Ghosts of Christmas

Christmas eve in 2014 was a Wednesday. The stock exchanges closed three hours early, so I was off work by noon. I took the elevator down from our 15th floor office and stepped out onto the bustling downtown streets. Quite a few people were getting their last-minute shopping done. The sun was out, so it was a nice day despite freezing air temperatures. There was hardly any snowfall that winter except in the mountains. On that particular Wednesday, the city’s sidewalks were frosted and glinting in the sunshine.

I bought takeaway pasta for lunch, and takeaway roast chicken for dinner later that evening. Then I returned to my motel room. I was staying at a motel because I’d had to leave my apartment rather suddenly. It took me five weeks to find a new one. The motel was decent, with cable TV, Wi-Fi, daily turndown service, and complimentary coffee and tea in every room. It sat at the base of a mountain and catered primarily to snowboarders and skiers.

I ate the pasta in bed. I alternated eating with fussing on my laptop, mainly hanging around sci-fi and Sherlockian community websites. I chatted with some folks about sci-fi TV shows, Sherlock Holmes, and other things besides. For instance we laughed over the episode of the BBC radio sitcom Cabin Pressure in which one of the characters sings the Christmas carol called God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen but his lyrics are “Get dressed, you merry gentlemen.” We chatted about the 1955 episode of Guild Films’ Sherlock Holmes in which the violinist Holmes says, “Let me play you a carol, Watson,” and the comedic sidekick responds with a facepalm. I exchanged warm messages with some people who were also on their own for the holidays. We chatted about the 1984 episode of Granada Television’s Sherlock Holmes in which Holmes and Watson share a festive Christmas meal after solving a case involving a blue gemstone. I exchanged warm messages with a few transgender folks and a few disabled folks. Some of them felt they were stuck in torturous celebrations with relatives who wished they were someone else. We chatted about the 2014 episode of the BBC’s Sherlock in which Holmes shouts, “Merry Christmas!” before shooting a villain dead. Eventually it was time for me to eat my roast chicken. Then eventually it was time to sleep.

The following day I watched the special Christmas episode of the BBC sci-fi show Doctor Who. But that wasn’t till the evening. I had a whole day to get through before then. I slept in, and I stayed off certain websites to avoid spoilers. (The episode aired in Canada seven hours after it aired in the UK.) I ordered Chinese food online. I listened to some radio plays online. I watched a TV episode or two on Netflix. I had a nap. Soon it was time to watch Doctor Who, then a few hours later, Christmas was over.

Friday was Boxing Day, another holiday. Around midday I walked to a Denny’s nearby and got myself enough greasy, delicious takeaway food for the whole day. I went back to my motel room, making sure that the Do Not Disturb sign still hung on the doorknob. After eating lunch, I stared at the room’s plain beige wallpaper and breathed. The king-sized bed felt way too large. Empty, even with myself in it. It occurred to me that I almost went through the whole of Christmas day without speaking. All I said was a “thank you” to the Chinese food delivery girl. I gave her a sizable tip.

Mid-afternoon. I closed my eyes. Outside my door, a family of holidaymakers walked cheerfully past. The sound of the children’s excitement and the parents’ laughter floated around my room, echoing long after the family had left. By late afternoon, the sound waves had coalesced into a solid, shiny, sharp object, which then flung itself towards me. It stabbed me in the gut. And the only thing wrong with this scenario, I thought, was that the knife wasn’t real.

Early evening. Judging by how the past few years had gone, I figured it would’ve made no real difference to anyone whether I was alive or dead. I tossed and turned in bed, feeling like I was bleeding from my phantom incision. The blankets wrapped themselves tightly around me, soaking up my invisible blood and making it difficult for me to move or breathe. Slowly but unrelentingly the blankets twisted, wringing my trapped body. My head turned beyond the range that my neck allowed. I started tasting acid, rising up from my belly. The acid must have been so strong that it tore at my throat, because the next thing I tasted was metal. I was dizzy. I felt pins and needles all over my skin. I knew what was about to happen. I’d been here many times before.

