Leap Second | David K Wheeler

We call these vacation nights, evenings when clouds hang low, fleeced with heather and redwood tones, as the sun slouches behind the western hills. The mood—the cast of sky light and streetlamps, the humid breeze as summer rushes past, the tired urge of spontaneity from months of laziness and freedom and the realization that days like this carry with them hidden expirations dates—culminates as a muggy intoxicant. This sensation reminds you of February 29, but shorter, with less brouhaha, as though only you and the ones you love most experience these treasured seconds. The rest of the world has no idea.

And we are in your car. You drive with the windows down. Your best friend tunes the radio to some anthemic product of its time—let’s say “Yellow”—and you drive away from the Dairy Queen and imagine you might just keep driving. West. South. To Tillamook. Yosemite. Area 51. It’s the end of the summer you decided to switch schools. The middle of high school, and you abandon what is religious and familiar for a fresh start. You find yourself at odds with your world and submit that escape alone will resolve the tension. For no reason and every reason. Old corridors and cafeteria once fraternal and reflexive have undergone a sudden shift of character, of expression, manipulation maybe, and you no longer recognize your home or school or place of worship. In ways you hope newness of thought will maintain all the textures of vacation, innovation and exoticism that you find exciting, refreshing. Not glamorous by any means, but there are novel enchantments about halls and rooms. Other ghosts at work, none of yours. You have ducked out and taken holiday from stale and mismatched contentments.

With success you ignore how, at some point, idealized arrangements, vacations from your house and town and state, visits to campuses, late evening drives through August dusk, dissolve. Rather—they extend into infinitude and become the work itself.

No one vacations forever.

So later, you leap between cities and leave behind everything that made you feel forsaken and tired. You trade up, for a shinier skyline, a quiet duplex, a sectional sofa and matching ottoman. You think it nice to walk a different route to work, try a different bar, or sing a foreign liturgy, and realize that everything is new and untested no matter which way you hold the lens and turn your head. You have found a place where you are out of place, but, during these brief, idyllic seconds, for reasons you understand and can explain to others, to yourself, if one or the other bothers to ask. But you are still you, and the doubt and sense of being taken for granted, of tiredness, have burrowed deep and known you Biblically. Bewilderment can distract only until it waxes familiar again.

As you learn this over again, in another car escaping another drive-thru with a slowly melting Blizzard cooling the puerile autonomy between your legs, you resolve in the future to try harder first, and leap second.

Still, there you are. On a night like this watching the sunset tangle in the clouds just as long as it takes to blow a freshly salted gust from the water. That on-holiday feeling, like a lucid dream where true respite remains just out of reach, reminds you this is neither real nor enduring. Yet this moment breaks you like the stretching, drifting cotton against vermillion skyscrapers, from the rigidness of how you view yourself less than you are to the world around you.

These are bittersweet nights that remind us that we may not appreciate what came before enough, and so will try harder at what comes next. These are moments in negative space, where perspective is sharper than it has been in the midst of unpaid internships and night shifts and weekend projects around the house. We rejuvenate. This is when time extends an extra moment for us to catch our breath.

David K Wheeler is the author of Contingency Plans: Poems (TS Poetry), named a finalist in the Melville House 2011 Booksellers Choice Awards. He has written for The Morning News, The Gay & Lesbian Review, The Citron Review, T(OUR) Magazine, and The Pacific Northwest Reader (Harper/Delphinium).


Nonfiction for the restless soul. Published online quarterly.

One comment

  1. Samantha L. Solomon

    The bookends in this essay make it read like it is all happening in one, extended second. I like it.

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