Posts by justin bang

kid wonder – professional dreamer. storyteller. part-time superhero. thereverie.me

langston presley – the genius who almost was

“I just wanna be somebody.”

I just wanna be… a rockstar. No, too ambitious. Maybe a low-key SoundCloud artist that only true hiphop heads know.

15 – 20k followers.
Mmm… 5 – 10k.

If only somebody would notice. Look my way.
I am so close, yet so far. Talented, but not quite enough.

I walk across the platform to the edge, past the yellow paint and caution signs. I stare into the gaping darkness ahead of me. I think of jumping. Just fantasize the idea.

Where am I going?

I am here, just waiting. Too much waiting.
So close.

Then the wind picks up and I hear a distant howling in the tunnel in front of me. It picks up and the howling becomes metallic, growing louder and louder, closer and closer, and the wind blows my overgrown hair aside.

I close my eyes, and jump on.

Post-grad life is riding a crowded subway train that only goes one way, and the lights are turned off. The passengers hardly talk to each other, and when they do, they somehow convince each other that everything is fine, even though we are all begging the same question – “Where are we going?”

When does it stop?

I lean my forehead against the glass and watch the florescent signs flash past me. The train sways side to side and groans.

I just wanna be somebody.
I just wanna be… a renowned short-story writer with at least one Ted Talk under his belt. Or Moth StorySlam winner.

No, too ambitious. Maybe an underground Medium blogger with 10k followers. Mmm… 5k.

So close, yet so far.

But what about low-key, hip SoundCloud producer?
School taught me few things, but multitasking was not one of them. I have tunnel vision, like subway conductors.

I just wanna be a writer,
but also a musician,
that I’m afraid that I will be neither.

That I will be nobody.

I jump off the train.

The light is blinding, so I squint as I step out into the arid LA-summer heat and frantic, fast-pace LA pedestrian traffic. Even the pedestrians have sidewalk-rage here.

I am weaving, and from the clamor of sirens, angry drivers, and stereos attached to bikes, he calls out to me.

“Young man! How you doin’ today?”

I slam the brakes, and look in his direction. Middle-aged, clothed in tatters, cigarette in mouth.

“Doin’ alright. How bout yourself?”

I shake his hand; his skin is wrinkled and cracked.

“Alright. Can’t complain, ya know?
About to buy me some more cigarettes.”

“Fosho.”

“Whatchu up to? You a working man or what?

“I uh – I just graduated”, I deflect.

“Ah graduated, hah! You got plans?”

I did at some point, but I don’t know anymore.

“Yeah uh, I wanna be… a writer. I think.”

“Writer! Okay, I write stuff, too.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?”

“Oh, just whatever inspires me. You just have to channel that inner-energy, you know, that inner…”

He puts his head over his heart. Gives an ugly face, like when musicians play jazz.

“…of ribbiting passion and…”  – he contorts his face again – “…You feel me?”

“Uhh… yeah. Sure, man.”

“Here, I wanna show you something. You got a pen on you? You know, true writers keep a pen on them at all times.”

I feel around in my bag and pull it out.

“You got paper?”

I feel around again and hand him my journal.

“Haha shit, you are a writer!”

“You got time?”

I glance at my phone. I think about the overpriced espresso drink with my name on it, waiting for me just 6 blocks away.

I shrug.

“Yeah. I got time.”

“Give me a topic.”

“What?”

“Just give me a topic, it can be anything.”

“Uhm… outer space.”

“Space! Mkay, I can do that.”

He scribbles away, transcribing his thoughts as they come, pausing ever-so-often to mutter ideas out loud.

“Orion belt… cycle of.. captivated, eye-boggling wonders, because – execute patriotic… new found life.”

Sounds promising. He stops and puts down his pen.

“See, take a look.”

I read his piece. It almost makes sense.

Almost.

“See I’m a writer, but really, it’s all just in here.”

He puts his hand on my chest now.

“You a writer, too. And true writers already have it inside… that ribbiting passion… that nature of ribbiting..”

“…Riveting?”

“Here, gimme the pen.”

More scribbling and muttering. I can’t stop staring at him, like he’s some mix between mad scientist and mystical pokemon creature. He finishes another paragraph-long sentence.

“Check this: Black holes!! – who knows, can say?”, he recites to me proudly. “Bottom line it is, amazing with motomic essentials – and this part is important, listen here – motomic essentials that brings nature into a *reality*.”

What the hell is motomic essentials?, I’m wondering.

But instead, I just say, “Whoa…”

So close to making sense, yet so far. I don’t know whether to disagree with him or simply be fascinated by him.

“And that’s the thing – nature to a reality…”

He picks up the pen and he is off again.
The more he writes, the deeper we descend into his mind.

“Reality factual… brings out of a.. beehive – no, not a think, not a thought… however a working grade.. of a solution… yeah, solution. That’s it.”

This goes on for another 30 minutes. I get tired of standing but I cannot leave now because there’s something curious about this man. Like there’s some hidden treasure inside and I want to be the one to find it.

Like despite his clear lack of coherent thought, deep down inside, he just might actually be a writer. And I, his audience, am hooked. I am captivated.

I am… ribbited.

He looks up from my journal and shouts, “HEY BENNY!”

Benny looks over at us and quickly looks away.

“AY! Benny!! How you doin’?!”

Benny, who has a lady friend walking closely beside him, looks clearly embarrassed and walks faster.

“Let’s go say hi to my friend”, he says enthusiastically.

He takes my journal and pen, and I follow behind.

“Hey Benny, come over here! I’m doin’ a writing class right now. Come on!”

Benny gives him a glare and says through clenched teeth, “Not now, man…”

“Ahh okay. Benny on a date, I’ll teach him later haha… Where was I…?”

“Motomic essentials??”

“Ah yes, of course, motomic essentials – ”

He picks up the pen and our lesson continues.