My skin took on a life of its own. It was attached to me, but it wasn’t a real part of me. Somehow, long ago, it simply forced itself upon me, enveloping me, intruding into my space. It closed around me, like a prison cell. I couldn’t escape it. It declared itself my constant companion. And now it was speaking; I didn’t know how. It suggested that I stop existing. It pointed out that the world wouldn’t miss me if I were gone. I agreed. Then it swore it would never leave me.

Emerging from amid the blankets, I lifted my head and watched the room turn dark and smoky. Cobwebs materialized. Insects crawled forth from every corner. The palpable murk surrounded me, cradled me. Then it merged with my estranged skin. Bugs crept beneath my epidermis. I wanted to slash my infested, alien skin over and over. It was driving me mad. I wanted it off of me. I was in a recurring nightmare from which I couldn’t wake. I wanted to escape it. I wanted to stab myself for real and die.

The room spun. I wobbled from the bed to the table. The plastic serrated knife from Denny’s did little more than draw dotted lines on my arms. Nothing else in the room was sharp enough to do damage; my psychiatrist would have been relieved. I fished for my pill bottles in my purse and swallowed a tablet of lorazepam. Minutes later, the fog in the room began to clear. My body started to right itself and relax. The new-found peace was glorious. I wanted more of it. So I took another tablet. And another. I swallowed all eight. I yearned for long-term peace. Or, failing that, permanent oblivion. I knew I didn’t have enough pills to die, but I consumed all the contents of the second bottle anyway. I was willing to settle for short-term unconsciousness. Anything but the waking nightmares. The second bottle had five weeks worth of bupropion. I passed out before long.

When I woke up, it was Sunday evening. I ordered pizza for dinner. The next morning I was back at work, writing financial news briefs like normal.

The Cruelty of Waking Up

We were walking, you and I. UL was there, too. He was a little ahead, and you were in the middle, and I was behind you. We were in a wide square (my elementary school’s quadrangle, in fact), not a narrow sidewalk, but there we were, not walking side by side.

You were asking me questions, and I was answering them.

After I answered one question, you turned around to face me. You kissed me on the cheek. I was so surprised, I didn’t move. Then you faced forward again, and we all continued walking.

You did it a few times, kissed me on the cheek after I answered a question. The kisses were slowly approaching my lips.

I don’t remember your questions now, except for the last one. “We’re not just friends, are we?” And you kissed me before I could answer, still on the cheek, but the edge of your lips just about touched the edge of mine. My response was to shift my head, in a leap of faith across three centimetres, to kiss you properly.

I woke up then. It was cruel.

I decided to go back to sleep, in an attempt to return to the dream. I can do that, y’know. I always wonder if other people can do it, too. Sometimes, if I’m awake for only a second, my dream can pick up right where it left off. But this time, I didn’t close my eyes right away. I wanted to linger in the false memory of you.

When I finally slept and the dream resumed, it was already the end of the day in the dream, and somehow we hadn’t seen or talked to each other since I kissed you back. I wanted to text you, “Good night. I love you.” But my fingers couldn’t type the second sentence.

Still in the dream, the following day came, and I was in school but you weren’t. I missed you terribly.

Then I woke up again.

I had a dream

that there were tornadoes and I could see them from inside my house and I was holding on to pipes, and the house’s roof was gone, and then the tornadoes were gone and there was a big concert at the town square, but then the town square turned into my school, and KE was there and Ish was there and Joey was there and Joey’s sister was there and Coney was there and Gino was there, and other people from high school and college were there, and the Beatles were playing, and Ringo had me carry one of his drums when the band was setting up, and then everyone was dancing, and then there were games, and everyone was running around and winning challenges, and then everyone ran into one building, except for Ish who turned back, which was smart because there were zombies in the building, and then everyone became a zombie except Ish.

