They come and go as they choose, but prefer the cover of darkness. Red eyes and skin stretched bow-string taught across their gaunt, yellow faces. They peer out from oblivion; they are snatches of mist and fog. Wisps of air that melt into shadow. They are often formless, but they can appear in many forms. They are reflections of the past, glimpses into lives long turned to dust. They are unpredictable. They torment me. They are full of lust, weakness, hunger…they lie in wait. They lie about many things.
I often fold myself into blanket straightjackets and listen to them claw against the drywall. I picture old yellowed claws. Raw, red cuticles torn into torrents of thin, sickly blood. They rarely speak. They use my own thoughts against me. It wasn’t always this way. It is the fear. They feed off of the fear. When I am strong, they are a whisper…a soft lurching in the shadows. When I am weak, they cackle as the walls draw closer, forcing me further inside myself where I can feel their sharp teeth inside my rotten flesh. There is help and hope…this is what I have been told. By honey-tongued dreamers full of God and good intentions. I try to be kind. They don’t understand.
The daytime is often bearable. Sometimes even pleasant. There are afternoons spent in the great expanse of green fields, eyes closed red and veined, veiled against the brilliant sun. It is the nighttime. It comes suddenly. Twitches and jumps inside my mind that tell me they are lurking. I hear their voices. Vague screeching and whistles. Am I honest with myself? Sometimes. Sometimes, I can look them in the eye. They cannot stand the confrontation. They cannot abide my strength. But too often, I am weak. And the weakness begets more weakness. They slip in through the cracks of my resolve and I hear my heart pound, feel the sweat break out on my forehead; I twist the blankets around myself.
Ignore them. It is easy for you to say. It is easy for you to use fiction as a shield. To wrap yourself in velvet myth. It is easy for you to say that it will get easier as the days pass. You don’t know the first fucking thing about it. And it doesn’t matter if it is “real” or if it is “all in my head” because the things in my head are real. You don’t understand this. They understand, and that is their power.
The walls pulse and throb, and sometimes, I must leave. Go someplace. Some well lit place. The drug store. The grocery store. But I feel people’s eyes on me and it is almost as hard to bear.
I have been marked. I do not know what the mark looks like. I do not know where it resides. If I did know, I would carve it from my flesh. I would dig it out with tweezers and razor blades. I would burn the skin until all that remains is a thick roped scar. No, the mark is something subtle. You see it. I feel it. They put it there, and I can sense it in the night.
It wasn’t always this way. I used to be a dancer. I used to slip through the corridors of life, unstoppable. Now, my feet are bound, but it was not always so. It was a gradual descent. They came slowly. I remember.
I remember days spent laughing and feeling a sickening power inside myself. Feeling like all the world was mine. One giant red apple waiting to be plucked and devoured. First kisses and passionate glances. I had these things. I can still taste them. I was a monolith. I was a fortress. They bolstered me because I reveled in their wrath. But years pass, and feelings decay…erosion is an unstoppable force. Allies turn against you. When I first saw them, red eyed and wistful, they amused me. They were something to pit my strength against. The idea that they could turn the tables never occurred to me. But that is exactly what they did. Not suddenly. No, it was a campaign fought over years and years. They were patient. I was not. And perhaps that is how I began to lose the war.
Oh, don’t be fooled by my revulsion. I courted them. Actively. They were my ace in the hole. They made me powerful because I could avidly stare while others averted their eyes…pretended at innocence. That was the seduction. I invited them in, and they buoyed me. Together we sailed over rooftops and laughed in the very face of reason. And then they gradually began to snatch at power. One tiny piece at a time until I was clearly the hunted and no one cared what I had to say. They lived with me, not with other people, so really, why should anyone care?
