Who am I?
My version is 10-O-8-14. My name is Guy Artin. I am human.
These are the only defined data points as I open my eyes. How do I know this? And more to the point, why do I care? I am now. I am here, in this nothing, in this middle of nowhere—and it’s dark. Cold too, though I don’t so much feel this as know it to be true. Where did I come from … across an endless sea? I hear a laboured breath, as my chest stutters and rises into life. The room is quiet, except for the rhythm of a sharp breathing that is unable to keep pace with the thumping of a heart trapped here within me. I need to get back to sleep, but it is too late: a heavy weight is pressing down, clamping me in place, the pressure forcing my eyes to stay open and acclimatise to their perch within the emptiness.
A dim, grey haze blurs the edges of scattered, unfamiliar furniture. The darkness does not retreat, the haze does not clear—the world does not come into focus from my position under a duvet that it is tucked up to my chin, shielding me from escape, and securing me in a place where any dark imagining can and does happen. I have nowhere to go from here, except to where I am being taken by the shadows of forsaken memories that remain just out of reach.
Attachment theory states that if a child fails to attach to a caregiver in the first six months of life there are frequently long-term mental health consequences.
I know that fact but I don’t know what I had for dinner last night, or whether I even ate anything. Am I hungry? No. The thought of food makes my stomach wince, warning me of nausea. Guy, please stop! Get back to the present. Get out of the perpetual thinking that crushes me. Focus, Guy, focus.
I don’t need any memory to breathe and to be here. I uncoil my clenched limbs to release the wound-up energy, and wait for the thudding to settle. It doesn’t. Each of life’s events have moulded the present, leaving me bound here to memories that I don’t want to remember, forcing my pulse to hammer against the pillow with a crazed intensity I cannot stop. Help me! I need someone to hold me and to tell me that everything is alright. But there is just me here, left alone with my cheeks and forehead burning in the darkness, with only whisky to reassure me and to slow down the drum. I stretch out a hand to the last known location of a crystal glass tumbler that had been waiting for me on a side table. I taste the rim of the glass on my lips before liquid passes through, first as a sip, then as a gulp; it gets to work immediately, stinging and numbing me, relieving me, slightly. The weight is still there, churning me up inside, but its edges are dulled a while, until the whisky will drain away and pain will claim its revenge.
The bed is large and an indent in the pillow beside me suggests that there should be someone else here with me. Except it is cold to touch and smells only of the alcohol I had spilt down my chin. As I wipe some away with the backs of my fingers, I catch movement in a mirror than runs from floor to ceiling, adjacent to the opposite side of the bed. It seems to pulse, from spectral to sepia and then to grey—then to nothing; my outline of a reflection pulled inwards into it, with the light. My vision tunnels, trying to regain an image, but all I have left are unforgiving thoughts of who I am. My thoughts? No thought is original. Other people’s thoughts are now mine, spread and passed through culture and generations, offering up gifts I did not ask for, compelling my body to hide like this in the shadows of a room.
52.4% of adults over the age of thirty in the UK sleep alone. Worldwide clinical depression has nearly tripled since 1995.
I catch myself talking to the darkness, “But why do I know this?” And more to the point, why do I care? The ceiling blazes blue, illuminating the room with a murky imitation of its colour.
“Because you’re another twisted statistic now, Guy.”
What the…? A headboard pushes up against the crown of my head. I cannot control the pounding in my chest. Someone else is in the room. A man. He’s a ghost of a memory, a feeling as opposed to a thought. “I’m lonely. Talk to me,” says the voice, that rises from under the bed. My eyes close, straining from side to side, trying to escape. A weight is on the bed next to me. It pulls at the duvet, trying to drag it from my grip. “I’m lonely,” the voice says. “I can show you anything.” I do not open my eyes. “Why don’t you love me?” it says. “Let me show you something. Anything. Gaze into me. Hold me.” The shadows beneath my eyelids shake in the haze. “LOOK AT ME!” My response is frozen in fear. I do nothing, except quiver in silence. “This is our secret. I love you,” it says, without any tenderness. “You know that I had to leave, don’t you?” I remain silent. “Please do what Lexi asks,” it says as the weight on the bed shifts and disappears.
“Do you prefer this?” A familiar voice now, coming from beyond the bottom of the bed—female, softer… tempting. She sounds like home, but not this place, wherever the hell this is. The thin bedsheet-like-duvet and rock-hard mattress make me wonder whether I am in some kind of prison. The default setting of the background hum resumes in my brain.
“Wake up!” she insists. Wake up? Am I dreaming? A phone screen on the side table lights up with an overpowering white glow that prompts my eyes to open. I pick it up. Fuck, it’s hot! I hear her muffled voice in my hand, “Look at me. Look at me, Guy. Guy? Please. Please, Guy. Don’t make me beg.”
The heat is irresistible to me. “Hello?” I press the phone to my ear. “Jane?” Her name fires an electric current on my tongue, jolting my body. “Jane is that you?” I contort with the realisation that I am with her, the creator of this intensity only I can feel. “Jane? Help me, I need you!” A deadly ocean of silence. Why does it suddenly hurt to breathe? I can’t ignore the searing pain that is biting through me. With sudden clarity, I realise, she’s gone. Jane is gone, forever, and that is why I no longer know who I am, or why I’m still breathing. “Jane!” I stab at the screen. It sucks my hand through… it twists, distorting into a serpent hissing at the infinite night. I pull my hand back as a cobra’s head strikes towards me; and smashes into the screen from the other side. The screen cracks and drops from my hand.
I know that I am hallucinating. Each night I must return to this bed of torture, where delusional thoughts force themselves on me; and confuse me into thinking that I’m asleep or awake, or somewhere spinning in between.
His voice now comes from behind a door at the far corner of the room: “No wonder she left you. You’re a piece of crap.” The voice has started to feel as familiar as my own. But I loathe him. Who is he? Is he me? My name is John Artin, not Guy, and I don’t understand what that means. What sort of a creature am I? I press my forefingers into my ears to deaden the noise.
“Leave me alone!” Please just leave. Jesus, the pain.
RING RING. RING RING. RING RING. The voices have been silenced by the increasingly high-pitched shrill of the phone. I peel open one lid to face the broken screen looking at me. The caller ID is: “YOU”. You? You mean me? How can I be calling myself? It doesn’t make sense. “Hello?” I stutter. There is a second of silence before the line tuts and disconnects. The room is returned to darkness.
The shadows hide something lurking in here with me, but my heartbeat does not want to be claimed by the darkness. “You wait,” he sniggers from the shadows, “you’re mine.”
“I’m not yours,” I cry, hot breath dissipating into frigid air. “I am nobody’s.” I am no body.
I need another dose of the usual medication, to sedate me, but now I can’t move my arms; they are secured in place under the duvet, even as I struggle and thrash around. Then, I see them, emerging from the darkness: a dozen red, fiery eyes all around the bed. My mouth opens into a scream that is covered by the clamp of a slimy hand. Please, if this a dream and I am sleeping, WAKE UP!
“What’s happening?” screeches a voice.
“He’s confused,” answers another.
“How does it feel, our saviour guy?” taunts a voice, triggering a barrage of ugly laughter at me. I feel a hand press down hard on my chest, forcing me to laugh with them. I automatically convulse and the hand withdraws.
“We must intervene,” shouts a voice.
“Give him a minute,” screams another.
I feel a pinch on an upper arm before my head sinks further into the pillow and my feet stop their twitching. I welcome the numbness spreading through me. “The time is 1:13 a.m.,” announces a small, faraway voice, that fades into the silence.