All things must come to an end. I hate this fact more than anything else. I even enjoy bad things. I’m fully on the technology bandwagon; I only hope we get around to making ourselves immortal before the god-fearing fanatics blow us up in a bid to get what we can have without all that mess. But I know that even if my body is perfected and technology becomes background magic, you can’t account for everything. A star goes off without warning, a black hole that nobody saw swings through town, the heat death of the universe, the false vacuum wakes up,1 the skin of the universe smacks up against the skin of a neighboring universe and reduces every particle to radiation. Something will happen. I will end, and my lifespan will never match the length of forever. Everything good or bad or somewhere in the middle ends, and we hope that something else will begin, but maybe it won’t. Something is happening now, dream or not, something may happen after it, might be better, might be worse. But it will happen then. And you and I won’t be there.
The mental skills it takes to forget this and get on with it are what we call faith, addiction, and distraction.2 For a while, I had a better option. I had the option only crazies and prophets and fanatics get: an answer for everything, and the knowledge I would be loved forever.
Then, one day, it was over.
Part 16, or “The End”
The closer I get to the end, the cloudier my memory gets. I’m not sure what this suggests; I was either going crazier or the cocktail of drugs they had me on was kicking in harder, or it didn’t mix well with whatever else I was doing at college once I was unsupervised.
I mapped each floor of the four-level dorm building to the four levels on the crazy scoreboard from the institution, and I once again spent most of my time on the 3rd level, attempting to ascend. The 4th level was populated by hippy stoners who provided pot to the rest of the dorm. We called it trickle down economics.3 Crazy, I assumed they were the movers and shakers of the world, and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to get up there, since just taking the elevator wasn’t an option; I needed an invitation.
I met Crow Abilities here, decked out in ever-present prescription shades, fedora and trench coat, a paragon of gothhood, and I would introduce him to Trinity, and he fell in love with her as fast as I did. Since I was nuts, and kept flip flopping on whether Trinity and I were destined to be together or in a threeway or whatever, I alternately told him stay away, she’s mine, and go for it man, I was never really into her. Eventually he got fed up and said whatever dude, it’s on, may the best man win. If you pick your way along the trail of blame, this exchange led to the complex relationship the three of us had for the rest of the year, which put her in the hospital at one point and drove Crow and I apart.4
This is when I first met Amy, and we became fast friends. She also didn’t know I was crazy, though she probably perceived more of my disturbed thoughts than others. She became my instant off-the-books therapist, putting up with the things I’d say that were as close to what was actually going on in my head as I could get, and she reminded me time and again that the people around me were not the perfect godlike beings I gave them credit for, but mostly just a bunch of selfish assholes.
Amy in turn introduced me to X, a drummer and guitar player. She said we had to meet because I pretended to play piano and he could actually play guitar, so I was all for it, since music, literally, made the world go round instead of flat. X was a hardy drinker back then, which I heard, just after I heard about some kid from the previous year who drank himself to death in a closet one weekend. It was obvious to me that this kid was X, and the physical X I eventually met was a ghost, and it was my job to lead him back to the land of the living. I succeeded, and we started a band a year later, which we should have called “X’s Ghost” but I wasn’t letting myself think about all this stuff yet.5
It amazes me that I managed to cobble together a functional, supportive social life while having no handle at all on reality. I attribute the new people I met to my continuing fascination with every word anybody said, combined with my assumptions that everybody was some sort of powerful, perfect entity.6
Still, my introductions had no follow through. One stunningly beautiful girl came to my room wondering if I’d ordered a pizza that was delivered mistakenly to her room. After that first meeting, she must have come back five or six times to introduce herself, say she liked my room, look at my books, and ask if I wanted pizza. She would say hi around campus, and generally acted like she was waiting for any sliver of an excuse to jump me. I politely but completely blew her off, because I thought she was a spy of some sort, or we were on opposite sides. More likely, my regular emotional habits of the day were holding steady throughout my insanity: pursue the unattainable and dangerous, run from the available and interested.
