I wake with a start in the sickly heat of a Summer midnight. It takes a second, but I remember, now, where I am: lying on a mattress on my parents’ fold out bed, in Melbourne, in the dark. The weather, somehow, while not overly hot, claws at my throat and snakes round my torso, choking and dragging me down. I let it; nestle down further into the covers and wait for sleep to come, but it doesn’t. I am alone.
I try to clear my head of the cobwebs that my subconscious has merrily strung up while I’m asleep. I’ve never been a big dreamer: never dreamt of crushes, of enemies – not celebrities nor characters nor fantastic situations nor people I haven’t met, yet. But here, I find, I falter.
My brain, in its wisdom – or perhaps its wanton folly – has seen fit to curse me with images of friends back in Sydney; their houses and the rooms at university they frequent, their faces painted with a disturbing level of detail I can’t ever recall possessing about even my own features, let alone those around me.
These dreams are not sexual (because if they were, awkward) or even particularly eventful: more just the ghostly dregs of people I (once or do currently) know; my brain in its wisdom plonking them down and saying Hey! Just so you know, these people exist, still.
And they’re several hundred kilometres away from you.
And you are alone.
In this moment, yes: this moment right here, right now, at 2 in the morning, body simultaneously attempting to fill up the emptiness of my parents’ spare queen sized mattress and, despite the heat, to curl up and haphazardly hold myself, comfort myself, and–
And I am alone, and I don’t quite know what to do about it. I can call people, sure, or hassle them on Facebook, or do anything, really. But a curious thing: I no longer feel that I can. I don’t feel together. People are growing, changing, moving on with their lives and I am stuck, somehow, in the invisible magic of the last quarter of 2014, of how it should have gone. The rug’s been pulled out from under me, and I’ve hit my head, and everyone’s gone and moved on with their lives.
As they have every right to, a part of my brain butts in.
Then: And as I’d celebrate them doing if I’d been given the chance to say a proper goodbye.
And the cruelness of a brain injury is this: I can’t remember, apparently, how to be a regular human; how I possibly contacted these people and asked to hang around them, how I could possibly be anyone’s friend or why they’d want to be my friend.
And I am alone. Both mentally, and physically, blindly alone.
Outside the sensor lights flash blindingly on, and the sound of a nearby cat or dog first freezing in its tracks then bounding off in terror and confusion, the bell around its neck raising midnight hell in its stead.
I should do it, I think. I should contact my Sydney friends. Tell them that I hope they’re going well. That I miss them.
For a second, this idea works, and I smile at my new plan at being a Sociable (albeit physically broken) Human Being and being an Adult and all that.
And then it doesn’t.
And then my brain says, Nice try, but no.
And I think: If I had a slogan, it would be “THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS.”
And I am alone.
I sit, hands stiff, at my laptop, and type a diatribe of text into a Facebook messenger window.
Hi!, I type. How’re you going? I know everything’s busy with the end of year stuff, but…
I don’t know.
Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
I press the “backspace” button and watch as the text on the screen in front of me disappears.
And upon my return, and upon seeing my Melbourne friends, if I were being honest – totally, wholly, unequivocally honest, I would have said this:
“Yeah, I’m back now. Sydney beat me.”
“The stress beat me.”
…close, but still incorrect.
The third time’s the charm. Really, totally, wholly and unequivocally honest would actually be:
“I beat me.”
And my anxiety is at an all-time high, beating hard and fast as my chest tightens cruelly around my ribcage. It is the first time I’ve returned, in March of this year, and accordingly, my heart is about to shit itself. I am walking, dreamlike and anxiety-ridden, still, up a set of concrete stairs and into the room that holds, at present, both the people with whom I’m closest and the people who still attend the university.
I pause for a moment at the top of the stairs, a few steps away from the room and my friends. And I am alone and I breathe, deep, and try to calm the racing of my pulse, the worries in free-fall through the crevasses of my skull.
What’s the worst that could happen?
Wait, don’t think about that.
I am alone, but I needn’t be.
I project an air of false confidence (so, so false) and I stride into the room.
Lessons On Being A Human 101:
It’s okay to talk to people. It’s fucking necessary sometimes.
Drinking to make yourself happy actually does the opposite pretty swiftly and often ends with you getting hit head-on by a car.
If I could sum up last year in two words or less, it would be this:
In some the flame of crazy burns long and deep. At least, I suppose, in me, it burnt incredibly brightly and relatively quickly.
And I walk into that room, and the eyes of my friends light up, and they hug me, and comment that I look good (and I remember that hey, dickhead, they haven’t seen you since August 2014; since it seemed likely that you’d die, since…) and in the few seconds it takes, that solitude is, if not broken then cracked, and all the good times – of which there were many in those seven months – come flooding relentlessly back, and I miss not just the people, this time, but my life. Minus the anxiety and the high-functioning alcoholism.
And it’s getting close to a year after the accident, now. A year completely sober, a year of facing up to my shit, of trying and working and achievement and rehabilitation and, yes, a year of forgiving and looking after myself. I’ve set up a wonderful life in Melbourne, just in time to leave it behind – for a few months, anyhow.
I’ll be okay, though.
This time I’ll get to say goodbye.
I realise that this is perhaps the first time in – in years, maybe, that I actually like myself. That I’ve stood up for what I believe in; chased it down and a million other fucking clichés that don’t bare repeating but for the first time in a long time, I can look myself in the mirror and say that I like what I see. I’m learning how best to not make mistakes (or else, to make up for them), but I’m also learning that every fucking person out there makes mistakes; you’re not a special snowflake.
And I want to say this:
To all of my Sydney friends – to all of the people who’ve supported me, missed me, let me know how they’re doing: thank you, and, I’m sorry.
I’m sorry because I didn’t know what to do; how to cultivate a friendship after everything that happened.
I’m sorry if it came off like I don’t want to be your friend anymore, or like I’d forgotten you. My silence, while not expressed particularly well, was as much to do with me not knowing how to express myself and, selfishly, not wanting to be reminded of all the things I was missing.
I’m sorry that I presumed that you’d all move on and forget me. That’s a) totally on me, and b) a bit (lot) high school, and let’s be real, we’re past that shit.
I’m sorry that I wasn’t there to see all the wonderful things you’ve been doing – but also, if only through Facebook (blech), please know that I’ve seen as much of it (and you) as I can.
And thank you.
Thank you for still being there.
Thank you for giving a shit.
Just, thank you.
And I’m going back in just a few short days.
And I am not alone.
And I know that, now.