Chapter 1 - Self
Two layovers and seven hours in the air he finds himself sitting at the table. The view of the conference room felt like he was sitting on a theater balcony. Before his eyes, a play of human interaction was laying itself out. So many people, all of which came together to make a sea of plays. A mass, seemingly fused as one, but at the same time all separate. It was an ocean that was as chaotic as it was ordered. Countless conversations filled the air with words and heat. Alone he sits, trying to be in another world, away from the mass. His disinterest in them was his vehicle that swept his mind away from it all. Here was a man that has been on autopilot for years. Every day just going through the motions. During this time I operated in a cold and calculating way. Existence was just surviving, but he was lacking in outward emotion and empathy to his fellow man; who to him was more of a bother than anything else. Detachment from the world is the point of it all, unfortunately, the desire to detach didn’t pay the bills so he was left having to contend with instances of human interaction. Hate didn’t motivate his disinterest, it was their offenses. Their noise, heat, and stink invade all of his senses, all offending him by their very being. A towering wall of flesh encompasses the entire room. It wasn’t like he saw them as individuals. They were a wall of mixed flesh, a stitched-together construct of sorts. Each person is an addition to this horror show, he is surrounded on all sides by a sea of drama. So many voices, all of which combined turn into a buzzing hum. Words seem to just blend in, it becomes difficult to make each out. His palm props up his chin as he scans each side of the room. It’s an uncomfortable warmth here, even with the A/C unit running at full blast. It felt like he was under a heating lamp. The room is at least fifty people above capacity. This added to the crowded nature of the place. With each breath taken, their stink of musk and perfume only intensified. So powerful that he can feel the vein on the top of the head pump with his heartbeats. Small beads of sweat are sprinkled on his forehead. Though the room’s temperature was above comfortable levels, it had nothing to do with his perspiration, just the humans in one sitting. All of them surrounding him. It’s like drowning in an invisible sea of bodies, no sense isn’t violated in this room just so full of people.
Mental fatigue was hitting hard as his mind began fading so he fell back onto the chair, allowing his body to press into the back of his seat of cheap stiff plastic. The evening is quite early, the sun couldn’t have traveled below the horizon too long again. He knows that time slows down at these events; experience taught him that. People watching wasn’t enough to keep his attention this evening. Even though the room was filled to the brim with shows and displays by these people, it did very little to entertain him this night. The traveling was the blame for his state. All the flying had taken its toll. Mid-air naps did little to energize the body, so he sits here tired. Thinking in his mind how this evening felt like a waking nightmare that has no escape. All the while, the actors are playing out their pieces at least. Looking closer at each person he examines their faces. Smiles bring forth lies through teeth. As all of this goes on his eyelids feel heavy and numb, which makes him struggle to keep them open. People watching is discontinued as the struggle to keep his head propped up by his hands becomes obvious when he always slips his head down. For only a split second does he think of that, the room and its occupants keep his attention.
In a lightning bolt of realization, he is reminded of how it pained his body to be in a packed room. This is an old battle, every year he has fought. The entire week was so dreadfully slow, and always with more people than is necessary. For a few days, he struggles to keep himself from drowning in the corporate waters. But he makes due. Coming back down to Earth, breathing crosses his mind. The air gets harder to inhale while the pace of his heart increases. The taxation his body experiences manifests in physical ways; sweat continues to form and his chest feels light. His anxiety climbs up with no intention of stopping. It was all harder than normal. This particular night feels a bit harder than in the past years. Slowly, through controlled breathing, he starts to float back down to the chair. Now that he has returned, mentally, to the room, Adam does what he normally does in this situation. Looking around again to scan the room viewing people in their natural habitat. As the edges slowly melt his mind becomes filled with fog, a means of self-defense as its shielding itself from the realization he’d at some point will have to have some basic level of human interaction. The displeasure of even a moment of face to face communication is enough to bring his brain onboard with the idea of being clouded. That very thought of speaking by itself sparks rebellion within his body. Nerves send signals of discomfort and numbness that makes it way down his legs. Lines on his face only grow deeper as time goes on. The conference room is full of dozens of men, women, and the collective fiction he thinks to himself. No matter which division they hail from or, what part of the world they all act the same. Cloned office behavior just repeats itself in dozens of conversations going on, all of which continue to play out as he falls to the low hum.
