When my alarm goes off in the morning, I’m stunned. I wonder if I even slept. I must have, because I remember the dreams. I remember imagery representing conflict and struggle, my subconscious throwing uncomfortable situations I cannot escape from and spectres of real people that my brain has made up for me to confront, or wrangle myself away from. I dream of emotional violence, and physical transgressions: subtly escalating conundrums that I allow to unfold until I can’t anymore because they’re too fucked up and I can’t tolerate them. I have to get out. I wake when I reach the point of needing to get out. My voice doesn’t exist in these dreams. It is when I say “no”, or scream, or throw a flurry of protesting language about what is happening to me that I awaken.
I never get to say my piece.
Getting out of bed every day is like trying to chip away at cement that holds me in place, under the pile of blankets. I lay in bed for as long as I possibly can without being late, letting my alarm go off repeatedly, and usually end up late anyway as a result of staring in the mirror or standing in the shower thinking too long.
I suppose I’ll shower. I can’t remember whether I’m supposed to wash my hair today or tomorrow, so I’ll do it now I guess. Putting on some eyeliner is a good idea, right? Maybe it will help me not look so tired. Or look like I tried.
Eating is work, but I get hungry so I do it. I better drink a coffee so I don’t get a headache later, but if I don’t it doesn’t really matter. Headaches are fine. I try to drink as much water as I can over the course of the day, because I think maybe that is helpful, I don’t know. I rely on a routine to tell me whether I’ve taken care of myself or not; a mental check-list of the things I seem to remember wanting to do every day to help me function.
I go to do whatever i’m supposed to be doing, working or some other thing, putting one foot in front of the other because that’s how walking happens, and that’s how I get there. I think while I walk; I try to convince myself that I can get through the day, as a kind of mantra as I pick my way through busier areas littered with pedestrians or quieter side streets. When I interact with strangers, I try to plaster a smile on my face that is, by some feat of inner strength, is reaching my eyes. I succeed sometimes, and know I do when people don’t ask if I’m okay.
I don’t want to answer them. I’m bad at lying.
I try to make sure I don’t cancel too many of my plans to see friends, because I know I need to be with people socially in order to get energy. I seem to remember that working, before.
Making keystrokes is like moving through mud, my fingers struggling to form the words across my laptop screen. The swirling thoughts in my head have to go somewhere else, though. The list of unwritten projects has grown to the point where I may never run out of ideas.
I experience relief that I love to write, because if every one of these thoughts had to stay inside my head, I might die.
Sometimes I wish I could draw. The things that spring into existence in my head might better be served with a physical representation, but I, for whatever reason, haven’t put time into learning how to accurately represent imagery. Words do okay, though. They have to.
If I could draw what the last several months has been like, I would draw a vast post-apocalyptic wasteland. The sun barely cuts through the smog, casting a red-brown hue on every shape, forming elongated shadows across barren terrain dotted with structural ruin. Dumpster fires, piles of garbage, abandoned shells of what used to be homes and gardens. The land here is scorched from some sort of war. Burnt soil, scattered with large burlap sacks full of salt to make sure that once the earth has stopped burning, there’s salt to put down.
Nothing grows here. The salt is to make sure of it.
I’m sitting on a pile of broken bricks in the middle of all this wreckage. My hair is thin, falling out, the pieces of it that hit the ground turn into ashes. My fingers are stained with soot from sifting around the dirt to try to put out the fires. My nails are cracking. My shoulders are hunched over, a bit shaky. It’s hard to sit up straight when there’s nothing inside me to hold my form up. The colour has escaped my eyes, and in them is nothing. Vacancy. I’ve lost the ability to look up; I have the sense that if I could just look at the horizon, I might see something that feels like light or hope. My neck simply won’t allow my eyes to lift enough to look. I’m staring down at the ground in front of me, at my own hands, barely able to keep my eyes from squinting shut and just not looking at anything at all but the blackness on the inside of my eyelids. I smell burning. Rubber, paper, oil, all the burning smells are on the air like a chorus of voices. Breathing is shallow and laboured. I can see wisps of my tiny little breaths curl out of my nose with my exhales after i’ve taken a tiny little breath, off the edges of my lips. The tendrils of air disappear quickly, barely real. I cannot even tell if I still need to breathe. Do my lungs want to? Do I need oxygen? Is there any? It is very cold here, which is unexpected because there are fires everywhere.
