Half-Life

by Sharilyn

EMAIL: Sharilyn

(note: the song lyrics at the top of each chapter are from Duncan Sheik's song, "Half-Life.")

1.

I'm awake in the afternoon
I fell asleep in the living room
and it's one of those moments
when everything is so clear...


It's been long enough now...long enough so that I shouldn't feel this way; I shouldn't wake up from dreams I can't even remember with such pain in my heart, such dark emptiness in my soul. Shouldn't wake up so completely hollow and purposeless.


The light outside is almost too beautiful to view with merely human eyes; as I stand at the bank of windows in my silent living room, gazing out on a sun-dappled idyll of trees and rocks, of rippling water and the frenetically cheerful songs of birds flitting busily about their avian business, I know that I should be entertaining a sense of reverence, of mute gratitude, for all these things around me. I dwell in a place of beauty, a bastion of refuge from the harsher world out beyond the perimeter of the secure walls encircling me all around. Here there is peace, here I live in blessed solitude. I lack for nothing material or physical, I have my health and such sweet beauty on every side. And yet I awake from darkness, weeping inconsolably with a longing that has no name, no genesis or resolution. I am alone...bereft. Untouchable.

2.


Before the truth goes back into hiding
I want to decide cause it's worth deciding
to work on finding something more
than this fear...


He's out there somewhere; I can still feel him, nestled deep inside the core of my heart, in that dark, sweetly wild place of spirit and of formless longing. He came to inhabit that space long ago, shaping it to an exact fit, molding it into a form accessible only to him...he left his imprint there, permanent and indelible, and there is no expunging the unique contours of his energy, of his mark, from that soft, raw place he carved so deeply into my soul once upon a time. Long ago and far away, yet never to be forgotten. Never to be removed.


He is no longer here with me and never will be again; but I will never be rid of him. I never want to be. I take no pleasure in the admission; seeing myself up close and real as the weak, pitiable shell I have become is an exercise I face daily with grim resignation and the occasional, rare flash of wry amusement. I am fully aware of the nature and degree of my own emotional dysfunction. And it doesn't matter. In this case self-knowledge changes nothing, resolves nothing.

3.


It takes so much out of me to pretend
tell me now, tell me how to make
amends...


Pretending. I did if for such a long time after it all went away, after he was not just a little gone but gone all the way; it was almost disurbingly easy to live the lie, to obfuscate and deny and to become the lead in my own dramatic fantasy of normality. The Before and After, the Yes and No, the Light before the final, irrevocable Darkness...and no one else knew. None of them ever suspected. Only he knew; only he felt the depth of my pain. But by then he was already smoke and ash, already out among the stars,traveling at the speed of light away from me...so far away, lost to the unfathomable cold of infinite space.


I can't fix it now; there are no amends to make, no apologies to be offered or accepted. There is only here, this place--mine, all mine; no voices around me to intrude on the silence, no one else's idiosyncratic habits to endure. I am perfectly
self-sufficient, perfectly contained, perfectly alone.


Sometimes lately I forget my own name; oh, it's always only for a moment, most often immediately upon awakening. A flash of consciousness returning only to find
nothing to anchor itself to, no trace of being or identity, no words or labels to define the parameters of what is me versus all that is not me. And sometimes I forget what I look like--forget how tall I am, the color of my eyes, the shape of my body.


The first few times it happened, I could feel my insides churning into a blind panic, could hear the agitated breath wheezing from my lungs and smell the stink of fear in the acrid sweat welling from my pores. But I had just enough presence of mind to remember the mirror, the big, heavy silver mirror on the wall in my bedroom. It told me who I was, displayed to me in reverse every detail of the front of my body, of my face. And when I turned, peering myopically back over one shoulder, I was reassured that the rest of me still existed, too, in living 3-D.


At times I wonder if I can be sure all of me is still here, if the mirror really is a faithful reflector of all that appears before it in the physical realm; I awake sometimes more than half convinced that some essential part of my body is missing and that the mirror just refuses to let me see that I am only partly here. But now and then, when I bathe or shower I check myself, stealthy and half-embarrassed in the candlelit shadows of my master bathroom; and each time I do so, everything seems to be present and accounted for.


Of course none of me is as firm and hard and strong as before, back when I was young and my soul still walked in the light; now I see strands of gray in the wiry curls that once were burnished brown, and my face seems strange to me sometimes, creased as it is now by unfamiliar wrinkles. The lines are small yet, not really all that noticeable; but they worry me on certain days, on days when the light is bad or the cold creeps in despite the wonderful insulation in the walls so snug around me. On those days the crinkles by my eyes and those running alongside my mouth make me afraid that I am really not who I thought I was, not who I usually know I am. When those times of uncertainty hit me, when I struggle with being lost and afraid, suddenly so afraid...I break silence. In those moments of unbearable vulnerability I cry out to him, call his name and cry like a child until I have no voice, no tears, left. But he never comes.

4.


Maybe I need to see the daylight
to leave behind this half life
Don't you see I'm breaking down...


But it's sunny out today, fullblown daylight; so bright and hot and verdant with fecund promise that I almost feel the urge to go out onto the deck. Today I can be quiet; today his name rests like a warm whisper in my soul, and I am content just to sense the shape of him there, in his accustomed space.


I enjoy the tranquil pond of large koi fish that runs alongside the edge of the deck; even now the vivid oranges of the pond's inhabitants beckon invitingly as I stand here at the window and watch the placid swish of tails and fins just below the surface of the clear water. It's warm enough that I could wander out under blue skies with a book and a cup of tea, warm enough to lose myself for minutes or maybe even an hour in the somnolent hush of the afternoon. Nothing else to do, nowhere else to be...perfect bliss. I should be happy, should feel at peace with myself and the world. And yet...


