Exile to Lonesome Lake Hut

By MILES HOWARD  |  November 9, 2012

I fell into a routine by my own design. Once chores were complete, I'd take my notepad or laptop down to the dock near the lake and put my English degree to a more literal use, finally full of energy to tap out every half-baked script and short story idea that had come to me during a sales meeting or a Green Line delay between Arlington and Copley. Being autumn, there were hardly any birds left in the area, which imbued the lake with serene echoes of rippling water. Thursday afternoon, I thought to myself, "This is healthy."

Just imagine if American employers spent less time quantifying work hours and allowed employees more space to breathe and gather ourselves. I'm not only suggesting more paid vacation time, but an enforced requirement to actually take that vacation and recuperate. Back in 2009, then-congressman Alan Grayson proposed a bill that would require businesses with over 100 employees to provide at least one week of paid holiday for each worker. The bill was shot down by a bipartisan majority with such intensity that you'd think Grayson had suggested infecting the nation with syphilis. Plenty of us still cling to that old "work hard and never look up" mentality, but a look at today's economy suggests that ethos has not exactly aged well. Maybe it was never meant to.

I was just beginning to feel at home, when suddenly, on Friday, a worrying thing happened. I woke up rattled and alert. My dreams from the night before had been disturbing: gunfire, gore, and a sand-swept locale in ruins. The other day, I had read a New Yorker article on the devastation in Syria, afflicted by Assad's army. I was no stranger to violent news, and in the valley, it rarely affected my sleep. But this morning, a sticky, unseasonably warm day of fog, I was so shaken that I was reluctant to close my eyes, for fear of falling backward into that imagined hell.

As I scrambled some eggs on the stove, later that morning, I wondered why I had internalized the war zone reports so completely as to envision them in my sleep. It was an affliction disturbingly similar to Jack Torrance's in The Shining: a writer-cum-caretaker besot by night terrors. The allegory was so apt that it would be laughable in retrospect — only, I was beginning to wonder whether I'd maintain my sanity long enough to experience that retrospect. In one night, my caretaking experience had gone from blissful to haunting, and I couldn't figure out what had snapped.

I spent a deeply unnerving morning moving wood inside, cleaning out my freezer — a coffin-sized container in the perpetually dripping hut basement — and doing lunges on the trail around the lake. I'd constantly catch myself looking over my shoulder, triggered by something as slight as a rustle of leaves or the moving of water. During lunch, down on the dock, I spotted a man on the other side of the lake, moving between pockets of trees. He had a bright red jacket on, which gave away his presence from afar. Yet the man never made it to my side of the lake. I kept waiting for him to pop around a boulder or tree trunk, but he never did.

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