– Path of Cheth. The Bearer of the Sangraal. The Black Brothers.1 –
“If all I hear is silence … if all I see is darkness ... if all I feel is emptiness ... How can I be sure I still exist?
Just because something in my chest keeps beating and my tired mind is still able to think?
What life is this that inhabits me, leaving me lost and unfeeling,
leading me towards inexistent worlds as I desperately try to escape reality?
In truth, if I feel nothing, and nothing fulfills me, then I can only be dead, dreaming about life, in this eternal sleep."
Just as planned Rachel ended up returning to Paris at the end of the week. She wasn’t pleased with the idea of leaving me alone and I had to make use of every possible argument to reassure her, trying my best to convince her that Gabriel would probably arrive the next day. I didn’t tell her that, in fact, he was never coming back. That would only make her worry. With or without him, she had work to do that required her presence and no way to just stay in London without making previous arrangements.
After making me promise I’d call her as soon as he got home, she gave me a long kiss and an even tighter hug, and left to catch her cab. I managed to keep my most convincing smile in place until the cab disappeared down the road, but it quickly withered away the moment I closed the door.
Her departure had the same effect on me as the drop of a first domino in one of those intricate patterns designed to sequentially fall apart. And, without knowing how to avoid it, I found myself dragged towards a descending spiral that inevitably ended in darkness. Nevertheless the time around me kept moving forward and Monday arrived as it was supposed to.
I awoke after another poorly slept night, constantly interrupted by nightmares I could never seem to remember, and stood up, feeling as if I’d just left part of me lying there under the quilt.
The silence that accompanied me at breakfast made me take even less time to eat, and I left the house stepping into a cold but sunny morning. I walked to school, feeling half asleep, and when I finally reached my goal I could hardly recall how I’d gotten there.
As usual, Michael was waiting for me and his smile brought my dormant body back to life.
I didn’t tell him about Steph’s unexpected visit. I tried as hard as I could to put all that out of my mind. I walked draped in his usual warmth almost up to my classroom and, as I saw him walk away, it seemed like he took what little bit of energy I had with him.
It was Joanne who brought me back to reality. I felt glad that she seemed to be talking to me again, greeting me as always and asking me about my holidays. We walked together to our seats and her description of how wonderful her vacations had been was only interrupted by Stephanie’s arrival.
Contrary to Joanne, Steph didn’t even look my way, nor Joanne’s for that matter. She just sat silently, her back very straight, completely ignoring our presence. Joanne frowned, clearly displeased with her attitude. I was sure she had decided that, once we were all back to school, she’d forgive us and things would be back to the way they used to. But Steph didn’t want to go back, she never would. Unlike me, always trying to hold on to the old me, she would accept all that had happened and embrace her changed self. I was envious of her strength, even if that meant we would never be friends again.
Without Joanne’s chatter to keep me focused on one point I was lost among the unintelligible sounds that surrounded me. There were laughter, awes and chairs dragging over the floor, but the world that surrounded seemed unreal and distant.
Professor Frederich came in not long after, silence following him before he announced he had something to tell us.
My heart jumped at his words, knowing instinctively what would come next. Still I almost bit my tongue when he announced in a nonchalant tone that, due to family problems, Gabriel Lawless had been transferred to another school.
From the corner of my eye I saw Steph clench her fists, although she kept sitting very straight, apparently indifferent.
The murmur that filled the air had our teacher demanding silence in an angry voice, and I could immediately foresee what my following school days would be like. All that was needed was for the bell to ring.
I felt dizzy looking up at all the faces that surrounded my desk even before the bell had stopped ringing, their words lost to me the moment they were uttered. I knew they were asking me about Gabriel, about the true reasons behind his sudden disappearance, and so I just picked up what the teacher had said, that it had been a family urgency. I wasn’t sure if that would be enough, but their sorrowful expressions and wishes that everything would be fine soon told me it was.
The rest of the morning went by me as if I lived in a misty world. At lunchtime I joined my friends in the cafeteria. Their relief when they saw me left me puzzled, until I understood they’d thought I’d also changed schools. After all, Gabriel’s family was my family as well.
They’d already heard the news, but I had to repeat the story about a family tragedy that demanded Gabriel’s presence. Once more everyone empathized with my family’s problems, sending their best to Gabriel the next time I spoke with him. To my relief, the theme of the conversation quickly changed, going back to what everyone had done during the holidays.
I sat there, listening to what they said and forgetting all about it just seconds later. I laughed when everyone laughed and tried to look surprised when the others did, pretending to follow their conversation.
It was Joe who reminded me of the time, probably thinking that I’d been so engrossed in our talk that I’d completely forgotten about it. He was right about the last part, anyway.
I made myself smile, not knowing what to say when everyone looked at me with amused expressions, and ended up mumbling something that sounded like a ‘see you later’ before I left.
Michael was waiting for me by the glass door and, as usual, I almost ran to meet him. I took a deep breath as I stepped outside and it felt like the last time I’d breathed was when he’d left me near my classroom.