The daylight reminds me; it is deceptive in its friendliness, subversively cunning in its all-too-obvious display of charm and security. I don't think I can trust it; I don't believe I should. In the daylight I see sometimes that I'm not whole, that somewhere--somewhen--I left behind something terribly vital and important, something that needs light and air and the painfully laborious process of remembering in order to call it back again.


Suddenly I think I shouldn't be here, standing so exposed and vulnerable in front of all this glass, figuratively naked before the illusion of freedom it offers, my mind tricked at odd moments into almost believing that no barriers exist to the outside world. The near-invisible panes of glass mock me, playing at delivering the whole of everything beyond these walls directly into my hands, if I would but reach out and take it and call it all to me. But I know my grasping fingers would not be able to penetrate the clear hardness, even if I pushed and pushed till the illusion shattered, leaving me with nothing more than shredded skin and bloody shards of broken promise at the end.


No; the daylight is too often a trickster, treacherous and traitorous and as wantonly unfaithful as an adulterous lover. Today is not safe, the sun likely not so warm as it seems from this side of the glass. For a moment I wonder if I'm still asleep, still caught up in the throes of some vague and hazy dream; I grow angry as I consider the possibility, arguing silently with myself as to whether I should throw caution to the winds and fling wide the glassed-in doors leading to the deck. Should I go outside, should I leave behind this half-life existence of the inside and venture out into something more, into a place beyond this slow, inexorable breaking down of all that I once knew? If I could just ask someone what to do, if only he would come and show me the way out...

5.


Lately, something here don't
feel right; this is just a half-life
Is there really no escape?
No escape from time
Of any kind...


I can feel it creeping over me now, the fear that starts out slow and small and rises gradually, insidiously, till it becomes something dark and massive and horrifying beyond description.


I had thought it wouldn't touch me today, that this would be an afternoon of peace and of gentle calm. I still want it to be so--want it with a sense of hopeless desperation so strong I can taste its bitter tang on my tongue. I want to escape, want to run and run until the muscles in my legs are one nonstop burn of concentrated effort; I want to scream and growl and rave at the injustice of desiring serenity and receiving only the cold ashes of immutable futility instead. I want Jim; oh God, I want Jim, and it's too much, all this emptiness where he should be and is no longer.


No escape...there's no escape for me now, no refuge, only the mocking outline of his flown-and-gone soul still embedded like the weight of the universe in my heart, sharp and cutting and cold now where I need it to be warm and soft and comforting. Oh, God, what color were his eyes; how did he smell? I can't let myself forget, can't lose the smallest scintilla of any of the fiercely, lovingly guarded minutiae of the Jim file stored with such meticulous precision in the depths of my fractured mind. Fractured, damaged, lost...


I've been lost for so long now, I think; I don't know how I came to be so worn and weathered, so small and soft and pale, whiter even than the incandescent light bursting in on me from outside. I imagine Jim being outside, out there somewhere, and I tell myself he would come for me if he knew, if he even still remembered. I console myself with the imaginary notion that he would never leave me here if he knew I was still alive, that he would never allow me to hide inside my comfortably appointed fortress of isolation if he had the means to come and bust me out. He'd be here if he could, if he had the time. But time ran out for Jim; time ripped him apart and swallowed him down in bloody, partially masticated bits, so greedy to devour his essence that proper chewing was never a consideration. I couldn't hold onto him, couldn't rescue a leg or a hand or even an ear as I watched him disappear in the maw of the beast, ravaged and then just gone.

Sometimes I pretend it never happened; sometimes I wake from dreams and believe, at least for a little while, that he's coming home soon. But this is not his home; I remember the loft, I remember where we lived together, and I know that that place is--was--home for Jim. Home for me too until the day my thoughts broke and shattered and ran out through the cracks in my head, pooling in the floor until there was nothing left but darkness, nothing but the sacred space in my soul that still holds his shape and can never forget. I'm lost now, and I need him here, but I don't know where here is. I'm not sure I even know who I am anymore, not sure if Jim was ever real...


Oh, God, Jim, be real; you're all I have left, the only thing that's remained constant and inviolate in my swiss-cheesed brain. Even if you can't come back anymore, even if I can never see you again, I have to know at least that once you were, that the strength and beauty of your spirit wasn't just a figment of my disturbed imagination. I don't so much mind the confusion that falls over me concerning all these other things, all the tiresome detritus of my daily life now; none of that matters in comparison to the unbearable prospect of losing Jim completely, of waking from the only truly peaceful dream I still have to realize that he never existed. I can take anything but that; these demons inside my mind can take any and everything from me but him. They can't take Jim; I won't let them. Ever.

6.


I keep trying to understand
This thing and that thing,
My fellow man
I guess I'll let you know

When I figure it out...


The light is fading now; I guess I never made it outside today, after all. The realization saddens me; I try to remember what I did instead, whether I read or had a bite to eat or maybe dozed off on the couch and slept without dreaming this time. It's so hard to pull it all together, to gather up the disjointed pieces of memory and reality and make them fit while simultaneously pushing to the side all that was merely fantasy or the wisp of long-forgotten ideas that never reached fruition.


I thought I saw someone just a bit ago, a shadow lurking in my kitchen; it scared me, stole for one, heart-pounding moment the breath from my lungs, the strength from my limbs. I almost cried out with the shock of it, and I did drop the ceramic mug I was holding in one hand. Hot coffee splattered up from the tiled floor, splashing on my bare feet and ankles and wringing a brief, pain-filled moan from my lips as I jumped back from the cafe-au-lait puddle spreading around me. Despite the pain, I clapped a hand over my mouth and forced myself to go very still as the slightest ripple of movement came again from beyond the kitchen doorway, located several yards from me down the hallway I was traversing at the time.


For a tense, breathless moment I was certain I could hear someone, some unknown intruder skulking about in my house, meddling in my things, possibly raiding my refrigerator or digging through the silverware drawer in search of a knife with which to hurt or terrorize me...


