Playing with the idea of the imaginary poet in my Poetry blog, I decided to write a little short story, with a similar character but more focused on him personally than on his literature. Enjoy.
He was at home in the darkness. Where others saw it as oppressive and unrelenting he felt a sense of comfort; the blackness enveloped him like a blanket, the shadows protected him from the world. He hated light, it was stark and revealing. There is no hiding in light, be it the natural burning light of the sun or some other artificial glare. Light displays people for who they really are, laying bare all their flaws and faults. Light is reality, and reality is terrifying.
Sam was always the odd one out, the black sheep, the ugly duckling, as a child right the way through to his older years, but unfortunately he never had the good fortune of developing in to a swan, or finding the usefulness that Rudolph discovered amongst his reindeer colleagues. His levels of oddity never really changed, but people’s perceptions of it grew increasingly apprehensive; an eccentric or strange child is cute and interesting, an adult is dangerous and to be avoided, such is the nature of our society. His eccentricities began around the time he learnt to speak; incoherent as babies most often are, his words contained certain intonations that set people on edge. He pronounced every syllable, an unsettling quality in a child, and displayed no apparent accent, talking in a flat and monotonous way. As his vocabulary grew so did the nervous whispers that surrounded his every mention in conversation. There were rumours of his literary genius, how he might grow up to be a distinguished linguistically talented author, but these were few and far between in the raptures of gossip that he generated. He was evidently oblivious to his effect on others, too young to understand the complex and unreasonable workings of the adult psyche, but this lack of realisation did nothing to draw away from the fact that he had, to say the least, a troubled childhood.
His primary school years were the beginnings, and probably the makings of his emotionally scarred life. He went from being an instinctively slightly odd toddler, to a socially manufactured introvert, all before the age of ten. He enjoyed being alone from a young age, taking pleasure and comfort in the silence and tranquillity that can only be achieved through solitude. Naturally this appearance of a damaged youth, despite the fact that he was probably still not damaged beyond repair at this stage, had a mirror effect on his parents, damaging them in equal measure. His disconnectedness and love for isolation developed not only a rift between him and his parents, but caused an unstitchable tear in the fabric of their marriage. It has always seemed unfair to blame children for their parents’ divorce, or at least that seems to be the status quo, but in this story Sam was the catalyst and antagonist which brought about the untimely end to an otherwise happy union. They had considered “staying together for the kid”, but as he was the direct cause for the break up, although neither of them would ever openly admit it, they could see no good coming of prolonging the inevitable.
His parents’ divorce was a difficult time for Sam. Aged only twelve, he was armed with just a child’s comprehension of the concept of love, an emotion that at that age is usually reserved for direct family. Relationships, their development and their breaking down, were as much a mystery to him as the entirety of space is to the most minute amoeba. Even with the standard issues of age and lack of understanding aside, Sam was an unusual child and reacted to his parents break up in an unusual way. He didn’t rebel so to speak, he was never capable of such an emotionally charged and forceful action, but instead became more reserved, drawing further in to his metaphorical shell. He began to isolate himself more and more from the pressures of society, opting out of reality and creating a fictitious parallel in the safety of his mind.
His degeneration in to an almost completely solitary child, discarding what few friends he had acquired before his parents’ divorce, caused them to fret and worry more than they ever had. The divorce had been traumatic for them too, but they retained the good grace to be civil for the sake of their child; as is so often not the case in these situations. With this being so they jointly agreed to send him to see a psychiatrist, a difficult trip to explain to a twelve year old, but one that they felt was necessary and so they persevered. Sam never forgot his frequent trips to that office; the lying on the sofa as the safety of his mind, with all its barriers and blockades specially designed to keep the cruelty of reality out, being bombarded and probed. He always left feeling exhausted, like a battle had been waged, but he inevitably won every war, such was the strength of his mind. His most vivid memory of that place was always the light; a single, stark bulb veiled by a mauve shade, almost directly above his head, one foot to the left. That bulb glared down at him as the psychiatrists tried to breach his walls, lighting the way in to the dark and private recesses of his mind. It was a symbol of attack, a flare fired above the field of conflict, illuminating the soldiers as they charged towards his defences. He would stare at that light as he evaded questions; imagine the beating of the drums as the armies began their march.
It was this single bulb that brought about the beginnings of his aversion to light. He would lie in his room as his teenage years began, desperately trying to avoid looking at the light, forcing his mind to shut out the incessant beating of the drums. His parents asked him if he was lonely, and on the rare occasion that he offered up a response he would always reply in the negative. They thought he was lying, simply hiding the fact that he was socially awkward, but the reality was that he was alone through choice. He had, by the age of fifteen, developed in to an interestingly attractive young man, lithe and toned as he would often sneak out at night, running long distances through the comforting intensity of the darkness. He could clear his mind as he ran, focusing on himself, becoming as physically introverted as he was emotionally, and as the night enveloped him he knew he would not be seen. He could be outside, and he could be alone.
