"He hates his job. Today, he's going to do something about it."
I just couldn't take it any more.
How many times in the past had I stood at this same emotional precipice, only to take that one, long look down and mutter the same helpless catchphrase? I just couldn't take it any more. There had to be an end to the madness, but what end, when madness is all you know? All you will ever know?
For so long I had dwelt in the bottomless depths, had drifted and forever drifted through the ethereal darkness of my fears, searched for a home among the barren slopes of my aspirations. As a moth is irresistibly drawn to the blinding light of a street lamp, so I am drawn to the pitch black to be found among the gutters of the city. I am drawn to the haunted, empty people who dwell there, a witness to their clinging existence, their hopeless prayers and their dying curses.
But I just couldn't take it any more. Enough was enough.
Surely now I would crack. Nobody could blame me, God knows, after all I'd seen and done through the years. There could be no finger to point blame in my direction, to shame me as one of the damned, a man doomed by his own fickle desires to perish among the filth of the world, forgotten. I would not be forgotten, I vowed.
Nobody would forget me. Could forget me.
I could see them now, the sheep, belching after dinner and folding their newspapers contentedly at their kitchen tables. They eye their spouses wisely and say, "The guy just couldn't take it any more. You can't blame him for cracking!". Then they take another bite of the slop they're stuffing down their faces, as they ponder the absolute fickleness of a bitch named Life.
But they wouldn't forget. Ever.
The red numerals of my digital alarm clock changed instantly. A steady flicker of electricity through the lighted LCD informed me it was five fifty nine in the AM.
Almost time to go to work. I was sweating. The sheets were soaked, the blankets twisted and pushed aside as though I had struggled through the night with a bestial lover. There had been no lover, though. My wife had left me months ago. There had been only myself and my night terrors. Only me, cracking.
I could feel it even now, a slow, burning sensation in my head. I could hear the high-pitched, iceberg whine of mounting pressure, could feel it tick-tick-ticking like the cooling engine of a high performance race car between my ears.
Soon, all would be undone. I just couldn't take it any more.
They knew all about me, I was sure. They had known for some time now. But they said nothing. My constituents were silent and said nothing, pretended not to notice. I was alone and clawing for my survival with the ferocity of a drowning man clinging to a bit of wreckage. Nobody could help me, there was no help to be had. Help was a vital fluid in the scorching heat of a desert, and it was hoarded carefully, doled out sparingly. There was never enough compassion to go around.
So they watched me with the half closed eyelids of the starving, too weak to offer assistance, but strong enough for one last burst of self-preserving energy should I suddenly explode. They would get away if they could. Even the most miserable human beings hold to life with relentless persistence.
I just couldn't take it any more, though, and I made a solemn promise to myself. They wouldn't get away, and they wouldn't forget.
My right hand lashed out with the expert control of habit and slapped the alarm clock silent. Suddenly my heart was in my throat. My pulse was racing and I couldn't breathe. A slow, creeping burn of adrenaline leaked out from my gut, set my teeth on edge and charged all the muscles of my body with useless energy.
Control. Practice control.
Today is just another day. Nothing is different, nothing is changed. I'm just I guy who can't take it any more, who has decided to crack beneath the pressure.
Get outta my way, World, 'cause here I comes!
I forced my heart to sink back to its proper place. I willed my blood pressure to drop, my breathing to slow, my jumping muscles to once again relinquish control of their functions to my brain.
Only then did I set foot on the floor, dug my toes into the comforting pile of the carpet with a grateful sigh. Never again would I feel this sensation . . . never again would I rise from my own bed . . . .
Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!
Control. Practice control.
For a brief moment I felt I might vomit. But I held my breath and the moment passed. My head cleared. I knew I would be alright.
With the sounds and smells of a steaming shower filling my bathroom, I stood before the mirror and stared into the stark face of madness. I wasn't frightened. It had been there all along, hiding behind my clear, green irises, peeking out only during fits of rage or blind passion.
It was as if I were staring at my phoenix drawn from my ashes. My gaze was burning but steady. There was grim purpose in the set of my jaw, a sense of calm in the cut of my countenance.
And it was good to see me there, at last. The facade of my existence had been burned away, my true character was revealed.
As the steam fogged my reflection, I said good-bye to myself and turned away. I wouldn't look into a mirror again, not even to shave.
"Hey, buddy, how's it going?" asked a man who had once been a friend of my former self. He slapped me on the back playfully.