The hum for Adam is visualized as a mist that slowly rises from the ground. Empowered by their words he could slowly see it get thicker. It moves up and creates a cloud of air above him. The strain continues to play with his mind as the words leaving the mouths of their hosts envelopes the entire room. Hearing them all speak at once was almost information overload, but he kept this cool. Each work exiting next to him was carried by the order of the owner’s mouth; at times the lack of hygiene was clearer than the subject of the conversations. Tales of excess and conquests swirled around them all, none of which bring any ease tonight. This whole scene reminds him of a portrait he saw while in college. A depiction of a grotesque Roman dinner. Created by a close friend, it was created during their art appreciation class to act as a metaphor for the dance people participate in during social events to one-up each other. As he remembered, it was a scene of people eating, vomiting, and being merry while also indulging in the pleasures of the flesh. In doing so he could almost see the intent in the eyes of each person painted in the piece. It was a remarkable piece that almost bled into the scene in front of him. A painting that not five minutes ago he’d not remembered in years. But now, he can remember it as if he was looking at it at that very moment. The fine detail of each line, color, and facial expression all scream to him. Screaming into his mind’s eye to join them in their display. Returning to the room he watches his colleagues again. They are people who beat their chests with words and deeds each trying to validate themselves to the other. As the evening rolls along. The room becomes full of contests of validation. It felt like each person’s attempt at besting another was not told through physical prowess but through the use of their positions that year. Completed projects and new acquisitions before their currency in their exchange of vanity.
He knew better. From his position in data, he was able to read each project, person, and grasp a fair understanding of how the project made its way to completion. Their words spun a different version of reality then what was centered in truth. This didn’t bother him to an extent, though the large gathering only made it more annoying to have to listen to. They saw themselves as these larger than life beings, staking their claims in the frontiers of corporate American. In reality, their lives lacked the substance that would give them any sort of true meaning. Outside of the office, they were people no one would spend a moment thinking about. And Adam knew that they knew this fact. He figured it was the reason behind their attempts at self-validation. They needed importance and meaning to their existence. They’d be the perfect candidates to become REALTORS later in life once their pitiful careers ran their course. He pitied them for that because he knew the truth. That was something you simply had to let go of, life doesn’t give you any of that. Returning from his people-watching, Adam found himself again aware of his situation. Sitting at the table it felt akin to a prison cell. Adam saw himself as an unwilling prisoner of this spectacle, he was seated at the table at the far right end of the room. From there his line of sight is treated to a movie theater screening of everyone’s business. The seat was of his choice of course, but he was drawn to force himself to watch their interactions. With the fog in his mind growing thicker he could almost see what he always thought that they really were. In a blink, his vision becomes obscure but clearer. As if the color from the world had disappeared he saw what his truth wanted him to see. They are all walking shadows or voids. No real detail, just things that look like what people are shaped like. Like shadow people from the old stories, his grandmother would tell him. Creatures of no shape, on reason or meaning. An almost perfect representation of what he saw in front of him. Tonight seemed to be a night of old memories coming back to remind him of knowledge he’d forgotten.
It all came crashing down at once. The anxiety returned with him and Adam felt the weight of the crushing boulder on his chest as the words all began to merge together. Losing meaning his sweat began to pour out of it as his body jumped with energy; as if lightning was bouncing inside of him attempting to escape. Screaming internally, Adam knew he had to leave temporarily. His eyes only took a split second to find an exit. So he excused himself from the table to walk to the restroom. Making his way through the ocean of people, he navigates in a way that minimizes human contact. Sliding, turning, and excusing a hovering hand to part a path through the throngs of them. Each smell of cologne and perfume bombarded his nose. It seemed worth at that moment to have just peed himself at the table rather than get this close to any of them. The air is still stained and heavy with the evening’s events. A small break is all he needed. His lungs began to burn as they felt as if he’d inhaled smoke from a campfire. After reaching the perimeter of the room, he finally is free and outside the room. Entering the adjacent hall he calms his steps and walks with less haste. The bathroom was only a few yards to his left and Adam makes his way at a power walker’s pace. His racing heart began to slow back down, the blood in his veins finally slowing down through their passing. Slowly his body began to calm itself as each step away from the room brought his mind more ease.
