It's worst when I'm alone; when I am doing chores in the house, the repetitive tasks that force me to be alone with my thoughts, in the moment, where I can't drown it out with TV, or books, or writing. Laundry, washing dishes. Then I get flashes, things pass across my mind's eye and hungrily my mind pounces on them, gnaws on them, snaps at me if I try to push them away.
I have come to be afraid of silence.
I am under a burning sun, a cloudless purple-grey sky, breaking earth, a shackle heavy around my ankle, and I faint, and someone is yelling in my ear and I cannot move, and I can hear them lining up the others and forcing them to walk over me, feet pressing me into the rough, dry soil, on my back, pushing my face down, filling my nose and mouth with earth, pushing grit deep under my eyes, and I choke and gag, and I cannot move, cannot continue to live –
I am old, and my arms and legs are withered, and I have no memory of who I am, a vague awareness that I am drooling and cannot stop myself, and a sense of humiliation, of an absolute loss of dignity, and as I lie on a cool bed of cotton in dappled sunlight, a young man with a face I feel I should recognise, raw with tears, raises a pillow and lowers it over my face –
I am standing in a trench, the smoke of the stale cigarette acrid across the ulcer on my gum, and I realise that I cannot remember what it feels like not to have an ulcer on my gum, not to feel the dampness under my gaiters, in my boots; the rain is the sort of rain that never really settles into a downpour, but which nonetheless insinuates itself under every item of clothing you have, chills you out, and far away the shells fall and young men die, and I might die tomorrow –
I am a man in early middle age with a mark of absence on the middle finger of my left hand that still causes me pain to look at, a face that speaks little of heroism, little of nobility. I don't like this face.
The dreams started to come while I was awake.
The doctor always looks like he has a distaste for the flaws of my body. It's in a curl of his sagging lip, a hesitancy in his manner. But he listens, hands clasped on knee, with what seems like a theatrical patience – I have people to see who are dying, and you've come with this? – and he writes me a prescription for a mild antipsychotic that I'm not sure he's even supposed to give me and stands, all but points to the door.
It's the sort of rain that never quite settles into a downpour but soaks you to the skin anyway – the feeling of a bullet, entering my lung, of dying in a pool of blood-sodden mud – and the chemist queries the pills and gives them to me in a paper bag with a sternly detailed list of provisos and instructions, and by the time I get home I have to dispose of the paper bag and card box alike, leaving only the blisters.
I shower, but the cold in my muscles doesn't go away, even though the water is hot enough to leave red lines down my back. And then I make a pot of tea – I still always make enough for two people, end up pouring the cold tea down the sink – and I take the first pill with a sip of the tea.
I don't feel any different.
I am alone in my bed in the dark, and I still cannot sleep.
And then I am fighting. And then I am a whirlwind. I can smell blood. Every night. Pills or no pills.
This can't go on.
I don't believe in regression. I don't believe in past lives.
"Why did you come here?"
The pills don't work.
I'm afraid. I'm afraid of silence.
[Collected Writings Index]