Am I Alone – Niamh O’Donovan [Fiction]

Am I Alone

I was twenty-two when I first acknowledged you. When I first understood the noise is a part of everything I did and didn’t hope to experience, dream, succeed and fail at. It was a great awakening realising I had always been accompanied by a hateful friend, joined for all my life. I lay there in my sweat-soaked bedclothes thinking, turning, and finally seething at the injustice of a till then unnoticed but now accepted always aural scream. At least that’s how I’ve come to remember it. How I’ve reconstructed that night trying to figure out why.

I lay there thinking some electronics – whining through the night like a kitten, a cub destined to be a hunter of large prey now away from her mother – was keeping me from sleep. I clamoured from my bed, unplugged computers, took batteries from what I could, and eventually unscrewed a light bulb. Yet your howl persisted.

You’ve kept me from so much, wakefulness, that constant thrum, the intruder, you constant lucid roar, seemingly aware of your presence enough to make yourself known at the most forgetting time. Aware of me even when dreams held store. To think I once thought sleep offered escape. There is no escape.

I would wake and listen, my first thought to pay you attention. After a few years I thought my early morning protest an unknowing bribe, an acknowledgement that kept you around. I would turn in that bed, over, again, and over again, and again I would dream but you never allowed me my freedom. They were stark, vivid dreams I lived in sleep, and your alarm, louder than any battery fed device I’d cleared from my room made even that REM world a hazard. An auditory hue droning through every slumbered hope of a better life.

Friends offered a glimpse of respite. At first I would sit, their presence enough, their words louder than your screech. I thought they sent you back. That welcome company triumphed. I clung to those friends, became part of everything they did and never once did they question why I held to them so firm. You screamed stronger. Being part of their world was not enough. For weeks, maybe months I held back. Eventually I spoke, my first words not loud enough to be heard as though you had raised your voice to speak over me. I spoke again, high, told those friends about you, ‘The noise.’

They thought you a metaphor. Convinced me I was speaking of an illness; depression, anxiety, stress. I believed them, for a while. It wasn’t that you subsided instead I convinced myself that you were a conjured presence, the manifestation of some unhappiness. A representative of mistrust, or unease. You became a sine wave, rolling up and down like the ocean pushed ahead of an Atlantic storm. There would be peace, for a while, and then another tower of water would crash against my shore, shaking me, making me fear. First, I was unstable from the battering you inflicted, then a hesitant peace would come. Sometimes I tried to forget, but your absence had a way of making you more known. I knew you would rise up, your intensity growing a low, guttural growling. I would steady myself but it was more a cower. I had become small, and you big. You a hundred-thousand people shouting hush, no longer pushing me ahead of the storm. You the storm, and me caught in it.

As a child, lying in bed, I would hold my foot against the rads, at first with a sock on, then removing it, and I would think that I could become accustomed to the heat. If I wasn’t scalded then I could endure any mounting pain from a freshly bled radiator. It was simple. I had a mind, I knew my body, and that counted for more than simple discomfort. I tried that too with you. I acknowledged you, then tried to set you aside. Accepted you are a part of my life and a part of me. I meditated on the nature of existing with a banshee cry foretelling my death but letting my live through every preordained fatal moment. I thought on death, on becoming nothing more, but didn’t have the strength to draw a blade across a vein, or the determination to not regret a long fall from a tall building. I thought myself pathetic for crying for that release, and weak for considering it but not following through. You have made me weak even if I show strength to those around me.

I forced myself towards a better life. At the time thinking that’s what you were, some push for righteousness and justice. Unfinished business, matters not yet begun and that I had to achieve before my world would fall silent. I dedicated myself to many causes; domestic violence, mental health, childhood learning, animal cruelty, elderly loneliness, cancer awareness. I was a part of many victories for those callings, and just as many defeats. Neither up nor down, triumph or despair stopped your cry.

I ran to doctors who were no help. I saved and paid for scan after scan. I dealt with therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists all to no avail. The cabinet with my medication is almost as full as your roar. I turned to drink, and drugs and the doctors helped when that became too much but never helped with you. Priests offered faith, but how can I believe when no God has written of you in their holy books.

In my weakness came an inability to grasp to what mattered most. When all I could hear was caught in an overwhelming screed I could no longer remember the minute that had just passed, or the morning that made me conscious to you again. I read books and at the end had to piece together all that happened; the plot like a mountain’s peak worn away to nothing. I couldn’t hum a tune because no melody remained in thought. I couldn’t hold a conversation because no words came to mind, instead there was just your roar. I do not know what it is to walk a street or make a move without fear. I lost the sense of what it is to ever live with ease.

So now I turn to writing and ask you why? I do not know where I will send this but I ask you for whatever purpose it is you have for me. I commit to writing this question.

You are a silence rising louder than every other silence. You are what’s there to force me by myself. You are the edge of perception that can never truly form. And in this, I ask you, am I alone?


by Niamh O’Donovan


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