Alone At Last
Dan had never lived properly alone before. He’d had the one year at uni, but that had really been like just having a bedroom in a huge flat with dozens of obnoxious flatmates always around, and he’d spent most evenings on Skype with Phil, so he hadn’t felt like he was really alone.
Now he certainly did.
His new flat was filled with boxes and a remarkable amount of furniture, as Phil had apparently chosen to leave most of their jointly-owned property for Dan to take. They hadn’t discussed it, but when Dan went to collect his things, all of Phil’s had been gone, but it looked like everything they’d bought and assembled together or received as joint gifts was all still there. Dan didn’t take any of it until December 31, the very last day of their lease, when he went back by the flat to check and saw that Phil still had not come to collect any of their lounge furniture or even their computer or the filming equipment.
He’d texted Phil immediately:
You can’t just give me a fucking computer. Or all the other stuff, either.
But Phil had only responded:
It reminded Dan of the text he’d received on Christmas Day when he was with his family. He hadn’t known how to respond, since he and Phil hadn’t spoken in weeks. Normally, when feeling that waffly, he would have just procrastinated responding and probably eventually forgotten … but this was Phil, and Phil deserved better than that. In the end, Dan had decided to text back, but all he could think of to say was:
He cringed every time he thought of it. Phil had probably thought he was blowing him off, but Dan just had drawn a blank and panicked. There was too much to say, and texting really wasn’t the right medium, but … he’d had to say something. So he sent that complete fail of a text message and had been regretting it ever since.
Suddenly, he pulled out his phone. The sofa was covered in boxes, so he sat on the carpet of what would eventually be his lounge and started texting:
Sorry I was a dick at Christmas
The answering text was almost immediate:
You’re forgiven, bear
The old nickname nearly brought tears to his eyes.
I could have at least sent some emojis or something
Phil didn’t respond for a few moments, so Dan added:
I saw your Brighton video. The pugs were cute.
Phil had been cute, too, but Dan wasn’t going to write that in a text. Tone was too easy to misinterpret, and he didn’t want to make things awkward when they were finally talking again. Well, texting at least.
When are YOU going to upload something?
Dan looked around again at the chaos of boxes around him, then replied:
When I have some sort of background that doesn’t involve cardboard
Phil replied quickly:
Need help settling in?
And oh … it was tempting! He imagined Phil here, helping him sort through his haphazardly-packed belongings, making jokes, laughing his silly laugh with his tongue showing, making Dan laugh … but no. He was going to do this on his own.
Thanks, but I think I can manage
Did that sound too dismissive? Phil was being really nice about everything.
But, really, thanks
No problem. Good luck with the unpacking and the new video.
That sounded like a polite attempt to end the conversation, so Dan just texted back a quick “thanks” before putting his phone back in his pocket. He leaned back against the sofa and surveyed his new domain, and it suddenly seemed a little less daunting. Phil had faith in him. He just needed to figure out how to have faith in himself, too.
It turned out that never leaving the house feels very different when you live alone.
Dan had gotten about half of his stuff unpacked—enough that he could prepare a meal and sit on the sofa to eat it—but had been spending a lot of the rest of his time playing video games and scrolling through Tumblr. He realized at one point that he hadn’t left the house in a week. Okay, that wasn’t entirely unusual for him, but … he realized he hadn’t spoken to anyone in a week, either. That made it seem a lot less healthy than back when he and Phil would just hang out together for days on end.
But he just felt so overwhelmed by all the things he still needed to do—finish unpacking, film a video about his intentions for his channel moving forward—and Phil’s birthday had passed without him even remembering to send him a text. God he was a crap friend. Not that he was even sure they were still friends at this point, given that they hadn’t actually spoken in months. Did texts even count? Probably not when you didn’t send one on your supposed friend’s 30th fucking birthday. He’d texted a couple days later, and Phil had been nice about it, but Dan knew that what he’d done hadn’t been right.
So now he found himself sitting on his sofa with a PS4 controller in his hands and a glass of Ribena on the side table, and he realized that he hadn’t showered in at least a week. And he wasn’t sure if he’d eaten today. And he’d only left the sofa to make trips to the fridge and the toilet. And it was going on 3 a.m.
And he’d sort of lost count of how many times this had happened in the last couple months.
