By Gregor Stronach
T’was the night before Christmas, and all through the house… not a creature was stirring, except for the sad, twisted and vile individual whose ramblings you are welcome to abandon right now, should your disposition, beliefs or inability to decide fact from fiction dictate that you take even the slightest notice of the self-indulgent, mindless pap that follows.
It was, indeed, the night before Christmas – and I, gentle reader, was having a prodigiously shitty time of things. You see, I was suffering through one of life’s most hideous paradoxes: A genuine and long held desire to die, coupled with a total inability to sleep – as if the universe or god or whoever the hell is in charge has figured out that the best way to torture a tortured man who seeks eternal slumber is to deny him any at all in this world… and so, presumably, in the next.
But this is clearly neither here nor there. Because it was Christmas. A celebration of the birth of an illegitimate child whose parents concocted a fabulous lie so strong that it convinced their families and holy men – and saved the young woman involved from being stoned to death for daring to ride her boyfriend in the manner she rode the donkey into Bethlehem.
As far as lies go, it was a ripper. And, as we all know, lies tend to take on a life of their own, once told. But little did Joseph and Mary know that the palpable untruth they dreamt up to cover the result of their carnal desires would blossom and grow into the heaving miasma of deceit and corruption that we now call ‘the church’.
But I digress.
It was indeed Christmas. And not the first I’ve spent alone, but it is the first I’ve spent without my legs, whose current whereabouts I am not sure of.
I’ve lost them, you see. Lost to the cold, hard steel wheels of the 9.24am express to Hornsby in an attempt to relieve the world of my presence, which has been as successful as my attempts this evening to sleep.
I misjudged the track upon which my neck was required to lie – and in typical Sydney Rail efficiency, that bastard of a train took my legs, and not my life.
Such is the way of the man who wishes ill upon himself. If I believed that there was a god, I’d pray he found my predicament amusing. Because it hurt like rape and I cursed all manner of poisonous invective upon myself… and upon those around me who applied tourniquets and opiates, while wondering aloud why someone might want to do this sort of thing… as if the answer wasn’t clear enough from the circumstances surrounding it.
If a man wishes he were dead, then he will do something about it. And if a man’s circumstances are such that there is no other reasonable explanation, then for the love of all that’s holy, take the hint and let him slide into the abyss of his own making.
But, again, I digress.
My long lost legs, on this most brutal and lonely of Christmas Eves, were – I believe – attempting to communicate with me via another of life’s most horrible quirks. By legs, I mean feet. And by quirk, I mean they were itching.
Of course, I do hope that you can see my predicament… I wanted to die, but could not sleep, because my feet were all itchy, and I had no idea where they were. Probably in a skip somewhere… moldering away, giving themselves over to the putrefaction that every abandoned, unloved body part most certainly endures.
What kind of a universe is this, the one that we inhabit? Where both entropy and atrophy team up to make chaos of the order we all, deep down, desire – and at the same time slowly rob of us of the strength and vitality we need in order to survive the maelstrom of disorganization that our minds and environments create.
I know that this is chaos, because I’ve sent it. Close at hand and even closer to nose – as I fell from my bed through the (somewhat remarkable) expedience of forgetting that I no longer owned a functional set of lower limbs.
I understand how implausible that might seem – but please, allow me to help you make sense of all of this. Imagine, if you will, the following scenario – to be explained through the medium of a ‘recap’, which will no doubt be preceded in the film adaption of my horrible life by the strumming of harps and the tired old trope of wavy lines and soft-focus dissolves.
The scenario is this: A man, who wishes to die, has lost his legs, and cannot sleep, because his feet itch, but are no longer attached to his body – and so, in a sleep deprived state, the unshakable laws of chaos dictate that something else entirely must go wrong.
And wrong, they went.
The human brain is remarkably elastic – far more so than the bones in my face… but I’m getting ahead of myself here.
Acutally, I’m not sure whether elasticity or plasticity (or, dare I say it, spasticity…) is the correct term for it – but here I sit with a bag of Watties fresh-frozen peas against my face and a pain in the anterior portion of my cranium that rivals the itch in my feet (which have fled!!!) in both intensity and its ability to annoy. And depress.
… An ellipsis to denote the passage of time. Let’s say it was about ten minutes. The time was spent pondering the correct descriptor for the fact that the wobbling bag of neurons we possess in our heads is both an incredible machine, and a gigantic liability.
Aha! I am about to digress – bear with me.
I don’t know the correct descriptor, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I simply don’t care… to be perfectly frank.
I knew a man named Frank who fancied himself to be perfect. We (and by “we” I mean me and some other minor characters in this tragedy that I have neither the time nor the inclination to introduce at present…) drank with Frank at the local public house from time to time.
Frank seemed nice enough, but had one annoying habit – and as I would loudly declare my opinion on something, punctuated with the words “To Be Perfectly Frank!”, the man in question would interject…
“If you want to be perfectly Frank,” he would say with a truly slimy grin, “You would have to be me…”
And he would then wink.
