The Rat

Outside my window, in front of the café across the street there was a dog, in the rain, sniffing the wet concrete: cold, damp and hungry. This dog, in this moment, feels the truth of life, aching with the anxiety that is thrown at him, suffocated by his world, by his passion to transcend himself. He would be this way if he were aware, but, lucky for him, he is not. Consciousness isn’t a gift; it only brings apprehension to an impermanent reality, waking us up to the knowledge that someday we’re going to wither away and be forgotten, turning some into heroes of conflict and others into obedient minions. We’re better off walking blindly through the abyss, especially since we don’t add anything to ourselves. And yet, we’re here; here to be and no more. And we don’t have a choice. We don’t have a say. Our only option is to numb ourselves; to numb ourselves from our own numbness, escape from our derision. But despite having a distraction for myself, I’d still rather be the dog.

**********

It was around 7 in the morning; I could still see the sounds ringing through the air. I must still have been high, though I couldn’t tell the difference anymore; I didn’t want to. My stomach needed food, but I couldn’t be bothered to cook, so I popped a few pills and loaded myself. The relief was amazing, as my world quietened. But the pills didn’t last too long, maybe about 20 minutes before I became sober. I took a few more pills and then that’s when it happened; I started to choke. I could hardly feel the pain, but could feel my throat closing itself around the pill. I ran to the bathroom, shoved my fingers down my throat and threw up one of the pills into the sink. In that split second, I felt the anxiety of being in pain. It made me realize why we’re so anxious about being alive; it’s not that we can’t endure the struggle of life, it’s that we don’t want to taste the anxiety that comes with being in pain, even though pain is inescapable. The second passed, and slowly my world began to fade, as the pain began to leave my body. Maybe, this was a blessing in disguise.

A number of hours later, through the silhouettes around my eyes, I could see and hear doctors and nurses attempting to revive me, as I travelled in and out through the haze. They went for hours, working on me, invading my body, before they eventually saved me, though I wouldn’t call it saving. I would have woken up, listened to a doctor give me instructions as to what to do with myself, as if he knew me, my life, what I’d been through, and then, I’d have gone home like nothing had happened. I wasn’t saved, I was just brought back to my lifestyle. What a drag!

That night, I woke up with an undercooked dinner by my bed. I still didn’t desire to eat, despite being hungry; the food looked cold and smelt awful. I looked around the room, seeing, feeling the bland atmosphere that reeked of decay. I couldn’t help but think about the people who end up in hospitals, how dependent we become with our rotten prostates, putrid livers, our waning hearts, to delay the inevitable. Surely, there’s a better solution to this problem, than to prolong suffering. Someone should do something about it.

I continued looking around my room until I saw a feeble old man, coughing, on the opposite side of the room. After clearing his throat, he looked up and stared back at me. I couldn't tell if he was actually looking at me or if he was blind and could only sense my presence. Either way, he was gazing at me for an uncomfortably long time, with the same blank, expressionless face. I had no choice but to yell at him, get him to look away, or at the very least, evoke a reaction to realize that he was human. But he didn’t move. He must have been deaf. However, after a long awkward pause, he came out of it, rolled onto his side and closed his eyes. For some reason, I couldn’t help but feel violated, that he pierced the darkness of my soul and tampered with my spirit in some way. I don’t know how I came to feel this way, there wasn’t any reason for why I should, but it started to drive me crazy as the thoughts sat in my mind. Thankfully, the doctor came in to check up on me, distracting me from myself. The doctor diagnosed that the pill that was lodged in my throat caused me to pass out, but didn’t note that I intended to get high off several pills; I was in the clear. He then told me that I had to take medication to calm the swelling and recommended seeing a psychiatrist once a week, as a precaution. I objected and the doctor informed me of the risks; but still, I denied his advice.

However, I still took the prescriptions that the doctor gave me, so that I could overdose on the medication to get a high. The pills would make me feel hollow though, it was a depressing sort of escape, one I wouldn’t recommend. I overdosed on the medication a few more times, just to see if it was just the one occasion, but I was getting the same effect from the drugs. I know that I shouldn’t be overdosing on the medication, but honestly, I blame the doctor. If a doctor tells me what to do and I oppose and that doctor still gives me the prescriptions to medication that could potentially kill me if I overdosed, in the hope that I’d come around, then that doctor is a moron and deserves to have his license taken away from him. And that’s just one of the problems I have with doctors. Another problem with doctors is how they diagnose patients. One doctor gives one diagnosis, that the patient is healthy, while another doctor gives another diagnosis, that the same patient is sick. Who is sick and who is healthy comes down to a point of view, which can have a severe impact on the patient’s life. Also, doctors often don’t have a clue as to how much trepidation they can create when they talk to a patient. A doctor tells a patient that they have to do such and such a thing, otherwise their heart will explode, giving the patient an anxiety attack, exploding their heart. Ironically, doctors and hospitals are usually the causes of their patient’s sickness, constituting to their ruin; but I guess, doctors and nurses have to earn a living somehow. By the way, my doctor didn’t tell me my heart would explode, but he might as well have.