“Inside that space that journey… above that footprint in the sky.. is unknown, however…”

He mutters, writes, puts down the pen, picks it back up, mutters some more, and I lean in to try to catch everything. Our elbows touching, I catch a whiff of alcohol from my teacher’s breath. I lean closer anyways.

On and on he goes, often taking detours in thought, like weaving through LA traffic, as if his mind is one long run-on sentence. He talks just like he writes – mostly illegible, but full of resolve and conviction. Things I haven’t had much of in the recent post-grad wake.

Though he holds wild notions and his mind seems fragmented, like broken liquor bottles, he speaks with unapologetic passion that even incarceration, addiction, and homelessness could not shake. And I have an ear for that kind of passion.

So I let him ramble. I figure I can’t do much for the man right now, but I can listen to him and say, “I believe you.”

“You went to college, yeah? You show this to a college professor, and damn, they’re gonna flip. Ha! They won’t be ready. This – ”

he points to my journal.

“– This is gonna change the world.”

I feel like a parent, looking down at a child’s sloppy crayon drawing.

“Yeah, man. I think so, too.”

30 minutes stretches to an hour and one hour quickly bends into two. I figure out by now that if I let him, two hours can easily turn into four. So I gently hint to him that I should probably get going.

“It’s been an honor, man. Thanks for sharing all that. Oh, I didn’t catch your name.”

“Ah yes, gimme that pen again, let me sign it.”

In elaborate cursive lettering, he graces my journal with his insignia.

“Langston. Langston Presley.”

“Justin. Justin Lee.”

We shake hands, and closing words quickly turns into more writing, a personal dedication, another signature, and a P.S. note. Some final ribbiting thoughts.

We finally part ways.

I’m walking the six blocks towards my 4.5 star coffeeshop, but my mind is already buzzed and racing. As I walk, this feeling of longing looms in and though it is not my own, it is close enough to tickle some nerves.

This feeling of “so close, yet so far”. Like I just listened to an almost-professor teach an almost-lecture with knowledge that was almost-groundbreaking.

“Cappuccino, please.”

“Can I get a name for the order?”

“Lang- …Langston.”

Langston Presley. I like saying it.. just the sound of it has a certain flair to it.

As if he is half-way one legend,
half-way another,
that he is neither.

So close, yet so far.
But something happened and his mind was shattered. Now, nobody bothers to look his way, and notice his potential. Or what used to be his potential. 0 followers.

I sit down with my drink and it’s hard to down. But I don’t think that it’s necessarily guilt – just this awareness that just a few blocks away is Skid Row, and it’s probably teemed with other almost-Whitney’s and almost-Hemingway’s.

I feel my muscle memory reminding me to open my laptop, check my SoundCloud, and work on my music.

But instead, I pick up my pen and write in my journal –

“Langston Presley, the genius who almost was.”

 

The following piece is what Langston wrote in my journal the day I met him

1983 the ineact (pirates of silicon valley) <–2–10–> They sometimes call when pieces never look the fit, however it work. No this is not a blessing, not of …

The orion belt next to a wirlwind on a cycle of captivated eye bogling wonders because we only understand the things seen not the things that can write and execute patriotic newfound (history) life. Expessions with minds that understand what science presents in a sum that brings enlightenment to a need from long ago problem with a thumbs up of loss.

“(Black holes)” who knows, can (or) say? Bottom line it is, amazing with motomic essentials that brings nature to a reality. Reality factual brings out of a beehive not a think not a thought however a working grade of a solution. Why (definition?) (a thought is only a sentence you tell yourself)(Does that work?) No. Look it up nothing is faulty with imagination than what brings us the conclusion and the ribbiting facts of what is inside that 1) black hole.

2) that persons mind (behavior) 3) does this count, thought, know thing thoughts are back to this a (thoughts definition) means a sentence you tell yourself. Inside that space that journey above that footprint the sky is unknown however a place that presents a high grade of what brings the galaxy of inlightment, wonders, to a new found glory that gives one space to fly, passionately, to roll with a rythym that brings ideas to a place that is not normal however inventions like persay the internet. my friend what is above in that start is life. bringing us to now. Just go.

Placed by this person who will execute a tale that illuminates immaculately introducing a new found journey of ribbiting history Justin. In space your future is not a thought it defines passion. I see you now glory by capturing the ride the pen or keyboard introduces to you, 

Looking forward to your journey.

-Langston Presley 

9/24/17 / Just do write it

In the shadows of one there is redemption, a new found “glory of life”
know this is the journey only you can bring a nature of production working the your stage into passionate equal rights to all.

-Langston Presley 

First fact.

On Hollywood and Normandie – Look at that wall.

the anniversary effect

It still feels like summer.

 

I’m walking down Marine at Balboa Island, savoring new flavors with old friends. Frozen bananas with other confused postgrads.

It is October, but it still feels like summer.

A new season, but still tinged with things of the past. The air is light and brisk, filled with small talks and old inside jokes.

Spirits are merry and things feel almost “just right”,
when all of the sudden, a small party of pigeons flies out of nowhere and swooshes right in front of our party of friends.

I freeze in my steps.
The muscles in my body clench, and my heart races, as if trying to outrun danger.

Time glitches, and for that moment, 2 seconds become 2 minutes, 2 minutes become 8,261 miles, and now, the pigeons are already long gone.

What.

“Hey catch up, dude! We’re gonna check out this shop!”

My head snaps back to the present, and I realize that I am alone,
standing in the middle of the sidewalk.

It still feels like summer.

We are standing outside the shop, the small talk and inside jokes continue, but all I can think about are pigeons.

I thought things like this only happened in movies.

“I need to go.”
Take my mind off things.