Everything is burning.
Get the salt ready.
My fingers are curled around a small spade, and there’s a bag of salt sitting next to me. My hands vibrate from the strain as I shove my little tool into the sack, barely able to lift and shake the salt on the ground around me. I haven’t cried about any of it of weeks, which is surprising because normally i’m quite prone to tears. I blink, and somehow a few more of my tears collect in the waterline, waiting to go in the bag of salt, with the rest of them.
Those were the last ones. They are all gone. I’ve been crying into bags and sitting here, waiting for the tears to turn into the salt that I’ve been spreading around, making sure nothing grows anymore.
Off on the horizon is the monster that Ruined Everything. It is a projection, a shade. I can’t see what it looks like, only that the whole place looks like this because of it. I can feel it; It is angry at me for letting it exist. It is laughing at me for allowing it to do such a phenomenal job of destroying everything. It can’t believe I’ve allowed this to happen, and at the same time, it is shaming me because of course I did.
It knew I would.
I can feel its smoke-like claws rest on the back of my neck, scratching around the edges of my throat. If I move, it pokes me a little. Somehow it is far in the distance breaking things, but also right here, on me, making sure I don’t fight.
It is my worst enemy, my bully, my critic, my oppressor, the shackles that hold me down and back. It hates everything I do; It tells me I’m bad at writing, that I shouldn’t bother, no one cares. It tells me I will lose everything I’ve worked towards because I deserve to, and because I’m a failure. I’m not good enough. It promises me that soon, my business will fail because I’m not that good at my job anyway. It tells me the people that love me will soon see what’s wrong with me, and leave. It tells me that people who don’t meet me where I’m at are better off, and I’’m to be blamed for that. It tells me I’m not worth it. It whispers terrible judgements and accusations about my heart, my priorities, my intelligence, my appearance, my intentions, and as I write these words down It is chastising me, asking me what the point of writing this is. It’s asking me why I think anyone would ever want to read it. It scoffs at my attempts at catharsis, at relief. It tells me I am wasting my time if I think any of this will do any good, or serve anyone, including me.
The shade is me; it speaks to me the way I speak to myself.
I am familiar with it; my brain, for the purpose of this description, assumes it’s a part of me. I am, after all, creating this reality with every keystroke. The letters form the words that spring this projection into existence. I’m choosing them, and choosing the perspective.
Everything is different from what it was six months ago. I have a new house with new cohabitants, I have new plans, new projects. I am curating spaces that are important to me. I have welcomed some people closer to my heart, and distanced myself from others. I have seen beautiful art, eaten delicious food, drank a fair amount of scotch. I laughed about things, cried about them, made jokes, enjoyed company, argued, discussed, worked, played, slept, had amazing sex, fallen in love, fallen further in love anew, stood up for myself, stood up for things that I think are important, been devastated at the world news, marched, supported people, received support. I have felt treasured, betrayed, advocated for, totally abandoned, understood, judged, free, trapped, heard, ignored, appreciated, taken for granted, seen, underestimated, humanized and objectified.
I have felt profound, passionate, soul-shattering love.
The representation of time during which amazing things have happened as dystopian, in this case, is the shade. It has to be. I can’t be the shadow of myself as I feel I have become.
I have to still be in here.
There is something resting on my neck, though. It has one talon-like set of fingers grazing me, sharp some moments and fading away into whispers the next. The other is wrapped tightly around my heart.