Two weeks had passed since the incident and I got a knock on my door. I was passed out on the couch, but I wouldn’t have bothered to get the door even if I was awake. However, the knocks kept getting louder and the person’s persistence was annoying. I got up and answered the door to find an uptight woman, with a dire look on her face, hands on her hips, in formal clothing. She began to ask me where I had been and then, what I had been up to, relentlessly coming at me, interrogating me. I didn’t know what she was talking about, so after the first two questions I refused to answer her. She looked back at me, with hunched shoulders, astounded by my supposed ignorance and explained that she was my psychiatrist. The issue was that I never approached a psychiatrist or anyone for anything for that matter, leading me to believe that the doctor set up meetings with this woman behind my back. Not only did this make me uncomfortable, but I wasn’t exactly comfortable with her arrogant attitude, predominantly because her profession is about being sincere to people to help them to open up, which, clearly, she wasn’t doing. I told her that I didn’t believe her, slammed the door in her irritated face and locked the door behind me. She began to knock on my door again, as I walked to my bedroom to get as far away from the front door so I wouldn’t be deafened by the noise. She wouldn’t stop and in my vexation, I quietly shot up to in an attempt to escape the noise. But still, I could hear her.

Every afternoon at 6, for the following week, she would come by my apartment and knock on my door to get my attention. I couldn’t call the cops because the scenario didn’t skew in my favor: a psychiatrist repeatedly checking up on a drug-addicted patient out of concern; of course, the cops would take her side. It got to this terrible stage where I realized that the only way I was going to get rid of her was if I confronted her. On the tenth time of asking, I answered the door and told her to leave me alone. She simply joked that we were making progress and walked into my apartment, without warning. I had virtually no control over the situation.

She began to study my apartment, my stuff, to get a measure as to who I was. I told her that what she was doing was trespassing, just to see what kind of reaction I would get from her. But she wasn’t fazed and helped herself to some tea; she definitely wasn’t worried about breaking any rules. She restarted her inquiry, asking me questions about my family, friends, childhood, to get an understanding as to how I became the person that I was. But I didn’t tell her anything. That was the one area that I knew I had control over; she could ask me any question and I didn’t have to answer her. We found ourselves in a stalemate, which honestly, I didn’t mind; I wasn’t going anywhere. But she knew all of that and still persevered, telling me she’d pay for dinner if I came with her. I laughed and made a remark that we were going on a date. But she was wittier than I thought, commenting that gentlemen pay on dates. I guess, that was enough to get me to go along.