Always before, he’d had something to get him moving: school, or a job, or … or just … Phil. But now that he had to rely solely on his own motivation to get him moving, he realized that he’d been spending weeks just doing nothing. Not even planning videos or cooking a fucking stir-fry. He’d been living on pizza and ignoring his phone and just tuning out when he wasn’t sleeping. Even he could tell it wasn’t healthy.
And he wasn’t happy. He felt Phil’s absence like a missing limb, and nothing seemed interesting or fun anymore. He was just existing, and not even doing a particularly good job at that.
Wasn’t he supposed to be proving something? Wasn’t he supposed to be finally doing something meaningful with his life? This didn’t look particularly meaningful. He decided that getting some sleep would be a good start, and in the morning he would get things set up in his bedroom so that he had a decent background to finally film a video.
He decided to just be completely honest. Phil had given him an out, offering to present Dan’s moving out as a mutual decision, but Dan was sick to death of lying and he just wanted to come clean about how he felt and what he wanted to do with his life.
So he made a video in which he ironically brandished a cordless power drill, which he’d bought exclusively for the purpose and would probably never actually even take out of the box—he didn’t think he and Phil had ever used the one Phil’s dad had bought him—but it was like a symbol that said, “I’m a MAN now!” and he liked that it harked back to the earlier video he’d made with Phil.
He tried to explain in the video about wanting to make his life really mean something, that it’s up to each of us to make our lives matter in some way, that he wanted to make videos about things that were more important than just funny stories about why he’s a fail. He explained why he’d felt that he needed to get his own flat and try to figure out who he was on his own. It was more earnest and honest and heart-felt than anything else he’d ever put on the Internet. After a ridiculous amount of obsessing over the edits, he finally decided it was finished, and he uploaded it.
The hate began flowing in within moments. Not only in the YouTube comments, but also on Twitter and Tumblr, his followers were screaming about how ungrateful he was after everything Phil had done for him, how he thought he was a big shot now that he had more subscribers. People were posting gifs of Phil slapping him in the YouTubers React episode, Phil hitting him over the head with a bottle in the Slo-As-A-MoFo-Show … while others were posting the opposite gifs, the ones of Dan slapping Phil and hitting him with a bottle. And Dan noticed that Phil always looked really reluctant and sorry, while Dan looked like a mean motherfucker. Phil had always been willing to play along, always game to try something even if it made him uncomfortable, but he didn’t like to hurt people, and he especially didn’t like to hurt Dan, while Dan never showed any evidence of the same hesitation. And their followers were pointing this out in no uncertain terms. Over and over again. Dan was definitely the villain in this story, and Phil his innocent victim.
What hurt the most were the followers who said they wished they hadn’t gone to TATINOF shows, or that they wished they hadn’t bought the charity single, or that they wished they hadn’t encouraged friends to watch his videos, thereby contributing to the increase in his subscriber numbers. People wishing that they could take back the support that had meant so much to him.
And many of them did. His number of subscribers dropped by more than 2 million overnight.
Dan couldn’t take it. He was already feeling frighteningly exposed after revealing so much about what he really wanted out of life and how hard it had been to choose to go after it … for a second time, this time without anyone holding his hand to make it easier. To be hit with all this vitriol when he was at his most vulnerable and most alone … he just couldn’t take it.
He went to his bedroom, one of the few rooms in the flat that was fairly habitable—since he had unpacked and decorated it well enough to film the infamous video here—and turned on the fairy lights that kept the dark at bay … and closed all the curtains … and stripped down to his boxers … and crawled into the bed with his Tonberry plushie and his phone … and then he just played Rolling Sky. He didn’t log on to Gmail or YouTube or Twitter or Tumblr or any of his online sites. He turned off all notifications, including calls and texts. He just … slept when the phone needed charging … and played Rolling Sky in bed when he was awake. Or just stared at the wall and tried not to think. He didn’t shower. He didn’t eat. He didn’t want to face the world in any way, shape, or form. When he slept, he pulled the duvet over his head and pretended that nothing outside that womblike space existed.
And that went on for three days.
He’d gone so long without food that he wasn’t even hungry anymore. In fact, he instead felt nauseated in a way that made eating very low on his list of priorities.
He wondered if maybe he could just stay in bed for the rest of his life and never have to deal with other people ever again. It sounded perfect.
