Margot (midnight_birth) wrote in margot_quotes,
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I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid.

2188251-gf

Title: I'm Thinking of Ending Things.
Author: Iain Reid.
Genre: Fiction, thriller, horror, mental health.
Country: Canada.
Language: English.
Publication Date: 2016.
Summary: A woman embarks on a road trip with her new boyfriend to meet his parents, living on an isolated farm. Doubts about the relationship claw at the back of her mind, and the meeting is strange and chilling. Then an unexpected detour on the way home unravels into nightmare. The novel explores the darkest depths of the human psyche, confronting the value we find in relationships and the limitations of solitude.

My rating: 8/10.
My review:


♥ I'm thinking of ending things.

Once this thought arrives, it stays. It sticks. It lingers. It dominates. There's not much I can do about it. Trust me. It doesn't go away. It's there whether I like it or not. It's there when I eat. When I go to bed. It's there when I sleep. Its there when I wake up. It's always there. Always.

I haven't been thinking about it for long. The idea is new. But it feels old at the same time. When did it start? What if this thought wasn't conceived by me but planted in my mind, predeveloped? Is an unspoken idea unoriginal? Maybe I've actually known all along. Maybe this is how it was always going to end.

Jake once said, "Sometimes a thought is closer to truth, to reality, than an action. You can say anything, you can do anything, but you can't fake a thought."

You can't fake a thought. And this is what I'm thinking.

It worries me. It really does. Maybe I should have known how it was going to end for us. Maybe the end was written right from the beginning.

♥ Jake. My boyfriend. He hasn't been my boyfriend for very long. It's our first trip together, our first long drive, so it's weird that I'm feeling nostalgic—about our relationship, about him, about us. I should be excited, looking forward to the first of many. But I'm not. Not at all.

♥ I told Jake I didn't really like trivia, not at a place like this. He said, "It can be very nitpicky. It's a strange blend of competitiveness veiled as apathy."

♥ He's handsome mostly in his irregularity. He wasn't the first guy I noticed that night. But he was the most interesting. I'm rarely tempted by stainless beauty.

♥ Jake said he wanted his team's name to be Ipseity. I didn't know what the word meant, either. And initially I thought about faking it. I could already tell, despite his caution and reticence, that he was exotically smart. He wasn't aggressive in any way. He wasn't trying to pick me up. No cheesy lines. He was just enjoying chatting. I got the feeling he didn't date all that much.

"I don't think I know that word," I said. "Or the other one." I decided that, like most men, he would probably like to tell me about it.

.."Ipseity is essentially just another way to say selfhood or individuality. It's from the Latin ipse, which means self."

♥ Jake was funny. Or he at least had a sense of humor. I still didn't think he was as funny as me. Most men I meet aren't.

♥ And that's when I saw him.

My room was at the back of the house. It was the only bedroom on the ground floor. The window was in front of me. It wasn't wide or tall. The man was just standing there. Outside.

I couldn't see his face. It was beyond the window frame. I could see his torso, just half of it. He was swaying slightly. His hands were moving, rubbing each other from time to time, as if he was trying to warm them. I remember that vividly. He was very tall, very skinny. His belt—I remember his worn black belt—was fastened so that the excess part hung down like a tail in the front. He was taller than anyone I'd ever seen.

For a long time I watched him. I didn't move. He stayed where he was, too, right up against the window, his hands still moving over each other. He looked like he was taking a break from some kind of physical work.

But the longer I watched him, the more it seemed—or felt—like he could see me, even with his head and eyes above the top of the window. It didn't make sense. None of it did. If I couldn't see his eyes, how could he see me? I knew it wasn't a dream. It wasn't not a dream, either. He was watching me. That's why he was there.

Soft music played, from outside, but I can't remember it clearly. I could barely hear it. And it wasn't noticeable when I first woke up. But I came to hear it after seeing the man. I'm not sure if it was recorded music or humming. A long time elapsed this way, I think, many minutes, maybe an hour.

