It’s hard to do. You sit there in yourself, listening to the loudest voice of all. Words echo and reverberate around your mind, bouncing and locked inside your skull, trapped. You think that the scream will push them out and away but that only seems to let more in, filling you up like a balloon, expanding. You don’t remember that there are other voices. You don’t remember the words that fall around you rather than inside.
In a darkened room I can sit for hours listening to the drops of water coming from a broken pipe. One two three. On and on. It’s important to find that calm, that quiet. The tundra inside won’t let you find it with any distractions out there. Surround your mind. See something else. See a dream. Can you dream again if you take the rest away?
Times change and they change. Take a pen and take some paper. Sit down and start at the beginning. I am born. I learn to crawl. I walk. I run. I laugh. I cry. What comes next? Life slots its way into the world, teaching, smothering, breathing itself back in again. The child grows. I sit and I write. Memory after memory. At what point do I stop? Where do you draw the line? I wrote, words on pages, searching for the moment when it turned, forked, brought me from one path away and onto another. This is me now, I would have to admit. That’s where it started. Faces in the crowd would swim to the surface and I might find someone to blame, to point the finger at, to show to anyone who wanted to know that they, that person, those fuckers were the ones who broke me down and used me and shrivelled up the hope I had felt inside. There would be. I’m waiting. I’m waiting.
It isn’t a long story. I wrote and I waited. I remembered. I wrote about the childhood. I wrote about the memories of friends and family. I wrote about playing with toys and moving houses. I wrote about more friends, family. People came and went. Still hadn’t reached the fork. And then, nothing.
As I wrote, I never got as far as the moment or event. I didn’t reach the fork that I was looking for. Did I forget it? Try again. Sit down, tear out the pages, start from the beginning. Pen and paper, always. Even though I type this, this is an afterthought, and introspect, an analysis. When you write by hand, you think about your words. I am slower at writing than I am at typing. Think about your words. Think about memory. And so I did and again, I never reached the fork. I didn’t get much further. The pages were full of memories of a child full of happiness. To equivocate now is pointless – the dream was alive in a child full of energy. Memories of movies and books, of stories and people. Strange, funny people that enter and leave our minds and our hearts.
So was this the fork? The introduction of other dreams, other hopes, other loves – when you lose control over your reality, does that drag you across a finish line you never expected to find? I grow older. I see more faces. The world gets bigger and smaller at the same time. In every crowd I look for the ones I know. I’ve never moved far from where I started life, or at least started to remember. Right now if I get on my bike, I will be at the house I spent the first ten years in in less than twenty minutes. Why is that important? Because I’m looking for those faces. I want to be near the people I know.
They are the ones that mould and shape me. The fork? Move away now from that house to another, more time inside, more time alone. New friends. New faces. Gone now. It’s starting to become a little more normal to lose people now. In this memory I’m barely fourteen and I’m at that first low point. Just like that, the mind skips. What happened between the brighter memories and the night with a knife? How did that happen? When did I take the road less travelled?
No answer. I don’t have it. I write down the memories but they’re gone – there is nothing I can write that brings me from the laughing boy cycling through Dublin to a crying child sitting on a bed, holding a knife over his arm, scratching and scratching like a soul in a cell. That night passed and I woke up. No fanfare. No chorus. Just another day, another sunshine. Long sleeves.
But even that doesn’t satisfy me as I search through the past for what holds the hope from my heart. That night, that one evening that should have been the defining moment starts to fade away. It becomes another shitty memory in a growing pile. The happy ones are being compacted now, added to the pile under the smiling face of a young child playing with toys. The face I recognise in the mirror begins to look more and more like the one I see now. That’s the face with the darkness. That’s the one with no joy.
I write. I change pens. I change pads. Nights out at the cinema. Nights in with movies. My first kiss. My first hand holding. My first girlfriend. Wandering through the neighbourhood, feeling what should be warmth. Faded. It ends. More nights out. More nights in. Years start to slip by. Events in school mould into each other. Piano concerts and parent teacher meetings and plays and even the occasional sports day. Good with the bad. Six years of secondary school and it takes less than ten seconds to analyse the lot. No fork here. Only a path overgrown with weeds and branches, tearing at the traveller. Must keep going though. Don’t know the way back.