Frank did this three times within earshot of me. He barely survived the beating he received as a result. A man can make one mistake, and then repeat that mistake again – to set himself assured that the particular action that resulted in a poor outcome was, in fact, the cause – and not simply a correlation.
Make the mistake three times, and you’re clearly a fuckhead with a strong desire to be hit with a whisky bottle and have the shape of your noggin modified with the thick end of a pool cue.
“Not so perfect now, are ya Frank?” I shouted at him. It did no good. He was clearly unconscious at the time.
…and I am, I hope, done digressing.
Where was I?
That’s right – I was sitting upon the floor – the cold hard tiles of my kitchen gradually numbing my buttocks as I held my makeshift icepack against the shattered bones in my face.
(Shit – sorry – digression… That’s why the story of Frank occurs to me to tell you now – I imagine this is how he must have felt. Poor, dumb bastard that he was.)
The reason I was upon the floor tending to my painful injuries was because my brain’s elasticity was such that I had fallen for the oldest trick in the book – the kind of trick only a human brain could play.
I had wanted to die, but instead lost my legs, and couldn’t get to sleep, because my feet were itching to the point of unrelenting distraction. But my feet were long gone, and – so – impossible to scratch. I needed a drink – a strong drink to put me to sleep – and so I decided that the place I needed to be was at the liquor cabinet. The decision made, I leapt from my bed – and it is at this precise moment that my bastard of a brain played its trick.
The itch in my feet, combined with the deprivation of sleep, had relayed to my brain a simple fact that we all take for granted: that there are, indeed, actual physical feet at the end of my legs…
Have you ever gotten to the bottom of a short flight of steps – the kind you know well enough that you no longer need to check as you walk down them – and stepped out into the nothingness of having miscounted the stairs you were upon?
If so, then you will know the feeling I felt – and if not, then you’re as big a liar as I am.
But the feeling I felt was far beyond the slightly uncomfortable vertiginous sense of falling – abruptly halted by the jarring impact of your foot on the step that you forgot was beyond the one you were on.
No… there was no immediate jarring impact. I have no fucking feet!
I fell for what seemed like an eternity – and I know what an eternity feels like.
(It’s a digression, but it’s worth it…)
I know what eternity feels like because when I was a much younger man, I fell in love with a woman. She was everything my father had warned me about.
Our relationship was short-lived, and fiery. But even across the term of a few short months, I could feel her drifting away from me. But it was a Tuesday night – when she called me to join her in a dank, dingy pub in Glebe – that I both knew what eternity looked like, and I found our relationship had drawn to an end.
I found her in a small, upstairs room – surrounded by women of ill temperament and bad haircuts. Many wore what I would later find out are called dungarees. One of them was wearing a beret – ironically, it turned out, but still… there’s no excuse for that.
It turned out that the love of my life had another burning passion – the need to pen poems and share them in pubs. I had walked into her ‘strictly ladies only’ poetry night, where she and nine friends would gather and recite poems about dominant paradigms, the evils of The Penis and the wondrous silhouette of a supple female breast when viewed through the bottom of a whisky tumbler against the backdrop of the setting sun, as it sank into the ocean and turned the sky to the colour of a cut throat, which bleeds into the sea…
In the 20 minutes I was trapped there, I found out what eternity really was – as this bizarre blend of sophistry and sapphistry clubbed my masculinity into a diamond-like mote of despair and sent me – and my wholly-unwelcome testicles – fleeing for the front bar and a pint-glass of whisky.
Two thirds of the way through that pint, Perfect Frank lost the first part of his nickname at the hands of yours truly. In despair, I fled the scene, and walked the dark suburban streets attempting to divest myself of guilt through moderate exercise.
It didn’t work.
Appalled at my lack of judgment, it was then and there that I decided to end my life. And that, dear reader, is how I came to be sitting on the floor of my apartment on the night before Christmas – broken and bleeding, crazed and confused.
…and listening to the movement of individual peas as the heat of my pain and failure thaw them out, and relieve them of their ability to cling frantically to their rotund, green brethren. A slight crackle here – a gentle shift of weight there… and soon, they would all be apart. Alone.
Alone in the dark, trapped in a bag held by a madman whose legs had gone AWOL but were still able to keep him awake by itching furiously enough, causing sleep deprivation and short-term memory loss, resulting in a misjudged leap from the bed in which I could not find rest, causing a massive injury to my face.
… (this one means an hour. Please… keep up.)
There was, by now, a pale light creeping through the slash in the curtains, now. And I thought, through the haze of the pain, that I’d heard a slight noise in the living room. A whoosh – and the ever-so-gentle tinkle of cheap glass ornaments tapping gently together.
I set off across the floor of the kitchen, dragging myself like a man possessed to the living room – and miracle of miracles, a miracle had occurred.
A simple gift lay wrapped beneath the even simpler tinsel-clad tree. A card attached said “From Santa”.
I removed the paper with the unbridled joy of every five-year-old child with whom I would be sharing this morning. Beneath the paper, was a box.
In the box… a brand new pair of shoes.
(Merry Christmas everyone… Gregor).