Approaching the end of the hall he exits the lingering pieces of madness that were hanging in the air, leaving behind the people to their own devices. Adam slows his pace further, now taking his time before he makes his final approach to the restroom. What is but a few yards is stretched out into a long walk. The stress and pulling in his chest signaled to him that it was time for some air. Entering the bathroom it was thankfully empty of people. He turns into the toilet stall and just sits for a while. Not using it for any other purposes but as a chair, a cool breeze of relief comes over him. This one spot gives him refuge from tonight’s conference opener. The crowds of people by themselves were a horror, that didn’t include all of their details and behavior which just made the entire evening almost unbearable. Regretfully, his hideaway would not last long as people began to enter the restroom to use it. Adam knew that his short respite was over, and it was time to make his way back to his table, his place needed to be man, and though he didn’t want to be a part of it, something in him wanted Adam to feel the discomfort of the room. Returning much quicker than he left Adam takes his seat with his co-workers. Throughout the evening barely five words left his mouth to them, they were in their own world also. So he found himself back to the theater, the show was still going on.
From his makeshift pew, he was on the outside looking in. Again in full view of the human corporate spectacle. Seated, it was becoming painfully clear of the toll of that day’s air travel. How it had worn on him enough that he was pouring energy to keep himself awake. Sitting at the toilet only reminded his body how tired from travel he really was. Now it was catching up with him faster than he could fight back against it. If he weren’t careful it would be easy to fall asleep at this dinner. The noise is pretty loud, that wasn’t the issue of course. Instead of helping him stay away the hum created almost seemed to want to lull him asleep. It was also that the words were all melting together, making no sense. The words easily become lost and just continue to hum away. Hum, that was trying to guide his eyes shut. The air in the room became even heavier than when he left it. And continued so as the evening moved forward. The moistness of it all kept working against him to keep Adam warmer than he’d be conformable being. While each person laughs and speaks the only real noise they’ve created now is that of a low tone humming. Being here at times is overwhelming.
Engaging in an internal dialog he told himself you had to sustain yourself. That means having to work. So you deal with the unpleasantness of it all. Even Adam knows that you can’t live off of hope and fantasy, well in his case he thought, misery and self-loathing. Time continued pacing ahead, like someone pushing fast forward on an old VHS tape. Reusing his breathing technique, he tried to bring back a bit of calm into his vision. In doing so time rushed back to normal. Though in doing so it feels like his chest is being weighed down by some invisible object. The longer he’s there, the more taxing it becomes to breathe. Looking around he sees complimentary alcohol, in his most graceful motion of the evening he scoops up the bottle, pours the contents into a glass, and has a drink. Without ice, it went down into him like liquid fire. By the fourth gulp, it does the trick. Good old Kentucky bourbon has always been able to be there when he needed it. Now the room doesn’t bother him as much. The humming seems to be less offensive. The tone now doesn’t pierce his ears. The weight of the damp air lessens against his chest. Even the smell lost its edge. Sitting even further back into his seat Adam surrenders to the hum as he slowly closes his eyes. Each sip allows him to be free from being able to hear words clearly, only the buzzing of random people now remains. Each sip takes a little of the weight out of the air while he breathes. Freeing his chest from pushing the weight up. The object is less noticeable and the chest now feeling less compressed. The warmth of the bourbon feels good on the inside, a stark contrast to the unnatural warmth of the room.
