“The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them – words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.” Stephen King, The Body
It is the summer of 2014. Over the previous twelve months, I have lost 30 pounds. If I were overweight, and dieting, I suppose that would be a good thing. But this is not the case. I drop from 160 to 130, and no doctor can tell me why. I feel sick, and look sick.
Of course, I fear the worst, and I am more anxious than I have ever been in my life. I spend most of my time at doctor’s offices, and at clinics having all kinds of tests performed on me. It has cost me thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket medial expenses. The good news is, nothing life-threatening is found, but there is also no explanation as to why I am losing weight, and feeling sick all the time. I am desperate for answers. My web design business? That’s over. Not only is there no work coming in, but even if there was, I am not well enough to run the business anyway.
When I am not visiting the ‘ologist’ de jour, I am sitting alone in the dark. If I am on the phone with someone, and they ask me what I am doing, my standard response is, “I am sitting alone in the dark.” And I laugh to make light of it.
The dark is mostly to relieve the migraines. They last for days. I wake up with them, and go to bed with them. We have lunch together, and talk about the weather. We argue a lot, and I always end up losing the argument. After dinner, we sit on opposite ends of the room, not talking. When I lay down to sleep, it tells me stories of wartime and the slaughter of the ages. Then I fall asleep, and we do it all over again the next day.
The migraines are one of several physiological symptoms of whatever is ailing me, and I feel depressed as a result. It weighs down on me, like a physical thing. Like there are three of us here. Myself, the collection of symptoms ranging from discomfort to various degrees of pain, and the depressive state. Boredom is a frequent guest as well. I have a hard time determining what is worse. The ennui or the headaches.
Sitting here, alone in the dark, I am reminded of a scene from The Body, a novella by Stephen King which appeared in the collection Different Seasons, and which was adapted for the screen as Stand by Me. Gordie, Chris, Vern and Teddy are running across a bridge because a train is coming toward them at high speed. Gordie and Vern are the last to make it off the bridge before the train could blast them into oblivion.
I feel like Gordie and Vern, only I am not running from the train. I am sitting on the tracks, facing it head-on, watching it approach. I feel that way for the whole of 2014 and 2015. I cannot work, I am depleted emotionally and physically from the health issues, and my savings are disappearing as fast as the wild, untouched landscape.
It will not be long before I run out of money. And then what? How do I pay the mortgage? Buy groceries? These thoughts are always at the back of my mind.
All I seem to have that carries me through is faith. And books.
Having ‘dropped out’ of collecting and reading Stephen King for some time, I find myself coming back to the book. The book; with all its glorious words printed on the page. One word followed by the next, forming sentences and paragraphs and chapters. Stories. Ideas. Worlds. Real and imagined. Histories. Futures. A way to escape; and this is where I come to again, where I am drawn to. A place where I can take my mind off of my situation. To fill the hours spent sitting alone, not feeling well, with no energy to do much else, and no one to talk to.
And do I read. I am obsessed with it again. I read forty-seven books in 2015. Seven of these are The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. I read all seven in under two months. After that, Mr. King is back in my life again. I realize too that he never left, in the sense that he was always there on a subconscious level.
I decide to read and re-read all of his books, and from April of 2014 through to July of 2016 I read fifty-five of his novels. I rediscover his writing, and the poetry in his words. His deep sense for the human condition. And the books carry me through these challenging months.
As 2015 comes to a close, I am still not well. The train has inched even closer, and I am hanging on by hope and faith alone. I am out of everything else. Out of money. Out of ideas. Out of the fire and universal energy that make us who we are. I want my life back again, and I need a miracle to pull me out of this.
And then, a miracle happens.
‘Self Portrait’ photograph by Paul Suntup