And then the man waved. I wasn't expecting it. I honestly don't know if it was definitely a wave or a movement of his hand. Maybe it was just a wavelike gesture.

The wave changed everything. It had an effect of malice, as if he were suggesting I could never be completely on my own, that he would be around, that he would be back. I was suddenly afraid. The thing is, that feeling is just as real to me now as it was then. The visuals are just as real.

I closed my eyes. I wanted to call out but didn't. I fell asleep. When I finally opened my eyes, it was morning. And the man was gone.

After that, I thought it would reoccur. That he would appear again, watching. But it didn't. Not at my window, anyhow.

But I always felt like the man was there. The man is always there.

♥ The Caller was a man, I could hear that, middle-aged at least, probably older, but with a distinctly feminine voice, almost as if he was putting on a flat female intonation, or at least making his voice higher pitched, more delicate. It was unpleasantly distorted. It was a voice I didn't recognize. It wasn't someone I knew.

For a long time, I listened to that first message over and over, seeing if I could detect anything familiar. I couldn't. I still can't.

After that first call, when I explained to the Caller that it must be a wrong numbed, he said, "I'm sorry," in his scratchy, effeminate voice. He waited for another beat or two and then hung up. I forgot about it after that.

The next day I saw I had two missed calls. Both were received in the middle of the night when I was asleep. I checked my missed-calls list and saw it was the same number as the wrong number from the day before. That was weird. Why would he call back? But what was really weird, and inexplicable—and this still makes me upset—was that the calls had come from my own number.

I didn't believe it at first. I almost didn't recognizer my number. I did a double take. I thought it was an error. It had to be. But I double-checked and made sure I was looking at the missed-calls list and not something else. It was definitely the missed-calls list. There it was. My number.

It wasn't until three or four days later that the Caller left his first voice message. That's when it really started to get eerie. I still have that message saved. I have them all. He's left seven. I don't know why I've kept them. Maybe because I think I might tell Jake.

..It's the first voice-message the Caller left.

There's only one question to resolve. I'm scared. I feel a little crazy. I'm not lucid. The assumptions are right. I can feel my fear growing. Now is the time for the answer. Just one question. One question to answer.

The messages aren't obviously aggressive or threatening. Neither is the voice. I don't think. Now I'm not so sure. They're definitely sad. The Caller sounds sad, maybe a bit frustrated. I don't know what his words mean. They seem nonsensical, but they also aren't babble. And they're always the same. Word for word.

..And then...

Now I'm going to say something that will upset you: I know what you look like. I know your feet and hands and your skin. I know your head and your hair and your heart. You shouldn't bite your nails.

I decided I definitely had to answer the next time he called. I had to tell him to stop. Even if he didn't say anything back, I could tell him that. Maybe that would be enough.

The phone rang.

"Why are you calling me? How did you get my number? You can't keep doing this," I said. I was mad and scared. This didn't feel like a random thing anymore. It didn't feel like he'd just dialed a number off the top of his head. It wasn't going to stop. He wasn't going to go away, and he wanted something. What did he want from me? Why me?

"This is about you. I can't help you!"

I was yelling.

"But you called me," he said.

"What?"

I hung up and threw my phone down. My chest was heaving.

I know it was just a stupid fluke, but I've been biting my nails since fifth grade.

♥ I think a lot of what we learn about others isn't what they tell us. It's what we observe. People can tell us anything they want. As Jake pointed out once, every time someone says "Pleased to meet you," they're actually thinking something different, making some judgment. Feeling "pleased" is never exactly what they're thinking or feeling, but that's what they say, and we listen.

♥ I like to talk, even just a bit. It helps me wake up. Especially if the conversation is funny. Nothing wakes me up like a laugh, really, even just one big laugh, as long as it's sincere. It's better than caffeine.

♥ The weirdest part—and it's some pretty unalloyed irony, as Jake would say—is that I can't say anything to him about my doubts. They have everything to do with him, and he's the one person I'm not comfortable talking to about them. I won't say anything until I'm sure it's over. I can't. What I'm questioning involves both of us, affects both of us, yet I can only decide alone. What does that say about relationships? Another in the long line of early-relationship contradictions.