We walked together and Michael told me the news, like the championship Steven had won during the holidays, and the fact that Meggie seemed to have finally settled down with just one boyfriend. Inevitably, Gabriel’s sudden departure became part of our talk and I told him about my family’s problem that at this point had become less ambiguous. By then my aunt, Gabriel’s mother, had fallen sick and that’s why he had to leave. Michael sounded worried, even sorry for Gabriel whom, during our holiday dates, he’d come to really dislike.
As it had become his habit, Michael took me home, and I tried to keep my brightest smile in place, at least until the door was closed. Once alone I could finally take a deep breath and stop pretending. I felt so tired from my long day that all I wanted was to drop dead on my bed and fall asleep, and yet, sleeping always meant dreaming, and dreaming always meant nightmares, terrible nightmares that I never seemed to remember.
The silence around me left me deaf, almost as if I’d just entered a huge bubble of nothingness. Even my steps, as I climbed up the stairs, seemed soundless. I put my books down, next to the letters that I hadn’t had the courage to touch again, and sat down on my bed.
Closing my eyes I finally freely accepted the darkness that had been watching me all day long. I was too tired, too tired to run, or fight, or scream in despair, and the numbness that had taken over me didn’t allow me to even be frightened or care. At least, suspended in that state between awareness and sleep, I could easily erase the world around me. Immersed in that darkness, I didn’t have to avoid my own feelings that, just like a heavy spear thrown into the sea, kept sinking inside me as time went by. I also didn’t have to pretend, or try too hard to please those around me. There were no voices, no images, no time.
If before I hadn’t quite understood what Alexander had meant about my inability to feel like everyone else, now it was painfully clear. In the end, my wish had been granted and my life had gone back to what it used to be. And so I should be happy, I thought, ecstatic even. Gabriel had disappeared. Steph was back with Mark. Michael was always by my side. Even Joanne had gone back to talking to me. And yet, I felt nothing.
Then maybe I should be unhappy, frustrated, disappointed. After all, I had all I’d wished for and it still wasn’t enough. But not even unhappiness I was able to feel. After all I’d done, after fighting so hard, what I’d gained in return couldn’t fulfill me.
Had I always been like this before my life had been overtaken by demons? I didn’t recall feeling this empty. Dull, yes, as if all my feelings weren’t true feelings but mere shadows. But like this? Or maybe I had been exactly like this, maybe this was my true self. The difference being that now I’d tasted what was like to really live in the world, to have real emotions filling my chest, burning in my blood. And so the empty me felt even emptier, now that all that was gone.
The sound of a small bell startled me, leaving me eyes wide open, as I strained my hearing in the hope I would hear even farther. The false and apparent peace I’d managed to achieve shattered as my heart jumped beating too fast and, for a moment, I could feel again. I jumped to my feet and ran out the door, and down the stairs, trying to hold on with all my strength to the warmth circling in my veins, to the anxiety knotting my throat, to my wish that I’d see him soon. I ran to the living room, my labored breath filling the air around me, and looked ... and looked ... and looked again, my eyes flying over the same places more than once. Empty. As soon as the word popped in my mind, I ran to the kitchen, again desperately searching, over and over again, afraid of looking but not being able to see. Until everything inside me began to slow down again, my emotions once more sinking into darkness.
The sound of my own laughter startled me and I crouched, taking a deep breath.
So, this was what I’d become.
I embraced my knees and hid my face between my arms.
According to Alexander I could only really feel through my Soul, and my Soul had silenced herself the moment he’d stepped out of my life. It was almost as if he’d taken my true essence with him, although it hadn’t belonged to me to begin with, and I had been left behind, empty. And there I was again, standing at the edge of that dark precipice that had considerably grown over the last few days, taking over most of my chest. But now ... now I no longer had any reasons to run from it, and I felt too tired to even consider such a laborious solution. And, as I allowed myself to feel the pain echoing through my whole body, burning me like acid, I screamed in silence and in despair, my nails digging into the skin of my arms. Images filled my mind, looks, words, expressions that only made the acid already corroding my insides become even stronger. All I could hear, see or feel was or came from him, as if his presence had remained imprinted in fire inside me, taking over of my entire being, driving me to the brink of insanity.
I ran in despair, fearing I had plunged too deep into the darkness to be able to go back and, when I managed to breathe again, I felt my cheeks wet from tears I didn’t remember crying. Still afraid of being dragged back into that darkness, I filled my mind with thoughts of Michael, my bright and warm personal sun. Michael’s voice, Michael’s smile, Michael’s scent. He’d become my only and frail light, the only flame able to reignite the shadow of a life that was left inside of me.
And, as I went back into my room, I couldn’t help wondering. If I’d just gone back to being what I’d always been, had Michael’s presence, which I recalled thinking of as bright and intense as the midday sun, always been so faint? Or had my ability to see him also been dragged to the bottom of that abyss with the rest of my being?