Days Like Grains of Sand
By Michael Passaniti
In mainstream film and literature, mental illness is loud. In real life it is black-faced, straight-backed, and as quiet as the empty space between stars. You could pass one of us in the street and we would smile and wave and you would never guess that our motions have as much feeling behind them as the spark plugs in a motor engine.
When I was fourteen, I went to sleep. I didn’t wake up again until I was thirty-three. My eyes were open but I didn’t see, I listened without hearing, and I cannot recall the physical sensation of a single thing that I unmindfully touched. I never left the country and rarely ventured from my rental houses. When I did, it was for a dopamine distraction – coffee, junk food, sex, or to work robotically at a part-time job for money to fund coffee, junk food, or sex.
During those nineteen years I had six jobs, five pet rodents, a thousand bottles of whiskey, and three girlfriends that I was unable to love. I could no more distinguish between the days than the grains of sand in a distant anthill.
Kim, Danielle, Beth; where are they now?
I categorise the epochs of my irreligious life as B.E. and A.E. – before Ella and after her. From the end of 2016 to the start of 2023 I dated her without once saying “I love you”. She gave me an ocean of compassion and affection and I reciprocated half a droplet of acid rain. She gave and I took, and then I left her.
Marry me or leave me, she said.
Goodbye, I said.
But what was it that put me to sleep? I ask myself, stretching my own figurative limbs upon a metaphysical rack.
With the clarity of PTSD I recall the night my father strangled me and the following morning when I approached my mother for help and she said, “You shouldn’t have made him angry.”
That day, I switched off my CPU. The belt that drove the pulley between the battery and the alternator snapped. I began to call myself autistic and a lone wolf and a solitary genius to avoid the truth: I associated emotional connectivity with abuse, tragedy, and most of all, heartbreak.
But what was it that woke me up again?
I didn’t know it at the time, but the invigorating waters of that ocean revived my senses and I could feel the wind and the waves and see the rising light and hear the gently spilling breakers that surged and floated me back to the safety and comfort of land.
I am ready for you, I said to her. I love you, I love you, I love you.
By then, she had gone. She had moved on, to save herself from the trauma that I had unwittingly passed on to her.
And here I am: 34 years old, and as lonely as a fallen angel.
But now I know what I need to do, and I intend to do it.
I will show you.