Gone Google collaboration demo

Have you tried the Gone Google collaboration demo (link)? It lets you write something in collaboration with Fyodor Dostoevsky (orange), Charles Dickens (light blue), Emily Dickinson (pink), Friedrich Nietzsche (violet), William Shakespeare (green) and Edgar Allan Poe (red). Here’s what the seven of us wrote just now:

untitled

Lullaby

I see the same thing whether I open or close my eyes — black. Occasionally there’s a bit of grey, which gives the black an impression of depth that I can’t understand, as if there’s simultaneously a black wall right in front of me and one so far away, but I can’t touch either of them, and I can’t run towards them because there’s nothing, no walls, just black.

I’m kneeling on dry earth, and my hands are dropped to my sides and I can’t move them. I don’t feel any restraints but–

Resist the urge to reach out.

My phone lights up on the floor in front of me. I can’t move, I can’t get to it. Two seconds after the light startles me, I wonder: What was that voice?

I’m your fortress, your depressurization chamber. I’m holding you here to protect you.

You don’t seem very comforting.

I didn’t say comfort, I said protect.

I sit back on my heels. I feel tired.

Can I please keep them?

No.

But they love me.

Do I need to remind you of what happened the last time someone loved you?

No.

They said they’d see you through. They thought they could. You thought they could.

I remember.

And then it all became too much.

I remember.

And they walked away. And you felt so hurt that there was a constant tightening in your chest. And then you felt hollow.

Stop.

Shh, I’ve got you.

I relax.

I’m telling you, resist the urge to go to them. Come, lie down.

And the dry earth is suddenly a carpeted floor, and I can move my hands again, but all I do is lie down and fold myself into fetal position. It is cold, but I trust my fortress to slowly warm the air around me. It’s never a quick process; it’s like turning on a rusty heater. There is never any immediate relief.

I get that elsewhere.

Don’t even think about it.

What?

You’re not going to shut me off by implementing one of your insane tactics for achieving immediate relief. What do you call it these days, mind blanking?

Fine.

Let me distract you. Think of the city. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Remember when you’d leave your apartment at night just to walk around downtown? Catch a movie by yourself? Cross the bridge on foot? The mountains are beautiful, the waters are beautiful.

Thanks, but just stop. I’ll be fine, there will be no tactics. Your distraction isn’t working.

That’s because you still haven’t let them go.

You know this won’t work if you don’t co-operate.

I’m all you’ll ever really have.

I fall asleep.

Dave and Taylor of the Foo Fighters

It was my graduation day. I woke up around 9 a.m. Both of my parents were awake. I talked to them, not about the graduation. They took whatever I said as a sign that we could all go back to sleep. When we all woke up later in the day, we sort of had to hurry towards the venue for the ceremony.

When we got there, my fellow graduates were in a long line. I was relieved to know I wasn’t late.

I was wearing a sky blue top and a sky blue skirt. They had ugly, mismatched patterns. My mom was wearing a plain, sky blue dress.

Not wanting to fall in line right away (there was really no rush; the line was rather long, and besides, I didn’t want to go and talk to my… friends… who were already in line), I looked around the building and bumped into this pretty famous rock band that was going to perform at the ceremony. I excitedly talked to the band members. While I was dreaming this part, I knew exactly which band they were, but I’d forget later in the dream.

My mom realized she had to pay for something she owed right away because she had just heard that the rates were going to rise soon, and she already owed over 12,000 (dollars or pesos — I don’t know) as it is. She, my dad and I got in the car and left the venue.

Outside, several men were guiding a nervous-looking horse down a grassy hill. My dad drove off the road and onto the hillside. He drove alongside the horse to help it stay calm.

Later, we were in a large room in a building. The room had a high ceiling, and there was some sort of backdrop made up of discrete stacks of bricks, with plants crawling around them. There were four columns of numbers. The first two columns weren’t aligned, but the last two were.

Dave Grohl was there. He was tugging at different parts of the backdrop, trying to get the first two columns to align. He couldn’t. Eventually he ran off somewhere, in search of someone or something, part of his attempt at fixing the backdrop.