A surge of panic rose in me as I wondered if this nameless menace to my safety had heard me drop the mug, and I cringed back against the wall behind me, almost certain that any second now my mystery guest would come barrelling out of the kitchen to investigate the racket made by the cup's impact with the floor.


But no ominous figure appeared in the doorway ahead of me; the sound I thought
I'd heard--that of a voice murmuring softly, as though speaking to someone close by--drifted away into nothingness and left me standing foolish and alone in the silence of early
evening, my scalded feet and ankles crying out for relief as I stared blankly down at the mug lying on its side, the handle broken off.


Just my eyes and ears playing tricks on me, I decided uneasily after another long moment of peering into the kitchen for any sign of the elusive motion my unreliable senses had targeted. Nobody there, just as usual; no one home but you, no one else in the whole damned world but you now...Ghosts and shadows, all of the noises and voices I keep imagining as I wander through the days here. Everybody's gone, just like Jim, and there is only me.


Sometimes I wonder where they all went, but my head hurts when I try to figure it out. It's okay, I tell myself now as I curl into my favorite chair in the living room; I don't need anyone else. The house takes care of me, the house is my refuge. Nothing can hurt me here; the shadows I sometimes see around me are only in my mind. And when my thoughts begin to spin and churn in the immensity of the silence all around, I can always go deeper inside, past all the restive mutterings in my head to the sacred place that lies even deeper within...to the place where Jim's light still burns, warm and blessedly familiar.


I want to go there now, to my sacred place; as I gaze down at my sore ankles, briefly distracted by the startling white of the bandages and burn ointment that have somehow appeared on my injured flesh, I want nothing more than to make everything around me go away. But it bothers me, this inexplicable evidence of medical intervention, and the nagging mystery of how the ointment came to be on my burns won't let me be, keeps me from journeying down and down to the place where Jim always waits.


I don't remember doctoring my burns, but I know I had to have done; there's no one else here to do it for me. If Jim was here he would no doubt chide me for being so clumsy, calling me 'Darwin' with gentle sarcasm as he ordered me to sit down so he could double check my self-ministrations. I know he would be gentle but thorough, using his enhanced senses to evaluate the depth and extent of my burns, his sensitive fingers gliding so carefully over my injured skin...


Suddenly I ache to feel his hands on me, and for a brief instant the sense of his presence here with me seems so real and so intense that I find myself springing from my chair, my breath coming in short, harsh bursts of panicked air as the unassauged longing within my soul threatens to overwhelm me with its agonizing power.


"Jim?" I hear myself murmuring hesitantly as evening shadows stretch across the floor and begin to stealthily climb the wall by the fireplace. "Jim?..."


But there's no answer, just as I knew there wouldn't be; I am alone here, all alone in the muted stillness of encroaching dusk. And suddenly, despite my almost phobic superstition against stepping outside once the sun has passed its zenith, I find I cannot remain in this house one moment longer.


Shaking with trepidation, I nonetheless manage to fumble open the glass doors leading from the living room to the deck outside; and with my heart pounding ferociously in my chest, I slide with surreptitious caution from the warmth of soft carpeting onto the rough hardness of the weatherproofed wooden decking beyond.


I'm outside, I think with dim wonder, the singed places on my feet forgotten as I move slowly over to the edge of the koi pond. Silently I peer down into the water, its glassy surface darkening to a forbidding murkiness as the withdrawal of the day's warm sunlight plunges the pond's inhabitants into dusk, muting the vibrant colors of the few fish I can still see moving sluggishly near the top of the water. An involuntary shiver ripples through me at the thought of being trapped there, lost in all that wet,cold darkness, and I find myself experiencing a sudden rush of empathy for the fish, wondering if they huddle in fear all night while praying for the dawn and the return of the sun's warm, friendly light.


Now you're just being fanciful, I scold myself; and flushed with the victory of having braved the outside this far, I dare to venture out even further, astounded by my own hubris. There's a tree I love, a graceful weeping willow that has its roots planted halfway down the sloping lawn stretching so smooth and jewel-green on every side; and with feeble courage flickering and spurting to reluctant life within me, I make my way from the deck onto the grass, my bare feet sinking into the thick mat of emerald velvet with almost hedonistic pleasure.


I can do this, I think with a rush of unfamiliar joy; I can go this far, walk alone in the growing dusk to my tree, can settle myself with quiet reverence beneath its trailing curtain of genteel melancholy. This is new for me, this is something vast and awesome and unspeakably brave; and as I settle into a meditative position and press the grass-flecked soles of my feet together, I find myself wishing wistfully that Jim could see me now. I know he'd be so proud.

7.

 

But I don't mind a few mysteries,
They can stay that way
It's fine by me
And you are another mystery 
I'm missing...


The house looks lovely from this vantage point, nestled snug and sturdy on the gentle rise of land that cradles it. An aura of comfortable well-being emanates from the structure, its walls enfolded round about by a peaceful energy that feels to me like warm hands cupping a delicate firefly in the growing dark. Lights burn inside, sending a reassuring soft-yellow gleam of comfort and welcome out across the deck; cheerful, window-shaped squares of buttery illumination sketch outlines in the grass at the edge of the lawn, and the tentative cry of some mournful night bird sounds from nearby, a sweetly melancholy serenade floating through the last, fading rays of daylight.


Funny; I don't remember turning all those lights on in the house before I stepped outside; taken as I was by sudden impulse, I'm uncertain that I possessed the foresight to switch on all those lamps and ceiling lights before sliding out into the rosy glow of evening. Just another mystery in a day replete with such bits of unexpected whimsy, I muse silently now as I sit beneath 'my' tree and lose myself in the sights and sounds of impending night.


