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Paul Grimsley

Her face used to be such a source of joy for me -- it was radiant, glowing with that light which the saints have in those beautiful ikons, but to me now it is just the face of someone that I know quite well. I smile when I see her but the action is rehearsed; it is better to appear happy than to give anyone a sense of how you truly feel.

The whole day can be passed under a sun buttered sky and I will only notice the moment when that blue expanse's single cloud hovers above me for a moment. I am not attuned to the good things in life, my mind's eye has had its lens reconfigured to a different wave in the spectrum: my eyes polarise all that is good and make it bad, rob it of its goodness. The wealth of old is a paucity that makes my eyes sting with the effort of holding back tears. Something in me is broken. She knows this, but what can she say to me that I will recognise as comforting? Here in this trap?

I woke with her cool hand laid on my cheek this morning and I just stared at her, didn't say a thing, waited until she moved, heaved a sigh, and closed my eyes again. It is difficult to give her a map so she can understand the contours of my troubled mind-state. At one time she would not have needed such a thing, but then I was never in this place before. I am a blind man walking through a country whose language I do not speak, bumping into other eyeless mutes who have found themselves in the same predicament. It is a sad state of affairs.

I find myself constantly wishing that I could find the source of this discordant sensation but from whence it springs I cannot tell. I know that the medication which they offer me would have no effect -- they may remove the physical manifestations but that would be like burying one problem under another. The largest number of addicts in this country are on prescription drugs. Why would I want to trade my position as a depressive with that of drug addict? Where is the incentive? A colourless drudge of existence exchanged for a colourless stupefaction where I might happily shit myself and abuse myself and further remove myself from the idea of my self that I am trying to relocate. Smash the compasses under heel and don a blind-fold, that is what they ask me to do.

I don't think sensory deprivation would be as bad as this is -- I know that the things are there, it is only that I can derive no contentment from them; to not know they were there, to have myself absented from the world of sense: at the moment that seems like it might be a blessing. In fact, I was thinking that I might rent out a sensory deprivation tank and test out my theory. I know that I will not be made happy by the situation, but I might be made less unhappy and that's got to be worth something, hasn't it?

What do the leaves on the tree mean to me as they appear, as if from nowhere, as green as a broken spring twig's marrow, deepen to racing green, wax and wane through fire-orange, medal-gold, to auburn, to the brown of the dirt they lay above and rot into? Nothing. The twinkle in a child's eye as they see the parent returning what they thought they had lost? Nothing. Rigorous sex that leaves our bodies glowing as if someone had set light to our souls and they are shining through our skin? Nothing. The news that a simple, off-the-cuff fuck has been transmogrified by the grace of chance into a beautiful thing, namely the conception of our first child? Nothing. My wife knows that there is something wrong with me, and that is why it appears I am not, in fact am not, enjoying the things which she enjoys and knows I used to enjoy, but how does that help her? I have sat there and listened to her sobbing, trying to hide the noise, in the bathroom, mopping up her misery with toilet paper and flushing it down the toilet.

I cannot go to her and say that I will try and get better, try to rectify the problem, because like every specialist who has looked at me, I don't know why I am where I am mentally. And not knowing why I am there, nor knowing exactly where there is, I am incapable of finding my way back. The specialists have been forced to throw their maps away as well. Some of these men of science hate me, others see me as a problem to be solved; none of them see me as a human being who, by being where he is, is damaging those around him: slowly digesting them with the rot which his presence is becoming. I do not move forward through time in the same way that the rest of my family do -- they are alive and I am amputated, arrested, at a standstill. I anchor them, and something in me scares them. To be as I am strips the humanity out of me, makes me not inhuman, for that is humanity's opposite, but alien.

I have been to every single self-help group and group-therapy that the neuroses of man have birthed and not a single one of them helped me in the least. Like a contagion, my negative energy brought the members of the group down and I was asked to leave -- asked to leave by people who consider themselves to be hopeless cases (well, it's harsh, but in their heart of hearts that is what they believe ... trust me). Asked to leave because I was in a place that no-one understood. Cynics take delight in their cynicism, nihilists choose to be nihilistic, pessimists love to be proved right about the darkness of the cloud hanging over the silver lining that everyone else claims is there -- they get enjoyment out of their misery (or alternative happiness as I like to call it). So what refuge have I got? Where can I go that will grant me some asylum? Where will I rediscover the joy that has exited my existence?

