Stephen J. Allen
If I were to take on an alter-ego, I would become a criminal in the societal sense, but an animal in the natural one.
I would burn down empty office buildings and plant a forest where the ashes fell.
I would build my den out of sticks and stones and run among the trees.
I would tear off my machine-made clothing and my mask of calm “normality” to swim upstream with salmon
and howl with the neighborhood strays.
Now, I am like the strays, too suburban for nature, too wild for the suburbs. Sometimes tame and sometimes untamable,
instinct working in waves.
But I’d be like their ancestors: an animal too wild even for his own wilderness.
I would wander, leaving behind the credit cards, the discrimination, the pain of being a person in a place too preventive for profound expression.
I would walk sometimes on two legs, sometimes on four, sometimes not at all, because animals need rest too.
I would eat what I could find—discarded crusts, wasted leftover lasagna, stale bread—and never asking anyone to pass the salt. Never sending my meal back because my steak was overcooked or my salad overdressed. Never sitting across from my wife, secretly seeing only the waitress behind her, also overdressed.
I would not order delivery, I would order order to deliver itself away from me,
I’d be happy in my chaos.
I would not stalk people online, I would stalk prey, low to the ground like a great white tiger, or under the ground like a trapdoor spider.
I would not have enemies.
I would not have regret.
I would not have first, second, or third-world problems. My problem would be the world itself, slowly getting torn apart and built anew, ripping up nature to put down a parking lot, filling in all of the “nowhere” between here and there.
Eventually, I’d find my way back to the city, the cage which I’d escaped.
I’d be seen by an officer, who would arrest me for trespassing, loitering, public urination.
She would chain me up and wait to hear back from her chief,
unwilling to take action without approval.
Some average cup-of-joe-carrying Joe would walk by, looking upon me with contempt, and I would reflect it right back.
He would go on down the road to a job he hates and silently drink shots in his office at 11 AM, thinking about the playground from his youth, now a Wal-Mart,
thinking about the field beside his childhood home, now a gated community where people imprison themselves and conceal their claws from the neighbors,
thinking about a time when he felt free, skinny dipping with his first ex-wife at her lake house,
thinking about me, the beast he wishes he could be, handcuffed to a parking meter and snarling like a dog.
Would he see that he’s the criminal?
Would he feel the pressing weight of envy on his chest?
Would he feel instinct itching behind his eyes, in his palms, on the bottoms of his feet?
Would he feel a rumble rising in his throat, a roar threatening to break through the constant drone of low voices and telephones ringing, his thunder reverberating off the cubicle walls and inspiring some kind of pack-mentality mutiny from his neutered and blinded peers? Or would he stay, silent?
The cop would come back, then, and unlock my handcuffs, the police chief insisting that I be left to animal control, “The prison is not a pound.”
And I would run free, letting my roar loose and relishing the feeling of asphalt changing underfoot: to dirt, to spongy moss, to earth.