Read this first:
The following is not a reply so much as the product of what this article inspired in me. I did not know the man from the story in the article, this isn’t even speculation – it’s just what my brain conjured up when I read about him.
His mind is a blur of senseless images. News. Ads. That girl at Starbucks with the mole on her cheek. Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. The buzz of the radio. Facebook instagram pics. Work car home eat sleep work car home eat sleep. Kids. His wife’s face. My wife – but nothing is mine any more. The automat that has taken over my body has grown huge and hard, far more competent than me at living my life. And I, who have been gladly fleeing all sensation for so long, was woken by the automat a few seconds before my alarm clock one morning and realised I no longer felt anything at all. Ever.
At first, it was a relief. Not feeling. No more panic attacks. No more crying in public. No more exploding in front of the kids.
But there was no more joy, either, so the automat developed automatisms, which is what automats do, after all. A polite smile. An interested tilt of the head. A friendly laugh. A firm handshake. It was easy. It was what I’d been taught since childhood. Good Morning! Great Weather, Huh? I’ll Have It Done By Tomorrow. Thank You, Sir. Honey, This Is Delicious. Wow, Son, That’s Amazing. Double Espresso, Please. Have A Nice Day!
I thought we had a good thing going until my wife confronted us about it. She knew it was all fake. She asked if I was taking drugs. “What happened to you?”, “Where’s the man I married?”
“I feel like you’re not even there any more.”
That’s when I realised I’d been possessed. The automat had taken over my body, and turned off my senses. They were useless to him, so he turned them off. All he needed was sight and sound. He didn’t need emotion, so he’d gotten rid of it all.
That was the last thing I ever said to her. Of course, there was the Please Don’t Leave Me, Honey Let’s Talk About This, You’re Making A Big Deal Out Of Nothing, I’ll Get Help, I Swear. And Oprah, and Jeremy Kyle, and our neighbour’s divorce last year.
He went to therapy once. It was terrifying. Terrifying wasn’t a sensation that I’d missed very much, so he didn’t go again. He took the meds, but she found out anyway. She broke up with us. She took the kids.
Teen Mom. He had the kids every other weekend, but he knew they were doing fine without him. It was obvious they weren’t happy to see him. Nerf Gun ads. He bought them expensive presents. The durex ad. Super nanny. I knew I should try harder. I didn’t.
Discovery Channel. That time I found a geko in my grandpa’s garden when I was a kid. The climb has been hard. His body isn’t used to being used like this. The air is not conditioned, and the burning in his legs and chest cuts through the walls. Reflexively, I recoil into my refuge of random images. That guy who wrestled crocodiles or something. The time I went to Australia in college. My first time in a plane. That terrifying, wonderful sensation of flight.
What I’m about to do.
Fear grips me for a split-second, and is gone. That’s interesting. There’s nobody up here. It’s been raining all day, and the falls rush down into endless mist. He almost wishes for the fear to return. He’d welcome it now. Anything but this cold void. Anything at all.
He stands on the bridge for a while. He could just leap over, but maybe if he’s reverent, it’ll all come back to him, to me, and by some miracle we won’t have to jump. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? Act happy and you’ll be happy. Utter crap. I’m not even there enough to feel anger. A little disgust. Maybe.
Still, he plays the game a little longer, just in case it works this time. Our brain continues running commercials in the background, quietly. I guess it’s comforting in the sense that I can’t feel fear.
His belly bumps against the barrier. Slim fast. It’s not working. Frustration? His son bawling in a supermarket when he was two. His wife carrying the boy out under her arm. The durex ad again.
Old habits die hard, so he climbs over the barrier slowly, careful not to fall too soon. Death is so frequent, it’s surprising it only ever happens once to each individual. He turns and leans out, his hands gripping the rail, which is wet.
Panic! Then nothing again.
The noise is incredible, by the way. He’s only just noticed it, because the noise in his head is louder. The mist is white and opaque, like our mind.
Deafening noise. White mist. Cold death. Void? It occurs to me with sudden epiphany that this situation is precisely, ironically, perfectly right.