It’s almost midnight and I have work tomorrow and I’m exhausted, but I can’t sleep. I’ve self-medicated again, the end knot of a string of attempts at self-anesthetizing competing with one another for degree of numbness. Each time pushing it a little farther, taking a little more, and each time wondering if this will be the time that I’ve pushed it beyond where it can go, and wondering – sometimes even hoping – that this will be the last time I have to do this.
My heart is pounding in my chest. I can’t even remember everything I took. They were all legal, all prescribed, all considered necessary for the advancement of my very tenuous mental well-being. But I am beginning to believe that while all of them have some effect in solidarity, in tandem they can turn what at first seemed a blissful anesthetic into the simultaneously frightening and freeing premonition that I might never feel anything again. If I close them tonight, will my eyes open again in the morning?
My hands shake and my toes tingle and the only way I can keep my head from flopping backward is to lean it onto one shoulder or another in an artifically pensive and thoughtful pose. And I think as I sit here, what if I don’t wake up, and then I worry that the thought isn’t as troublesome as I think it should be.
Every day I wake up, groggy and disinterested with my day. Every day I shower and brush my teeth and do my best to manage the anarchistic army of hair which sits foxholed firmly but uncooperatively on my scalp. And every day, just as I’m about to walk out the door - just as I’m about to perform my daily routine of selling out, of deliberately abandoning all I believe in and forcing my square self into a round hole – just before I do all that, like a fool I take one last glance in the mirror.
I am fading.
Every day I disappear a little bit more. In the mirror there are only shadows of me, layers of painted cellophane that are removed one after another after another, until I have become as translucent and as meaningful as saran wrap.
Soon there will be nothing of me left. This makes me a little sad. I was one of the lucky ones who are able to find a few small things to like about themselves. Not grand conquests or historical heroism, but just little things like the way my right eye twinkled when I laughed or the way my hands felt smooth on a keyboard. Now I never laugh, and the layers which kept me writing were among the first to be peeled away.
So I guess it’s natural, then, that I feel a little nostalgic, a little curious. If I were to die tonight, what is it I would miss?
There was a time when my life was so full. When the entire world sang to me, every city a calling siren, every mountain a beckoning nymph. The song has never stopped. But while it used to be sweet and tender and overflowing with the promise of adventure, its pitch has changed to an octave which is apparently audible only to myself and the dogs living one floor down. It grates on my spine like the scream of a dying cat and makes me want to gouge my eyes out with my own thumbs.
“I’m stuck!” I call to them. “I’m too old now to come when you call, and the walls around me are too high to climb! Call someone else!” And when they don’t stop, I can only curl up and rock in the fetal position, sobbing in silent, futile whispers, “Please, please call someone else.”
But oh, that call. What a life I have lived.
I have watched poor children at a coffee plantation fight to have their pictures taken with a polaroid, because it’s the first they’ve ever seen of either a camera or of their own images smiling back at them.
I’ve been there as a large load of second-hand sneakers were delivered to a Nicaraguan orphanage, after which the children, who have never in their lives had enough to eat, sat down next to us and shared their lunch.
I have wandered the streets of the Bund in Shanghai at sunset, watching as the lights across the river flash in every imaginable color, the bright intensity of a city which knows itself, which fits into its own skin, in a way I never have.
I have been to the Ming Tombs with a little Chinese girl who didn’t know me, but held my hand the whole time anyway.
I have ridden a camel on the Great Wall.
I have ridden on the back of the scooter of my friend Roy who, recognizing my constant searching for peace in the midst of the incessant siren’s call in my head, drove me far, far into the mountains above Taipei to a painted temple where his mother used to take him when he was young. And in that place, I have listened to that friend, that friend of undying devotion and love, say, “Here you can rest.”
I have gotten stuck climbing trees in tropical mountains after dark
I have wandered the streets of San Francisco and Seattle and Portland and Reno Shanghai and Beijing, all of them after dark, just to see how it feels when a city sleeps.
I have eaten boa constrictor and armadillo.
I have known love. Real love. The kind which is so fragile that when it hits the oxygenated atmosphere of the real world it retreats and evaporates as quickly as it came, and all you are left with is whatever you could grasp at as it pulled back past you into nothingness.
I will never see any of these things again. Seeing is a verb which necessarily requires an agent, and cellophane wrap cannot, by definition, see. There is no more of me. I am assimilated. I am every day the same. I am the television is my savior and beer, wine, and cocktails my holy trinity. I am save me, save me from the pain of this distortionism I have to perform every day, dislocating this moral and that standard and this most special part of who I am in order to fit into a box of conformity marked “This End Up” but which always seems to get tossed into the truck upside down anyway.
There is no happy ending here, no moral to be taken away, none of my typical reminders that life’s lemonade can truly be sweet when pressed the right way. There is only disillusionment, and the disgusting and gut-punching realization that I’m neither special nor capable nor destined to do anything, great or otherwise, with my life.
There is nothing but me. And soon there will be no more of that either.