First three lines of an (unpublished) short story. And a slight crackup.

25 Oct

At 25, I hit a patch of existential black ice. My quarter life crisis.

My problems began when I left Montgomery. I had lived there for some time, and although I wanted to move to a bigger city, I had friends, I had a job, I knew the backroads, I was ensconced.

I moved to Atlanta to live as a writer. The move shook me up. The rent was too expensive, so each month I had to scramble for freelance work. I wasn’t aggressive and I didn’t shake enough hands, so I was always a little behind. I did some editing, some ghost-writing, and I started reviewing films for a second paper. This was a big step up; they had publications all across the south. The paper began to send me on movie premieres and junkets. I met celebrities. I stayed in four-star hotels. I flew to New York and Los Angeles. I met a number of disagreeable movie writers. On the whole they were a pampered, spoiled, and silly group; half of them didn’t seem to even like movies anymore. (More on these experiences in another entry.)

In some sense these were halcyon days. I had time to write, read, think and watch movies. I was living with my best friend and cousin. I was meeting new people. I was beginning a new life.


I had no health insurance. I broke my foot. It turned purple and swelled to twice the size. A long term relationship ended. I had no money and little purpose. I was in free fall. Anxiety and depression and immense darkness. I didn’t write much, at a time when I had almost endless free time. I lost weight. I drank too much. I had fits of undirected anger. I had trouble focusing. I didn’t sleep well.

I became convinced that strangers were going to attack me. Riding in an elevator with another person was pure terror. I tensed up, projected danger, menace. I peered through other people’s clothing, saw knives and hacksaws and axes and bludgeons and garrotes. (Strangely, no guns.) I imagined gangs of ruffians lying in wait for me in alleys, behind dumpsters. I felt like I was being followed. I was convinced my emails were being monitored. I was certain that I was being watched.

I was disturbed and getting worse. I saw a deep black sludgy ooze behind ordinary objects, like walls, floors, books and furniture. This ooze was the world. The veneer of benign things was a lie. Existence was composed of this malignant tar. Everything else was window dressing. There was no afterlife, no decency, no heroism, nothing but the viscous, vile sludge. My hands felt sticky with it.

There was always something wrong with the sky. Where others saw vermillion sunsets, I saw petrochemicals refracting the dying sun’s last rays. The cobalt sky of daylight, I learned, isn’t blue at all, but black. It’s an optical illusion.

I saw myself differently, too. Beneath the skin there was a smaller, harder man. I appeared friendly but I harbored vicious thoughts. I daydreamed about delivering eulogies to my loved ones’ funerals. I imagined car wrecks, natural disasters, entropy at work in the cosmos. I moved through the same thought patterns over and over, like a maze with no exit.

My cousin was in a similar situation. He responded to my sadness, and I responded to his. Our third roommate, Jonathan, lost his job soon, too, and began working at a restaurant as a waiter. To combat the blues, we formed the 941 Arts Consortium, and began performing plays in our house[1]. We all acted in them. We rotated the directing chores. We shared the writing, although I did most of the writing chores. And we served a themed meal beforehand. We were so into this we installed curtains inside our house, to delineate the stage.

941 Arts offered distraction, but little else.

I was at the end of my tether. I knew I needed help, but I had no money for therapy. And then I heard an advertisement on the radio. I called the number. I set up an appointment. And just like that, I enrolled in a drug study. I became a human lab rat.[2]

I drove to an office park outside the city. I parked, entered a strange office. Two beefy dudes in business attire asked me questions. I answered. They said I had generalized anxiety disorder. They said I was depressed. I said I know. They said I could be a candidate in their study. I said fine. They offered me two months of free therapy once the study was over. I said that I would do it, but that none of it would work.

I underwent a battery of tests. An electrocardiogram. They drew blood. I exited the office feeling worse than I had in my entire life. Ruined. Marred. Soul sickness eroding me from within.

I got onto the elevator and hit the button for the first floor. As I descended, I noticed that the walls were padded. Like in an asylum.

I felt a shudder through my body. I’ve trapped myself, I thought, in some silly story.

I decided to turn my fear into fiction. I wrote a science fiction short story on the experience. I called it “The Sound of Breaking Waves.” It’s about a depressed dude who enters a drug study only to see the nurse inject something into his arm when she’s supposed to be taking blood out. He investigates, while grappling with depression, various issues with his family and life. It’s a good story, it has some vibrant core. As he starts to feel better, he grows more and more suspicious of his new life. I’m proud of it, even though I would write it differently if I started over from scratch now.

Here’s the first three lines:

“Jonathan looked out the window and saw shadows forming grotesque angles under the old sun. Spots on the glass speckled the sky. The dots and smudges looked a little like satellites. He turned back toward the doctor.”

[1] I will return to this in another post.

[2] I’m working on a longer essay about this tentatively titled, “My Life in Six Nervous Breakdowns.” I plan to send it out, but if it’s rejected, or if I lose interest, you’ll see bits of it here.


One Response to “First three lines of an (unpublished) short story. And a slight crackup.”


  1. Interlude 2: A found fragment. | simoneandthesilversurfer - August 30, 2014

    […] part 4: short story and a crackup […]

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