In a moment of utmost stupidity, he had revealed just a tiny bit of the true Dan from underneath the mask, and the world’s reaction had been even worse than he would have predicted. He’d known that no one could respect or admire or love the true Dan, so why had he even tried?
He went back to bed and shut off his brain, pulling the duvet over his head and trying to lose himself in sleep again. He wasn’t even interested in Rolling Sky anymore.
He’d lost count of how many days it had been now.
He’d had other times like this. Other times when he withdrew from the world and decided that he would rather never have to be himself again, because he couldn’t find anything worth being in that person, that Dan. He knew everyone agreed with him now, and so it was easy to spiral further and further down into that pit of darkness.
He’d mocked it so many times in his videos, in the stage show, in his live shows: the “Existential Crisis,” the “darkness of his soul,” all that. But he always talked about it dismissively, jokingly, because he knew no one would really understand the appeal of just losing himself in that nothingness, the call of that meaningless emptiness.
But always before, someone had been there to metaphorically take his hand and help pull him out of it. First his parents, and then Phil. Now he had no one. He had only himself to blame for that, of course. And blame himself he did. Ad nauseum. He’d driven everyone away, and then posted a big “Fuck You” video for the world to see, for everyone to see what a dick he really was, how much he’d never deserved Phil’s friendship or the love of his subscribers. Now all those people who had hugged him so warmly at years of meet-and-greets knew what he was really like, and they hated him. But not as much as he hated himself. Because that was impossible. No one else could possibly hate him more than that.
He felt weak and dizzy when he woke up one morning—was it morning?—and tried to roll over in bed. His thoughts were sluggish, and he was really really thirsty. When had he last drunk anything? He hadn’t been leaving the bedroom very often anymore, not even to go to the toilet, which probably meant he wasn’t drinking enough. He staggered to the kitchen and got a glass from the cabinet, intending to get some water from the tap. But his hand was so weak and trembling that he dropped the glass on the tile floor and it shattered.
And, suddenly, so did Dan. He started sobbing, his composure shattering just like the glass had. He couldn’t deal with this. He clutched the kitchen counter with a shaking hand and wondered what the hell he was going to do. He was standing there in a filthy pair of boxers, reeking from so many days without bathing, too weak to clean up a bit of broken glass. Hated by everyone who had once seemed to love him. But they’d only loved the mask, not the true Dan underneath. And now it was all gone. And the floor was covered in smashed glass, just like the rest of his life stretching before him. And so he just sobbed and sobbed, feeling helpless and hopeless and overwhelmed by how far things had gotten out of hand.
He wished Phil were here. Phil would clean up the glass, and he would put an arm around Dan to help him walk, and he would get him a glass of water and put him back to bed and put the Tonberry plushie into his arms and tell him that everything would be better when he woke up. And it would, because Phil made everything better, just by being Phil.
Leaning against the counter with all his weight now, Dan had a sudden deliriously dehydrated epiphany. There was a reason he hadn’t really dated anyone in the 5 years that he and Phil had lived together. He hadn’t needed anyone else. All he needed was Phil. He loved Phil.
And he’d pushed him away.
What kind of moron was he, pushing away the best thing that had ever come into his life? Those tweets and Tumblr posts were absolutely right. He’d joked about being “Phil Trash #1,” but really he was just trash, full stop.
The tears wouldn’t stop.
What was he going to do about the glass? His body was so weak that he didn’t think he’d be able to clean it up even if he tried. He could … he could call Phil. Phil would help him. Phil would come over, and Phil would see what needed doing, and Phil would help him.
But he couldn’t call Phil. He’d burned that bridge. They were barely even texting each other. But Dan didn’t have any other friends, no one else to turn to.
He found himself walking carefully across the kitchen floor, holding tight to the counter and trying to avoid the larger pieces of glass. He could feel smaller slivers digging into the sensitive balls and arches of his feet as he staggered across the tile, but he needed to get to his phone. There was one person he thought he could call, one person who would probably help him, one person who might not think he was irredeemable trash.
The tiny shards of glass worked their way further into his skin as he gingerly walked down the hallway, supporting himself with a hand on the wall, until he finally made it to the bedroom … and the phone. He scrolled through his contacts until he found the name he was looking for, and then he dialed.
When the familiar voice answered, Dan sobbed again with relief. “Louise? Louise, I think … I need help.”