This type of peace is a rare jewel to own now. No matter where he went, for so long there were people around the tether to the world that always kept him tied to the reality of the world. In an instant, he’d be pulled away from those short moments of peace. But here that link is severed, or so he thinks. Laying back and eyes closed images race through Adam’s mind. A park, home, and the beauty of the evening sky. His next level of defense has him traveling far off, away from it all. But it didn’t last long. Feeling like he’s been grabbed by the scruff, he’s rushed back into the hive of humans. Something isn’t right. An unknown fear is starting to climb the small of his back. It feels like a spider walking on his bare skin as it reaches his neck. Ignoring the stir he tries to settle down with another sip of bourbon. Adam attempts to sit back and return to his fantasy, but the hill is too steep to climb. He can no longer ignore that little guy. The spider now becomes something else, something with greater detail; and weight. It changed, a feeling of being watched now is creeping unto Adam. His brain now trying to signal his muscles to get up and look around. Stiffing up from his seat the feeling only becomes more intense as he puts the glass down. His eyes are still closed, but they begin to slowly open. The light burns a pair of eyes that have become lazy and rested. So he closes his eyes and attempts to forget that feeling. Reaching for his glass another, much larger, a gulp of bourbon fails to calm the critter down. Instead of a wave of calm, his stomach lit on fire as he rushed the drink faster than he should have. The spider was now on his ear, climbing from his neck it now wanted to force Adam’s hand. It was easy to ignore at the beginning.But now his walls are crumbling down. As the harassment continued it became harder to just dismiss away, finally he relents and opens his eyes. Secretly he wished to blink all of these people away. Now he starts to focus his vision, covering the view in front of his face.
Turning his head from the left to the right of the room he notices something in the right-hand side. It was against the corner of the wall, it wasn’t clear enough to make out. He looks closer at the large area for a moment, but it turns little out of the ordinary. Just bodies, noise, and damned smells. Same people, and the same faces crowding around each other. The only thing out of place was the unusual amount of people, a couple of dozens more are here than he originally thought, just so many. But other than that everything felt awfully too familiar which didn’t sit well with Adam. Being here every year wasn’t a comforting thought, never in his life would he believe that out of everything in his life, this gross conference would be a constant. With all that has happened the sad reality he thought to himself is how it’s has become is the only real constant thing he knew was going to happen every year. With that out of his head, Adam’s mind asks to surrender to the fog once again. About to abandon his brief investigation a strange feeling suddenly overwhelms him. Not a spider, but as if someone came from behind to put their arms around his chest; Adam opens his eyes. In a jolt, he looks back. Nothing but the crowd. But then a moment catches his attention. He saw something small and out of place caught his eyes. That stimulus shots to his brain which in turn jumpstarts his lethargic mind. He cannot make out what he sees at first, so he rubs his eyes in an attempt to clear his vision.
At second glance, he is able to make out what he sees slowly, it took a few seconds for the horror to reach him. Who it was, in fact, an impossibility. The uneasy feeling returned in full force as his vision allowed more and more detail to draw a photo into his mind. Seconds slowly peeled away and any doubt that had shielded Adam fell away. When he was able to make out what he was focusing on, his body froze. Adams’ brain completely shuts down as the sheer shock of what he sees unfolding. His face felt numb as the blood flow came to a screeching halt. The longer he stared at it the more true it became. Dark hair, hazel eyes, and standing at four feet. A daughter, what was once his, but now claimed by the permanent sleep. The one that has been lost in the arms of death has appeared. Of all places, and of all times, this unexplainable vision haunted him in such a way that for the first time in a long time fear made itself known to him. She’s just there on the other side of this filled conference room. A room that had now slowed down all around him as their eyes met and connected.
Seeing her brought back his last memory of her. She was filled with tubes, wires, and machines. Her both were broken beyond the ability of medical technology, but they tried. The medical staff fought a valiant fight against the ultimate fact, death. Sitting in the waiting room watching doctors and nurses rushing into where she was. Standing for hours waiting to hear any news, only to hear the only thing he didn’t want to hear. The efforts of the machines and men all played to his ears as if it were again happening. That entire day replayed over and over again each night he closed his eyes. Always trying to find another way to save her. A cruel joke his mind plays on him, not at all dissimilar to how Sisyphus would push the boulder up the hill only for it to fall back each time. Always a bit closer, but always so far away. That was his last memory of her. Seeing her left a shock that was so intense that he had to remember to breathe, if not he’d passed out. Her eyes were looking right into him. The saliva from his mouth dried and his lips quickly began to chap.