That is the ugliness I live with. This is the hell of my own making. My brain is wrapped in barbed wire that, every day, is cinched tighter and tighter. Yes, we lived in a kind of symbiotic nightmare. Devil and vampires. Yes, I stole from them as they stole from me. We were parasites. I knew the fire I was playing with. But the fire illuminated the darkness that had ruled for so long. Deals were struck. Negotiations played out. I traded a part of myself…they accepted readily. They stroked the cheek of my rare suspicions. I defied the world.
One day, the turn came, and it was too late. Too many nights spent huddled inside my mind. The walls closing in. It is a nice cliché. But it is anything but nice when it is actually happening. And that was how it started. The world became too small. I bumped my head and knocked my elbows. I could not navigate. I had become a separate thing. I was not part of anything. I did not eat. I slept when the rest of the world was awake and I woke when the darkness came. And they were waiting for me, flitting back and forth behind my eyelids, gossamer confusion, shadows, piercing hate and horror. Sliding down the walls to collect in laughing puddles on the floor. They shone with a ferocious abandon. They were important. They were my allies. They convinced me, even as I knew that they were feeding off me, that I was becoming like them.
As a small boy, I had an imaginary friend. That is what the adults said. They were incorrect. He was not imaginary. He was as real as I was. Perhaps more so, because I knew that he existed, whereas he ignored me. I do not mean that he was flesh and blood. I am not a simpleton. I mean that he and I were one and also distinct. I worshipped him. He was not afraid of school. Not afraid of bullies. He got me into trouble, but I loved him.
We grew apart. He was cast off with other childish trifles. Things that held no value in the eyes of the world, but meant everything to me. But I did as I was supposed to do. I relinquished my control. I allowed myself to be guided.
I am a coward. I am a thief. I am a braggart. I have accepted my sentence. I deserve all of this and more. I have sold my soul. Or whatever it was that made me. I have tarnished myself. And I have been tarnished. I give in to them because it is easier than taking a stand. Because, in my surrender, there will be one brief moment of peace. And that moment is worth a million nights of terror. A million nights of smoking cigarette after cigarette as the room shrinks around me. I hate them, but I will dance with them, embrace them, placate them…because it is useless to fight. Pointless to resist.
It is all soaked in blood. Drenched. This life. My clothes. I wake with the taste of it in my mouth. With teeth clenched and jaw throbbing. I feel the sticky ooze in my ears and I am blinded by the sanguine film on my eyes. Their song is horrifying and beautiful. It is like nothing you have ever heard. It is a siren song which washes me up upon the shores of my own indifference. I crash because, even in their repugnancy, they are almost angelic. Because they are terrible and beautiful. Because the fear they bring is an emotion so pure that it forces everything else out. Who has use for happiness? For laughter? For friendship? For watered down, ambivalent life? How can one settle for this when they can choose that beautiful terror? It is stronger than love. It is palpable. My heart races and my muscles ache. There is some part of me, always, that whispers warnings, dire, into my ears. There is part of me that wants to dive into the pool of blood, to drink it in and feel alive. You don’t understand this.
I find myself hiding in the periphery. I beg them to leave me be. I make promises that I know will never come to fruition. I am willing to do anything. They sway like satin curtains in a summer breeze. They brush against my damp cheeks. They sweep the wet hair from my eyes. Tonight, I must appease them. I let them feed. I open myself to their hunger. I feel warmth throughout my body. I sink back and let my mind go blank. I am offered soothing images. I take voyages through time. I visit the world I used to know. I soar across the barren trees of winter night. I gaze inside yellow windows at the banality of “life”. I am distracted by the flickering of a million televisions. But it does not matter. I can stay up where no one can touch me. I know, in the back of my mind, what awaits me. I know that I will soon be back, wrapped in blankets, full of fear, cowering from the ghosts of retribution. But it is a small knowledge when compared with the greater understanding I have achieved.
They wait for me as they wait for all of us. It is a simple matter of recognition. I have decided to stop running. I accept my lot in life. I accept it all. The fluid simplicity of abandon. It has trapped me and made me free. I would not trade it for anything. I would not go back. Even if I could.