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The Ghost in the Machine: A Tragedy in Five Acts
You were referred by your neighbor whose skin is milky white and translucent, very much like the soft petal-like ears of the mice you would buy from the pet store to feed to your snake who would snap them up, ears and all, with his jaws.
She smiled at you and told you that you’re too quiet, too thin, and she gave you the doctor’s card and it felt so final, her long fingers (carefully maintained nails, neat and clean) delicately brushing yours, not with intent, just as they were, as an inevitability.
But you took it and made an appointment and went back to doing as you do. Sleep in your oversized bed with sheets that smell too clean. You are like a ghost.
When the day of your appointment does finally arrive you board the bus still much like a ghost, smoke in the wind, breath from the homeless man below your apartment when the wind becomes bone chilling, blowing from his nose in tendrils like a dragon. They may see you, but you simply do not exist.
You reach your destination eventually, as you knew you would, and when you sign in you notice the black and white pictures littering the walls, skeletal silhouettes which face a cliff, blackbirds recede into the skyline. All carefully constructed to create a neutral space.
No time, no identity.
When you meet in their office, it is a true neutral space with no personal touches, no identifying interior choices, only beige walls and black and white pictures. Blackbirds flying towards nothing. Their suit is all sharp lines, solid colors and it is somewhat comforting to face each other in a situation wherein there are no gods, no masters, no kings. No monarch.
The doctor quirks an eyebrow.
“Why don’t you tell me why you’re here,” they say.
You wonder for a second if this large plush chair will swallow you, consume all your sharp corners and angles until there is nothing left.
“I don’t feel like a person,” you say finally.
“What does ‘not feeling like a person’ feel like?”
You sit silent for a long moment to gather your thoughts, stewing for a long stretch of silence, focus on the outstretched wings of the inky birds, the whites of your eyes glistening like cream.
“I don’t know. Smoke. The ghost in the machine.”
The doctor chuckles.
“Descartes. You’re well read.”
You nod in affirmation though this may be a misnomer because ‘well-read’ implies you have something else to do rather than read but you don’t, you’re too busy existing. You read Descartes though and your life is this moment convulses.
While you stare into the blackbirds you wonder if they too feel like nothing but ghosts in the machine.
“You said your neighbor gave you my number. Why do you think she did that?”
This is not your first meeting in this office, nor your second or third, and at some point the space began to feel less neutral, less sterile. The contrast of the pictures feels sharp enough to cut glass cleanly. Sharp enough to slit your throat in one neat line like a pig being bled.
“I don’t know.”
The doctor doesn’t believe you, you can see it in the crease of their eyes, the purse of their lips.
You look forward to never being documented, your life not being notable enough, important enough. This general anonymous existence is comforting.
You said you don’t feel real and you weren’t lying, you didn’t, but now you actively don’t want to be real, want to cease to exist, want to slip below the shores of Lake Michigan and let the fog of twilight consume you until you are nothing but an echo in the in-between, a vibration in the lake. You would do it like Virginia Woolf with stones in your pockets and leave no note, just cease to be, leave nothing for anyone to miss.
Water, symbolically, means rebirth but that is not what you want.
The great irony is these thoughts is that never did you consider suicide until you began therapy.
This is the last meeting. You don’t know it (or maybe you do) but it doesn’t matter because your doctor just goes back to things as normal, using their notepad as their shield and you hide between yourself and your glazed over eyes.
You retreat back into your mind because you don’t want to get better and though this is what you’re paying for, this is whatever relative who handles your finances is paying for, and in theory you want to be here, but mostly you want your doctor with their sharp suits and white teeth to consume you completely. Existing and being a person are too much of a chore and who has the time to get out o bed in the morning or eat or shower or communicate.
You don’t, that’s for sure. So you sit here and you only reply in monosyllables and nods and while your doctor seems perfectly happy with that, mostly because they’re still being paid so what difference does it make?
When you go home tonight you look out the window of your apartment onto Lake Michigan, onto its sandy beaches, onto its fog, all consuming, and you imagine being nothing, being fog, being nothing but a shadow in the lake.
Nothing but smoke.
Nobody will look for you because there is nothing to look for. When they clean out your apartment they will find a modest closet and only the most basic furniture and they will find no numbers through which to contact you and no relatives to question.
Your doctor will tell the police that you were unstable, unpredictable, and that you were probably at risk for a very long time.
“There was nothing I could do” will become a very familiar line, and the people who say it will not be wrong.
When you floated to the bottom of the lake it was a lot like being slowly wrapped in a warm blanket, lights dimmed and your body ceased to be and you ceased to be and the weeds and plants and what not wrapped you up tight and that was that.
Death, in many ways, was the easiest part of being a person.
You mentioned once, to your doctor, that you felt like a ghost in the machine, smoke. And now you are. Smoke and mirrors.
Nothing but a shadow in the lake.
Arlington Heights, Illinois
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