Leaving school with more truth now, girls left behind and starting to see boys in the light. Excitement but no comfort. Smiles but no rest. Sex but no electricity. Memories merging. I can longer recall who I was supposed to be before I enter college. My memory rushes in leaps, bounding over headstones of faces lost along the way. Wait the memory of old death rears up, back now, skipped over, wait I forgot that one. I’m tearing through pages and the pen runs out of ink. Must pause to refuel and then –
That’s a key event. One I can finally take a pause on. It’s stopping. It’s being unable to put something on hold while I take a breath to accept it. I’m running at a sprint because I must get to the next stop, the next piece, the next place, the next showcase. I want to be seen. Those who wait in the shadows are never seen. They fade into the black. They’re gone.
And like that, I’m out. The doors to the theatre close, locking my childhood, my faith, the last remnants of my dreams inside. It is a black box theatre and that’s what it is – a box, black as night, sealed now, gone forever with a piece of myself I’ll never see again. But no matter – I’m so far along this path now that really, what did those dreams matter anyway? What was the point of wanting? We’re slow, stumbling creatures just falling through life. Dreams are for children.
Nothing of note. When people ask me now what happened after that I tell them nothing of note. Of course plenty did happen. Every day. I get up. I go to work. I start to see a counsellor. Now, I say I learned a lot in that room, small library under a house in north Dublin, red upholstered chair, speaking to the ceiling, the floor, the couch, anywhere but to the person paid to listen. Learn the value of a word. Boyfriends come and go. Can’t settle. The pen and page have been left behind. Now there is the chair and the words. Listen to me. Can’t you hear what I’m trying to say? Say it then, why don’t you? Say it.
A darkness enters my life as I leave my home. Run before you walk. Hard times. Fighting. Hatred. Drinking. The death of hope. It happened early, fast. Inner strength, bruised from years of nothing, is fleeting. We fight. We grow calm. We fight. We grow calm. All the while I search for a way out. I search for another option. I take heart in that search – why look for a way out if there’s no reason to want it? Seize onto another. No hope there. The path is so thick, I wade through a swamp with vines and tearing claws at my back. Most are my own. I tie those ropes. I knot that noose. I don’t have to beg those nightmares to hold me. I simply let them in.
The murk of the surround is seemingly impenetrable. Had I knife then, sharp and gleaming, I would have slashed wildly, cutting and slicing at anyone and anything. I was lost, out of control. The relationship ends but doesn’t. The chase ends but doesn’t. A creature rises out of the swamp and holds me down. I wake up in another house. The eight or nine cans of beer did their job and I’m so drunk I barely know what’s happening. But I know what’s happening. And I push him away. It will be tomorrow before I can understand but even in that haze I know I’m truly lost. No hope now.
The memories following are both dull and exciting. The day after is a slow horror, building from confusion to realisation. If I had felt weak before, I felt energised now. I have to hate. I have to fight. I have to find him and kill him, take that knife, stab it deep in the place he decided to stab into me. Take away that power. Where was the fork? Does that even matter now? Deserted. Overwhelmed. Drowning.
The next decision to die would not follow for a year. Like that, a year of nothing. No memory. No event. No defining moments. Just me. Existing. Up. Work. Home. Sad. Bed. Alone. People come and go. None stay. None are allowed. Doors shut in my mind. Only years later do I see how tight they are sealed. There are faces I don’t recognise and names that spark a mild memory. But that’s all. I write. I try to describe those times. But back in that upholstered chair in that room in north Dublin, I remember a clear piece of advice – the user can’t analyse while using. You can’t stand at the epicentre and tell the world what the edges look like. So I fall down and down. I drink. I sleep. I wake. I drink. My mind dulls. My hands slow. If I find him then, there would be no battle. He’d win again. This time I’d let him.
Throughout it all, there is a presence that keeps me from falling through that last layer. There is a face. There are always faces. Family. Friends. My mind will tell me there is no one there. It will tell me, day after day, that no one will miss me. And then reality will strike again. Another death, closer now, younger. Strength leaves me. I see for the first time a light go out. Not after the fact, not a body in a coffin. I watch the energy leave the room. That’s what death is, I tell myself. That’s what it is when the world turns black. I see people crying in the room, I see the hole that energy leaves as it goes. Not for the first time I ask myself who will cry for me when my time comes? Not for the first time I imagine a small crowd.