I know my name; I remember that much now as I relax here, comforted by the familiar sights around me. Blair. I'm Blair, and once upon a time I had a very important job; I can't recall exactly what the job was, but I know it involved Jim. I know Jim was with me then, helping me do my job...or was I the one helping him? I think it was a little bit of both. We worked together,and he carried a gun and we saved people, helped people...but that part of the job was secondary to me, almost peripheral at times. Being there for Jim, helping Jim, was my prime objective. He needed me, yes he did; and I know that I grew to need him, too, so very much...


But it hurts too much to think of that now, and I don't want to lose this lovely sense of serenity wafting in the air around me. Better to concentrate on something else, to remember safer things, to remember anything at all with my scrambled brain so jumbled and soft and unreliable inside the echoing vault of my skull.


I had more than one job, actually; I'm pretty certain of that. In the murky pathways of my mind I seem to see myself helping others in some sort of university setting, playing the role of teacher...but it makes me uncomfortable now to think of it, to imagine that in the past I was smart enough to hold such a prestigious position. It makes me very sad to grasp helplessly at all those fragments of myself that have long since burned to ash and drifted away on the wind, leaving behind only the sooty afterimages of an identity I can never reclaim. Usually I try not to think about it; most days the house is enough for me, enclosing me as it does in peace and safety, wrapping my uncertain thoughts in a healing gauze of warmth and comfort and the riches of books and fragrant teas and all my favorite videos that I watch again and again and never grow tired of.



I have everything I need, I think now as I draw my knees up to my chest and clasp my hands loosely around my shins. It serves no purpose to struggle with memories and images and ideas that continuously dance just beyond my reach, taunting and tormenting me as their cruel elusiveness sears dark pain into my chest. It's dangerous to think too much, to venture more than a hesitant step or two into the overgrown jungle of my own tangled consciousness; that trail leads only to agony, to a sense of loss and grief too intense to be borne because always at the end, it takes me back to him...to Jim. And I miss him so much; the sorrow and the anguish of being so all alone now never leaves me. It's like having a serrated knife plunged deep, so deep, into the center of my heart, the blade twisting and grinding and digging in to the very core of me, delivering excruciating agony into the innermost well of my soul...with no curcease, no termination of the endless torment his absence wrings from my bereaved spirit.


I still need him with me; here, in this beautiful retreat, we'd be so good together. I imagine it sometimes, imagine having him next to me at dinner or sitting by me on the couch watching videos or strolling the grounds at dusk, talking together in low, intimate tones...I imagine sitting out on the deck with him, watching with gentle amusement as he drops crumbs of food to the koi in the pond,his astoundingly blue eyes lifting to mine from time to time in lazy contentment. Vividly I envision his smile of complacent acceptance as I tease him about feeding the fish instead of catching them, reminding him of all those fishing trips we took and the 'catch and release' policies we encountered from time to time in protected streams.



God, why is it so easy to remember those trips, to call up images of Jim with such preternatural clarity that it seems he should just miraculously appear before me, called back into vibrant being by the mere force of my longing for him? Maybe the worst thing, the hardest time, is late at night, when the loneliness inside of me rises up like a ravening beast, crouched with malevolent intent at the foot of my bed...red-eyed and slavering and just waiting to leap at my throat and rip me apart. Sometimes I think it would be a mercy if it did. It's such exquisite agony, to be so ovewhelmed with hopeless need for him that at times I can actually feel him there with me in my bed; I remember his touch still as if it had never been taken from me, recall exactly how his arms felt wrapped around me with such loving security, my head nestled against his chest or burrowed comfortably into the side of his neck.


Some nights he comes to me, the visions so real to my fevered mind that I can sense his warm, solid weight above me, hear the soft murmur of his voice against my ear, comforting me and reassuring me of his love, begging me to believe that he will never stop loving me, never let me go...I feel his lips on mine, warm and gentle and inexplicably sorrowful; the brush of his fingers over the contours of my face is a benediction, a featherlight caress of love and solace and need that has me gasping out his name, helpless tears welling from my eyes to be captured gently, so gently, on the pads of Jim's strong, slender fingers...


On those nights it seems so real, all of it so heartbreakingly alive and immediate and true...but I always wake up alone, huddled in a fetal ball in the exact center of my vast, empty bed, fists clenched tightly beneath my chin as though trying to hold inside me the final vestiges of his presence. But there's no holding onto a ghost; in the clear light of day I am left alone, always alone, rocking soundlessly on the dense, bottomless ocean of my own inconsolable grief as the morning sun reveals to me the unbearable truth that it was all just illusion, nothing more than smoke and mirrors and the remnants of shattered memories from long ago.


Jim. I feel the tears on my face now as I sit here beneath the tree, weighed down with the realization that even when everything else in my mind just...went away...the memory of him never did. Gone but not forgotten--never forgotten; and now he haunts me, his voice calling to me across the uncharted depths of space and time, some indefinable remnant of his unique essence reaching out to me from beyond the silent stillness of the grave to bind me to him, to offer both comfort and torment in the stillness of this place.


I am home now; the house takes care of me and keeps me sheltered, safe from all the things I can no longer fight, protected from all that is harsh and bright and sharp in the greater world that lies outside these walls. I have no need to leave, no inclination to expose my scattered, struggling thoughts to the unbearable rush and noise and clutter of a world I no longer belong to. I am a ghost now, too, just like Jim; and the mystery of how this could be--how the empty husk of me could still breathe and see, hurt and feel so intensely--is one I don't want answered. I am a phantom, lost in a bardo state between corporeal reality and the afterlife; and I don't know where Jim is. I can't find him, and I can't leave the house, can't leave the security and peace if offers because I'm afraid...so afraid that he isn't anywhere anymore, and I'll never find him, never have again the only thing I now know I can't live without.


I live...but I'm not alive. It's a mystery, and the house gives back no answers. It just sits there, beautiful and serene and empty in the dusk; and I know that some part of my soul hates it as much as I love it. It is my refuge, my peace; it is a prison.

8.


Wake me, let me see the daylight,
Save me from this half-life
Let's you and I escape
Escape from time...


