And then without warning, a monstrous noise, the ice cracks, I slide beneath the surface, and I'm drowning in chill nothingness, this vast lake below my thoughts.
Or maybe it's not quite so instant...
Maybe you've felt it. Have you ever been on the edge of sleep, only to feel the bed disappear from underneath you, heart in your throat? Have you ever reached for a doorknob in the darkness, and found that you misjudged its placement, and stumbled forward? Have you ever woken up from a dream, reaching for something that wasn't there?
When I'm very tired, I'll lie in bed in the dark, mind pulsing with nervous energy and racked with exhaustion. I'll begin to think of all the things I have to do the next day. Must write this paper, must turn in this form, must email this person, must practice the violin, must clean the rat cage, must pay the library fine. I try to organize it all. Look, I tell myself. It's ok. You have enough time to get all of this done. Here's how it'll work. See? Now you can relax. Just push those thoughts away - admire the empty pond, look at the fresh dusting of snow - tomorrow is just another day. Take your life one day at a time.
But once the pond is empty, my mind is dangerously open and there is nothing I can do to stop the demons from arriving. It happens so fast. They melt the ice with their hot footsteps, and I'm breathing carefully, keeping everything steady. Why, they ask me, are you so worried about that library fine? It doesn't matter. Nothing matters. YOU don't matter. I brace myself. I've seen THESE fellows before. I'm here because I'm a human being and I'm a student and I'm learning what I need to know to do what I want with my life, I tell them. It doesn't help. Anything I say sounds petulant and defensive. The ice is melting and I feel a strange mix of hot tears and cold apprehension. Why? They ask me. Why are you living? What point is there in your life? You are a tiny, meaningless accident. Your life will be forgotten as soon as it is over.
And the ice cracks the minute I must admit to myself that I don't know the answer to any of those questions. There is a physical sensation of falling, my heart jumps and my mind grasps blindly for anything to hold on to, followed by a painful loneliness that blooms when I realize I'm truly lost. I have so many answers, but none to the questions that really matter. Ask me why and all I can give you is an answer I've constructed to keep me sane. I have no idea why I'm here, but I want so badly for it to mean something.
I can't replicate this sickening fall if I've been sleeping well. My mind is protected from those horrifying absolutes, most of the time. But a lack of reserve power, brought on by exhaustion, gives me these glimpses in to the world below my little skating pond, a vast, endless well. I try to live with that endlessness, but I don't think my mind is built to handle such things. I need something to hang on to, some assurance that I deserve this consciousness I've got.
The will to return, to pull myself out of the void, out of that hole in the ice, is just as strong as the will to breathe. I can't help it, no matter how much I want to live with the reality that I'll never know these answers. I fight my way back to the surface and haul myself on to the ice, cold and shaken. From the surface I can see clearly again, but I know I'm seeing only my little pond. Somewhere below lurks that huge loneliness.
I decide that I will make my existence worthwhile, somehow, instead of waiting for an answer.
"Late, by myself, in the boat of myself,
no light and no land anywhere,
cloudcover thick. I try to stay
just above the surface,
yet I'm already underand living with the ocean."