She took me to an empty pub and told me her name was Kat, short for Katarina. She even made a lame purring sound when she told me her nickname, which made me not-laugh even more. Again, she kept on asking me questions and still, I wouldn’t answer her. Eventually, when Kat ran out of questions to ask, I started to stare out the window to watch the people walking past in the street. Some were young, some middle aged, families, friends, couples, a variety of people; it made me feel uncomfortable. I asked Kat if we could not have dinner and for her to take me back to my apartment. But her eyes widened, as if she had found her treasure and asked what was bothering me. I guess, she interpreted my question as a sign for opening up, so I told her to leave it alone. But as Kat characteristically did, she persisted and said that I had to tell her what was worrying me otherwise she wouldn’t take me home. She must have been the worst psychiatrist ever, forcing a patient to suffer so she could do her job. So I lied to her, told her that I was feeling claustrophobic. She paused for a moment, thinking through my reason and asked if we should go somewhere else. That definitely wasn’t the answer I was looking for, she was the type of person that’d continue to find places to eat at, until I told her what she wanted to hear. I asked again if she could just take me home, to try to brush off the excuse that it was claustrophobia that was making me upset. But she started to run through a list of places nearby that weren’t cramped, to potentially go to, possibly knowing that she was getting under my skin. I stopped her, asking what she wanted from me, in order to cut to the chase and exterminate the pest. She took a deep breath and said that if I told her what was troubling me and why it was troubling me then she’d take me home right away. I quickly interrupted her, interjecting that she was the one that was troubling me because I didn’t invite her into my life. But she wouldn’t take that as an answer, knowing that I wasn’t being honest and asked if I could try again. I sighed, looked out the window for something to distract me and saw how I could explain my thoughts to her. I pointed at a couple nestled under a tree and asked Kat what she thought of them. She acknowledged how happy they were and started formulating a backstory: who they were, what they had done together, how long they’d been together, and so on. But I didn’t see that; I saw impermanence and meaninglessness. That couple might be together for the rest of their lives, being happy and unhappy, happy and unhappy, during the interim between birth and death. But in the end, they’re nothing but bones, decomposed meat or ash. As I told Kat all this, I saw a change in her eyes, as if I could actually see the thoughts that came to her. She asked me what else comes with death. I paused for a moment, caught off guard by her question and had to confess that I didn’t know. She told me to think about it, so I took my time, looking between her, the couple and the empty space where my food was supposed to be. But I still couldn’t figure it out. Life comes with death, I thought; that sounded meaningful enough to potentially be the right answer, so I went with that. She told me I was close to the answer that she was looking for and asked me what comes with life. I threw my hands up in the air, telling her that she had asked me more questions than the one question she was supposed to ask me. She justified her continuing scrutiny by informing me that I was deflecting to my comfort zone, which probably wasn’t the most rational reasoning, seeing as I could have discredited her accusation; though, if I did, she would have been right, so I didn’t. I tried to come up with her answer, looking back at the couple, pondering as to why they would be together, why go through the trouble of being in a relationship. I answered love, but I realized that this was wrong, because love would be a terrible thing to come with death. But what comes with life, love and death; it was hard to realize, I felt as if I had touched on all the elements in that paradigm. However, my own answers started to come to me, understanding that when we’re in our grave or in our urn, we are a part of other people’s lives, that we each have our influence on the people around us and there are individual stories behind every one of us, including the departed. I gave my answer to Kat, adding on that legacy is also important, but I overdid myself. She referred back to the couple, vindicating that we all create our history and what really matters is how other people make us feel. It felt as if multiple light bulbs went off at once. I began to realize that Kat had figured me out from the beginning, from when she first knocked on my front door; she understood who I was and why I was who I was. It was frightening to know that she could pick me apart from a glance. Another light bulb was that I found it difficult to interact with others, neglecting all relationships and justifying my solitude by convincing myself that human interaction was meaningless. That was difficult to admit to myself, that I was the one causing my suffering, that it wasn’t that the world is a horrid place, where suffering has to come to all of us, but that I was inflicting my own suffering because it was painful to change.

The next day, I decided to clean my apartment. It helped me to think about the conclusion I had come to the previous night, what Kat had made me realize, allowing me to distill this new understanding in my mind. Once I was done cleaning and ordering my apartment, I proceeded to clear out my drugs and medications. A part of me was telling myself that I couldn’t get rid of all of it because I’d have withdrawals, but another part of me was telling myself that I wouldn’t recover if I didn’t eliminate everything that was setting me back. I wasn’t sure what to do and so, in a rush, I took all my drugs and medications to the bathroom and flushed everything down the toilet, without even thinking of the consequences. It was such a rash move that immediately after I did it I started to panic. I ran out of my apartment, was hit by the beaming sunlight, pulled myself towards my tenant’s apartment and repetitiously banged on the door. Finally, my tenant, Jeff, answered, complaining about the racket. I told him in a frenzy that I needed him to look after me, that I’d die if he didn’t. He laughed at me, told me that I deserved to die, pushed me away and shut the door behind him. I pleaded for him, begging for help, but he wouldn’t. There was no other option, I had to call Kat, so I did.

Kat cancelled the rest of her appointments for the day and rushed over to my apartment. She saw the changes I made and committed to looking after me, as I started to sweat; the repercussions were coming, like a hurricane swelling from a single cloud. The pain was unbearable. I could feel my insides turning, my body temperature rising, my muscles constricting, reacting to being in the natural state; I just hadn’t been used to being sober for such a long period of time. Kat insisted that she take me to a hospital, but I refused, stubbornly persevering to fight through the pain; I had to take what I deserved. But eventually, I passed out and Kat had to take me to the hospital.

Twice in one month, wasn’t a good score, though, it probably wasn’t good either to turn my visits to the hospital into a game. The doctors and nurses were quick to act, clearly seeing the signs of withdrawal and treating my symptoms. They had finally deduced that I was taking drugs and became disappointed that they didn’t see the signs earlier. I still blame them, but I felt more forgiving this time around.

After being treated, I woke up in a hospital bed, with Kat asleep in the chair next to me. I didn’t wake her and get frustrated with her for taking me to the hospital; I believed she would have had no other choice. I simply sat up in bed, feeling my own presence. For the first time in a while, I kind of felt together; it was just a feeling, but a contented feeling. About 40 minutes later, the doctor walked in and Kat woke up to see me awake. She said hello and listened in on the doctor, as he shared his diagnosis. The doctor told us what we already knew and recommended that I go to a camp to medicate my condition. I didn’t object this time around, taking in his advice, but didn’t necessarily feel as if I had to do anything with the advice I was given. The doctor left and Kat told me her thoughts, suggesting that I go to this camp, since she couldn’t look after me every day, as she had to live her life. I didn’t have a choice.

