mr. luchesi starts from a shallow sleep.
the alarm clock says 3:34 am. that makes two-and-a-half hours sleep he’s managed since crawling into bed at 9:30, out of ideas, resenting his wife for making him put the kids to bed a third night in a row.
she sleeps soundly beside him. she must have arrived in bed sometime between 11:30 and 12:45, his longest successful streak of unconsciousness tonight.
some months ago he discovered the secret of ear plugs. the soundest sleep of his life. for a few days he even wore them around the house, until the kids started complaining, even if he could hear everything they were saying. like they felt insulted. but the plugs only made him feel insulated. like he was wearing an extra layer against the cold. if he lived alone, he would wear them around the clock.
it’s sad that the things that make you feel secure tend to make others feel abandoned. security and isolation have always gone together for him. ear plugs. a hot shower. a twelve pack of beer.
it had been four years since he quit that habit. no wonder he’s anxious. no wonder he has trouble sleeping, earplugs or not.
it’s probably the first question on the schizophrenia intake checklist. does he wear earplugs around the clock? yes? i’m afraid he’ll be staying in the basement ward.
his wife stirs beside him.
three emotions collide: a cool relief that he’s not alone, the metallic aftertaste of his earlier resentment, and the prickles of envy that she sleeps so easily.
she makes everything look easy, even when she screws things up. he envies much about her. but there are also the disappointments —
lightning strikes inside him.
a sudden pressure seizes his chest, like a fist reaching up past his scrotum and snatching his heart.
he tries to take a breath, but can’t seem to get any depth.
the pressure intensifies.
he’s been having these feelings often lately. like someone is pressing on his chest, not letting him get enough air. he thought he was over the panic attacks thanks to the wonders of chemistry. yet here he is, zero to sixty in less than a second, walloped by a wrecking ball of anxiety.
stay calm. it will pass.
but the pressure only grows. it’s starting to get hard to breath.
the panic isn’t real. it isn’t real.
but it is real. more than real. but it’s not a panic attack.
if this doesn’t stop, i’m going to die.
he can’t move. the pain hits him like a tidal wave, almost knocking him out with one blow. was it there all along? did he only just notice it?
if this doesn’t stop, i’m going to die.
he is shuddering. the bed is shaking. but his wife sleeps on. only the rhythm of her breathing changes. some part noticing, just not the part in charge of waking up.
if this doesn’t stop.
his eyes are shut so tight that he sees lights exploding, a private fireworks show.
fireworks in a hurricane.
i’m going to die.
he struggles to breath. but with little success.
his chest rises and falls but nothing seems to be coming or going.
but breathing isn’t currently at the top of list of concerns. the pain is wiping away the last bits of awareness.
he’s fighting. he’s not going easily. he is going out fighting. and by fighting he means clenching every muscle he can. which at this point is only a limited few. now only his fists and eyes. everything else is going slack. something has gone terribly wrong below, but he is oblivious to the reek. his senses otherwise engaged.
and suddenly the pain is gone.
he feels a hand on his arm.
he can breath again. but the world is still dark.
he realizes his eyes are shut tight, so he opens them to find his wife smiling down at him. there’s a bright light shining behind her.
it’s like he’s seeing her for the first time.
and in that one moment a universe. an afterlife.
miraculous in its simplicity. it’s always been here.
it’s love. it’s belonging. it’s acceptance. it’s all so easy.
he laughs as he considers how he had misunderstood such a simple set of rules.
it was never about him. it was about everyone else.
his self-consciousness had always denied him.
the cold mirror can’t love. it merely gropes for meaning. a meaning that was never there in the first place. any success a short-lived lie. a reflection dependent on someone looking for it.
and self-consciousness is ebbing away, seeping through his clenched fingers now slackening.
he’s not afraid.
it’s always been there.
even if he missed it.
he’ll never know that his wife would wake up from her last good night’s sleep hours later. and that she would spend the rest of her life haunted by the fact she slept through his death. not even earplugs will help her.
and he never would have wished this on her. for in the end, there was only love in his mind. and it was her face that had shown him the way.
and his last thought before thinking no more, before extinction, and the utter and permanent loss of self-consciousness.
you have to give it all away.