Those three years were a singularity. In part, because Holmes had not been the only one to disappear. I feel now, looking back, that I had managed in some sense to vanish, myself. Summarily, I was not myself. Not for three years.
I don't think, after my wife's passing especially, that I had really been living. I was not aware of it then, but I moved through the days in a sort of half-consciousness, as though nothing around me could warrant my attention. Something in the interior of my mind might, I suppose, have held it – but this was not truthfully the case. I think that my state for a while had more in common with sleeping on my feet than with preoccupation.
My memories from that period – few of them though I seem to have collected – are difficult to distinguish from the snatches of a discomfiting dream one might chance to recall upon waking. They are flat and dull, featureless. Three years of my life represent a famine of detail. Something about those scant, vague memories rings false, as though rather than having experienced them I participated in a badly staged charade, or simply imagined them. It had been as though the part of me that had once known how to live lay at the bottom of a deep well, water-logged and torpid, and nothing around me was sufficient to pull it back up to the surface again.
Then Holmes returned - drawn, gaunt, and careworn, trailing a new chapter of his past to which no one was permitted access.
It was as though someone had snapped their fingers in front of my face.
I was awake, and aware, and I knew that those three years had been nothing for him like they had for me. I knew that he dreamed vividly of them. I knew it when something would remind him of them by the way he would grow alert, yet distant, his eyes darting furtively back over his shoulder against the pursuit of something he did not expect to see, but couldn't shake. These memories of his, unlike those of the time before I knew him, did not seem to be a void which I could not penetrate, but an isolated box which I could not open. And yet, I was desperate to know them. One of us had been living for three years, though it was him the world had believed dead. I felt that I could have found in his recollections some solace for the time I had lost, if only he would have shared them.
I ventured to ask him, once.
Tell me about Tibet, I said.
When he asked, What? I prevaricated, and replied, just the terrain. The land. Tell me what it looks like.
"Like the end of the world," he'd said dispassionately.
Then he filled his mouth with his pipe stem, and was silent.