You can refill pens. You can recharge batteries. You can recycle paper. You can clean water and drink it again. You can bring things back from the dead, revive the lost. What can you not do if you set your mind to it? I can surely, if all this is possible, find something that will make me smile again. I am not so bereft of ideas and so unwilling to make an effort that my struggle should remain unrewarded, am I? I always thought that trying hard, giving it a hundred and ten percent, was something that I was particularly good at, was I wrong about that all the time? Or was I right about it and now, being where I am, I have forgotten how to reach the previous heights that were my territory? If I had an optimist in me then he would plump for the latter because it would let me off the hook and mean that something else was to blame -- it would mean that effort was not the problem, that effort would make no difference whatsoever to my state. God, that optimist would be wielding a double-edged sword, no? At least the pessimist would give it to me straight: you gave up, boy, that's what you did, you useless shit -- you gave up, and you only have one person to blame for losing such an essential part of your life ... you. Yeah, the pessimist wouldn't pull any punches; I'd be coughing up teeth to pay the toll all losers pay.

After the self-help groups, still holding off on the isolation tank, I decided that I would flood my senses with every single thing that I or anyone else had ever found pleasurable. It was an orgy. It was gluttony. It was a grotesquerie, a mockery, a towering folly that overshadowed the lives of those who were trying to adjust to my emotional constipation. And they managed to bring a halt to it before I did myself some damage. You can only smoke so much dope, and if it is not working, and all you are doing is scaring the people you are smoking with, then stop. The same applies to drink. Sex with no strings for another person, when you are involved in a relationship with a wife you are struggling to get better for, is not sex without complications. Stop it. Too much food, eating to the degree where you think it might be a good idea to build a vomitarium like the Roman's had, means you should cut back and try something else.

Dangerous sports are already labelled with a word that tells you why you shouldn't do them too much -- they're dangerous. The other thing that you should always remember? Things that other people enjoy are not necessarily ever going to be your cup of tea. One man's meat is another's poison. Clichés have barbs and, though ignoring them and convincing yourself that they are not there might provide temporary comfort, the poison that is the truth will seep into your system eventually. Dreamers can be the most bitter people in the world solely because truth has a tendency to get in: under the door, carried by someone else like an STD or an air-borne virus. Truth is nefarious and multifarious and travels towards you in more ways than Phileas Fogg in Eighty Days would (And it never took truth eighty days to travel the world when it wasn't wanted (well, that's not strictly true, but I'm trying to make a point)).

Truth entered the vacuum I had made myself. Like the water rushing in after Moses and his chosen people were across the floor of the Red Sea. It damaged me, it made me feel when I had been working on numbing myself. Because nothing that I had been exposed to for so long made me feel good I didn't want to feel anything at all -- I wanted to hide the world behind a narcosis that I saw as my saviour; not brought on by narcotics injected but by those produced by the chemical factory that is the brain: the key was always in your head. A lot of people forgot that you were your own lock and key and that the quest was just an externalisation of this marrow-deep knowledge. But truth got in under the door. Truth damaged me. I wanted my lies I had made to cotton-wool me and they left me.

And then I wanted to hurt things. Really do some damage. I felt no pleasure in anything and so I wanted the whole world to be reduced, through the catalyst of me, to a blood-tinged bruise. I suffered an abandonment of hope -- a more profound sense of loss than anything I have ever felt when I have had people go and die on me. I had died on myself, atrophied, become a diseased limb; a ghost limb, that a brain, forced to live at a remove from the world, could still feel. I was the ear that the whole world was pouring its lies into; I knew the truth of this and that made me sick, and that sickness led to such a violence of thought that I gave up hope of ever emerging out of the other side of this karmic fog-bank that I had entered. All the maps had burned and snapped and crackled into ashes before my singed eyes. I had idiot retinas that saw nothing as it was; saw nothing but threat nestled in the hearts of every object, whether it was animate or inanimate.

I was being given the wrong lies and being hurt by the truths which bloomed from the field of these endless falsehoods. I was doomed. A cancer of the soul had metastasised and sent its spores into the furthest reaches of my psyche -- a psyche that was so battered and knackered by the lack of positivity it had been fed on recently, that it just about died. I was a hollow shell with all the hope of a blinkered Faust. I had made no pact with the Devil, but my mind-state had locked the cuffs around my wrists and thrown away the key. My own screams were transformed in my ears into the death-knells of expectant banshees come to hound me into hell. Was it a black time? None more black had I known until that point. And after? Well, I had dwelled for so long in the dark by that point that differentiating the depths of pitch in the abyss was an impossibility. The world gone slate seemed a constant, a torture wedded to eternity. I thought that the whole shebang was over, that the fat lady had sang, that the gig was up. I gave up. Then I gave up. Yes, I am ashamed to say it, but I really did give up. Surrendered. Threw in the towel.