I get to my friend’s apartment. It’s been almost a year since the last time I stayed the night here. I turn on Netflix and pick my poison – Stranger Things Season 2, which, while we’re on the topic of trauma victims, couldn’t have been more fitting.

Episode 3 or 4 finishes – I’m all Netflix-drunk now and headed for the bathroom. My friend is already asleep so I sneak out with toothbrush in hand.

I open the bathroom door, turn on the lights, and it happens again.

I freeze.

My momentum dies completely, like a car running through caltrops. My left hand tenses up, my heart races to outrun danger, and two seconds feels like two minutes, because the earth just stopped spinning.

It’s only two seconds,
but time is glitching and I’m sucked deep into a memory I’ve thought a lot about, but not in a long time,
when I was staring down at the same white sink bowl, but it was filled with a pool of my own blood,
draining dark red from a finger I almost cut off by accident,
draining colors from my vision and looking at my fading reflection before everything got quiet and dark,
and i wake up next to a car escorting me to the hospital.

Another second passes,
and memory becomes feelings instead of visuals,
and the feeling of the times was sickening to the point where I wanted to cut myself again and create another little “accident”,
because I was alive but life was draining and draining away from me
and everything in life had lost its colors,
except maybe dark red.

Another second passes,
and the sink is empty now. My finger is still attached.

Time resumes at its ordinary tempo,
but now I am brushing my teeth
very, very slowly.

I thought that stuff like this only happens in movies, but now I’m not so sure, so I google away and find some theories and best guesses, which is basically all what the study of psychology is anyways. I have my own suspicions, which PsychologyToday – and even Teen Vogue – more or less confirms, so I decide, “Okay, maybe this is a thing.”

It just might make sense.

It just might make sense of why earlier today, I was hanging out with friends when a flock of pigeons glitched me back in time –

and all of the sudden, I’m thinking about street vendors, and honking tuk tuks,
walking the busy streets of Bangkok, tasting familiar flavors with new friends,
the air is thick with humidity, small talk, and future inside jokes,
and a new friend grasps onto my arm when pigeons fly by because she has a paralyzing fear of birds.

Another second passed,
and the memory became emotion instead of visuals, and the feeling of the times was sickening to the point where
I wanted to throw up from street food poisoning and an abusive relationship I felt trapped in,
and my will to live was draining and draining away from me,
like dark red funneling into a whirlpool down a white sink bowl.

Another second passed,
and my friends are telling me to catch up,
but I cannot because for the rest of the day, my mind is stuck in a memory, thinking about pigeons.

It just might make some sense of why,
it’s already October but it still feels like summer.

I’m brushing my teeth slowly and thinking about how pigeons, bathroom sink bowls, and a character in Stranger Things I can very loosely relate to all acted as triggers within a span of the last 24 hours, and I think I get it now.

It’s about that time of the year.

home is a vacuum

Home sucks like a Hoover vacuum cleaner.

 

I can’t breathe here.

Like literally… I can’t.

I think I might have bronchitis. That might just explain a lot of things.

That might explain
not being able to sing for the past three weeks or so,
not being able to sleep on my back without choking,
not being able to talk

to them,

makes me feel far away and distant

in outer space,

just floating

with bad communication and hairline fractures

gasping for air.

 

I don’t know.

Just my best guess,
which is the best I ever get
nowadays.

 

just keep swimming – a journal excerpt

Grief sometimes comes in waves,
and today was the high tide.

Day by day, I feel its ebb and flow, oscillating like the tide.

Some days, it is calm and still enough, I can see my own reflection on the surface. Other days, I wake up with the water up to my neck and the sadness gnawing at my insides.

Man was never meant to swim the ocean. Man was never meant to say goodbye.

Yet we swim,
our hearts at the mercy of the seas.

I first felt it come when I was walking down College on my morning meanderings after breakfast. It came up on me by surprise and one of the first thoughts I had – as if bred from instinct – was,

“What did I do wrong?”

As if I made a mistake by being sad.
As if I was responsible for the waves.

Remember it is the ocean you are swimming in,
Remember your helplessness in the seas,

and remember, you have a rescuer.

Some days, the high tide will come and you will have to swim for your life.

And when it does, always remember –

“It is not your fault.”

 

gorgeous white couples

that one time i was almost cool

I am coming back to this coffeeshop.

I just spent an afternoon working on a track for a beat tape that I’m putting out in November. It’s called Innamission, and it’s kind of a big deal.

Not that it’s super good or anything, but I’ve never done anything like this before. Half the time, I don’t know what I’m doing, which is kind of a fantastic and terrifying feeling.

The barista mixes my drink,
I mix my drum samples,

– two artists, busy refining their respective crafts.

Half an hour passes, and he walks over to me.
“Hey man, I got a question for you.”

I pull out my earphones.
“Yeah, what’s up?”

“Do you make music?”

“Yes.. *ahem*, yes I do!”

I quickly fix my hair. And my posture.

“Nice, what type of music do you make?”

“So I’m really into hip hop and R&B – I’m making a beat tape right now.”

Whoa. I get to say that.

“Oh nice, man. That’s sick. Can I hear some of it?”

Mom’s spaghetti.

“Err yeah uhm sure! I’m not really done with this track yet so I’m not sure if it sounds good yet… Wanna listen?”

“Sure!”

I hand him the headphones quickly, attempting to hide my palms sweaty. Haven’t been this nervous since I don’t know.

I can’t hear what he’s hearing, but enough hours of staring at the same MIDI drum patterns, I know when the beat drops, just by looking at the tiny grids and colored blocks.

And when it does, I catch him nodding silently, at 86 BPM, in the corner of my peripherals.

“This is dope. I can totally hear this on SoundCloud.”

HELL YEAH IT IS, I scream out loud, my voice echoing off the cement walls of the coffeeshop.

“Thanks, man”, I respond timidly, way too quiet for him to hear through the earphones.

