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.

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