It's my own fault, I guess; I set myself up for this, dwelling too much on thoughts of Jim. And it was an upsetting day before that, what with the intruder scare in the kitchen and burning my feet with the coffee. So it really shouldn't surprise me now to find myself hallucinating, my damned imagination running roughshod over practical reason. I try to tell myself that what my eyes see now is just a trick of the light and nothing more; but my lame excuse for this newest betrayal of my faltering mind dissolves into dust as the 'trick' begins to move, gliding from a spot just inside the glass doors of the living room out onto the deck.


In the dimness of burgeoning night I can't make out anything more than an amorphous column of some strong, disturbing energy, travelling with measured deliberation from the confines of the house to the grounds outside; darker by several hues than the growing shadows around it, the hallucination pauses at the edge of the grass, silent and seemingly featureless yet giving off an oddly intense aura of watchful attentiveness nonetheless.


At the sight of it I feel a chill run through me, and for a brief moment my heart begins to pound with unreasoning fear; in my agitation I even begin to imagine that the anonymous wraith is actively listening to the panicked thudding inside my chest, absorbing every nuance of my increasing trepidation even as it delves deep into my mind through sheer force of will. I begin to shake, my hands trembling helplessly as I tighten my arms around my updrawn legs and bury my face against my knees; I refuse to look up again, refuse to let that dark, compelling energy suck me in, pulling me ever closer to the incredibly powerful vortex of its insatiable need.


Go away, I think fiercely, my teeth worrying at the inside of my lip as cold sweat breaks out on my forehead. Please, God, just make it go away!...I won't look, won't look, won't see it there--a dark glitch in the malfunctioning circuitry of my brain, that's all it is. But oh how it pulls at me, oh how something deep within my soul is drawn to it, almost crying out with the terrible desire to lift my head up, to open my eyes as wide as they'll go, to pierce the impenetrable darkness inside my own mind and to know, really know, something that's been lost to me, something huge and magnificent and so unutterably powerful that everything would be instantly erased before it, instantly and completely transformed, were I to pay it notice.


For you, a tiny voice whispers from somewhere far away; take this, it's for you, all for you...


No, I argue in furious silence, despising the hot tears that spurt now from my tightly closed eyes; no! It's all a trick, I can't hear this, can't let myself be duped, deceived, inveigled...I'm not sure what those words even mean--it makes my brain hurt just trying to sort them out--but I know I do not dare to open my eyes and stare straight into the center of that magnetic void, so silent and so strangely seductive against the peaceful backdrop of house and pond and quiet night.


Jim! I cry mutely, his name a despairing plea that spins and curls and ripples helplessly within the tempest-tossed confines of my frightened spirit: JIM! I need you now, need you to come and chase the darkness away...


Tell it to go away, Jim, make it leave me alone. On my own I'm frozen here, unable to speak, unable to move; I want to be inside, want the light and warmth and familiar sounds of the house around me again, snug and safe and predictable. Oh, God, Jim, why did you go away; can't you hear me calling, don't you see how dark it's becoming out here? I don't know how to get past the thing on the lawn, how to evade its merciless regard long enough to sneak inside and lock all the doors against the voraciousness of its hunger, against the endless night pressing in around me on every side. I need you, Jim; I just really need you. And I want...I want...


I just want.


But I think I remember what to do now; I know I've been through this before, know that somewhere my body has stored the memory of feeling like this, the memory of this particular phantasm and just how to drive it back to the void from which it came. Think of the daylight, think of escape...escape from pain, from fear, from the bitter pall of lonely darkness that lies like a shroud over even the most tranquil of evenings in this my sanctuary.


All I have to do is shut down my mind, go to a place that's so far down, so deep and hidden and secret that even I have difficulty coming back sometimes from its beguiling embrace. I call that place Oblivion, and giving myself over to it is as sweet as it is terrifying; at least there I no longer mourn all the parts of me I've lost, no longer care that where once my mind was a place of light and truth and fire, now all I'm left with are dead ashes of broken thoughts and destroyed dreams. Even the house, for all its loyal efforts, is unable to hide the truth that this is only half a life, that only half of my soul is here. And I cannot find the rest of me; I can't find Jim, at least not here.


My senses sometimes trick me, making me think I hear his familiar tread behind me, making me believe I can smell the scent of him, that I hear his voice calling me, murmuring my name with such pathos and longing that my ravaged soul can't bear the pain of it. Jim, oh...Jim. I can't find you, you've gone too far away...or maybe I'm the one who's travelled, my soul flung so far across the infinite gulf of space that I can never find my way back. Where am I now, and how do I get home?


Don't panic...breathe. Just breathe, just breathe and say your name, bring that much of yourself back, back here to this place, to this time...Blair. I am Blair, and I am outside. And now I sit under the weeping willow tree, cloaked within its trailing branches as the dark spectre still looming on the grass begins to glide toward me, its restless energy searching me out, zeroing in on the rapid, fluttering beat of my fearful heart.


I forgot! I think desperately, absolutely furious with myself: I forgot to run away, forgot the way to Oblivion, to the peace and safety of absolute nothingness. And now I will pay the price. Now the dark shade before me will torture me, taunting me with images of Jim, with phantom caresses and empty promises it can never fulfill. Because it isn't really there; it isn't really him.


Jim is gone, forever gone, and I know that that is the truth--that is Reality, both his and mine. He's gone because I made him gone; he's gone because I killed him. My memories of the event are hazy and mostly unreliable, it's true; but I think it IS true that I'm the one who killed him, who made him go away forever. And I'm sorry, so very sorry; I want to die, too, want to take it all back, rewind the tape and make it right, fix it to the way it was before. But I can't; when it happened my mind cracked and crumbled, splintered into tiny, vicious shards...and now I can't remember how to bring him back. Now I am alone, and the house is too far away, the safe, warm lights that beckon from inside it too distant to drive back the darkness, to scare away the spectre stalking me across the deceptively tranquil lawn.