We small talk for a few minutes. The whole time, alls I’m thinking is,
plug the beat tape. Just plug it, dude.

But in walks a young and hip-looking, gorgeous white couple and I lose my chance.

“Gimme a minute, gotta take care of these guys.”

That’s okay. He’ll come back, and when he does, I’ll plug my beat tape. Maybe I’ll even plug my SoundCloud, I think to myself, ignoring the fact that there are only two songs on there, neither of which are very impressive.

Only he doesn’t come back. But more customers do come in. More gorgeous, hip, white couples.

His shift ends 20 minutes later, and so does my short-lived moment of almost-coolness.

“Nice talking with you, man. Hope to see you back here some time.”

I pound his fist.

Oh you will, barista friend. You will.

 

looking for Job

a journal excerpt

You know what I’m feeling right now?

I feel like there were a lot of things that didn’t have to happen this summer.

Things that caused unnecessary emotional stress and needless pain,
Things awfully timed,
Things unfolding in the worst way possible,
Things beyond my control that I could not prevent,
Things that no matter how much I prayed against,

still happened.

None of this had to be this way.
But they are now. And I got hurt.

You know what I’m feeling right now?
I feel like all those things that happened, You could have stopped,
but You chose not to.

That perhaps, the demons are out to get me
and You’re letting them.

Because maybe, they have this idea that if You let them torment me, I will fall out of love with You. So they go after what I treasure the most.

My dreams. The magic. The wonder.

Disenchant the Kid.

And maybe,

You have this idea

that they are wrong.

 

#Jobsearch

limbo

“Will we ever see him again?”

“I don’t know.”

“Where is he?”

“He is lost. Lost himself, lost in himself. Lost in some hidden pocket of space-time. In the awkward airspace of in-betweens. That limbo in between past and present, in between dreaming and waking up… He is somewhere in there.”

“How do we bring him back?”

“We must keep his memories alive – to light his path, so to speak. But apart from that, I’m afraid he must find his way back on his own.”

“But you don’t have to leave, do you? Come, stay with us and we can go back to how things used to be… remember?
Come back home. Please.

“Home? I don’t know what that means anymore.”

 

rest in peace, pt ii – pomatophobia

// preface

The past three years of my life was a matter of symptoms, occasionally peaking out to say hello, like little demons.
This year was a matter of diagnoses, like waging war.

Here is “rest in peace”, a 2-part series of selected memories, depicting my struggle against insomnia.

Read pt. i first, here.


// part ii – pomatophobia

“How long can you hold your breath underwater? How much can your body take before you lose your mind?”

On average, it takes anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours for me to fall asleep. Some nights, I don’t sleep.

And by the sound of it, neither does the hive of horny geckos living under our floorboards.

We have all sorts of alarm clocks here, like stray cats and dogs, dysentery, and 5-inch behemoth cockroaches that manage to find their way into our mosquito net.

Bangkok summer nights are unforgiving. And sticky.

I roll over on our thinly-padded concrete mattress and look at Tony. He is asleep. I glance over at Daa’s bed and hear his labored breathing. Out.

I am envious, but happy for them.

Today, I make it my resolve to fight for my sleep. Maybe I can cheat my way to the Fall. Trick myself into sleep.

“I’m gonna count to ten. And once I get to ten, you will fall asleep.”

One.

You can feel it already, the tiredness descending on you like a thick blanket.

Two.

Your breathing is slowing down.

You can hear your heart beat but it’s getting slower and slower.

Everything is slow motion.

Three.

Now your eyes are getting heavy.

Your heart is beating slower still, but you can’t tell anymore.

Four.

Your mind is getting numb.

Everything is… fuzzy. And really, really soft.

Thoughts gently come and go, like a slideshow that you didn’t make. So you just watch.

Five.

Your eyes are getting very heavy.

So, so heavy…

You aren’t even thinking of what you’re seeing anymore, so you close them.

It is dark.

Six.

Everything is fuzzy.

You hear some noise in the background. But you pay no mind because you are hypnotized.

Seven.

Your head is so numb that it feels like you are floating.

Your mind drifts and drifts…

Eight.

You are flying now, even though you feel like sinking.

Fuzzy.

Time is slowing down but it is okay because so are you.

You are sinking – so, so heavy, like lead weights, that you cannot move anymore.

Nine.

Muffled sounds echo in the background like they’re coming from far, far away… but you pay no mind because you are here, just floating.

All you need to do is lie down and let yourself drift,

on and on,

until,

– I snap awake, startled by the sound of coughing.

I am drenched with sweat.

I hear loud choking from Daa’s corner of the room. After a brief fit, he turns his body over to his side and resumes sleeping.

Everything is loud now. Stray cats. Mating geckos.

Dammit.

I take a deep breath, and start over.

One.

After a couple of tries, I get the hang of it. I don’t even know if it works but I figure that as long as I pretend that it works, it works.

I have no bed, I have no air conditioning, but I found sleep medicine. Placebo or not, I’ll take it.

Meds don’t turn off alarm clocks though and we discover a new one – Daa’s coughing.

“Must be sleep apnea”, Tony figures after a week of consecutive nights of coughing fits.

So every night, we prayed for Daa’s breathing. I don’t think it worked but I found my first doorway to compassion for the man.

A few more weeks of trauma and sleepless nights, and we are back home.

My trip to Thailand messes me up in all sorts of ways.

Like, the sort of way that you don’t realize how bad it is –
until you are 8,000 miles away,
14 hours behind,
and 2 months out,

from the carnage.

Weeks pass and you realize it’s not just the jet lag.
Months pass and you realize being home doesn’t stop the pain, because you don’t know what home means anymore.

One night, I cannot sleep.

And the sting only intensifies throughout the night, to the point where it’s not just my heart anymore. My body tenses up as I feel something pierce my insides and now I’m thinking about knives.