♥ "Were you always interest in space?"

"I don't know," he says. "I guess so. In space, everything has its relative position. Space is an entity, right, but also limitless. It's less dense the farther out you go, but you can always keep going. There's no definitive border between the start and the end. We'll never fully understand or know it. We can't."

"You don't think?"

"Dark matter makes up the majority of all matter, and it's still a mystery."

"Dark matter?"

"It's invisible. It's all the extra mass we can't see that makes the formation of galaxies and the rotational velocities of stars around galaxies mathematically possible."

"I'm glad we don't know everything."

"You're glad?"

"That we don't know all the answers, that we can't explain it all, like space. Maybe we're not supposed to know all the answers. Questions are good. They're better than answers. If you want to know more about life, how we work, how we progress, it's questions that are important. That's what pushes and stretches our intellect. I think questions make us feel less lonely and more connected. It's not always about knowing. I appreciate not knowing. Not knowing is human. That's how it should be, like space. It's insolvable, and it's dark," I say, "but not entirely."

♥ I'm attracted to Jake's physical stature through his intellect. His sharpness of mind makes his lankiness appealing. They're connected. At least to me.

♥ "Just tell your story. Pretty much all memory is fiction and heavily edited. Just keep going."

♥ He said experience wasn't just good for driving but for everything. "Experience trumps age," he said. "We have to find ways to experience because that's how we learn, that's how we know."

♥ "He said, 'There are certain things in life, not very many, that are real, confirmed cures for rainy days, for loneliness. Puzzles are like that. We each have to solve our own.' I'll never forget him saying that."

♥ "She swore this talent made her more powerful than money or intelligence or anything else. The fact that she was the best kisser in the world made her the center of the universe, in her words.

"He was looking for me to reply, or to say something, I didn't know what to say. So I told him what came to mind, that kissing involves two people. You can't be a singular person and be the best kisser. It's an action that requires two. 'So really, I said, "you would only be the best if the other person was also the best, which is impossible.' I told him, 'It's not like playing the guitar or something where you're alone and you know you're goo at it. It's not a solitary act. There needs to be two best.'

"My answer seemed to bother him. He was visibly upset. He didn't like the idea that alone, you couldn't be the best kisser, that one was reliant on another kisser. And then he said, 'This is too much to overcome.' He said that would mean we'd always need someone else. But what if there wasn't someone else? What if we are all just alone?

"I didn't know what to say."

♥ "What did you mean when you said all memory is fiction?" I ask.

"A memory is its own thing each time it's recalled. It's not absolute. Stories based on actual events often share more with fiction than fact. Both fictions and memories are recalled and retold. They're both forms of stories. Stories are the way we learn. Stories are how we understand each other. But reality happens only once."

.."So you're saying that it doesn't matter if the story I just told you is made up or if it actually happened?"

Every story is made up. Even the real ones. ..You know that song 'Unforgettable'?"

"Yeah," I say.

"How much is truly unforgettable?"

"I don't know. I'm not sure. I like the song, though."

"Nothing. Nothing is unforgettable."

"What?"

"That's the thing. Part of everything will always be forgettable. No matter how good or remarkable it is. It literally has to be. To be."

♥ He never let me finish my story. I never kissed Doug after our lesson. Jake assumed. He assumed I kissed Doug. But a kiss needs two people who want to kiss, or it's something else.

♥ "I keep hoping for some gray hairs. Some wrinkles. I'd like to have some laugh lines. I guess, more than anything, I want to be myself," he says. "I want to be. To be me."

"How so?"

"I want to understand myself and recognize how others see me. I want to be comfortable being myself. How I reach that is almost less important, right? It means something to get to the next year. It's significant."

"I think that's why so many people rush into marriage and stay in shitty relationships, regardless of age, because they aren't comfortable being alone."

