Horror followed him wherever he went. He was not alone, that he knew for sure. But whether it was human, extraterrestrial, ghostly, or an animal being that tailed him, he had no idea.
He knew he had to run, to escape his inevitable doom. Only afterward would he be able to investigate further. The house had become toxic to live in—he could not endure it anymore. Even more than that, he needed to get out. He had had enough of the nightly panics and the sleep-depriving nightmares, so much so that he slept at sunrise and woke at sunset.
He consoled his loneliness by playing the guitar. When he was not in the mood, he would resort to Netflix—the deafening volume of humorous Hollywood actors soothed his worry and filled the void between the echoing walls of the house. When he finished rerunning The Office for the umpteenth time on his DVR, and when the sadness cemented in the very soul of BoJack Horseman was not enough to cure his sadness, he took slow walks around the backyard. Vast as it was, he still lacked the space.
His uncle had left him this house years ago—he had given it to him on his 25th birthday. Ecstatic, he moved in the next day. A fresh beginning, he had thought. And yet, with every passing second since that seemingly delightful afternoon, he had felt nothing but sadness. Deep-rooted, ingrained sadness. It was as if he was born with it, had it embedded in his genes. Indeed, it defined him, the sadness. Whenever he looked in the mirror, he would feel pity and disdain. He did not want to look like this, nor did he want people to see him look like this.
But as the adage goes: It is what it is.
The solutions to these two problems were simple. He had contemplated them before. The first one was solved when he got rid of the mirrors. He did not need to look at himself, at the dark circles underlining his eyes, at the personified gloom that lived with him, lived inside of him. And the second problem had gone long ago; he did not need to leave the house anymore, what with the technological advancement of the twenty-first century. He did not work. He did not attend school or college, and he never went out to shop. With the click of a button, his groceries arrived at the door and he just collected them swiftly. Money was effortlessly included in his uncle’s bequest.
On several occasions, it dawned on him that the solution posed his very problem. Perhaps it was his introversion that held him off from being happy, from finding peace and rest. Perhaps this monster that tailed him and deprived him of sleep was his solitude. His mother had picked up on it when she was present. She would watch him retreat to his room and stay in for hours. At times she would hear him play, or when she nagged at him to keep it quiet, he would watch an old, cheesy movie, like The Time Machine from 2002 or The Pursuit of Happyness from 2006. Other times he would be sleeping, as he usually did.
She had tried to investigate silently oftentimes. Only on rare occasions did she ask him the tough questions. Don’t you have any friends at school? He always felt an irritating unease in his chest when he heard the question. Yes, he did have friends. Tons of them. But to define friend-ship is to define life, and since life was undefinable, he could not define friendship. His mother did not know what to make of his silence—his creepy, petulant stillness. Do you have any plans for the weekend? The unease in his chest would escalate then, but laughter always over-whelmed him. Inward laughter, so as not to offend his mother. Yes, he did have plans for the weekend. Tons of them. But his plans did not consist of him going out with “friends” or dining in a disgustingly overcrowded restaurant with a colleague or a lover.
He was eighteen at the time. His plans were to sit silently in his room and listen to music on full volume, or lie on his bed and stare at the ceiling for forty minutes, or maybe play Age of Empires III for hours, deploying convoys of sepoys and Cossacks against the British and trying to rewrite history against the “Imperialist Slut.”
Most of the time he spent now was in the vestibule of his uncle’s heritage. A classy hall with huge marble columns that supported nothing—they stood there like living beings with personalities. He had named them when he first moved into the house. The one in the back was Prison Mike. He had colored the top with splashes of purple and white to resemble Michael Scott’s alter ego on The Office. Other columns had rather tacky nicknames. One was Karen—the one he hated. It stood erect, off-centered, like a grumbling, eerie presence. He could picture “her” asking for the manager, arms akimbo. Another one was Carolyn, facing Ulla, whose back was to Gunner.
He did not need friends—not human friends, at least. These columns, personified, kept him company. They talked to him and he talked to them. At times, when he grew bored of listening to his music, he descended to the vestibule and played for them. Closing his eyes, he pictured them dancing, each in their fictitious TV world. Except for Karen—she was still asking for the manager.
There were also songs that he wrote. Cheesy, unrhythmic lyrics that came to him in the middle of the night, when only the sad people were awake. He scribbled them on Post-Its and stuffed them under Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace to remember them when he woke again. He practiced them in his head before giving them a go with the guitar. Prison Mike hated most of them—he said they reminded him of the dementors, the worst part about prison. Karen was indifferent. Carolyn said she liked them, but her tone said otherwise. The Scandinavian duo: Ulla and Gunner, smiled and hummed as he sang them aloud.
They were jots of his thoughts about life and sadness and loneliness. Thoughts he could only express through poetry. Even if they were deemed unsuccessful when he sang them, it still consoled him that there was someone to listen to them other than himself. An artist thrives on critique, he believed.
He had tried his luck at composing short poems for his English class in junior high, but he was never given any credit for his attempts. His English teacher—short and chubby, barely knows any English herself—chuckled, sighed, and sat him down before he finished reciting them to a class of nobodies. Perhaps he was better off not wasting his time on poems about “friendship” and “love” and “heroism”—clichéd tropes that did not spark any imaginative thought in his mind. He would have liked to write about “war,” perhaps. Did they never think about the theme of “death,” “mortality,” or “murder”? A macabre poem with deathful words and a ghastly rhyme?
The hands of solitude console me,
They tell me, lovingly, to set free
The hate—to throw it into the sea.
But I detest. “O’ dear friend,” I say,
“Is it bad if I feel? Why keep things at bay,
When you can mourn yourself every day?”
Sleep deprivation had made him delusional. That was not exemplified in him talking to columns, for he could argue that it was the same as talking to yourself. His delusions were of a more detrimental quality—the ones that make you lose brain cells the more they prolong. The ones that compel you to stand up and pace the house, close the blinds, or abruptly revamp the backyard. For no reason whatsoever. And even though he mused the idea of leaving this house (he thought it caused his delusions)—and thusly leaving his friends behind—he could not do it. He had sold the old house—the one with the many memories of naïveté and bad decisions. He recalled his teenage days from time to time when he was young and ambitious and wanted “to become an author” or “a memorable poet” or “a successful journalist hopping from The Washington Post to The New Yorker to The Atlantic.” Little did he know that his overall character would not amount to write even for BuzzFeed.
But even if he could leave the house, he still was not loved. What good does going outside do you when no one can stand to look at your face? The only times he had left the house—that is, stepped beyond its front yard—were to buy a new phone; his old one almost neared six years of age and was barely keeping up with the heavy updates of today’s technology. He had read on The New York Times app that a new “generation” of the internet was coming down the pike, for which he could not care less. Once he went out to purchase buckets of paint and a brush; he thought of it as an artistic endeavor to try painting, although he wanted it for the sole purpose of giving life to his marble friends in the vestibule. These were long ago—when he first moved into the house. The last time that he left, however, was not long ago. The experience had not been appeasing—and from then on, he had promised himself that it was his last venture outside.