Everything is sharp.

I check my phone and scroll through my contacts to see who I can call.

No one.

Wait, no. Evelyn.
But… it’s late. She’s probably asleep by now.

What about Jeremy? And Erin?
They’re probably too busy. They’re always too busy anyways.

Chris Tomlin.
But my heart only beats faster, so I yank out my earphones, lock my phone, and it is dark again.

No one is here. I am alone.

Wait, that’s not true.

I look over at Tony’s bed and he is asleep already.
I am envious, but happy for him.

I shouldn’t wake him up. He’s tired.

No one.
Knives.

My body is shaking at this point.

I glance over at Tony’s bed again and that’s when I see Him. Only, He’s not the Laughing Man. He is a silent man, with pale skin where his mouth should be.

Standing alone in the corner. Looking at me.

I scramble for my phone and find Evelyn’s number but right before I call, I freeze.

She’s sleeping. She’s tired. Don’t wake her up.

Wait what, don’t be ridiculous. Just call her.

I continue staring at the screen.
Until it dims and shuts off, and it is dark again.

This is a different breed of paralysis.

I look back at the Man with No Mouth.
He cannot laugh at me but he still mocks me.

“Help me”, I scream silently, as the Man in the corner continues to stare at me.

Unable to speak. Unable to communicate.

Alone.

Knives.

“I… I – I need help.”

Tony fixes his eyes on me, I avert my gaze.

“What’s wrong, buddy?”

“I… couldn’t sleep last night”, I tell him with shaky breath and explain what happened. I feel a chill wash over me as I realize that it wasn’t so much what happened last night that was so haunting, but that what happened last night was how I’ve been feeling every single day.

Alone. Paralyzed. Mouthless.

“You know that whole River thing?”

He nods.

“Well, last night was like a whirlpool. Or like a black hole. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t escape. After a certain point, the gravity is too strong.”

“Like quicksand.”

“Yeah.”

Our conversation sways towards the topic of finding me help, like the no-joke, professional kind of help. Usually, I am skeptical but after last night, I am willing to try anything.

“What about sleeping?”

“I don’t know, man. Alcohol usually makes me drowsy but that hasn’t but working lately.”

“Have you tried medication?”

I think about it for a minute. I don’t like the idea of becoming dependent on pills.

“Remember Thailand?”

“What about it?”

“That counting thing I did.”

“Oh yeah… Think it’ll work?”

“You know, I didn’t just make that up. That was actually one of my earliest memories. My mom used to count us to sleep.”

I pause.

“It doesn’t have to work.”

“As long as you pretend it works…”

I nod.

It does not take long for me to suffer relapse. Just three nights later, the Man with No Mouth pays another visit.

After a week or so, I figure my life is just a game of survival now – trying to navigate through a labyrinth of black holes. One wrong move was a step into quicksand, triggering a dark episode of isolation and spiraling in slow motion.

Everyday is warfare, and all I am equipped with is 1-hour combat training sessions once a week.

Treatment begins, and I am medicated with sugar pills. Some use Ambien, or a glass of wine, but my weapon of choice is memory. A fuzzy one.

But the wonderful thing is that it works, or at least I believe that it does. After a couple of tries, I get the hang of it.

Meds don’t turn off alarm clocks though and I discover a new one.

One night, I decide to take a shot and begin the counting process.

One.

“You can already feel the tiredness descending on you, like a blanket.”

I keep counting and everything gets very fuzzy.

I get to around Eight or Nine, the part where you are flying in space but sinking at the same time.

Sounds are muffled, time is slowing down, and everything is so, so heavy.

I drift and drift, readying myself for the Fall, when suddenly the sounds are not so muffled anymore and I snap awake to the sound of coughing.

Air.

My body rolls over, drenched with sweat.

Without thinking, I blurt out, “Daa??”

Being tired is one thing. Being tired of being tired is something else entirely.

Everyday is warfare and I decide that survival is not the only game I want to play. So I run away.

Tony asks me right as I’m about to leave, “Hey man, where you going?”

“Far away.”

“How far?”

“Like 100 miles far. San Diego.”

He thinks about it for a minute.

“Can I come?”

I smile and a piece of my heart melts.

There is much caffeine, heart-to-heart storytelling, and stupid fun. Before the day is over, I already get the feeling that this is my favorite day of the semester.

Two pounds of burritos and two hours of freestyle rapping later, we get home and I accidentally step into quicksand.

I feel myself sinking slowly into a black hole of isolation.

Everything is sharp.

Oh no.
No, not this again.

I close my eyes and start counting.

One.

“The tiredness is descending on you…”

But my heart continues to beat faster. I can’t breathe.

What do I do.

Remember your combat training.

I glance at a piece of paper titled “Grounding Techniques” on my desk.

Okay. We’re gonna do this. We’re gonna get out of here.

“God?”, I say out loud.
“I don’t know if you’re there but I’m gonna tell you about my day, okay?”

I start muttering under my shaky breath. Waves threaten to swallow me in their ebb and flow and I struggle to stay afloat. I fight to stay alive, and I fight for the will to keep fighting, with memory as my weapon of choice.

I end up whispering to God – or myself, I don’t know – for the next hour straight, occasionally pausing to ask myself, “Am I going crazy?”

I fall asleep that night.

And while I may have been totally crazy, this was a victory.

Because finally, for the first time in far too long,

I opened my mouth.

After a while, swimming through black holes becomes a thing I can somewhat get the hang of. Combat training gets more interesting, because I’m learning to fight for things other than waking up, showing up to social functions, and eating.

The Man with No Mouth stops showing up at night.

If depression is a storm, I had looked into its eye and seen it pass.

For once, life was more than struggling to keep my head afloat.
For once, I was not drowning.