I can't say this to Jake and I don't, but maybe it's better to be alone. Why abandon the routine we each master? Why give up the opportunity for many diverse relationships in exchange for one? There's plenty of good with coupling up, I get it, but is it better? When single, I tend to focus on how much the company of someone would improve my life, increase my happiness. But does it?

♥ He didn't just pull out two pills from his linty pocket. He handed me a small ball of Kleenex, all wrapped up in itself and sealed with a single piece of tape. The package looked like a large white Hershey's Kiss. I undid the tape. Inside were my pills. Three of them. An extra, in case I needed it.

"Thanks," I said. I went into the bathroom for water. I didn't say anything to Jake, but to me, the wrapping was significant. Protecting the pills like that. He wouldn't have done that for himself.

It threw me off a bit, made me rethink things. I was going to break up with him that night—maybe. It's possible I was. I wasn't planning to. But it could have happened. But he put my pills in the Kleenex.

Are small, critical actions enough? Small gestures make us feel good—about ourselves, about others. Small things connect us. They feel like everything. A lot depends on them. It's not unlike religion and God. We believe in certain constructs that help us understand life. Not only to understand it, but as a means of providing comfort. The idea that we are better off with one person for the rest of our lives is not an innate truth of existence. It's a belief we want to be true.

Forfeiting solitude, independence, is a much greater sacrifice than most of us realize. Sharing a habitat, a life, is for sure harder than being alone. In fact, coupled living seems virtually impossible, doesn't it? To find another person to spend all your life with? To age and change with? To see every day, to respond to their moods and needs?

♥ Is intelligence always good? I wonder. What if intelligence is wasted? What if intelligence leads to more loneliness rather than to fulfillment? What if instead of productivity and charity, it generates pain, isolation, and regret? It's been on my mind a lot, Jake's intelligence. Not just now. I've been thinking about it for a while.

His intelligence initially attracted me, but in a committed relationship, is it as good thing for me? Would someone less intelligent be harder to live with or easier? I'm talking long-term here, not just a few months or years. Logic and intelligence aren't linked with generosity and empathy. Or are they? Not his intelligence, anyway. He's a literal, linear, intellectual thinker. How does this make thirty or forty or fifty years together more appealing?

♥ I could say something to him right now. We're alone in the car. It's the perfect time. I could say I've been thinking about a relationship in the context of only myself and what everything means to me. Or I could ask if this is irrelevant because a relationship can't be understood sliced in two. Or I could be completely honest and say, "I'm thinking of ending things." But I don't. I don't say any of that.

♥ "Everything is impossibly fragile."

♥ "Some days, a current runs through me. There's an energy in me. And you. It's something worth being aware of."

.."What do you mean by the current?" I ask, closing my eyes.

"Just how it feels. You and me," he says. "The singular velocity of flow."

♥ "Mostly it was abstract fears. For a while I worried one of my limbs might fall off."

"Really?"

"Yeah, we had sheep at our farm, lambs. A day or two after a lamb was born, Dad would put special rubber bands around its tail. They're very tight, enough to stop the blood flow. After a few days, the tail would just fall off. It's not painful for the lambs; they don't even know what's happening.

"Every so often, as a kid, I'd be out in the fields and I'd find a severed lamb tail. I started to wonder if the same thing could happen to me. What if the sleeves on a shirt or a pair of socks were slightly too tight? And what if I slept with my socks on and I woke up in the middle of the night and my foot had fallen off? It made me worry, too, about what's important. Like, why isn't the tail an important part of the lamb? How much of you can fall off before something important is lost?"

♥ "I would say that no, I'm not depressed."

"But sad?"

"Sure."

"Why is that—how is that different?"

"Depression is a serious illness. It's physically painful, debilitating. And you can't just decide to get over it in the same way you can't just decide to get over cancer. Sadness is a normal human condition, no different from happiness. You wouldn't think of happiness as an illness. Sadness and happiness need each other. To exist, each relies on the other, is what I mean."

"It seems like more people, if not depressed, are unhappy these days. Would you agree?"