And then I don’t. then the crowd grows. I start to see faces I hadn’t considered. I think of who would come to see me off. I see my family in the front row. I see cousins and aunts and uncles behind them. I see my friends behind that. The room starts to fill. Sitting that in evening, waiting for the silence that comes after death, I see a room filling slowly with people who would be affected by me. I see for perhaps the first time that death leaves a wake in this world and whether you know it or not, your absence starts to affect people. And then just as clearly, the voice comes again and says well it isn’t enough is it? Staying alive for someone else isn’t living. It isn’t a life.
And then for the second time I decide the time has come. This time is different. I feel a weight leave my shoulders as though a giant had been sitting on me the whole time. I stand straight, walking with purpose. I know it will happen and soon. I don’t know how yet but I know why. So I test with a knife and I know it won’t be that. If I am to go, I don’t want to go in pain. Pills then. Time to research how to do it. Time to know the right amount not to wake up again in the morning. Practicalities. I need to warn people at the last minute. I have a housemate who never needs to see what would be left behind. Wait until he’s gone. Make it a weekend when he’s at home. Two days to myself. Shouldn’t need more than two hours if I do it right. A whole apartment to myself. I can walk and drink and get so wasted I won’t know the time has come until it’s past. It’s the second time I’ve decided to die but this time, I feel happy.
Until I start that list. That was the moment I sat down with pen and paper. I needed to explain as best I could. I needed to let people know why I had decided to do this. And I couldn’t find any one reason. And I’m still alive.
The world is not a bright and shining place. It can be dank. It is dark. It is dangerous. There are people out there who will hurt you and use you. I have been destroyed by those I let into my life. They are faces in memory now. A hate, very real, very painful, still sits in my heart. I feel betrayed, years later. I know them. I direct this hatred toward them. I have no plan to stop.
I’m not a great man. I never have been. I have potential. I can be more than the sum of my parts. Alone, I am a cold and slow person. I write because I have to because I need to direct these thoughts into a place of reality. I have to put a face on these things inside. But the one thing that this therapy, this effort to overcome does not do, is converse.
I am speaking now directly to whoever is reading this. You. I am speaking to you. I am alive. So are you. We are on this planet, at this time together. I am alive not because of some great inner strength that dragged me through it all. I will not stand on a stage and cry out about the convictions that saw me through it. I am alive, friend, because of just that. Friends. Indirectly, the faces of those in my world fill my mind with enough presence to stay any hand toward finishing the job. Yes, I say finishing the job. I began a slow suicide when I was fourteen years old and I can say now, with honesty, that I hope that journey will finish with a natural old age. I may not be the happiest person – I am certainly not that happy child playing with his toys – but I am taking a breath. Directly, I have been saved. Not by a God, or Jesus, or anything non-corporeal and aloof. I was saved by people. I am surrounded by faces every day. My first night with a knife, I spoke to friends. I lived. My second time when I began to write, unsolicited caring came from outside. Housemate. Romance. Family. Friendly people sending a smile at exactly the right time. And even now, years on from that, I am kept alive by those that give me strength to go on. It isn’t fireworks and passion. It isn’t all laughter and joking either. Sometimes it’s just presence. And sometimes that’s enough.
I am speaking to you. I haven’t learned much in the way of life’s lessons. I feel I have wasted plenty of my time on this earth and as they say, nothing is guaranteed. If this is my last night and these are my last words, then I want them just to be – wake up tomorrow. Your life might not be exciting. Mine isn’t. Your life might not be, in your opinion, meaningful. Every day I struggle with that thought. You may not have that many people around you that you feel feel your presence. But they do. Whether you want them to or not, whether you’re happy with it or not, whether you love them or not, they do.
Life is long. Life is hard. Living is not exciting or full of the Disney playbook. It is what it is. I’ve been back through the years that I can remember, and I can’t find the one event that ruined it all for me. I just went on. I got up. I did my days. I went to bed. Sometimes I was alone. Now I’m not.
We are what we are, a collection of happenings and memories, events and non-starters. I have so many regrets that I would need another list just to put them all in order. But that I think would just be an extension of that swamp and marshland. And in the end how much power are we supposed to give to the darkness over the light?
I remember the days and the nights. I’m not alone. I have people who care and who I care about. There are days when that doesn’t seem like enough.
Today isn’t one of those days. Remember that.