Before I know it, I’m hearing my therapist’s last words. My combat training is complete and her job is done, at least for now.

I pick up a habit of opening my mouth before going to bed each night. Some nights, I talk with Tony, or I text Evelyn. Other nights, I whisper to God, or myself, like a crazy person.

Sleep isn’t a thing I need to fight for anymore. I remember the peacefulness of floating on my back and allowing the lazy river’s current carry me to my dreams. I remember looking up in the sky and wondering if I’m floating in water or floating in space.

The River is not such a terrifying place anymore.
I can sleep soundly, and the Dark Things decide that this just will not do.

One night, I am floating on my back and gazing at the stars, when they swim up to me and tilt my body to its side.

One.

But I am drifting off so I do not notice.

Half my mouth and nose is submerged.

Two.

My heart beats faster and faster.

My lungs are filling up.

Three.

But I pay no mind. I am hypnotized.

Four.

The current picks up and the sound of rushing water crescendos, as does my heart beat.

Five.

Wake up, my body attempts to warn me.

Six.

But I’m trained to tune out voices now. All sounds are muffled at this point.

Everything is fuzzy.

Seven.

Drifting on and on,

my head is so numb that it feels like I am flying,

Eight.

yet sinking,

in slow motion,

Nine.

because everything is so, so heavy,

like lead weights,

that I cannot breathe anymore,

closer and closer,

until,

– I snap awake to the sound of coughing.

Air.

My body rolls over, drenched.

Today, I opened my journal and wrote with shaky hands,

“How long can you hold your breath underwater? How much can your body take before you lose your mind?

I’m starting to believe that my body and my soul have a much closer relationship than I had previously assumed. They should be working in sync to each other, but some connection, some cable between the two has snapped inside me.

My mind wakes up before my body does and I see things no one should ever see. Like when the anesthetics fail to kick in, and glitch during surgery.

Now, parts of my body that aren’t ever supposed fall asleep are doing just that.

My body is suffering from a severe drought of rest, and I’m starting to wonder how much more it can take before I lose my mind, too.

That perhaps, this insomnia is not just a beast of the flesh.”

– I put my pen down.

Tony is already asleep and I am envious, yet happy for him.

I turn off the alarm app and throw my phone across the room.
I look over at the box of Ambien sitting on my nightstand for a good minute or two, then throw the box across the room, too.

I turn my body to its side and put a pillow behind my back to keep myself from rolling over during the night.

I start counting.

One.

You can already feel the tiredness descending on you, like a blanket…

 

 

// pt ii – pomatophobia

**Tony and Evelyn are real person(s), given aliases for storytelling and privacy purposes.

rest in peace, pt i – the dark things

// preface –

The past three years of my life was a matter of symptoms, occasionally peaking out to say hello, like little demons.
This year was a matter of diagnoses, like waging war.

Here is “rest in peace”, a 2-part series of selected memories, depicting my struggle against insomnia.


// part i – the dark things

“How long can you hold your breath underwater? How much can your body take before you lose your mind?”

Every morning, I open my day by opening my journal.
Today, I opened my journal and wrote with shaky hands,

“No more dreams.”

– as a prayer to God.

I wake up.

Or at least my eyes do. And my ears.

I hear silky, alto harmonies and reverb-coated church music, gently serenading my awakening. My vision clears and I can see my messy room. Tony must have left while I was napping.

I reach over to pause the music but I can’t. My arm feels like a lead weight. A jarring, high-voltage sound wave of static electrifies my eardrums and my entire skull feels its shock.

…What?

I feel my heart rate accelerate, gradually surpassing the peaceful tempo of Chris Tomlin’s church music.

One.

Okay. Just breathe.

I try again, this time with my other arm, but it, too, is weighed down by a thousand-ton anchor. Head-crushing electricity and earsplitting static runs its current through my cranium.

Two.

Shit.

My heart rate continues to escalate, and so does my panic.

I try thrusting my body upright, but the harder I try, the stronger the electricity, the louder the static.

Three.

I feel a chill wash over my limp body, as if someone else is in the room to confirm and give voice to my fears.

Yes. You’re trapped.

Four.

“Help.”
Only my lips don’t move. I feel something covering my mouth. More static.

Then, He starts laughing at me.

I hear it coming from Tony’s bed.

But, you’re not Tony.
And you’re definitely not Chris Tomlin either.

Five.

“Help me”, I scream silently, as the man in the corner continues to laugh at me.

Just give up. You can’t move anyways, so it’s not worth wasting the energy.

Six.

The window next to my bed begins to shatter. Now there is a woman, too, and she is shrieking.

I need to get out.

I struggle with all the strength I can muster, and then some – desperately trying to force my way through the quicksand, through the static.

Seven.

Finally, I feel my right shoulder twitch, breaking the surface, breaking paralysis.

Eight.

But only for a split second. And then it’s back under again.

The more you struggle, the faster you’ll sink.

I ignore the voice and continue swimming.

The Laughing Man gets louder and louder, and so does the Shrieking Woman.

Nine.

All the while, Chris Tomlin continues to hum softly in the background, serving as a haunting soundtrack for this lucid nightmare.

My shoulder twitches again.

The noise is getting so loud, I think the throbbing just might tear my head open.

Until,

Ten.

Air. I can breathe.

Eleven.
Twelve.
Thirteen

My body rolls over.

I scramble through my blankets for my phone and dial Tony’s number.

On average, it takes anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours for me to fall asleep. Some nights, I don’t sleep.

I have a friend who can almost will himself into falling asleep. As if he just needs to flip a switch in his system and wait for it to close all its programs and shut down.

My nights are not quite the same. My nights are more like a long boat ride along a dark river with lots of fog.

I row and row for a little while, until I reach a certain point, and then I stop. I somehow know that at this point, I have to give up my oars, so I throw them overboard.