"I'm not sure I'd say that. It does seem like there's more opportunity to reflect on sadness and feelings of inadequacy, and also a pressure to be happy all the time. Which is impossible."

"That's what I mean. We live in a sad time, which doesn't make sense to me. Why is that? Are these more sad people around now than there used to be?"

"There are many around the university, students and profs whose biggest concern each day—and I'm not exaggerating—is how to burn the proper number of calories for their specific body type based on diet and amount of strenuous exercise. Think about that in the context of human history. Talk about sad.

"There's something about modernity and what we value now. Our shift in morality. Is there a general lack of compassion? Of interest in others? In connections? It's all related. How are we supposed to achieve a feeling of significance and purpose without feeling a link to something bigger than our own lives? The more I think about it, the more it seems happiness and fulfillment rely on the presence of others, even just one other. The same way sadness requires happiness, and vice versa. Alone is..."

♥ "It seems to me that in the context of life and existing and people and relationships and work, being sad is one correct answer. It's truthful. Both are right answers. The more we tell ourselves that we should always be happy, that happiness is an end in itself, the worse it gets. And by the way, this isn't a very original thought or anything. You know I'm not trying to be brilliant right now, right? We're just talking."

"We're communicating," I say. "We're thinking."

♥ "Why didn't it last?"

"It wasn't real."

"How do you know?"

"You always know," he says.

"But how do we know when a relationship becomes real?"

"Are you asking in general, or about that relationship specifically?"

"That one."

"There was no dependency. Dependency equates to seriousness."

"I'm not sure I agree," I said. "What about real? How do you know when something's real?"

"What is real?" he says. "It's real when there are stakes, when something's on the line."

♥ "It seems reasonable t6hat if one person is disruptive, sleeping alone would be an option."

"You think? We spend almost half our lives asleep."

"That could be an argument for why it's best to find the optional sleeping situation. It's an option, that's all I'm saying."

"But you're not just sleeping. You're aware of the other person."

"You are just sleeping," he insists.

"You're never just sleeping," I say. "Not even when you're asleep."

"You've lost me."

.."Aren't you aware of me when we're sleeping?"

"I mean, I don't know. I'm asleep."

"I'm aware of you," I say.

♥ I think what I want is for someone to know me. Really know me. Know me better than anyone else and maybe even me. Isn't that why we commit to another? It's not for sex. If it were for sex, we wouldn't marry one person. We'd just keep finding new partners. We commit for many reasons, I know, but the more I think about it, the more I think long-term relationships are for getting to know someone. I want someone to know me, really know me, almost like that person could get into my head. What would that feel like? To have access, to know what it's like in someone else's head. To rely on someone else, have him rely on you. That's not a biological connection like the one between parents and children. This kind of relationship would be chosen. It would be something cooler, harder to achieve than one built on biology and shared genetics.

I think that's it. Maybe that's how we know when a relationship is real. When someone else previously unconnected to us knows us in a way we never thought or believed possible.

I like that.

♥ But isn't being alone closer to the truest version of ourselves, when we're not linked to another, not diluted by their presence and judgments? We form relationships with others, friends, family. That's fine. Those relationships don't bind the way love does. We can still have lovers, short-term. But only when alone can we focus on ourselves, know ourselves. How can we know ourselves without that solitude? And not just when we sleep.

♥ Even considering the data that shows the majority of marriages don't last, people still think marriage is the normal human state. Most people want to get married. Is there anything else that people do in such huge numbers, with such a terrible success rate?

♥ Our physical structures, like a relationship, change and repeat, tire and wilt, age and deplete. We get sick and better, or sick and worse. We don't know when, or how, or why. We just carry one.

Is it better to be paired up or alone?

♥ "Thanks for coming," he says. Then, inexplicably, "And you also know things are real when they can be lost."

♥ Limp and lifeless, both have been stacked up outside against the side of the barn. It's not what I'm expecting to see. There's no blood or gore, no flies, no scent, nothing to suggest these were ever living creatures, no signs of decay. They could just as easily be made of synthetic rather than organic material.

