I’ve seen all this before
My head’s a civil war when I’m bored, when I’m bored
But I’ll do what I can;
There’s nothing in my plans but stayin’ sane, stayin’ sane
--stitches in my side, Radical Face
It’s always started the same way, with the same trigger.
Silence. Blessed, peaceful silence that lets you think without being distracted by the dull, the tedious, the boring.
Silence. Cursed, riotous silence that amplifies the innumerable thoughts pinging around your head like rubber balls in a tiny room, striking you until your head begins to ache.
And then noise. White fuzzy noise— a radio out of range, a hive of angry bees. All inside your head, of course. Because there’s nobody in your room, no roommate, no visitors.
This has always been the way, and if you close your eyes, sometimes you can hear voices rising above the thrum.
Different, says your mother, fingers clenching defensively on your bony shoulder.
Atypical, say the various psychologists of your childhood, peering anxiously at clipboards.
Freak, says everyone else, levelling dirty glares in your direction since primary school.
They’ve never stopped. Not even your brother helped; your brother, the idol, the god, of your childhood. Little to no potential, you heard him whisper in that furtive way of his. But then you grew, got older. Now you know better. Potential is all you are, potential energy coiled deep inside and waiting for the catalyst, waiting to spring.
So you spring, dive off the bed and scramble underneath it, not wasting one precious fuck on dignity because you haven’t slept in god knows how many days and sweat is trickling down your spine and a neon sign with broken lights in the back of your mind flashes fitfully with the warning that you’re about to start crying or vomiting or perhaps bothif you don’t find that godforsaken shoebox now.
And there it is, sitting exactly where you left it among the dust bunnies in all its nondescript glory. Because it’s not what’s on the outside that counts, oh no; the inside is what matters. You learned that as a child, and that lesson has proved invaluable to this day.
Sweat-damp fingertips pull it out from under the bed frame and you stare at it, but just for a moment. The war wages on in your head as it always does, the combatants never noticing the tiny civilian with a picket sign reading Stop! It’s bad for you, just stop!
You notice him and his little sign, of course you do. You notice everything, and that’s precisely why you’re sitting on the floor worshipping a cardboard box without a second thought.
The moment of hesitation passes as it always does, and you heave yourself onto the mattress. Sit back and relax, the show’s about to start!
The box’s lid is removed, the objects within taken out carefully, lined up on a stray textbook like a surgeon’s tools, or an artist’s brushes. Brown flakes and droplets of water and citric acid are—
>Chemical formula: C6H8O7.
>Physical appearance: crystalline white solid at 25°C, 100 kPa.
>Density: 1.665 g/cm3.
>Main use(s): flavouring, acidifier, chelation—
Stop. Stop stop stoP STOP STOP!
Inhale. Exhale. Steady on.
Your materials are carefully measured onto a sterilised spoon nicked from the kitchen at home, the winking flame of a cheap lighter licking the metal shyly. You nearly sob—it’s taking too long, it’s taking too long. But slowly it starts to melt, starts to bubble and turn amber and smooth. You drop a wad of cotton on the spoon and watch it suck the liquid up greedily—just like you.
Steady, steady—keep your hand steady, keep your breathing steady. The plastic cap is tugged off with your teeth and spat carelessly off to the side. Your heart is racing, pounding beneath the ribs that stick out just too sharply against your pale skin. Breathe. Don’t forget to breathe.
Violinist fingers draw back the plunger; keen, stained-glass eyes watch the barrel fill. You pull just past the solid black dash, holding the instrument upright and admiring it for a moment.
>hypo- (pref.) below, beneath, under
>derm- (pref.) skin
>-ic (suff.) of, pertaining to or characterised by
You brush the words away with an impatient wave of the hand, slam the dictionary shut.
A finger flicks sharply at the hollow tube, and the trapped air is released with a gentle press of the plunger; you’re not stupid, after all. You set the instrument down with all the care it deserves and set about unlacing one impeccably shined dress shoe. When the lace lies coiled by your foot, you unbutton and roll up the sleeves of your crisp white dress shirt, fingers fumbling in anticipation—Hurry, hurry, but not too fast! Make it last; you’re running low.
You release a stuttering breath, one you hadn’t realised you’d been holding, and wipe absently at your dripping nose with the back of your hand. The shoelace is wrapped and tied off with practiced precision above your right elbow, the fingers of that hand curling into a tight fist.
It’s time, it’s time! You could cry with relief, because the noise is getting louder, like somebody is turning up the volume. But it’s not just in your head now. It’s all around you, all blinding white and erratic shapes like cadaverous hands coming to pull you back, back to reality and noise and all that goddamned boredom that drove you here in the first place. Unease roils in your gut, stings in your throat, threatening to spill over at the slightest provocation.
You tap smartly at the crook of your elbow, rub at it until a vein quietly announces its presence, subtly jutting out blue-green amid a smattering of purple dots. Even in your state of gut-wrenching anxiety, you feel a certain sick pleasure at the knowledge that your aim has never been off.