His aesthetically pleasing appearance was both matched and marred in equal measures by his angst and mystery. The boys generally ignored him; he was never really the target of bullying because provocation provided no response. But the girls were suitably interested, he was an enigma and his indifference towards them provided him with yet more un-surreptitious flirting and provocative touches; a hand placed on the arm whilst the eyes meet the absent gaze of the target, a few evocative words whispered in the ear. All of these made him uncomfortable, the affection and emotion was too personal, and the intentions to real. Their words that seemed to others to be so silken and laced with charm were, to him, the poison flowing in to Hamlets ear, they were sirens trying to lure him from the safety of his mind, to take from him the individuality that he kept for himself, and he saw them as the harpies that they were.
Despite his love of solitude, or perhaps due to this love, he achieved exceptional grades. He studied hard, but only when the subject matter suited him, choosing to only pursue topics which sparked an interest. His teachers were constantly filled with disdain, upset that he wasted so much of his potential whilst utilising some of it in such an effective way. They had quickly grown exasperated with him, but persevered in the hope that one day he would find some solace in the skills he had learnt. Literature was his favourite, he was fascinated by the power of linguistics and saw great authors as craftsmen, creating a beautiful image of fictitious worlds and concepts in which he could immerse himself completely. But this love of great authors brought an equal level of contempt for authors that lacked skill and talent. He saw bad literature as offensive, a scar across the breast of a woman whom without an exterior influence held the potential to be so beautiful.
His A levels were, to him, a breeze. He took them as he took all other exams, with good results churned out after very little effort was ever exerted. His intelligence was obviously a massive factor, but he was blessed with the luck of his subjects being interesting, if rather unchallenging. The teaching was, as ever, underwhelming; an anticlimactical ending to his school life, but nevertheless he achieved outstanding grades and had the opportunity for university. By this point he was completely without companion, with even the most auspicious girls halting their repeatedly unsuccessful advances, and he inevitably lived a life that was completely devoid of friendship. The night of his results he lay in the pitch black darkness; since school had finished he had slowly become more nocturnal, preferring more and more the blanket of obscurity that nightfall cast across the days reality. As he lay there he pondered his future, attempting for the first time in his life to make a decision that affected his real life, rather than withdrawing from its complexities in to the simplicity of fiction and darkness. He liked the idea of university, the academic challenges that would be presented were his primary, and probably only motivation for applying, but despite this he felt that the need for sociability was too high. It wasn’t that he was afraid of being surrounded by people, more that he felt such a distaste towards reality and all it entailed that human contact, on any sort of emotional level, made him feel physically ill. Even the great authors, whom he revered beyond anyone else on the planet for their exemplary skills, gave him no desire for any face to face meetings. He respected and possibly loved, if he could feel love, the personas he had created each author, they had become to him a part of the fiction that they wrote, and any physical manifestation of them would simply serve to shatter the illusions he had shrouded them in; reality can never live up to the magic created by prolonged fantasy.
As he lay there, his body filled with turmoil, desperately trying to refrain from a hasty retreat in to the safety of his mind, or plunging himself in to one of the numerous fictitious worlds that scattered his shelves and floors, he wrestled with the decision. His life without education would be monotonous and unfulfilling, he required challenge so as to thrive in his solitude, but he kept falling back to the same question; could he maintain his isolation in an environment so full of sociability? The night drew on, and as he writhed in the gloom he made a move that at the time was brave beyond what he imagined possible of himself, and would shape his life for the entirety of his future.
With his candle flickering, for that was how he now opted to do his reading; it seemed to him to be the least invasive source of light, and light, however distasteful, was a necessity if he wished to read, he collected up his favourite books, neatly pilling them beside his bed. He then, very slowly, walked over to the light switch, a button he had not touched for months, maybe even a year. He stared at it in the dancing light, watching the shadows as they played across the gleaming plastic. His hand reached out, physically shaking, as he pushed against the plastic button, hearing the dreaded click as he exerted pressure, instantly shutting his eyes against the unadulterated glare. He took a deep breath, opened his eyes and walked robotically over to his bed. He sat down, already regretting his decision. He was going to sit there in the intrusive light until his choice had been made, and as soon as it was decided he would turn off the light, reverting back to his darkness, and seeing in the dawn once again from the safety of candle light, lost in a world devoid of the pressures of authenticity and realism.
It didn’t take him long to come to a conclusion, within an hour he had thrashed out all the issues he felt towards university, and ultimately decided that he could not possibly go. This decision was in no small part down to the constant pressure the bright room exerted over him. He had hidden in his own darkness, shielding himself behind the thin, translucent layers of skin that formed his eyelids. Upon reaching his verdict he opened them again; facing the light as a gunman does, a standoff between him and the bulb. It inevitably won as he hurried to the light switch, casting the room back in to the blackness that he craved. He lit his candle, and he wrote; he now knew what he needed to do.