I want to stare at them, but I also want to get farther away. I've never seen dead lambs before, other than on my plate with garlic and rosemary. It seems to me, maybe for the first time, that there are varying degrees of dead. Like there are varying degrees of everything: of being alive, of being in love, of being committed, of being sure. These lambs sleepwalking through life. They aren't discouraged or sick. They aren't thinking about giving up. These tailless lambs are dead, extremely dead, ten-out-of-ten dead.

♥ "Those poor creatures," I say. But I get it. I do. They had to be put down and put out of their misery. Suffering like that is unendurable. Even if the solution is final. The two lambs. The pigs. It really is nonnegotiable, I think. There's no going back. Maybe they were lucky, to go like that after what they'd been through. To at least be liberated from some of the suffering.

Unlike the frozen lambs, there's nothing restful or humane about the image of those pigs Jake has planted in my mind. It makes me wonder: What if suffering doesn't end with death? How can we know? What if it doesn't get better? What if death isn't an escape? What if the maggots continue to feed and feed and feed and continue to be felt? This possibility scares me.

♥ I assume it's his mom who collects the ornamental figurines. Most are small children dressed in elaborate attire, hats, and boots. Porcelain, I think. Some of the figurines are picking flowers. Some are carrying hay. Whatever they're doing, they're doing it for eternity.

—..But it got to the point where I had this feeling, you know? I sensed something. Like he wasn't quite normal.

—This sort of justifies your feeling.

—It does. I should have acted, done something, I guess, based on my gut.

—You can't start second-guessing after the fact. We can't let the actions of one man make us feel guilty. This isn't about us. We're the normal ones. It's only about him.

—You're right. It's good to be reminded of that.


♥ It's striking. Seeing someone with their parents is a tangible reminder that we're all composites.

♥ "Yes, we've been to your part of the world. It's right near the water?"

"Yes."

"I don't think we've ever been there," she says. I don't know how to reply. Isn't that a contradiction? She yawns, tried by the memory of past travels or the lack of them.

♥ He talked about why examples are used in philosophy, how most understanding and truth combines certainty and rational deduction, but also abstraction. "It's the integration of both," he said, "that matters." I was looking out my window at the passing fields, watching the bare trees fly by.

"This integration reflects the way our minds work, the way we function and interact; our split between logic, reason, and something else," he said, "something closer to feeling, or spirit. There's a word that will probably make you bristle. But we can't, even the most practical-minded of us, understand the world through rationality, not entirely. We depend on symbols for meaning."

I glanced at him without saying anything.

"And I'm not just talking about the Greeks. This is a pretty common thread, West and East. It's universal."

"When you say symbols, you mean...?"

"Allegory," he said, "elaborate metaphor. We don't just understand or recognize significance and validity through experience. We accept, reject, and discern through symbols. These are as important to our understanding of life, our understanding or existence and what has value, what's worthwhile, as math and science. And I'm saying this as a scientist. It's all part of how we work through things, how we make decisions. See, as I'm saying it I hear how it sounds, which is very obvious and trite, but it's interesting."

♥ We both laugh.

This will probably be the last time I'm in a car with Jake. It seems a shame when he's like this, joking, almost happy. Maybe I shouldn't end things. Maybe I should stop thinking about it and just enjoy him. Enjoy us. Enjoy getting to know someone. Why am I putting so much pressure on us? Maybe I will eventually fall in love and lose any fears I have. Maybe it will get better. Maybe that's possible. Maybe that's how it works with time and effort. But if you can't tell the other person what you're thinking, what does that mean?

I think that's a bad sign. What if he was thinking the same things about me right now? What if he was the one thinking about ending things but also was still having fun, or not entirely sick of me yet, so was keeping me around just to see what would happen. If that's what was going on in his head, I'd be upset.

I should end it. I have to.