While experimenting with all these new beings in my life, I was adding and dropping classes with abandon, because classes weren’t just lessons anymore, but alternate realities, and since I was either dead or immortal, there were no rational consequences to anything. All my narratives were semantic and ontological concepts slapped onto whatever or whomever I was looking at in the moment, so the practical consequences of a thought out future were well beyond my reach.
Logic class was a mind blower, as mentioned before, and as little of the content as I actually understood, I credit this class with a piece of my recovery. The comment that two mutually exclusive things cannot both be true gave me pause. It was all well and good to ignore the specific examples people gave, like I could not simultaneously be in Paris and London, since of course I could, and was at the moment, because the nature of place was actually an imagined physicality of perceived locality, when in fact all places were one, and each place was simply a harmonic on the same string, so you could be anywhere. But the simplest form of the statement, that two mutually exclusive things cannot both be true because their relationship is mutually exclusive, could not be broken apart by my crazy super-logic into meaning something else. I turned that over a lot in my head.
Speaking of harmonics, I managed to befriend some musician druggies in a grad student’s room that I wandered into because the door was open. This guy reminded me of my therapist, only because I thought he was gay and didn’t know it yet, the difference being that this time I was right. It doesn’t matter, what mattered was he let me play his electric guitar.
Oh my god. The first note I pulled out of this thing was the most earth-shattering noise I’d ever heard, because I could see the intention of my mind traveling through my spine to my fingers to move the muscles to pick this perfect note7 on a string that sent its vibration as magnetism to electricity to a speaker to the air to my ear drums to my brain to my intention, in the most beautiful feedback loop ever created. I managed to pick eight more notes of ecstasy before I couldn’t take it, and I went back to my room and spent the next few hours meditating on music and vibration.
I used to credit this whole experience with my music ability, which isn’t the best in the world, but it’s far more than it should be for someone who didn’t take it seriously until he was twenty. I don’t anymore; I’m decent at music because I practiced a lot. But whatever massive rewiring happened during this experience definitely hit some harmony centers, because after I recovered, I still felt I understood music on a level that I never had before.
Before this, I always wanted a reason and a logic, and traceable, meaningful routes from any event to any other event, and things were steps in my head. Once I made a full recovery, there were no more steps, my thinking and understanding were, and are still, a constant flow. Everything is related, everything is arbitrary, everything is basically the same, nothing has any meaning, and everything is awesome in its flowing ability to exist and change. For better or for worse, I went from digital to analog, and haven’t switched back. This is probably what let me pick up music, and for that matter, programming, afterwards. It probably lets me do most of what I do these days.
But even as I accept my thoughts as the stream they are now, there was no way to make sense of the raging waterfall over the edge of the world they were back then.
Things were starting to unravel, outside and in. It was getting harder to support the delusions under the pressure of the real world, and the rapid switching back and forth among fantasies was starting to make me doubt things.
I had cut my hair about a week before all this began. I went from having hair down to the small of my back8 to having the close-cropped, two inch hair I have now. I kept the pony tail out of sentimental value. I realized that by keeping this hair, I was tying myself to the old reality, and to escape and truly be free, I had to throw it out, so I did.
I started obsessively rearranging all the little trinkets in my room, the same way I packed and repacked all my belongings trying to leave the institution, but this time there was no where to go. None of my delusions were ending, nothing was being satisfied, there was no release or absolute truth that didn’t have to be discarded and reevaluated. Every path wound around to nothing, and I had to find a new one, like being lost on a mountain, unable to find the summit.
I called Jake, except I actually got his younger brother, but I thought it was Jake.
“Are you okay?”
“Are you alive?”
“Uh… yeah… are you—”
“I have to go.”
And I hung up.
I paced. I looked for help. I walked the campus at night, but it became dangerous. I couldn’t trust anyone. I hid behind buildings, in dark corners of the libraries, in the back of the cafeteria, only speaking to people I knew, only if I thought they were real. Something was wrong! I knew something was wrong, and there were hints but no answers. It was the end of the world, this time in a bad way, in a way that would hurt, and hurt everyone I loved.
My time continuity went completely out the window. I have no idea what happened in what order, and most of it’s blocked in a fog of reoccurring images and thoughts I still refuse to think, a decade later. I couldn’t keep 24 hours straight.
