short stories

~ Cold Thoughts ~

~ Cold Thoughts ~

I watched my breath in front of my face as I lay frozen in pain. Shivering uncontrollably, I reflected back to the time seven years previously when I had got lost on the mountain in New Zealand – my sorry ass eventually salvaged by a rescue team before hypothermia had set in. This time I was not lost on a mountain on the other side of the world from home; this time I was home – in the comfort of my own bedroom, to be exact. It had so far been the coldest weather in years and some parts of the country were even experiencing their lowest-ever recorded temperatures. Outside it was minus five degrees, which isn’t too bad if you have central heating, but unfortunately mine had decided to break in conjunction with this cold snap. My bedroom hadn’t received any warmth in two days now – the same amount of time I had been confined to my bed. Four blankets covered me, along with my thermal clothing and jumper – but it still wasn’t enough to keep my body warm. Not only was I fighting off the cold, but also a bad bout of the flu.

Yes, I had also managed to come down with one of the worst sicknesses of my life during this tragic heating malfunction. It was a pitiful situation – the sort of situation where you had to question whether the universe was out to get you. I was drained and defeated in almost every way; my head pounded with a headache, my throat felt like it had razor blades in it, and my whole body ached with a fever. I didn’t even have the energy to get out of bed, let alone go to the toilet, so I used a plastic bottle beside my bed to piss in whenever the time came. It seemed like it would be a good time to sleep and try to fast-forward to a time when I was feeling better and the heating had been fixed, but unfortunately my insomnia had come on strong too. I had barely slept in two days now. With not even enough energy to reach for my laptop and put a film on, I simply stared trance-like into space like a wounded soldier, letting whatever thoughts drift through my delirious and dying mind. 

None of them were cheery thoughts, naturally. I considered that I actually was a dying soldier and this is how my eventual demise played out. It would have been a somewhat underwhelming exit from this earth if that was the case, but at that point, I’m not even sure I would have even fought it off too much. Whenever one is consumed by such intense illness and pain, it’s almost a nice feeling to surrender yourself to the darkness. It was that darkness where you could rest in peace, free from existence and all its traumatic struggles – pain, sickness, depression, loneliness, taxes and tiredness. At that point, I reminded myself that I had come down with the flu before, and, as bad as it got, you were usually up and kicking a few days later. No, I was admittedly being slightly somewhat melodramatic about things. I was going to make it out of this one, but what was I making it out into? What was my life looking like on the other side of this sickness? 

In a way, this did feel like the universe was punishing me and putting me in a place where I had nothing else to do but reflect on the plight of my life. I knew almost certainly when I had got this flu – the previous Saturday night when I had gone out on my own and drank myself into oblivion. That was the night I had managed to buy over twenty drinks and go to four different nightclubs until 7am in the morning. This was the latest reckless bender in a series of benders where I had been destroying my health and finances. I had tried to curb my drinking a couple of months before, but that had backfired and now I was drinking even heavier than before. I knew I was heading down a dark path and perhaps this was life’s way of forcing me to stop and reflect on my ruinous behaviour. I had nothing else to do after all, and that’s exactly what I was doing – reflecting on why I was a self-destructive idiot who got myself into terrible states such as the one I was in. 

I knew exactly where some of this self-destructive behaviour was stemming from; an underlying feeling that had been growing inside of me for a while. I looked out at the current state of the world and saw little hope in anything. Society was becoming more ridiculous by the day and it was harder to find the strength to take part in the circus at all – especially when sober. There was a cost of living crisis, a climate crisis, a nuclear war crisis, a mental health crisis, a physical health crisis, and my own personal ageing crisis. I also now knew I lived in a world where people would quite happily throw away their freedoms in response to whatever hysteria the media created. Things went from one low to the next, and it was now looking like working a full-time job soon wouldn’t be enough to even feed yourself or heat your house (if the heating was even working that is). Myself and a friend had recently coined our catchphrase ‘The Collapse is Coming’ and this was now embedded into our doomed worldview. Because everything was clearly going to total shit, it seemed that nothing was worth it so you might as well just get drunk and live like there was no tomorrow. This was the new-age nihilism, I recognised – a feeling which had been sending me those reckless benders and ultimately helping me end up in this pitiful situation. 

I continued watching my breath and aching in pain as such reflections drifted through my sleep-deprived mind. I realised that if this was the universe challenging me to put myself under the microscope, I had to recognise that I couldn’t just blame it all on these external factors. In particular, I recognised that there was just an internal wild-side inside of me that had always been there. It was like a stallion in my soul – a beast that would cause me to consistently charge off into the wilderness and have no concern for anything other than the pure thrill of being alive. Its aim was to live daringly and thrash about in a way that it could never be caught and tamed. That stallion had been a part of me all my life; it had taken me to some great places and helped me to experience some wonderful things. I was happy to say that I was someone who had definitely made the most of his youth. And if this flu and cold weather were to see me off, then I could check out from the game content with my score. I had experienced life – gotten to know it to its blood and bones.