Love; all you need is love, I find myself thinking brokenly, inanely, and my breath catches halfway between a giggle and a wail as the hallucination comes for me, so real, so tall, so beautiful in the sliver of moonlight peeking down from velvet skies. Love...oh, God, I love you, Jim; and love is the road to Oblivion, love is the path to freedom.

9.

 

Come on let's fall in love
Come on let's fall in love 
Come on let's fall in love
again...


Everything's going to be all right now; if I say it often enough, maybe I'll believe it. At least I'm safe again, safe and warm inside the house...and even though I can't quite remember how I got here, it doesn't really matter. I had my dinner--though I don't recall making it--and a bath, and I'm in my bed now, glasses perched on my nose as I try to read myself to sleep. I need to keep my mind occupied, need to steer my paranoid thoughts clear of the treacherously realistic hallucinations that have tormented me all evening. Hallucinations of Jim, always of Jim, coming to me, looking me straight in the eyes, reaching out to grab onto me with such rough, desperate love and need...


NO. I won't think about it anymore, I won't...I'll just lie here till I fall asleep, lose myself in the peaceful darkness that brings blessed forgetfulness and release from the jagged, hurting bits of my ruined head.


Maybe not completely ruined, some part of me whispers silently to myself as I stir restlessly in my bed; maybe not all the way destroyed. For here, in my solitary universe, I CAN think, can reason and remember after a fashion. But when those strange, threatening glimmers of sound and shadow come at me unexpectedly from that distant, chaotic wraith world so far beyond my ability to fully see or comprehend, then I begin to feel everything slipping away from me. Each time the tormenting Jim phantasm takes shape before me, I can almost grasp some horrible, devastating truth about myself blazing in its eyes like the coldness of distant stars. Here, in my safe place, the awful knowledge within that gaze eludes me; but when I sometimes stumble accidentally over the threshold between my safe haven and this other, alien world--the world where wraith-Jim lives--then the horror of losing myself, of literally feeling words and thoughts and sanity trickling out through the swiss-cheesed furrow gouged into my brain, comes over me with such overwhelming force that I fear I won't survive it. Just as Jim didn't survive. And I don't want to return again to that world, the old world where Jim once was but isn't anymore, where Blair Sandburg was once whole and healthy and so wonderfully, achingly alive in all the ways that matter.


Easier, so much easier, just to stay here now, to spend my days and nights in my own private form of purgatory, alone but safe with the clouded but cherished memories, both of the Blair I once was and of MY Jim, the Jim who was my lifemate, my partner, my friend. So I tell myself to settle down, to push away the dark, disturbing vision of finding Jim, not only beneath the tree but also in my bedroom mirror earlier, of actually CONNECTING with him for the briefest, most excruciating blink of time. It wasn't real--HE wasn't real--and now I just have to let it go, have to lose myself in sleep and no dreams at all.


But I can't do it; I can't let myself slide that last little bit over the edge and down, down into the abyss of unconsciousness, of oblivion. I know that this endless isolation, this state of constant fear and mental confusion, is my penance for losing Jim, for failing him. But still there is a tiny part of my battered brain that holds onto the hope that I WILL find him again...that what I know to be true really isn't and that there is still a chance for us, still a way to resurrect him from nothingness back to light and life and love.


It's a vain hope, a futile fantasy, a twisted cosmic joke I play on myself day after agonizing day; but it's all I have left. It's all I have left of Jim, of what we were together. And if that hopeless dream worries at my mind till I sometimes begin to see Jim everywhere, like I did tonight beneath my tree and later, looming suddenly behind me in the bedroom mirror...well, this too is my penance.


And now I've gone and done it; sagging against the cozy jumble of plumped-up pillows wedged behind my back, I close my eyes and let my neglected book slip from heedless fingers, biting back a moan as a wave of blended fear and longing washes over me. The small part of my brain that's still capable of rational thought knows that I am here alone, always alone; day after day I prowl this house and the grounds around it and I KNOW I am the sole inhabitant of my domain. There are no secrets here, no clever hiding places where sneaky interlopers or creeping invaders might tuck themselves away; the house would tell me if anyone breached its perimeter, if so much as an ethereal footstep attempted to cross the threshold and force ingress. I am safe; these walls are invulnerable, impervious to mere wraiths and shadows and to the melancholy ghosts of all those I once knew and counted as friends. They've all disappeared, every last one; and now I truly am the sole survivor. I am completely alone.


But the creature of fierce longing that surges up within me now doesn't want to accept cold reality; despite my best efforts, the beast claws at my brain and stretches wide the wavering portal of recent memory and of pure physical sensation, pulling from my reluctant mind the elusive, tantalizing wisps of that same inchoate desire and desperate need that held me enthralled earlier, first beneath the willow tree and then before my mirror.


Jim...He WAS there beneath the willow's trailing branches (no, no, NOT there, never was there...merely an elusive phantasm, so disturbingly solid and oh, so treacherous as it approached me across the grass). Helpless against the madness that overtook me then, my soul became ensnared by the dark wraith birthed within my own, damaged neurons, seemingly so real, so alive...But no; a hollow simulacrum, that's all it was. And for a nameless time it fed on the burning intensity of my need, cloaking itself in the gentle darkness of this summer night.


As I huddle here in my lonely bed, the scene replays over and over in my mind in an endless loop; how at first I tried to fight against it, calling up a desperate mantra of soothing, repetitious sounds to drive the spectre back to the void from which it came. There under the tree I rocked myself slowly and carefully, my face tucked securely into the narrow aperture between my drawn-up legs and clenched-together knees; I rocked and I hummed, and when I felt the ghostly, exquisitely light touch of its phantom fingers on the nape of my neck, I shuddered and moaned once, helpless to contain the mix of fear and longing its caress engendered within my soul.