I wake every morning on the floor of the bathroom with pills fallen like hail-stones over my prone naked body, the shower is on, the sink is full and overflowing because the overflow pipe is full of bloody rags from the stress nosebleeds I keep having, and I have soiled myself. Every time. And I am woken by the sound of loud knocking upon the bathroom door ... I just give thanks for the fact that I have managed to lock the door each time. What kind of person am I becoming? Have I become? I tell them I fell asleep in here and that I need to clean myself up, but they can sense, from something in my voice, that all is not quite well; I would never have made an actor. Under the hot water, letting the soap sting my eyes until I think I might go blind, I feel alive again at least, With the cold tiles under my back when I wake I think maybe I have died and I am on a mortuary slab: it is a fleeting illusion, but it is not a good start to the day.

I do not know how long it is since I interacted with my family. I do not remember what that interaction involved. And so, when I see them, as I intermittently do, I am unsure what is required of me. I have travelled a distance so far from them that everything, ever sensation, arrives in my brain as if translated through the medium of postcards: incomplete and inaccurate, a snapshot taken through an astigmatic lens where the astigmatism is a perceptual flaw and not a physical one. Something has blinded me in a most severe way. The world is a faded water-colour, crinkling up at the edges, stinking of piss. All is a manufactured lie that is not holding together well; a Frankensteinian monster with amateur sutures. The world has been re-cast, the way we move forward has been re-scripted, the way we were has been rejected -- it is all new and it is all horrible, ruined, destroyed, yet continuing, and I do not know how to escape from the nightmare. I know that some people exited stage left when it started to get like this, when they realised I was the seed sown for darker days, but they left no map for the rest of us to learn of the escape route; perhaps I am the reason for that too. They do not want me to follow them with the infection that I have. The hopeless only bring hopelessness where they tread. I am without hope. Joy left me and hope followed. This is the slippery slope, greased by my own failure to recover.

I have been told that my child has been born. So this state of affairs must have been going on for quite a time, and how elastic has time become for me for it to seem no time since I was told of the conception? Is this Einstein's relativity made tangible? Have I travelled somewhere at the speed of light and returned to find that while I have not aged everyone else has moved on? It is confusing: it is a Sleeping Beauty moment. The magic kiss? An erstwhile friend spitting in my face. It gives him pleasure to display his disgust at me in this way; and who am I to deny others pleasure just because I cannot feel it myself? I would not be that presumptuous. Sorry, that statement that I just made is a lie -- since my life has become defined by an absence of joy, have I not made everyone else's life a misery? Were this a song where my question called for a response the answer would be a resounding yes. I have brought evil with me.

I do not want this to come near my son. I do not want this child to know that his father, when he first heard what should be wonderful news, met it with no reaction at all. That because he could not proffer the expected words or appear to be as he should be, he just stood there -- unable to lie, unable to be anything other than what he was: a joyless individual. The look in the face of the person who had told him - his wife - would break the heart of anyone, even the most stoic person. It killed me, her face, slowly being hammered until it became a mask like mine. For a moment that face, which had been a source of joy for me since I had first seen it, became a mirror ... a terrible mirror that reflected back the thing which I had become in all it's horror. A once human face destroyed by the lack in it, the inability to express something because it did not really know what it was anymore. And I ran. Ran from the joy I did not know, from the wife who had once given me so much, from the child who promised to give me more -- I ran from it all, and I ran and I ran and I ran and I fell off the edge of the world.

No rabbit hole, but a black hole. Over the event horizon, :the crushed and twisted light; the crippled, rippled time; I, stretched and crushed simultaneously, pulled beyond all boundaries of self that anyone would recognise. And I emerge out the other side in a twin universe -- out of a worm hole into a negative universe. This is how I explain it all to myself. I hear doctors talking of an aneurysm, major brain trauma, irreparable damage -- hypothalamus, amygdala, other emotion centres, snuffed out like candles. None of this reaches me as truth. I sleep. And I wake. And I smile. And they take a photograph of me with my son in my arms. And I am confused. And I am back. And I am real again. And waves of joy crash over me and about me and drown me. I am baptised. I am recovered. Call me Lazarus. And then I wake. And I get no joy from this. Joy is absent. I am awake and joy is absent. The recurring dream tells me what joy would be, but being told and knowing are two different things -- I can experience one but I shall never know the other. My teachers, who are my family, trapped here by me, trapped here in this crippled body -- I have taught them something: they have learned the meaning of anhedonia, the absence of joy. And I get no joy from that.

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