Last Evenings on Earth
Lately, I’ve been having trouble sleeping, and it’s been giving me problems. The other night, I tossed and turned in bed for hours, just staring at the ceiling. Every moment stretched out into the next. My mind was filled with a jittery, searching sort of energy, so I got up and paced the room, pushing out against the walls, and eventually, I just threw open the front door, walked out into the empty neighborhood street, and started running.
Running outside, I found myself again in that state of searching, trying to remember what it was I was looking for. I realized that I was looking for my daughter, who was not in her bed, and nowhere to befound. I headed towards her elementary school, a couple of miles away, and ran through city blocks lined with boarded up storefronts and yellow police tape. But when I arrived at where the school was supposed to be, I froze. The school was not there - the building had vanished.
There was a stranger standing in front of the empty lot where the school once stood, wearing a black plastic bag tied over his torso, and a mask. He moved towards me and said “Hey man, how have you been?” I stared at him blankly. He said something about being an old friend, but I didn’t recognize him at all, his eyes were shrouded in a kind of weird pixelated fog. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, so I just left him there. He started shouting after me.
But I felt this urgency to get home, to see whether my daughter had returned. I felt foolish running around the streets, foolish enough that it made complete sense to me when a police car started following me. The police car trailed silently behind me for a few city blocks, never turning on its flashing lights, never announcing itself, until the vehicle finally drove off without warning.
I was relieved the car was gone, but slowly I realized I was lost in my own neighborhood. The street names were totally unfamiliar to me, the lights cast a different hue, and the dark silhouettes of the Foothill Mountains, always framing our lives from a distance, now felt so close that they were collapsing in on me. Even the smell of the street jasmine, which perfumes everything in the spring, was missing. The entire world was silent, except for the yelps and the whines of stray dogs that openly roamed the abandoned streets, like the feral creatures I used to see in Mexico City. My sense of direction had shifted - imperceptibly, but enough that my mind could not make sense of the opaque traces around me.
But then, I saw a building with its lights on, glowing like a lighthouse. It was the neighborhood café, just down the street from my home. For some reason, it was still open. I walked up to the pane-glass window, and felt a shock run through me - a woman I had loved deeply, many years ago, was sitting inside at a café table, right in front of me, more luminous than I had remembered. For a long moment, we stared at each other through the glass, in a stunned, unflinching silence. All of the years that had passed between us, all of the heat, friction, and heartache, fired through that glass like a circuit. But then the gaze was broken, for some reason, and the moment was left unexplored, suspended in the tangled patterns of my peripheral vision.
I rushed from the café towards my home, just up the street. I remember thinking that I would, of course, find my daughter safe in her bed, and we would laugh together about how she had been there the whole time. I walked up the stairs towards the front door, and looked through the front window into the living room. The lights were all on, the house full of noise. But the noise was from some other family inside. Another mother, another father, other children. Complete strangers laughing at my dinner table. I was too tired to be shocked. I walked around the back, like a zombie, and climbed in through the rear window that I always left open, and I found yet another stranger sleeping in my bed. I was indifferent, and crawled into the bed anyway, with a stranger under my sheets. As tired as I was, I still couldn’t sleep. I kept tossing and turning for hours, staring at the ceiling. Each moment stretched into the next indistinguishable moment. I got up and paced, pushing out against the walls, and finally, I threw open the front door, walked out into empty streets, and started running.
York Chang (b. 1973, St. Louis, MO) makes interdisciplinary work which investigates how collective action is influenced by mass media images, propaganda, and fictional narratives. Chang has exhibited his work at various galleries, institutions, and fairs in the United States and internationally, including Greene Exhibitions, Commonwealth & Council, Charlie James Gallery, 18th Street Arts Center, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, MAK Center for Art & Architecture, MassMOCA, Edel Assanti, NADA New York, EXPO Chicago, and recent concurrent solo exhibitions in 2019 at the Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) and the Vincent Price Art Museum (VPAM). He was the recipient of a California Community Foundation Fellowship (2014), and the VPAM Thomas Silliman Vanguard Award (2020). York Chang lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.