But I held myself together; I used my wits, kept myself calm and contained and sank down, down into the place that's only one step away from true oblivion. Even as the gentle stroking continued, moving so, so slowly from my neck to my head, gliding like quicksilver up the back of my skull, I refused to give in to it. And oh,it was difficult, so very difficult to resist; god, it felt SO good, that elusive illusion of touch--Jim's touch.


As invisible fingers tangled themselves in my hair, gently tugging and sorting each unruly strand with such inexpressibly loving patience, I struggled mightily with my own soul, cutting off its anguished pleas for more of this, for this to never stop. Refusing to give in to the dark wraith's deadly siren call, I kept my head down, kept up my breathless, barely audible mantra of safe words, of magic incantations against the irretrievable loss of the last, tattered vestiges of myself.


You will not have me, I warned the spectre, transmitting the message not through words but through the unyielding barrier of my bowed shoulders and averted face. This is all I have left now; this is all of me I know. And I will not let some dark, distorted shadow image from my own diseased mind draw from me the essence, the memory, of the little bit of Jim I still have left inside.


And so I fought against the seductive touch of the madness that overcame me there beneath the willow--rocked and moaned and said my protective words over and over as slow tears began to gather in the corners of my eyes and drip silently down my face. The spectre remained for a torturous age, murmuring against my neck, the illusion of breath and life it presented to me disturbingly warm and compelling against my sensitized skin. Once or twice I thought it said my name, thought I heard a broken sigh just before the lightest of butterfly kisses brushed against my nape.


Help me, Jim! I cried out then inside my mind, desperate to escape this evil shade, wanting to tear myself away from its falsely empathetic presence and to run...run far and fast and furious, till my deceived eyes might become gifted with the power to pierce the veil between the living and the dead and descry the one blessed, familiar shape I needed so desperately to find in the wasteland of this twisted reality. I felt myself breaking then, fracturing and fragmenting into disparate bits and pieces made up of need and terror and of the soul-killing loneliness that never goes away...and it was then that the authentic spirit of Jim--MY Jim--came to save me.


For one brief, almost unbearably perfect moment, I found him again, or believed I did; he called to me there beneath the tree, reached out for me with his strong, capable hands, his love for me enabling him to cross the boundary between the dimensions of life and death and to possess and inhabit the fraudulent phantasm of darkness hovering at my back.


And then, for just an instant, as my head shot up and my eyes fastened with incredulous joy onto the solid, gloriously REAL features of my lover--of my soul's deepest longing--I knew what it was to be whole again, to be freed from this hell of eternal isolation. For one blessed microsecond I truly SAW him; and in that instant his anguished, loving gaze telegraphed to me all of the forgiveness and sorrow and passion for me that still burned like a white-hot flame within his soul. Blair! he choked out in a voice thickened with tears, my name emerging from a throat made hoarse with love and need; oh, sweet Jesus, Blair, please look at me, feel me touch you!...Oh God, Chief, can you SEE me now?...


I see you! I wanted to shout the words from the heavens, wanted to fling myself into his arms and tunnel my way so deeply and so solidly into the center of his chest that nothing and no one could ever, ever separate us again. For one blinding moment I even thought I could pull it off; and in that instant, feverishly imagining myself to be on the brink of instant transportation to Heaven, I dared to reach out for Nirvana and fell straight back into Hell.


I should have known. It wasn't real, was never real; even as I scrabbled wildly to hang onto him, to bring him fully across the barrier of death back into the land of the living, the cruel illusion shattered around me with brutal force, leaving me curled a quivering, ruined wreck there beneath the weeping willow.


BLAIR! I heard him scream from so, so far away, his voice a tortured wail of lamentation as once again he was ripped from my side, taken from me by the remorseless hand of uncaring fate. BLAIR YOU HANG ON TO ME YOU LISTEN TO ME DAMMIT DON'T YOU FUCKING GO AWAY AGAIN!!...But I wasn't the one who went away. He left me, torn away from me as he always is in my worst nightmares. And all my silent, gasping pleas couldn't bring him back.


Somehow I made it back to the house; somehow, as night deepened around me, I was able to convince myself that it was all just a dream. Surely I merely fell asleep there beneath the tree, lulled into unnatural somnolence by the melancholy sussuration of the trailing leaves rustling around me in the gentle night breeze. Surely I was hypnotized by the mysterious slice of moon overhead, driven temporarily mad by its seductive yellow glow against the ebony blanket of sky. Better not to think about it further, better to find my way back to the safety of the house and to the comforting security of all my things around me.


But then it happened again, a second, terrifyingly real appearance of the Jim wraith materializing behind me in the mirror after my bath; and he--it--felt SO real, sounded and smelled so much like MY Jim, that the tattered fragments of logic and sanity still left to me began to crack and peel and fall away from me into the nothingness that hovers just beyond the boundaries of my sanctuary here. I wanted so much to believe that Jim was really here with me in my room, that maybe, just maybe, the elusive dream world of haunts and shadows drifting always at the edges of my vision wasn't just make believe. But the very idea was too vast, too terrifying, too darkly rich with promise to hold onto without losing what little was left of myself.


And so I tell myself now that it was just another mental glitch, just another brief episode of instability in a solitary life full of similar events; soon enough I will probably reach a state of true dementia, becoming completely unable to distinguish fantasy from reality. And maybe that isn't such a terrible thing. Maybe, once I give up this last, feeble stranglehold on my disintegrating psyche, I'll be able to let myself fall forever over the edge, be able at last to join Jim for eternity in another, happier place. It saddens me to know that none of it will be real, that in a sense I'll be forever trapped in an illusion, wandering forever in a hall of mirrors reflecting back endless copies of my own empty soul clutching at shadows, believing every one of them is Jim.