The hall was a crowded mess of human flesh, their profiles on his sight greatly reduced as they had all turned to formless shapes; his eyes never breaking contact with hers. His vision now is tunneling what was before him. Even light coming from beyond his view was being blocked out as he just watched her. He stared for a good long moment, in response she tilted her head to the left and smiled. As if trying to draw him out. Neither said a word. Unable to command his own body; his feet had taken root like a tree, trapped in that spot; she continued to look back at him. Eagerly trying to draw him to her. Now tilting her head to the right. The colors of her eyes gently shifted in intensity of their colors. The green in her eyes became as bright as a freshly polished jade stone. In no time he was being filled with bolts of lighting the muscles; both his face and chest begin to twitch. His breathing now going from one extreme to another coming from a slower pace to a rapid succession of contractions in the chest. The mind is racing even faster than Adam’s breathing while it’s being overwhelmed by his senses. He stares at her for what felt like an hour, the shock now has fully paralyzed every muscle in the body. Unable to move an inch he tries to think and make sense of what is occupying his sight. An invasion of how’s is going through his mind as he’s unable to explain what he is seeing. One question pops into existence and gets ahead of all of the others, why is this now happening? Is he insane? Now others join in as he asks why has his life become torture for all of these years. How could this dead person be in front of him, is she a ghost, or has he finally snapped? All those questions like voices trying to outshout the other. Yell over each other trying to call out to Adam. In the deepest recesses of his mind reason and logic are in a desperate retreat as the whys continue to pour out and gain ground. Adams’s mind continues to race and now his body begins to feel hot as if the senses are being overloaded both visually and emotionally. He cannot make out what’s going on. His breathing is now shallow while tears begin to form in his eyes. Years have passed since her death, so many years. So many days, so much that was lost. Seeing her forced Adam to confront what was just below the surface. How he lived his life, how he treated people how just existed. Mary.
The years past were full of countless nights that were spent drowning his sorrows in bottles of hard liquor and spirits. There was never enough alcohol to keep the demons at bay, the pain was always just below the surface scratching the back of his head. The missed dates from his attempts to rekindle an interest in romantic activity, and the forgotten holidays that resulted in an empty seat at his parent’s home. Though he was alive going five years since that day, the reality was he might as well have had died with her in that room. To everyone one else, it was just as if death had taken them both together. All his body was doing up to this point was maintaining the job it had been designed to do thanks to millions of years of programmed evolution. That is how he was able to continue functioning. Driving home from work, he would always catch the sunset most times of the year. And every day while the sun fell beyond the horizon, it felt like any hope he had would quickly follow it. Grabbing hold of himself he snaps himself back to reality. Again he looks right into her eyes, now they were different; big blue-tinted hazel eyes stared back. He thinks to himself how nothing had changed. She was even wearing the same outfit she wore before she passed. The same unicorn pink shirt, little teal shorts, and her pigtails just like he would do for her each morning. As she looks at her father she throws a smile his way, attempting to coax and encourage him to move towards her.
But Adam was bolted down to his seat; not a muscle moved while their eyes stayed joined, no words are exchanged, just stares. He noticed that he had forgotten that Amy carried her mother’s face so well, the only thing she had of her father were his eyes. He is still paralyzed in his seat. She was undeterred and unwilling to wait any longer; she began to move towards him from the other side of the room. Watching her move brought a sense of relief and joy. She’s real she just has to be. He’s not crazy. What he sees isn’t stationary. Moving around the crowd of people Adam’s mind didn’t even want to think of how it was all possible. Another moment passed he realized that her movements didn’t seem natural, it seemed so unconstrained. Though he noticed, it didn’t bother him. As she moved, it was as if she were floating above the ground with a grace that no one should possess. Each step looked as if she wasn’t even touching the floor. As soon as she reached him, she leaped onto her father’s lap. Staring into her eyes all he wanted to do was just melt into those big globes. Something in him changed as his lost tiny angel hugs him with a type of warmth he hasn’t felt in years, and he returns with steadfast emotion. For a split second, he thought that it might have been too hard for a normal child to handle, but all of that quickly went outside of his mind just as fast as he thought of it. All that mattered now, is for the first time in a long time he is holding his daughter once again. The massive amount of pain that was stored away, all of his despair was washed away from him at that moment that he was holding her again in his arms. The abyss that had made residence in his heart had quietly filled with the love of a daughter that was now in his arms. They were wrapped around her little body, he had no intention of letting go. Too many days had passed since he was able to hold her, too many days have gone by since he felt her little hands around his neck. His heart was fluttering in such a way that if he was paying attention, he would be worried that he was having some sort of panic attack.