I didn’t follow him. I stayed in the building and talked to Taylor Hawkins. It was an easy, pleasant, comfortable conversation. I ended up mentioning that it was my graduation day and that I met the members of the band that was playing at the ceremony.

“Which band?” he asked.

“I… can’t remember,” I said.

“Well, they must not be that famous then.”

“They are… hang on… I think it’s Linkin’ Rejects.”

“Everybody knows the Linkin’ Rejects!”

“Oh, wait, no, it was the All-American Rejects! Oh, wait, no, hang on…” I turned to my sister, who was apparently behind me. I asked her, “Which band was there at the graduation venue?”

She said, “OSM”.

I turned back to Taylor and said, “Ah, it was One Small Miracle, after all.”

He laughed because I forgot who OSM was, when OSM was apparently quite the famous pop rock band.

I said, “Well, you can’t blame me for forgetting them; you guys are my favourite band!” I laughed.

And then I woke up.

Whut

I was in a classroom, and the students were taking turns doing their group presentations, and I was in a group with Ish and two other girls I don’t remember. Ish walked up to the front and started presenting, while I and the other two groupmates remained seated, but Ish wasn’t alone up there because there were like a dozen other people, I don’t know who, and then suddenly the aisle to my right caught everyone’s attention because there was a pool of blood, and everyone was freaking out, and Ish and I tried to clean it up but there was too much, and then suddenly for some reason it was time to go to the next class, and I don’t know what happened to the blood, and then I was standing outside the door, looking back in, and the professor, Eden, was standing inside, looking out at me, and I said, “I don’t want to go,” and she said “4:30” and I said “okay”.

And then I was on my bike, riding past crowds on narrow streets, and riding up and down small, grassy hills, and even up and down stairs, and then some student asked me, “Is it faster that way?” And I said, “it’s about the same,” and then I ran into Tonet and KE, and Tonet was in a marigold-coloured baro’t saya, and she had just come from a dance recital or something, and she was excitedly telling me about it, but I had to go.

And then I was in a bookstore, sitting next to Eden, who was talking about how to negotiate wages, and then a woman walked up and said to her, “You told me you were busy but you’re just here discussing contracts with that girl? You’re treating her like a colleague, but me — an actual colleague — you turned me down.”

(And then I woke up. And then I went back to sleep.)

I was in a car, in the passenger’s seat, and Eden was driving. It was night-time. Laurie and Mae were texting me about our previously arranged dinner plans. They were already at the restaurant. I replied, saying I was going to be late (obviously). I checked the time and saw that it was 10 pm. I figured I should text my parents, tell them I was having dinner after a long day of schoolwork, but before I could do that, the car pulled up at the restaurant, and we got out. We walked in to find my friends, and we said hello, and Mae was down to her last slice of pizza, and we didn’t actually sit with Mae and Laurie and the rest of them, because we got our own table. I decided I wanted fried chicken.

(And then I woke up.)

Apparently it’s a Frank Sinatra evening

I love how music (or art in general) can whisk me off to a different place and time. I’ve listened a few times now to The Night is Young and You’re So Beautiful and Strangers in the Night. (All titles link to Frank Sinatra versions on YouTube.) The room I’m in seems filled with the air of Old Hollywood, and everything is in greyscale, including the Mickey Mouse cartoon playing on the television. The setting is ripe for reminiscences.

When I was six, I had a small piano keyboard and a book of piano sheet music for beginners. Strangers in the Night was one of the first songs I learned to play (just the melody, since it was a book for beginners). Another song I remember playing from the book is The Girl from Ipanema. My grandfather liked Frank Sinatra.

I’m listening to The Way You Look Tonight now, and I’m thinking that it was a good job, figuring out how to play songs on the piano from a book at age six.

And now it’s Moon River playing, and I remember how every “that was a good job” came as “well of course you did a good job duh otherwise what’s the point of you”.

And now it’s Are You Lonesome Tonight playing, and I know that the six-year-old girl won’t have any self-esteem until she’s much older.

And now it’s You’ll Never Walk Alone playing, and my heart aches for her.