It's too much, I think now with a feeling of utter despair; it's all too much. And I need to sleep now, please just let me sleep and forget, forget everything but my books and this house and my lovely tree outside...But a sob catches in my throat, choking me and cutting off my breath, and as I squeeze my eyes tightly shut against the wave of hysteria threatening to overwhelm me, I imagine that I can feel Jim with me again, his presence making itself known like a tiny whisper of hope, of sanity, breathed into the ravening madness of my agitated mind.


I've had a very stressful day, I remind myself weakly as phantom fingers carefully pluck my glasses from my nose; this isn't really happening, I know it isn't. There's no one here but me, and as soon as I've gathered the courage to open my eyes and look, I'll see for myself that I'm truly all alone in the middle of my king-sized bed.


"I need you, Jim; god, I need..." I whisper now, giving up, giving in to the phantom lover begging to be released from his prison within my devastated heart. It's okay, I tell myself; it doesn't matter now. Just for tonight I need this; just for tonight I want to remember how it really was between Jim and me when everything was perfect, when everything was right.


Shh...sleep now, Chief; I'm here, everything's fine, you can rest now...It feels so real, so sweet, this phantom brush of hands stroking my hair, my face, settling my compliant body under the light comforter and reaching to click off the bedside lamp. I keep my eyes dutifully closed, unwilling to give up the charade, unable to resist the mute cry of my soul for love, for comfort.


"I'm sorry," I murmur, the words oddly unintelligible as warm lips press soft kisses to my temples. And even though I know this Jim, this deceptively solid but fleeting wraith, cannot understand the language of my tortured soul, I continue to murmur to him the words I've needed to say for so long.


"I'm sorry I sent you away, Jim; I didn't mean it. Oh, God, I never meant it! Do you believe me, Jim; do you forgive me?"


And I imagine I can hear Jim--MY Jim, speaking to me now through the light, loving stroking of wraith Jim's hands on my body. It sounds so real, so like Jim... these soft, broken words almost genuine enough to draw me up, up to that elusive, far-away dream world where Jim never died and white-hot fire never tore a trench into my brain...


I love you, Blair--love you so godamned much...I miss you, Chief, every minute, every second, with every breath I take. It hurts so much; God, it's so damned hard, seeing you like this...But I'll never leave you, I promise. You're my soul, Blair; you're my life. You're my greatest sorrow and my deepest joy, all wrapped into one beautiful package. I don't want you to be scared anymore; please don't be afraid...you never have to be afraid with me...


"Love me, Jim," I whisper to the air, to the gentle darkness settling over me like a small gasp of mercy from heaven. "Touch me--make me forget that I'm lost and broken and all alone...Be with me, you promised to always be with me--"


And as I allow myself to sink down, all the way down into the beautiful illusion of Jim's hands stroking me, Jim's mouth suckling and kissing and loving me so slow and deep and god, so good, I lift a trembling hand to wipe away the flood of scalding tears streaming from my eyes, crying out in a mix of strangled grief and ecstasy as illusion and reality--as need and loss and the strength of undying love--meld and transform themselves into the shape of my soul's eternal desire, into the unforgettable face and form of the one I lost so tragically and can never have again.


"Stay!" I groan out loud, my hands reaching out to clutch the suddenly empty air, grappling wildly, hopelessly, at the edges of the void spiralling in around me. "JIM! God, Jim, don't go, don't leave me here alone again! I hate the dark, I fucking hate the dark--"


And for a moment I can still feel him, still sense him in my bed, trying desperately to wrap phantom arms around me, trying with everything in him to become real, to become solid and strong and permanent, to stay with me...Distantly I can hear him calling my name, can hear the terrible despair in his voice as he realizes that my will is fading, shrinking, collapsing beneath the weight of my own insupportable grief.


Come on, babe, c'mon; you can do this, you have to TRY...! Don't let go of me, never let go!...I imagine I hear him begging me, importuning me with the terror of incipient banishment rasping in his voice; they're here now, all around me, the screaming Furies sent to drag Jim's soul back across the horrifying gulf of cold nothingness that will separate us for all of eterniy; and there's nothing I can do, no way to stop them, no way to save him OR myself. Lost, all is lost, and once again I'm alone, wandering desolate inside the cratered landscape of my mind.


Jim, I think brokenly, dimly, knowing that all of it is sliding away from me, that soon the last, faint wisps of his essence will be gone forever. It's a fate worse than death, the cruellest trick the gods have ever devised, to give us this for such a short, sweet time and then to snatch it all away. Jim...oh, God, you were my love, my protector and friend and my heart's guardian. And I was the guide who failed you, the broken vessel too weak to hold together in your moment of greatest need.


...with you, Blair, always with you...I'm dreaming now, cobbling together fragments of beautiful, sorrowful words, clutching gratefully at the fading ghost-whispers of Jim's voice in my ear, feeling so faintly the final, unbearably tender caress of his warm fingers on my face. Always...


And as I let myself go, rolling to the edge of the abyss and then over, falling so quickly, so easily over the rim into nothingness, into the final darkness at the end of all that was and is and ever shall be...I catch one last glimpse of Jim's immortal soul, hurtling past me in a blaze of incandescent glory, ripping through the darkness faster than the speed of light toward an impossibly bright and beautiful paradise I can never hope to enter. But he's screaming raw protest all the way, fighting to turn back for me, fighting and writhing and screaming out my name even as he dwindles smaller and smaller in my sight. And oh!, I want to reach out for him, too, want to pull him back to me, crush him to me chest to chest, heart to heart, and keep him with me always, even as my lost and lonely soul informs me that I can't, that I'm not allowed, that he's lost to me forever.


Jim, I whisper once, brokenly, as the darkness of my room falls swift and merciless upon me, the despair of utter futility crushing me into the firm mattress beneath me. Jim. But no one answers; I am alone again, as always, left drained and trembling and grasping after fragments of myself that can never be put back together.



~End~

(to be continued in the sequel, "Far Away")

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