The Human Condition


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  We all have a fear. Whether we like to acknowledge it or not is a different thing.

Imagine your fear in the worst case scenario. Deep water, nightfall, heartbreak, whatever it is. Let the feeling consume you for a moment. Do you feel that gut wrenching pain? The one that washes over you like a spring ride, bringing on a sense of nausea and placing you on the brink of despair.

Take a step back. Let yourself return to reality. You're still here. Your heart is still beating. Your pulse is probably a little faster, you may have even shed a tear, but you're still living.

As I serve my one-thousand-and-thirty-seventh day in this disheveled place, I've learned that if you survive your worst fear, you learn what is your true enemy.

No, it's not the action of drowning out at sea. It may happen. Panic fills your senses as quickly as the water fills your lungs, but no, that's not it. It isn't the motion of your car coming off the road in torrential rain either. It isn't the action of you falling from a great height.

Your brain. That's your greatest fear. You look in the mirror and the face you thought you knew distorts. The same happens to your fears. 

My greatest fear was losing my husband. I imagined it in all sorts of scenarios; infidelity, murder, kidnap to name a few. I never thought it would be at my own hand.

Drink driving. The less that's said about that, the better. I'm serving my time.

So, that fear becomes real. It's happening. The world around you begins to spin as your life spirals out of control. You feel your id rising to the surface, telling you your paranoia was justified all along. It may be the interpretation of a text, or a part of a photograph, or the absence of someone that sparks it off. You feel sick. The anger manifests to hurt, to shock and back again. The world seems focused on solely hurting you in that period of time and there's nowhere to hide.

It stops. It's happened. I look over and see my husband's lifeless body held only by the seatbelt. I smell the blood before I see it. The tingling in my legs tells me something is wrong. Bright lights are just blurs and the voices of help are nothing but a deep buzz in my ears. Time seems to stop and I feel that my life has ended.

Time passes. You begin to heal. The cycle of grief becomes your reason for being. Anger, to denial, to depression, fleeting to bargaining before you regress. One day you reach acceptance. The emotional highs and lows is enough to keep you awake at night. Those images of the event are burned into the back of your mind and they play at various speeds constantly, over and over again as you analyse each scene in agonising detail. That feeling comes flooding back and you start again.

It's been a year. Your fear has happened. You grow resistant to the emotions you once had. The thought of walking past the train tracks doesn't scare you any more. You don't have traumatic flashbacks as you look up above the landing, although you can still see where the rope hung. You don't smell that particular type of alcohol and burst into tears. Something has changed. The switch has been permanently shut off. You feel cold, almost inhumane. Is this normal? 

You realise your fear wasn't the worst thing that could happen. Most you'll survive, and if you don't, you won't know any different. If you do, then you'll understand when I say this; it's not that event, but the varying forms it masquerades in that haunts you.

My husband never said a word. He didn't have the chance. The car collided with the central reservation barrier so quickly he didn't have chance to wake up. That memory doesn't scare me.

It's the version whereby I imagine him telling me I was a terrible wife, the one where he admitted to a string of affairs and laughed at my naivety, that scares me. The version where he suffered rather than dying on impact. The one where we argued over which junction to turn off at rather than him being silent from the moment we left the pub.

Your imagination is your worst enemy. The distinction between reality and fantasy blurs and you feel your sanity slipping through your fingers. Tachycardia sets in again. The person you know is replaced by the one your brain has created. That innocent flash of lightning on a summer's evening becomes Zeus' rage destined to strike your body. Nothing is as it seems.

I've learned to live with it. The ugly truth. As I sit surrounded by these four crumbling walls, I know the scariest thing that can happen is being alone. Your thoughts grow wild, like garden weeds. Insanity becomes your reality.

I fear nothing now. I've lived through it. Once you've lived through your feared experience, you become immune.

Just beware of the monster that keeps you awake at night.

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  As I lie here, letting the warm breeze lightly caress my skin, I realise I made the right choice. My eyes fall back to her; she's still fast asleep, one arm supporting her head whilst the other dangles over the edge of our bed. I smile and I feel that same sense of pride as I did the day she agreed to marry me.

I'd never had much interest in finding someone before I met her. I was content working a nine to five job and suiting myself in the evenings and on the weekends. My friends would convince me to take someone home from the bar, but that wasn't my style. Concerned relatives would ask me again and again when I'd bring someone home, as if the timer was about to hit zero. I'd be egged into having a laissez-faire liaison on holiday, but I couldn't think of anything worse.

It took me by surprise, like a wave, pulling me down and sweeping me out to sea. I'll never forget the moment I realised I'd fallen for her. 

When we spoke, she didn't look at me in that pitying way women do when a man strikes conversation but they are physically repulsed. She'd ask me about my life and everything there was to know; my hobbies, my favourite films, my family life and why I was fascinated by the Swedish language. 

I thought she was friendly. There wasn't any love at first sight. I always found her attractive - that I can't deny - but I was happy with talking to somebody new. 

I was in the shower. That Maroon 5 song was on the radio, you know the one everyone knows, and all I could think of was her. The thought of seeing her again made me feel nauseous, but not out of disgust. Quickly, I realised I was scared of fucking up. Scared I'd say one thing that would put her off, and the chances of getting to know her more would disappear forever.