His eyes were tightly clenched shut now, almost as if he were afraid to open them. As moments passed, they slowly opened. Adam looks down and calls her name. Though his brain was filled with an assortment of chaotic thoughts, one had made its way to the surface, could all of this be a dream? Before the why could make its way to his mouth she quickly smiles and says, “I’m here to visit you, daddy! I missed you so much.” Her voice was just as he remembered. Small and high pitched, yet full of wonder. Before she could say another word he embraced her for another bear hug. He can now admit to himself that he’s afraid that she was just going to just vanish into thin air. It was as if he was trying to hold her so she wouldn’t leave again. With a cracking voice and a waterfall of tears running down a hardened face he says to her “I’ve missed you so much, sweetie”. Not even a moment after the final word had left his mouth he was shaken awake by his old friend and coworker, Joey. As he woke, it felt like a hundred mirrors had all fallen to the ground around his head. All that relief and joy shattered in that exact moment. That instant his mind had become filled with a heavy cloud of confusion for all that has happened. Realizing what he’d experienced, a flash of anger crossed his face as he was ripped from the only happiness he’d felt in a long time. Adam thought to himself, what a cruel cruel dream it had been. What was the height of happiness had turned into an empty hole that only ached every time he breathed.
Eyes almost completely swelled as if he was crying for hours Adam looked up at Joey. He knew something had to be said before he and the others started to think, “Sorry man, I didn’t realize I was so tired from the flight” “No problem man, you seemed like you were having an intense dream” “It was...” Joey was always a nice friend in the office, constantly willing to lend a hand, and unlike many of his other co-workers, he remembers Adam before that day. Most importantly, he was there when everything changed. Once a close pair even their wives were close as they both were pregnant around the same time. To his friend, Adam had become a whole new person with the loss of his daughter. That weight had changed a man in such a profound way, that he was almost as if a new soul was born out of that tragedy. It left Joey with a sense of guilt every time he looked at him. In his memories, he was someone that was once as a shining light among men. Always with a smile on his face, and with an aura of positivity that attached people to him. He remembered the time Adam had taken the initiative to bring in clients to preview some data, a risky move but they were so impressed the contract was extended. Jobs were saved by him, though now that isn’t the same person. At this time he lives as a faded memory of what once was, a sad shadow of a man now walking the Earth lost and without real meaning. With that shell now roaming the world, Joey was left with a profound sense of guilt for his role.
Since then Joey has always kept an eye on his old friend, even as he was promoted into another office and section. He had never forgotten Adam, nor who Adam used to be. Maybe he was hoping deep down that one day he would spring back to life and be his old self again; despite it all. He’d missed the friendship they had back then, and still to this day sometimes wishes for it to return. They were so close that even their children became friends. Hung out at the others home, there was even a running joke among the couples that they would get married one day. But, as the years have passed that dream has eroded into a distant memory and took a backseat to other concerns. So Joey would keep an eye on his old friend because. A commitment born out of a sense of loyalty and guilt. Deep inside of his mind, it was the least he owed him. “Hey, Adam. Are you sure that you’re ok? You were mumbling something in your sleep.” Still, visibility shaken Adam gets up from his chair in an attempt to gather himself. He knows by some looks, the whole table saw and maybe he did more than mumble, but that isn’t something that would bother him anyways. When you’re as detached as he is, embarrassment isn’t really a factor of life. The rest of the table quickly continues back into their routine of bull and lies.