Whenever I hear the "it's not you, it's me" cliché, it's hard not to laugh. But it really is true in this case. Jake is just Jake. He's a good person. He's smart and handsome, in his way. If he were an asshole or stupid or mean or ugly or anything, then it would be his fault that I end things, kind of. But he's not any of those things. He's a person. I just don't think the two of us are a match. An ingredient is missing, and, of I'm being honest, it always has been.

So that's probably what I'll say: It's not you, it's me.

♥ The only book Jake has given me, and he gave it to me about a week after we met, it's called The Loser. It"s by this German author, somebody Bernhard. He's dead now, and I didn't know about the book until Jake gave it to me. Jake wrote "Another sad story" on the inside cover.

The entire book is a single-paragraph monologue Jake underlined one section. "To exist means nothing other than we despair... for we don't exist, we get existed." I kept thinking about what that meant after I read it. Another sad story.

♥ I am someone who spends a lot of time alone. I cherish my solitude. Jake thinks I spend too much time alone. He might be right. But I don't want to be alone now. Not here. Like Jake and I were talking about on the drive, context is everything.

♥ Why did we stop here? Did I really need confirmation to end things? I'm going to be single for a long time, probably forever, and I'm fine with that. I am. I'm happy on my own. Lonely, but content. Being alone isn't the worst thing. It's okay to be lonely. I can deal with loneliness. We can't have everything. I can't have everything.

♥ It's so rare for others to know everything we're thinking. Even those we're closest to, or seemingly closest to. Maybe it's impossible. Maybe even in the longest, closest, most successful marriages, the one partner doesn't always know what the other is thinking. We're never inside someone else's head. We can never really know someone else's thoughts. And it's thoughts that count. Thought is reality. Actions can be faked.

♥ School is a place we all have to go. There is potential. School is about the future. Looking forward to something, progression, growing, maturing. It's supposed to be safe here, but it has become the opposite. It feels like prison.

♥ My story is not like a movie, I'll say. It's not heart-stopping or intense or bloodcurdling or graphic or violent. No jump scares. To me, these qualities aren't usually scary. Something that disorients, that unsettles what's taken for granted, something that disturbs and disrupts reality—that's scary.

♥ We can't and don't know what others are thinking. We can't and don't know what motivations people have for doing the things they do. Ever. Not entirely. This was my terrifying, youthful epiphany. We just never really know anyone. I don't. Neither do you.

It's amazing that relationships can form and last under the constraints of never fully knowing. Never knowing for sure what the other person is thinking. Never knowing for sure who a person is. We can't do whatever we want. There are ways we have to act. There are things we have to say.

But we can think whatever we want.

Anyone can think anything. Thoughts are the only reality. It's true. I'm sure of it now. Thoughts are never faked or bluffed. This simple realization has stayed with me. It has bothered me for years and years. It still does.

"Are you good or are you bad?"

What scares me most now is that I don't know the answer.

♥ Of course you lose track of time when you're alone. Time always passes.

♥ You never think you'll be in a situation like this. Being watched, stalked, held captive, alone. You hear about these things. You read about them from time to time. You feel sick about the possibility that someone would be capable of inflicting this kind of terror on another human. What's wrong with people? Why do people do these things? Why do people end up in these situations? The possibility of evil shocks you. But you aren't the target, so it's okay. You forget about it. You move on. It's not happening to you. It happened to someone else.

♥ He hasn't seen me. I don't think. I don't know where he is. Upstairs, downstairs, over, under, somewhere else. I feel like he could be hiding, waiting, in my own shadow. I don't know.

I just don't know.

♥ High school was such a strange time for me. For some people, it's a peak. I did the work and got high marks. That wasn't an issue. But all the socializing. The parties. The attempts to fit in. That wasn't easy, even then. By the end of the day, I just wanted to get home.

I was unremarkable in the ways that matter in school. It was the worst type of oblivion, for years. I was scentless, invisible.

♥ That's my goal. Get there. Get there quickly, quietly.

I keep my left hand, my fingers, against the brick wall as I walk. Step after step. Carefully, cautiously, softly. If I can hear it, he can hear it. If I can, he can. If I, then he. If. Then. I. He.