As I moved around, I stopped feeling like I was the engine for my motion. The universe was simply opening up space in front of me and I was sucked into it. I had no choices or control.
I decided if I didn’t go to the bathroom, my body would just recycle my waste,9 as long as I drank salted ginger ale, which to my mind was just the recipe for serotonin, and thus I would be immortal. Every action became at once effortless, because the universe was yanking me along, but infinitely complicated.
I started pointing my mind at itself, which is generally a bad idea, but I had to seek inward, because I started having the notion that whatever it was that was wrong might be in me, and not of coming from the stars and the gods. I had no idea what, but since nothing was culminating, I got the shadow of a notion that I wasn’t quite right in the head. I pulled even further from the world, trying to untangle the maze my mind had made for me over the last few months. I wasn’t looking for a reason or a principle or a meaning, I was just looking for some common thread, something that was consistent, something that I’d missed but must have been holding me together, or at least driving me apart. I had the sensation of trying to find just the right Cheerio in a supermarket, not even knowing what made that Cheerio distinctive.
Then, about five or six weeks in, I was walking back to the dorm with Amy one evening, and she described a dream she had the night before. I realized that even though I’d been sleeping for two months, I hadn’t had a dream. I said, “I want to dream again.”
That’s the last thing I remember for three days.
According to my mom, this happened during that period:
One day you called me at my office and told me you thought you were dead. I told you to stay in your room and raced up to Orono, picked you up and brought you home. This time I knew enough to keep an eye on you.
All I know is that I woke up at home, and I was sane. And I remembered having a dream, as its plot faded.
I like to think at some point after I realized that the world no longer made sense and started rooting around in my own brain, I found the reboot switch. My REM program came back on and did overtime for three days, then let conscious-me back into the control room.
Not one of the psychiatrists and psychologists who saw me during those months thought I would recover. At the very best, I would be a heavily medicated, barely functional, semi-crazy zombie for the rest of my life. It may have been the medication, it may have been the facts of the real world reasserting themselves, it may have been dumb, stupid luck. I like to think I actually thought my way out of the mire, but I wasn’t there for the recovery. I do know I wanted something solid to hold onto. The endless complexity of madness never led to the promise of my brief enlightenment, and I had to find my way out if I ever wanted to progress toward anything substantial.
On the far side of the revelation turned hell, I awoke to find an earth solid and unaltered. The world goes all the way through, the trees don’t know your name, and the cosmos is busy with other things. The palpable truths and beauties that seduced my mind a neuron at a time fell silent and intangible. In the space of a half remembered dream, the universe went from my kingdom, my lover, and myself, to the vast, empty, and uncaring noise it is today.
I mumbled my way through that first day of sanity, not making eye contact with my family, trying to get used to a mind that seemed barely functional, and a life that seemed impossibly empty. As I pieced together the memories as much as I could bear, and realized how close to death all of the things I’d done had brought me, I had the dim impression that I’d fought my way back to the real world. My rewards were a distraught and despairing family, a college that had significantly flipped in its appraisal of my academic potential, an entire county of police that knew my name, unemployment, unemployability in Bar Harbor, dozens of friends lost forever, and a felony soon to be on my record.
That night, I mixed myself a drink after my mom and brother had gone to bed, lit a cigarette, and went out to the deck. I looked up, and for the first time since I entered the institution, I saw the stars.
They looked cold, and far away.
1 This is the most frightening. Turns out our vacuum might be a false vacuum, and that little fact allows us to have things like particles and Pink Floyd. If the nature of things finds out about it, our universe ceases to be, in barely an instant.
2 There also seems to be a weird set of people who are okay with nonexistence, but I don’t understand them at all. I think it’s a lack of creativity, but in truth, I envy them.
3 If you get this, you’re old.
4 I’ll explain this later.
5 X, we should still start this band. You have my number.
6 Except BigDrug, who was still an evil alien.
8 Luxurious, baby-soft golden locks of magnificent hair. My hair was the envy of every girl I met between 14 and 20.
9 Fortunately, nature called.