a meltdown I didn’t dare explain to her, we visited close friends in Tampa, Florida, saw their baby for the first time. Dean is beautiful and laughs a lot and he smells like clean fresh memories.

I had been taking a lot of selfies in the mirror during the first of those 41 days. Something always seemed a little off, somehow, in my reflection. It brought to mind the American remake of The Ring, only much more subtle. In our Airbnb in Tampa, it wasn’t so subtle anymore. This was June 17th. My partner threatened to take me to the hospital if I didn’t calm down.

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I tried. Still I tried to relax. But we came home, we had to, and the tape smoldered like a coal above me, and the player muttered below me, beneath its milky sheet. July 3rd I caved. I hadn’t rewound since my last entry and so the image I ended with then–distorted beyond recognition, every frame–was waiting for me. Only now it was closer to clear, revealing itself, impatient, not biding its time anymore.

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Miles to go before you sleep. I felt relief, really, at such an innocuous phrase, lifted from Frost and twisted to fit me. The man just watches me, parting and closing his lips. He doesn’t blink. His tongue slips out of his mouth and the scene cuts away to something else. I stopped the player after only those few seconds, but the next day, Independence Day, a day that makes little sense no matter how I think about it these last couple of years and especially now, in my home, I woke with aches and a temperature of 102. My partner took our dog to her parents’ house. I stayed home. And

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I saw the photo I took in the bathroom mirror, in the Tampa Airbnb. It had bled into the tape and the tape had bled into it. 30 seconds of it, unrestful as liquid on the screen. Then 23 minutes of static I’m not sure were there before. I remember a section of static–uninteresting, unwavering snow–but it couldn’t have been anywhere near 23 minutes. And suddenly the tape garbled in the machine and wouldn’t play. I worried I had destroyed it. I hoped I had destroyed it.

But it wasn’t corrupted at all the next time I watched, the following day, a dozen times or more. It played as though it wanted to sing. Nor were the 23 minutes of snow there. Instead, I again watched myself find the holes in the woods. I’ll write about the holes. But I can’t now. I can’t. But I can’t have another 41 days, either.

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