Sanity by Osmosis
“Get down!” he screamed, shoving me to my knees. I clapped my hands over my ears to quiet the spitting gunfire above me.
Slowly, I raised my head and looked for the bodies behind me.
“That was a close one,” he said as I scanned the horizon. “Let’s move.”
The scene in front of me was dizzying: there were no bodies, just grass, a flower bed, and a low stone wall the marked the point where his parents’ property separated from mine.
“Let’s move,” he iterated, but my jaw was slung low in shock. “Are you coming? The princess needs us.” The words barely registered.
It was the first time my imagination had failed me. Gone were the visions of romanticized mayhem and honorable battle, replaced with a little sliver of reality, my ten-year-old brain clearly functioning differently than it had only days before. My neighbor, a few years my junior, didn’t suffer from any such lapses that I could tell. I kept this secret to myself, trying ever so painfully to throw myself into the midst of the battle, but it wasn’t quite the same.
The demarcation between fantasy and reality became ever more stark and defined. I could still close my eyes and envision stunning realms of wonder, but upon opening them again, the visions were instantly ethereal and quickly vanished.
I didn’t place much stock into the loss of imagination at the time. I threw myself into my hobbies: sports, books, film, games and music. I grabbed tightly to friendships and allowed my creativity to find new outlets, sating my desire for the worlds of escapists and dreamers though writing and reading. I was growing up, and that was fine.
“Do it,” the voice said, “it’ll be funny.” It was a voice I recognized as my own in a way, not quite me, and yet…
I only had a moment to act, the pencil in my hand sliding onto the seat next to me, awaiting the soft cheeks of my neighbors rump point first. This is a bad idea, my conscience moaned unconvincingly, but the damage had already been done.
I don’t remember his scream, or the chaos that ensued. I do remember apologizing, over and over, to the principle, to the boy, to his parents, to my parents, a well of self-loathing pouring over me.
No one made you do it, they would tell me. Why, they asked. I had no answers–not satisfying ones at least. “I thought it would be like a tack on the chair on TV,” I said, the logic so clearly flawed even to myself. How could I explain surgery, stitches, embarrassment with logic and reason?
He transferred to another school to avoid the shame and embarrassment of having two inches of graphite embedded in his ass. Silently, I felt grateful, as it spared me the shame and embarrassment of having to apologize for remainder of our tenure together; of having to face my unexplainable actions. For years, I quietly thanked him, my guilt the last remnant of that insidious decision.
Some people describe their internal dialogue as the classic angel and devil on the shoulder, but it’s the same voice for the sane. The content is what differentiates monologue from dialogue. As a child, I couldn’t see the similarities, often finding myself doing stupid things and not being able to explain why; the lurch of inspiration lacking for logic and overrun by passion and excitement.
By the end of high school, this divide in self was gone. The little voice urging me to commit to the racier choice had either been suppressed or absorbed and my internal dialogue had dissipated into an internal monologue. In the long run, it meant I was more responsible, both in how I acted and for my questionable actions. But what I gained from this merger left me wondering what I had lost.
“You can do it,” the voice told me. It was a voice I recognized as my own in a way, not quite me, and yet…
I leaned over the precipice, the sky looming above me as I began to slowly and awkwardly repel down the face of the rock. I felt elation and pride as I touched down.
“I did it!” I cried.
“You sure did,” my science teacher replied with a smile. “Unlatch from the rope. Who’s next?”
I basked in the moment, taking full credit for my risky success, adrenaline fueling my excitement. The voice that spurred me to take the plunge was forgotten in the joy, thunderous high fives silencing any thought that I might not be alone in my actions.
I had done it. Me. Not us. Not we. Not him or her. Not the voice. I.
“Where did you go?” I asked, the words floating up from my placid bed into the space above.
I wanted to hear the voice, to get an answer. “I’m you,” I wanted it to tell me. “I always was, just more so now than then.” But it didn’t answer me.
I haven’t heard from the voice in years, my life and my adventures solely mine. Hardly were they exceptional or admirable, but neither were they despicable. I find myself wondering what that voice could have brought me had it remained an impassioned plea for spontaneity and whim. Certainly, I might have caused injury or harm to others, emotionally or physically, but I might also have been inspired to do great things.
It’s been claimed that all genius is madness.
Would I be better off if my madness were still here?