But there’s no time for pride now, not when the climax is about to hit! You tear an alcohol wipe from its foil packet and swipe it across the offered skin. With a pained, twisted grimace, you press icy silver to the protruding blood vessel, your skin offering weak resistance as though it knows how much you want this, how badly you need it. And you do; oh, how you need it. This is all that keeps you from going off the deep end anymore, all that keeps you in the realm of the living.
You pull back until red appears in the barrel… and then…
Nothing. You can’t do it, can’t find the will to push the plunger. The pin-prick in your arm stings and the skeleton hands are squeezing your heart and the thoughts are tearing your brain and it will all go away if
Your hand is cramping and your fingers are tinged purple as you suddenly sob, ripping the instrument from your arm and throwing it blindly across the room. The shoelace is untied with your teeth. Your arm is bleeding slightly, dark red beads dribbling down your ashen skin. You press your free hand over the wound and hunch over it, rocking clumsily back and forth in a pitiful attempt to calm yourself.
You’re afraid. You’re afraid of the control It has over you, because you do not like to be controlled. For as long as you can remember, you have strived to live by your terms, not by the ones put in place by your parents, your teachers, the government. But now you realise, for the past year, you’ve not been as free as you thought; oh, not at all. At first, it seemed you were the one in control—after all, you purchased the materials, you wielded the weapon, you balanced this life in your dorm with your coursework with remarkable ease. But then it suddenly spiralled out of control, a dizzying tailspin out of the sky, falling towards the sharp, bone-break ground with no parachute in sight. That is when you realised. You’ve been directed by It, beaten into submission by It, done terrible, awful things for It, all in the hope that all the noise that crackled around your skull would quiet down for even just a little while, but you know now that you’ve been a slave since the very beginning. And now, you are afraid.
So dreadfully, utterly afraid. It almost makes you sick. Actually—
You grab the rubbish bin just in time as you launch yourself across the bed. Stretched precariously over the edge of the mattress, your stomach heaves as you’re violently ill, muscles clenching so tight you think you’ll snap. Acid burns your nose and throat; tears prick the corners of your eyes and blur your vision. You take heaving, shuddering gasps when you’re finished, falling limply the rest of the way off the bed.
You lie there pitifully, long limbs askew, nose pressed into the dusty, utilitarian carpet, for what seems like hours. And perhaps it has been; sharp, black shadows grow soft and grey, and the golden light fades into silver. You’re ashamed to be in this position, utterly humiliated to literally have literally been brought this low, but you can’t bring yourself to do anything about it; your muscles tremble and bones ache with every attempt at movement.
You resign yourself to another night spent on the floor.
At least it’s your own dorm this time.
Night passes, mocking you by stretching on without end. The noise only gets louder: a constant drone masked by sharp static. The hands are crawling ever closer, ghosting over your skin with icy prickles and settling heavy in your gut. You think you can almost see them, strange shapes in the cold moonlight that scuttle away into the shadows if you look directly at them. So you don’t. You close your eyes and wait-beg-sob for this to pass.
Please, god, let me live.
The voices rise over the noise again, ringing booms and whispering echoes. Pathetic, you are. Weak. Disgusting, for letting an inanimate object get the best of you. Worthless freak.
And as much as it chafes your pride to admit it, you cannot help but agree with them; the evidence is in their favour.
Eventually, the cool blue light of dawn fills the room, surging across the bare walls like the tide. You’re not sure, but you don’t think you slept. Which is normal, obviously, par for the course. Why sleep when there’s so much to be done? This time, though, is clearly different. At most, you drifted in a haze of pain and nausea and other unpleasant things, unable to will yourself into unconsciousness.
File>New Task>Improve control over Transport.
An hour later, the first few beams of sunlight tiptoe over your face, dispelling the shadows and the hands and the bitter cold that took root in your skin and replacing them with light-headed relief. The glow is uncomfortably bright, edging on blinding, but it means you are alive. You survived the night.
A swell of energy floods your blood—so different than what you originally wanted. You suck in a sharp breath and steel your nerves and push yourself off the floor and, with gargantuan effort, drop boneless on the bed. Your body throbs with the exertion, skin becoming dewy once more, but you force yourself to ignore it.
Your eyes slip shut; you are exhausted. It is Saturday; you can sleep all you want. So you do. You lie atop the blankets in wrinkled slacks and a blood-stained shirt and one shoe and breathe, just keep breathing. You are better than It, you are stronger.
Sleep does not come for a very long time. You feel as though you are rocking when you know you haven’t moved a muscle, and your stomach twists and tightens, and sweat dampens the pillow. The sun has edged halfway up the walls—you cannot possibly be arsed to shut the shades—when you are finally granted reprieve.
And just as you begin to slip into the dark, a phrase you never deleted, for one long-forgotten reason or another, drifts across your hazy mind and forces a tiny twitch of the lips that could maybe, possibly, be categorised as a smile, makes you think perhaps you are not so spineless, so deplorable, so hateful.
“There is no rest for the wicked.”
And rest you finally do.