He typed out a letter, his bitterness at the world and the ways in which it had failed him reflected in every word, every key stroke. He poured his anguish and his despair into his letter, his offering to the world and his explanation for what he was about to do. His feelings had never been so raw and his perception had never been so clear, he felt a sense of calm tranquillity, an easiness with life that washed over his body. His words were stark and harsh, but as the cacophony of emotions filled the page he felt them leave his mind. With a final tap of the keyboard he felt the serenity of emptiness and knew that he was ready. He hit send, and softly stood, making his way downstairs. His slippered feet padded through the house, soft thuds in the silence of the night. Sam reached the kitchen, taking a glass out of the cupboard. He then turned to the cocktail bar, adding measures of every strong liquor he could find to the rapidly filling pint. The mixture resembled a weak whiskey, a pale brown colour, and the smell burnt his nostrils. He had never been a fan of alcohol, not enjoying the way it removed his sense of clarity. He replaced the bottles, reaching next in to the medicine cabinet. He took out a new box of his mums sleeping tablets, crushing methodically every pill from the box and adding it to the strong liquid. Sam stirred the cocktail, allowing the white powder to dissolve, and then without a moment’s hesitation tilted his head and drank every drop.
He walked back upstairs, instantly feeling the unsteadiness that comes with being drunk. He sat on his bed, knowing the alcohol would kick in much faster than the tablets. He was not afraid, much the opposite; he felt free. His life had been a series of obstacles designed to slow down his ascension to this one perfect moment. He stared at his candle, his blurred mind beginning to transcend time, his sole focus the perfect form of that tiny flame, vivid against the darkness. His mind was getting hazier, so he picked the candle up, pouring the molten wax on to his arm. He felt the rush of pain travel through his nervous system and relished its singularity. He focussed on that feeling, not regretting his actions but wanting to prolong this sense of absolute calm. He could live for an eternity in any one of these moments, once again staring in to the flame as his mind began to drift. The tablets were taking hold now, and he lay back, accepting their control. His mind was still empty, no regrets, no second chances, no desperate longing for someone to come and save him, just complete acceptance of the now inevitable reality. He allowed the waves of tiredness to wash over his body, stroking closed his eyelids, and with a sigh he slipped in to a dreamless sleep.
Sam’s letter – sent by him to every major newspaper in the country
I believe that I am mad. My life has been nothing but a nonsensical carousel of hapless emotions that I have slowly managed to quash. Maybe I am a sociopath; I don’t regret anything that I have done, and I don’t think any of it was wrong? But I have never been the violent type. I am far more the introvert, relishing my isolation that you so gladly gave me. I am not sane, I am not conventional, I am not what you want me to be. I am discarded.
But maybe madness is the medicine that this world needs? What if our perceptions of reality are so warped, so twisted and manufactured that this madness is simply a way of breaking out from the sociological prison created by the indoctrination of every youth, with the rejection of difference being labelled as abnormality? What if we were all a little bit mad, would we be happier? If each of us were really individuals, different from the next because of our eccentricities? What if each of us was loved because of our differences, rather than in spite of them; would this make the world a better place?
Misery is a poison, it is a virus, it is a disease, and it is infectious. So as you live your life avoid people carrying it; for they will infect you. But if madness is the cure to misery I am afraid that I may be insane. Insanity is the overdose to madness’ healing qualities; it is the addiction to madness, the reliance on it. I plunge myself deeper and deeper in to books in a desperate attempt to severe myself from reality. I hide in the dark shunning artificial light simply because the glare pierces the mask our skin attempts to create. I cannot bear to live in your reality, I need the fictitious parallels created by these authors, I dive deeper in to them, using the darkness to block out the oppressive reality that smothers my being. But I know I cannot function, I have been moulded by this world, shaped by society in to a person unable to survive. I have my addictions, this lucid obsession with the fallacy of fiction, and I believe that my addictions have me; the medicine of madness cannot fix me for it cannot free me from myself, instead it forces me deeper in to the clutches of my fixations.
Blood is thicker than water, but both trickle off the umbrella that I hold above my head, sheltering me from the sympathies of the good Samaritans that cry tears over my life, or the slit wrists of my parents as they weep drops of blood on to my disturbed mind. Family always seemed so foreign to me, a distant concept perpetuated by people with nothing else in this life to cling to. Family cannot be chosen, but family can be removed, they are disposable and they will dispose of you the minute it becomes worth their while. They will love you right up to that moment, they will care for you right up to the moment at which they do not, everyone is capable of selling their soul because everyone has a price, we buy each other with emotion and deeds, a capitalist psychological economy in which those who have the most to give away receive the most back for their investment. I have bought and sold friends, a long time ago, but quickly realised it is easier to keep what you have than bargain for what others want; especially when no one wants the twisted, dark contents of your wallet.
I lost myself to this world, but in my death I find myself again.