Eventually, I approach a bottleneck in the river and there stands a lone figure keeping watch over the choke point. Like a sentinel of sleep.

He, or it, motions for me to disembark my boat and swim the remainder of the journey.

I continue my nightly pilgrimage floating on my back and allowing the current of the lazy river carry me onwards. It is quiet and serene as I gaze at the starry night above me.

For some time, I drift on and on and the stars get brighter and brighter. At certain moments, my mind is so numbed that I cannot tell if I am floating in water or floating in space.

The current picks up and the sound of rushing water crescendos, but I pay no mind. I am hypnotized.

Time slows down as the rapids flow faster.

My body drifts, and my mind follows,

closer and closer,

until,

I fall.

I think the world is ending for some reason.
Why is everyone running?

Oh. Zombies.

All my friends are here.

Oh shit, we gotta go. Zombies are coming.

“Guys, we gotta run.”

Oh good, Evelyn is here. She’s the most optimistic person you could possibly have around in a zombie apocalypse.

We run as fast as we can but that’s a lot slower than I remember. My legs feel weighed down, like lead weights.

I turn around to see if Evelyn is struggling too but she’s not. She’s a zombie now.

“Evelyn, NO!”

She opens her jaw of gnashing teeth and takes a full bite straight into my skull.

I jolt awake.

Static. Cranium-shattering, electrifying static.

One.

No. No, not this again.
A chill runs through my limp body.

Two.

Okay, just calm down. First things first.

Breathe. Make sure you can breathe.

Inhale.

Three.

Exhale. Okay.

My eyes dart around to check the corners of the room. To see if he’s there.

Four.

But I hear no laughing. Tony isn’t here either.

Okay, just try moving your arm. Just a bit.

Static.

Five.

GODDAMMIT!

Okay. Inhale. Try again.
Just one twitch.

Static.

Six.

Just keep swimming… up,
through the static, through the quicksand,
towards the surface.

Just.

One.

Seven.

Twitch!!

Okay.

Exhale.

We’re gonna do this. We’re gonna get out of here.

Eight.

The static is unbearable.

I’m so close to the surface I can see everything but my vision is distorted by the ripples. And everything sounds muffled. My ears are still submerged.

Inhale.

Nine.

Okay, just gotta will my body into motion.
Just gotta… find that “switch”.

I focus harder and the static thickens. It intensifies, as if it knows I’m trying to escape its grasp.

“Just. Move.”

I feel my head starting to split open.

When finally,

Ten.

Air.

My body rolls over, now dampened by sweat.

Exhale.

After a while, I start developing this fear of falling asleep. Night time is not what it used to be.

I try negotiating with the Sentinel, asking if I can keep my boat for the journey, but it is no use. His word is ironclad. And besides, that’s just not how it works. If I want to go on, I have to surrender. It’s the only way.

So each night, I would lay my body down and float on my back in the black river, exposing myself to whatever lurked beneath the surface.

It seemed like the Dark Things would come when I was most vulnerable. In that strange, twilight-zone limbo between waking and sleeping, or vice versa.

Some nights, I would be this close to the Fall, and they would jolt me awake with that awful static, but only for a split second. Like a tease, reminding me of my powerlessness of being a sleeper.

I’ve seen things that people are not supposed to ever see.
Like when the anesthetics fail to kick in, and glitch during surgery.

People aren’t supposed to wake up during surgery.
People aren’t supposed to hear creepy laughing men when they wake up.
People aren’t supposed to wake up before their bodies do.

Even if I make it to the Fall, the Dark Things follow me into my dreams.

I know this feeling well –
trying to reverse time and beat the sunset,
trying to savor our last moments together,
trying to prolong this sleepover,

just one more night, just one more memory.

We are literally counting down her last minutes, sitting around the house in tense anticipation.

Last words, last group photos… last.

Then, at the end of the day, a van would pick her up and take her to the airport.

I derp around the room, unsure of how to spend my last day with her. Unsure of how to say goodbye.

For a moment, the anxiety subsides and it is pure emotion. I think about not being able to see Evelyn and start sobbing so hard that my squinty eyes swell up, and then, I really cannot see her now.

Well, this just will not do, I think to myself and leave the house. I need to at least be able to see her face when we part ways. When we hug.

My vision returns to me but I really, really need to use the bathroom now. I walk around town because apparently, the house doesn’t have toilets.

I pee and pee.
…And pee.

Good Lord.

After taking the longest pee ever recorded, I sense that it is time.

I’ve been gone for far too long.

I book it out of the store and sprint back to the house. I dodge pedestrians and cars with a panic within me that weighs me down so, so heavily. Like lead weights.

Evelyn must be gone by now. I missed it.

I sprint faster anyways, trying to reverse time.

I finally make it back and she is still there. A wave of relief washes over my heavy body. I catch my breath and tell myself to chill.

I’m back. We’re okay.
Just gotta sit tight and wait for her to finish taking group photos.

Alright.
Just like you rehearsed.

Just gotta hand her the letter.

Say the thing, and hug her.

You can do this.

When all of the sudden,

I wake up.

I want to cry, but I cannot.

Oh God. Why did you have to do it?

It was a sweet moment, seeing Evelyn again. It was a bitter moment, parting ways again.

We smiled. Too tired of asking “why does it have to be this way?” Too tired to put up a fight. So just we smiled. It was almost amusing, like the darkest of comedies.

It was a sweet moment, seeing her again. It was a bitter moment, parting ways again. It was forged from real memories and now, backdropped for dreams.

Little did I know that a third flavor would be added. An unwelcome aftertaste.

She kissed me. Subtly at first, not-so-subtly the second time. We were just hugging.

We felt like outlaws, indulging in our rebellious and secretive romance.

I kissed her back. I had to.
We knew what we were doing to each other. We were drinking poison. But it was so intoxicating. Exhilarating.