Get a grip, man. That's what my friends would say. I could hear them now, the Casanovas of my world. How could I be afraid? 

She collared me first as she walked into the office. Asked me if I wanted tea or coffee. I said toffee. She laughed and walked over to the kitchen, no questions asked. I was less interested in what she'd bring, but more interested in what she had to say.

She'd been to Dublin. As she scrolled through her photos, she told me all about her Irish heritage. Our coffees ended up getting cold. Neither of us cared.

Days turned into weeks. We'd be communicating until the early hours on a daily basis. Coffee lunch breaks became dinner dates, and six months later we were deeply in love.

My friends didn't understand. Commitment wasn't in their vocabulary. The blonde barmaid at the pub garnered more interest from them, but it was okay. I felt like I was on Cloud Nine. I'd go to bed at night and my last thought would be about her. I'd see something funny, she was the first person on my mind. When I dislocated my shoulder, I just wanted to be with her.

My sister passed away. Cervical cancer. The colour seemed to disappear from the world and I was left dragging myself through a silhouetted hell. She was there, making my world light up again piece by piece. It had only been a year then, but it confirmed to me she was the one. Whilst I struggled with the loss of my best friend, she never backed away. Even then, she still looked at me with such love.

Dublin. Two years together. I was shaking with nerves all day. My thumb grazed across the top of the box. Yes. I wanted this more than anything else. I waited until nightfall. My mouth went dry. She cried. She said yes.

It's been ten years. We've left the kids with my parents for the week. Time hasn't been so kind to me; I noticed a sprouting of grey hairs around my crown and the beginning of Crow's feet, but time has only made her more beautiful.

She tries to hide then. The stretch marks. She gave me two of the greatest gifts a man could ask for. I tell her to not be shy. I caress them with my fingers. I remind her that she's the most gorgeous woman I've ever laid eyes on. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else with anyone else.

If you find someone special, don't ever let them go. Love hard. It is no weakness. 

She'll be awake soon. I've got a cup labelled toffee at the ready.

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 Another shot. Just the relief I need after another shit day.

The letters on the envelope become nothing more than some meaningless squiggles. Fuck. Who am I? I want to dance. Yes. I want that swanky businessman to fuck me hard against the toilet wall. The tie. His shirt. That scent. Oh yes. 

It's light again. My senses have dulled to nothing. Stereo to mono. Happiness to comatose. Jesus, how did I end up here? Theee years ago I was on the tip of a good career and now I'm here.

Seven stone wet through. My ex pleads with me to seek help. Help is not what I need. Counselling and therapy is bullshit. I like the buzz. I love the thrill of not being myself for a few hours. I need another shot.

I feel my heart rate increasing. It's starting again. I see her, that woman from Wetherspoons. Punch her. Kick her. Rip her hair out. Stuck up bitch. Should have kept quiet. Nothing a couple of shots wouldn't have fixed.

It's a new day. Seven o'clock in the evening is my morning. I scrape the last bit of butter across my charcoaled toast. Some food is needed for survival. I'm going out. I need a break. The shots don't work the same any more.

Lines of Charlie. The dustings of snow become my new best friend. Credit cards, tabletops, stomachs, toilet seats, anything goes. 

It burns, but I like the pain. It makes me forget. That businessman is here again. He's a good fuck. He didn't disappoint. Round two with the vodka shots. I miss my mouth, again. 

Eviction notice. Try me. I still hold down a job. I don't give a shit any more though. I do my work and leave. Twenty-five grand to seven pounds an hour is a huge sacrifice for a vice that will kill me. I already look halfway dead.

Molly. My wing woman. Keeps me going all night. My jaw is hanging. The tiredness doesn't seem to kick in. Eight o'clock in the morning and I'm still bouncing off the walls.

Accident and emergency. A dodgy E. Something cephaly. I don't remember. A week in ICU incarcerated by sedation. A week later I'm back to black. You can't teach an old dog new tricks.

Are they blue? Green? Grey? I can't tell anymore. I'm greeted by premature ageing and jaundice. Fuck. I'm twenty-six. 

I think of her sometimes, my Isabella. Six feet under and didn't even get to live for a whole day. I almost feel guilty for trying to join her. Ambition has been lost. I live for the thrill.

Positive. Ha. I knew. No thanks. A couple of pills and it's gone. I can't get attached if I don't ask too many questions. I tried once before and God took her away from me. That Catholic upbringing didn't do me any good.

Blinded by lights. My neck is stiff. I'm struggling to breathe. I collapsed. My hearts buggered. I'm not surprised. He's there, lurking behind the curtain. Says he never stopped loving me. I loved the drugs and not him. He's right. I don't love anyone. I did, once. He hasn't slept all night. I don't know why.

She's gone. I miss Mum. She missed the old me, too. The girl she used to know died a long time ago. I'm the shadow of the person I once was. Thirty thousand in debt for nothing. My degree is worth nothing. LLB worth jack shit.

Triple whammy. I feel invincible. I become one with the music and I feel alive. I blink and I'm surrounded by high visibility jackets. My voice is lost. Pools of blood remind me I'm vulnerable. I can't move my legs. Shit.

I'm done. I'm going. There's nothing more they can do. Come on then. Take me. I'm ready.

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