I’m telling you this because nobody else is listening. How can I tell that you are? It’s perfectly obvious; you sit there day after day as if you expect something from me, and though I can’t see you sitting there, I sometimes feel the weight of your stare. I’m sure you are familiar with the feeling you occasionally get, perhaps while sitting in your car at a stop light: You look over suddenly, and there they are, whomever, quickly averting their eyes, an uncomfortable smirk playing at their lips. Or sometimes they will sense that you are about to catch them and all you see is their head turning away, but you know, just as I know that you’ve been sitting here for days, expectantly.
What you see is a man lying here breathing. You see the rise and fall of my chest, and a green line pulsating erratically across a monitor. But I am thinking, too. And somehow you know this, that there is a conscious entity screaming to be heard, locked within this useless body. Perhaps you have been told how long I’ve been trapped here? I am a bit embarrassed, but I have lost all context of the passage of time. Though, I can hardly blame myself. After all, I have no wall on which to scratch the days. At first I had many visitors: friends, family, doctors, nurses, etcetera. I could hear them whispering as if they were afraid they might wake me. Then they talked to me as if I were awake and could respond. Then they spoke to each other. Sometimes, talking as if I wasn’t even there, they would discuss time, “It’s been so many days, or, a month now. Do you think he’ll ever come out of it? Blah, blah, blah.” Then uncomfortable silences, and then the silences became longer, until, eventually, the visits stopped. The doctors told my family that I was in a permanent vegetative state. But I think, I listen. They lost hope, but I am still alive. I suppose my mother may drop in with her heavy silence and sad breathing once a year. Perhaps it will become a tradition for her, like visiting the grave of a loved one. Anyhow, I think I should have had enough time to adjust to my situation. Or, perhaps, there will never be enough time.
At least I don’t have to listen to them whispering lies to themselves any longer: “Drugs.” I heard that word all too often, and they knew I hated taking even a single aspirin! But I tell you, it’s such an easy explanation for my condition. The doctors found no evidence of a head injury of any kind. They found no evidence of drugs either, but better that than no explanation at all, and the truth is much too difficult to swallow, much less believe. We see in color, but believe in black and white. But come closer and I’ll tell you. I want to tell you. But come closer yet; I want to feel your breath. Words.
Yes, that’s right, you heard me correctly–I said words. I suppose I’d smile, too, if I could. Don’t deny it. I can feel your smile. But it’s true. Allow me to explain. You apparently have nowhere you need to be, and I have all the time in the world now, so let me explain. I’ve had much time to think about it; Time stretches out when you have nothing to do, or, let me rephrase that: When you can do nothing, a day can be an infinity.
You have heard of the oubliette? It means, the place of forgetting. Perhaps to forget, maybe, just as accurately, to be forgotten. The oubliette had an opening at the top in which the prisoner was pushed down through, and there was no space for free movement. The prisoner was kept there in complete darkness until ransom was paid, which could take months, or even years, or maybe never. The thickness of rock, and depth of the cell kept the prisoner in silence, without even room to lie down, often without enough space to fully sit or turn around. The poor souls kept there almost always went mad. It seems to me that my body has become the oubliette of my spirit, pushing me inside through the mind, but I am exploring the walls of this place, seeking escape before complete madness sets in. Yet, the moral implication does not fully escape me; Perhaps I fight free through some weakness of skin, or from under a fingernail: would the choice to leave through my own volition be tantamount to suicide? And if so, would I be damning the very soul I am seeking to soothe? I do not have the answer. I am troubled. And yet still I seek through this subterfuge of cells and viscous dungeon.
But as I was saying, my condition was brought on by words. Or, maybe I should say, a lack of words, a cosmic stutter, an omnipotent hiccup. Maybe all of my disappointed love came back to me as coyotes, their dissonant voices echoing back through the cosmos to interrupt the function of my life. Or, perhaps, somewhere deep in the Pacific, the sonic suffering of whales has deconstructed their songs and left me floundering here in this inner sea of me, an onomatopoeia of suffering; a snap, a crack, a big bang of devolution. I’m certain of it. As sure as I am that you are sitting here somehow listening to me rant. And now you’re frowning. You’re not a doctor, are you? Some psychologist sent down to analyze me? No, they would never send someone to listen–only a nurse to clean me and to make sure all of this machinery is functioning properly. I doubt that I am the only person suffering in this fashion, though each of us must just a surely suffer alone
And here I am, alone, pulling on this tendon or that; Can you tell me? Did my toe move? I’ve lately been trying to let my consciousness flow with my blood, out of my head, and down through my body. Yes, I know, it’s quite funny: Out of my head. And perhaps I am, but I’d rather be out of my body. I have no use for it any longer, but still it persists! You cannot possibly understand the unutterable frustration of being more awake than I have ever been in my life, more awake than you, and at the same time having lost all of my power; I mean, all of my power to operate in life; all that I am now is a living corpse. But, at the same time, should I find a way to leave this body, could I, with good conscience, leave this life, even though I hardly consider this living?
You think I haven’t thought of that? Of course I’ve considered brain death. It was what the doctors were most concerned with when I first arrived here. Now I think they are disappointed that it has not occurred. My circulation would shut down, my breathing would cease. Without machinery to facilitate those functions, my life within this body would end. And then what, I wonder. I see myself in a dark room, a sliver of light filtering in from the other side. I’m tense, but there is an element of excitement. I wonder, will I regain my innocence on the other side? Or will there be nothing? I prefer to believe that there will be some grand adventure, or at least another life, perhaps much like this one. I am ready, even though terrified.
I don’t mean to be rude, and I would hate to squander this opportunity to talk with someone. Please come back tomorrow; If I have not found my way home, we will continue this conversation. Although I have more to share, I must rest, for even the dead must sleep.