Where the Brain Goes.
Everyone should allow themselves to break completely. To feel so totally shattered that when you lay down, you do not want to get up. To feel every ounce of your body weight being pulled by gravity into the floor, through the carpet to the hardwood beneath it, sinking, down, down, down. To feel your blinks grow longer, until your eyes spend more time closed than open, not because you are asleep but because the sensory inputs of the world are overwhelmingly banal. The rods and cones in your eyes rendering images of couches and tables and drywall with thermostats mounted on it. Artificial light shining on manufactured stuff, cluttering constructed rooms. It hurts to see, it overpowers our being.
A low-grade ache courses through the hallways of a pedantic life. Each lie we tell ourselves oscillates between believable and devastating, until one day we are forced to sign on the dotted line or else run away. It is easier to sign, the entire world is designed to encourage us to want the same things and to loan us money to get them. But the only thing worse than heavy eyelids is heavy eyelids staring down at legally binding contracts.
Convention would suggest that I not admit how often those moments of gravity-on-my-joints, eyes-that-won’t-stay-open end with me thinking about how easy it would be to pull a single, feathery trigger aimed squarely above my left temple, the one that always clicks and grinds and pulses with stress and old injury, and make all the headaches and credit card bills and ever-shortening timelines go away. You should never admit these things, especially not in writing, because it is a weakness, a liability, a pox on your name and a red flag for everyone around you. But this is also a form of cowardly submission; to deny your lethal ennui is to accept that compliant drudgery is better than everything that could make you happy.
Lately I have fantasized about the cold feeling of magnesium against my temple, right where the shaved sides of my hair meet the longer top cut, about the violent but sweet relief it would offer. How merciful to not feel sadness or spiraling uncertainty anymore! When I sit surrounded by the dizzying inputs of the world, my head feels airy and aches; I taste the metallic, battery-like tang of antidepressants I was once forced to take and the metallic, coppery nausea of blood on the tongue I have tasted more than once. I can close my eyes and feel my consciousness fade away, then come rushing back from the top-down when I re-open them. It is hypnotic to feel, that yo-yo-ing swing from death to life, utter impassivity to tenacious vivacity.
Visiting the brink of death and hearing the deafening silence has taught me much about how exhausting and rich the human consciousness is. And maybe one too many knocks to the head have made it a little too easy for my brain to feel overwhelmed and to shut down.
But it has also made me attuned to what the mind wants and the soul needs. Somewhere in the deadness that occupies my preferred position on the floor with my eyes closed, I can see sagebrush wiggling in the wind. It is a resolute shrub; it must be a stiff wind to move its leaves at all. The scene zooms out and brightens, and some mountains are in the background, beyond the spackled desert floor and all of its silvery sage and golden grasses. I must be there if I can see it, but I am invisible. I have disappeared into a pair of eyes, taking in the scene with no volition or debts. My sight is like a hawk’s—I can see a prairie dog poking its head out from around a bush a hundred yards away. Hank is none the wiser.
The scene is cinematic. The high desert is expansive and silent, yet teeming with life once one slows down and zooms in. It is also the place where dreams seem to go when the brain is fading away and struggling to conjure up one more imagined scene before it runs out of time. So many moments in movies are set in these empty places, because they render us miniscule and seem promising and foreboding all at once. It may be a cartel execution, a somnolent reunion with a dearly departed friend, or a never-ending run through the American West. Emptiness is where the brain goes.
I open an eye and see blurry fibers as I struggle to refocus my vision. I am still laying on a rug, and Hank is not even amused by the situation. Outside the door, someone wants me to be a better friend, a more successful son, a less fucked up person who won’t ask so many unanswerable questions. There are dishes in the sink and clothes in the dryer. It is all so heavy and so predictable, and the respite has lasted too long to be treasured. I am the first to admit that this is a severe character flaw, my constant need to be viscerally reminded of the small beauties of having a washing machine and a full-size bed in the same place for more than two nights in a row. But honest as I may be, I am not strong enough to overcome it. And so, the alarm clock rings and I wake up, absolutely devastated to find my surroundings the same and my tasks for the day to be entirely imagined, a legalistic ode to the bullshit economy us 21st Century humans participate in.
I scroll through my phone and wince at the CYBER MONDAY proclamations, the pictures that I have learned to identify are so masterfully cropping and filtering a far less glamorous reality, the constant chatter of people nervously trying to one up each other in a digital void. I am too weak to resist the 1080p LCD screen, too bored in my routine to not peruse each notification that appeared on every app while I was asleep. Some time in the past, when my brain injuries were so bad that screens were medically harmful, I learned a truth about myself. Injury or otherwise, I am happier without all of this stuff in my life.
Excellent stuff as always. I wait to read until after the kids and wife are asleep. Profound stuff. Keep it coming.