It was a sweet moment. It was a bitter moment.

“You and I are each other’s greatest mistakes.”

We knew this would not last. Yet we embraced it fully.
How much could we savor our forbidden romance before the inevitable came?

As I turned to leave her embrace, she pulled me back for another kiss, this time on the lips. I felt the rush, my nerves reawakening, only to crash seconds later like a short-circuited caffeine high.

I was taken aback. Not because it was bad, but because it was familiar. The taste of her lips. It was not her’s. Because this tasted like the lips of another lover I had lost long ago. Because that kiss was the only one I’ve ever known.

An unwelcome aftertaste, if you will. Forged from real memories, backdropped for dreams.

I wake up.

I want to cry, but I cannot.

It was a sweet moment. It was a bitter moment.

Today, I opened my journal and wrote with shaky hands,

“No more dreams.”

– as a prayer to the Lord.

I wrote it with a smudge of sadness, as I pride myself as a dreamer, someone with an unstoppable imagination. But sometimes, the things we imagine can find their way into our lives and haunt us, like monsters.

After you have enough dreams like this, you begin to question what’s real and what’s made up by your subconscious.

It’s… not good for me. It’s unhealthy. And I need it to stop.

But what real choice do I have if I am asleep?

 

 

– to be continued.

// part i – the dark things

Disclaimer: Tony and Evelyn are real person(s), given aliases for storytelling and privacy purposes.

mister deludo

There once was a man named Mr. Deludo who kept a monster hidden in his basement.

No one really knows where the Monster came from.

But then again, no one had been able to get a good read on Mr. Deludo as of late. Mr. Deludo was a family man but even his closest friends and neighbors started to suspect that something was dangerously wrong at home.

Some of the townsfolk noticed him making frequent late-night strolls to the local graveyard.

Each time he came home, he would be startled to see his wife sitting in the living room, waiting for him.

“Oh hiya, honey.
Shouldn’t you be sleeping?”

After a while, people suspected that the Monster must have followed him home after one of his cemetery visitations.

For some time, no one knew about the Monster, not even Mr. Deludo himself. But each and every night, he woke up while the world was sleeping to go downstairs and feed the Monster.

By morning, Mr. Deludo would remember none of it and resume his normal life. His eyes drooped from restless nights as he drove his two children to school on the way to work each day.

Weeks passed and the neighbors caught on. They could hear the Monster’s rumbling at night, when the air was still enough. But whenever they tried to bring it up, Mr. Deludo would simply deny it, because even he did not know the truth.

This went on for months and months and the Monster continued to grow and grow.

Eventually, the Monster grew so big that Mr. Deludo could not deny it any longer that something was lurking beneath the floorboards.

One day, his wife caught him in the act of his nightly clandestine activities.

“Oh hiya, honey. Shouldn’t you be sleeping?”

“We need to talk.”

Mrs. Deludo sobbed as she blubbered her way through the messy and tear-soaked intervention.

“How could you do this to us??
Think about the family… Think of our children.”

And Mr. Deludo sobbed with her, as he finally confronted the harrowing truth about himself.

“You have to get rid of the Monster.”
Mrs. Deludo managed to mumble through the tissues.

“And no more walks to the graveyard.”

The next day, Mr. Deludo bought a gun.

At this point, the Monster had already grown so big and so strong that Mr. Deludo wondered if a gun would get the job done. Not to mention that the Monster was cunning, perhaps more deceiving than its master.

None of that really mattered though because each night, Mr. Deludo still found himself helplessly opening the door to the basement and feeding the Monster.

He knew what he was doing and he knew what he was doing was wrong, but he simply could not help it. Because though he hated the awful beast, he had grown a strange affinity for it.

So he fed the Monster, night after night.
Like a slave to his own conscience.

A week had gone by, then two, and the Monster grew bigger still. Excuses were running out and so was his time.

“You need to kill the Monster.”
Mrs. Deludo demanded.

“If you kill me, I’ll kill your wife and kids.”
The Monster counterattacked.

Mr. Deludo’s heart was torn and any more of this agony, he felt his life would split into two.

Finally, Mrs. Deludo could take it no longer. Her patience had burned out and she issued her ultimatum, threatening to leave the house and take the kids with her.

“Kill the Monster!”
She screamed in crazed desperation.

“I.. I- I can’t.”

A look of horror spread across her tear-stained face.

“You what??”

“I just.. can’t.”

More blubbering.

“It’s either us”, she said, grasping their two kids in her trembling arms, “or the Monster.”

That night, Mr. Deludo loaded his gun and went downstairs into the basement.

The Monster died a long and stubborn death. Multiple gunshots pierced the night and echoed throughout all of town, and when the bullets ran out, Mr. Deludo resorted to makeshift means of murder. The townsfolk shuddered at the sounds of Mr. Deludo’s deranged screaming, the Monster’s wailing, and the thought that they couldn’t always differentiate between the two.

Until finally, the house was silent again.
The neighbors went to bed, knowing that the belated deed of riddance was done.

Mr. Deludo carried the Monster’s still-twitching body out of his empty house and walked over to the local graveyard.

He strolled through the rows and rows of gravestones he knew so well, until he reached the cemetery’s edge. His pace slowed as he walked down the final row, grasping the Monster in his trembling arms.

Finally, he stopped and stood in front of three tombstones with the names of his wife and two kids engraved in them.

The Monster breathed its last.

It was the longest walk home that night.

As he trudged back home, Mr. Deludo replayed the murder scene over and over in his mind. But it was not the piercing gunshots, nor the Monster’s howling, nor even his own screams that still rang in his ears, but the ensuing silence.

It was too quiet.

When he got back home, he closed the door behind him was startled to hear the voice of his wife echoing from the living room.

“Oh hiya, honey.
Shouldn’t you be sleeping?”