The first day I got to the camp, there was an introductory show. The volunteers were extremely high-spirited, sharing their objectives and how our lives were going to change through song and dance; but they felt so fake. I didn’t make any comments though. I wanted to change.

Our first group circle was very insightful. Each of us told our story, except for a few, who were ordered by the courts to go to the camp. I managed to tell a part of my story, but I didn’t share everything, leaving out most of the details. I felt comfortable speaking up, but I still didn’t know any of the people in the group and wasn’t comfortable sharing how my story made me feel or how I reacted to the situations I went through; I doubt if I would ever get to that stage with anyone. But as we were going around the circle, one of the stories by one of the other members got to me. He shared how he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was recommended to take medication and how he was convinced that he didn’t have schizophrenia, but the doctors kept telling him that he had schizophrenia, to the point where he lashed out and was forced away from his family and brought to this camp. His story reminded me of the time I went to hospital, the time when the creepy old man was staring back at me and I was thinking about how a doctor’s diagnosis simply comes down to interpretation, what they think they see and how their diagnosis can cause symptoms in the patient, how the patient can begin to recognize symptoms that weren’t even there, but are now there because the patient is looking for those symptoms, believing that they are sick; how doctors, nurses and hospitals can induce patients’ sickness. What made the memory worse was how I could see the same trends in the patients at the camp, that they were feeling as if they were sick because the camp made them believe that they were sick. And of course they’d feel that way, when you take anyone away and place them in a negative environment, they’re going to feel miserable; it’s common sense. When the session was over, I was convinced that I needed to split.

A few early mornings later, I packed my bag and quietly left my cabin. The issue wasn’t leaving the premises, but was hitching a ride into town and figuring out how to earn some money. Of course, if I was missing, the volunteers would come looking for me, but I wasn’t concerned about being found; they weren’t going to punish me for running away. I figured that if I got to town and asked around for a job, there’d have to be at least one place that would be hiring and I could earn my way from there. I knew that I didn’t have a sound plan, but I was determined, even to the point where if I couldn’t hitch a ride, I was willing to walk to town, despite the long journey.

After a few hours of walking down the highway, I was beginning to regret my decision to walk to town. My legs were beginning to feel heavy and I stupidly finished the bottle of water that I had, underestimating the time it’d take to get to town. But I marched on, disregarding the vacillation getting louder and stronger in my mind.

It was almost the middle of the afternoon when I reached town. Sore, exhausted and dehydrated, I walked to the closest café I could find, asked for water, begged for food and virtually collapsed on the table in front of me. When the waiter came with my water, I drank the glass in one gulp and asked for a refill; it didn’t seem polite, but I was dying. Soon after, my food arrived and I ate my meal so fast, that light couldn’t catch me. Once I was done, I sat back, digesting my meal and waited for the waiter to walk past. The waiter quickly came by and asked if there was anything else, with this condescending tone, probably believing that I could have eaten everything in the café if I wanted to. But I didn’t want to eat any more; I didn’t want to embarrass myself and asked if there were any places in town that he knew were hiring. He didn’t know, but I believe my presence had something to do with his not knowing. I asked if he could check if the café would be willing to hire me, but he simply told me that they weren’t interested, so I got up and walked towards the entrance. The waiter said to me that I had to pay and I said to the waiter that I needed to get the money first, as I left the café.

I went around every store in the town, hoping to find a quick hour or two of work before sundown, but no one was hiring, especially on such quick notice. There were a few stores that looked like promising prospects, but couldn’t hire me right at that moment. However, as I was bouncing between stores, I got to wave and smile at the people, sometimes sharing a nice complement or two and feeling at home with the town. I imagined that once I was able to pay my debt to the waiter back at the café, then I could live in the town, with the people; it was the vibe, the feeling I got being around people that weren’t that bad. And slowly, as I continued to interact with the people, I began to realize that what was going to help me was not being at some recovery camp, but belonging to a community that brought out the best in me, so that I could bring out the best in them. It had nothing to do with being cured, as if I was a virus; it was about feeling good in a positive environment, with people that I care about and that care about me. It was so clear.

As the sun came down and the stores started to close, suddenly, some of the volunteers found me and asked that I come back to the camp with them, without causing a scene. I didn’t want to go back, but I understood that I would have felt worse if I scared the few people watching. So I complied. However, it was of no matter. I knew what I wanted. And because I knew what I wanted, I had a desire to focus on, allowing my mind to be clear and for everything else to make sense.

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And finally, thank you so much for taking the time to read my short story. I feel so grateful to get to do what I do and it’s thanks to you for taking an interest in the content I create. So again, thank you.

Keep growing.

Keep creating.

Ewen