♥ I know people talk about the opposite of truth and the opposite of love. What is the opposite of fear? The opposites of unease and panic and regret?

♥ I think there's a perception that fear and terror and dread are fleeting. That they hit hard and fast when they do, but they don't last. It's not true. They don't fade unless they're replaced by some other feeling. Deep fear will stat and spread if it can. You can't outrun or outsmart or subdue it. Untreated, it will only fester. Fear is like a rash.

♥ I have a candle. I have one, only one; I've never lit it. Not once. It's a deep red, almost crimson. It's in the shape of an elephant, the white wick rising out of the animal's back.

It was a gift from my parents after I graduated high school at the top of my class.

I always thought I would light that candle one day. I never did. The more time passed, the harder it became to light. Whenever I thought an occasion might be special enough to burn the candle, it felt like I was settling. So I would wait for a better occasion. It's still there, unlit, on top of a bookcase. There was never an occasion special enough. How could that be?

♥ Now it's my heart. I'm angry with it. The constant beating. We're wired to be unaware of it, so why am I aware of it now? Why is the beating making me angry? Because I don't have a choice. When you become aware of your heart, you want it to stop beating. You need a break from the constant rhythm, a rest. We all need a rest.

The most important things are perpetually overlooked. Until something like this. Then they are impossible to ignore. What does that say?

We're mad at these limits and needs. Human limits and fragility. You can't be only alone. Everything's both ethereal and clunky. So much to depend on, and so much to fear. So many requirements.

What's a day? A night? There's grace in doing the right thing, in making a human decision. We always have the choice. Every day. We all do. For as long as we live, we always have the choice. Everyone we meet in our life has the same choice to consider, over and over. We can try to ignore it, but there's only one question for us all.

We think the end of this hall leads back to one of the large halls with all those lockers. We've been everywhere. nThere;s nowhere else to go. It's the same old school. The same one as always.

We can't go back upstairs again. We can't. We tried. We really tried. We did our best. How long can we suffer?

We sit here. Here. We've been here, sitting.

♥ There's grace in doing the right thing, in making a choice. Isn't there?

♥ It's where we;re meant to be. In the end, we can't deny who we are, who we were, where we've been. Who we want to be doesn't matter when there's no way to get there.

♥ Movements, actions, they can mislead or disguise the truth. Actions are, by definition, acted, performed. They are abstractions. Actions are constructions.

Allegory, elaborate metaphor. We don't just understand or recognize significance and validity through experience. We accept, reject, and discern through examples.

♥ People talk about the ability to endure. TO endure anything and everything, to keep going, to be strong. But you can do that only if you're not alone. That's always the infrastructure life's built on. A closeness with others. Alone it all becomes a struggle of mere endurance.

What can we do when there's no one else? When we've tried to sustain fully on our own? What do we do when we're always alone? Where there's no one else, ever? What does life mean then? Does it mean anything? What is a day then? A week? A year? A lifetime? What is a lifetime? It all means something else. We have to try another way, another option. The only other option.

It's not that we can't accept and acknowledge love, and empathy, not that we can't experience it. But with whom? When there is no one? So we come back to the decision, the question. It's the same one. In the end, it's up to us all. What do we decide to do? Continue or not. Go on? Or?

Are you good or bad? It was the wrong question. It was always the wrong question. No one can answer that. The Caller knew it from the beginning without even thinking. I knew it. I did.

♥ Solitude won't sustain itself forever, until it does.

♥ There is a choice. We all have a choice.

What holds this together? What gives life significance? What gives it shape and depth? In the end it comes for us all. So why do we wait for it instead of making it happen? What am I waiting for?

I wish I'd done better. I wish I could have done more.
Tags: 1st-person narrative, 2010s, 21st century - fiction, canadian - fiction, fiction, horror, mental health (fiction), multiple narrators, my favourite books, philosophical fiction, psychology (fiction), suicide (fiction), surrealist fiction, thrillers
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