(note: the song lyrics at the top of each chapter are from Duncan
Sheik's song, "Half-Life.")
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.
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
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.
It takes so much out of me to pretend
tell me now, tell me how to make
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
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
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.
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
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...
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
But I don't mind a few mysteries,
They can stay that way
It's fine by me
And you are another mystery
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
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.
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
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
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.
Come on let's fall in love
Come on let's fall in love
Come on let's fall in love
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
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
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
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
"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.
(to be continued in the sequel, "Far Away")