However, while I was content with what I had done with my younger years, a part of me knew I couldn’t keep living like this – at least if I wanted to have a normal lifespan, that was. I had known this for a while, but perhaps this situation was the moment where I needed to take the time to really accept that something in my personality had to change. It was time to finally start taming the stallion inside of me, or to keep letting it run wild until I died an early death. This wasn’t even me being dramatic, I deemed – something inside of me knew deeply that if I didn’t get a grip of this runaway horse, then I would end up dead and buried at a young age like so many of the writers and artists I idolised (not to forget my uncle who also died of alcoholism in his forties). When I really thought about it, in some ways I felt lucky to even be alive now. The alcohol, the drugs, the adventures, the reckless behaviour and excessive revelry – a bit more misfortune and I could have already died before my time. How much longer could I keep getting away with such a way of living? The general consequences of living so wildly were getting worse, after all. It was just a few months before when I had woken up in a town in Mexico with cuts and grazes covering my face. I had no idea what had happened and, with this mishap taking place in a particularly dangerous area, I thought myself lucky to just have a bloody face. Yes, there was no denying my reckless behaviour was getting worse and worse and it wouldn’t be long until I went too far. The edge would be found and crossed. And never recrossed. 

Oh, but what is a man like me to do when he tames the stallion within him? Especially when that stallion had brought him so many unforgettable thrills and sensations? Especially when that way of being was all he knew? I had to accept it was either to watch my life end in premature wreck and ruin, or to evolve into something else. But what was that something else, exactly? A steady career?A suburban lifestyle with a wife and kids? A life of monk-like contentment? It was hard to imagine living the rest of my life in a subdued state from what I had known, but this was what had to be done in order to have a ‘rest of my life.’ It was a confronting realisation, one that was maybe worth chatting to a therapist about. Well, for now it was just me and the cold and this flu ripping my insides apart.

I reached over in pain and took a sip of Lemsip that one of my housemates had brought me. I felt that warm liquid run down my throat as I gazed around my lair. My eyes met a picture of my family and it was then that I suddenly started thinking about my dad and my brother. Although on the surface they seemed the complete opposite to me, when I thought about it, I recognised that they, too, also once had this craziness inside of them. My brother was six years older and I recalled all the trouble he’d get into when I was a teenager. I thought of his absinthe-fuelled nights-out which could result in the police turning up at our door the next day, or even him returning with a bloody head like that one time on the morning of Christmas Day. And even my dad (a now relatively dull and ordinary man by most measures), had his stories of debauchery and anarchy from his youth as a punk. I knew what the key difference was between me and them though: a woman. A wife, even. They had eventually quietened and settled down into a sensible and sane life. Set straight by marriage, they had packed away such hedonistic tendencies and set off on a life of peace and stability. My dad had done it by the age of twenty, and my brother by the age of twenty-seven. Yet here I was now past the age of thirty, and I had barely even been in a proper relationship. All I had done was travel the world and slept with as many women as I could, all the while being uninterested in forming any real lasting bond. I dipped into dating but again it was never with a serious intent of getting a long-term partner – rather just another impulsive thing to keep myself entertained – an unhealthy vice in which I didn’t even intend to get anything out of other than momentary thrills and pleasures. 

All these thoughts whirled around my mind as a sudden fever came on. Suddenly the shivers stopped and I started sweating profusely instead. My heart palpitated, almost as if I had some bug or creature inside of me pounding at my chest to get out. At that moment, I felt like some sort of terrible bug myself, and the thoughts of why I had never been in a relationship began to make sense. A terrible feeling of self-loathing came over me. I felt that I really had something hideous inside of me and that I put this shield up against love and relationships because deep down I knew that I was someone that no woman deserved to get entangled with. I wasn’t worthy of love or affection or someone sharing their life with me. I was a ghastly insect, an unwholesome creature like Frankenstein’s monster that belonged banished from civilisation, wandering alone in the barren wilderness. Perhaps this is why I so frequently pushed others away? Perhaps this is why I poured so much poison inside myself? Perhaps this is why the world was apparently trying to kill me?

The thoughts continued to get heavier and heavier as the sweat poured from me. My headache was now at the point where I felt like I had an axe embedded in my brain. I yearned deeply for sleep to take me away from myself, but that wasn’t going to happen. My mind kept racing and I wanted to be anywhere but there, but it was no use – I was stranded with myself in one of the coldest times of my life. It was a winter of discontent and even the thought of my one regular escape, alcohol, made me feel sick. There was nothing to do but dwell in my own solitary suffering. To make it even worse, outside the sun was shining. Rays of light entered through the curtains. I heard birds chirping. I could even hear the hearty laughs of my housemate in the garden while on the phone. 

Although at first such sounds and sights compounded my misery, they eventually reminded me that there was something bright in this world. It wasn’t all the doom and gloom I had been living in within my own mind. There was light and there was victory. There were moments of great triumph and joy. There were birds jumping out of nests and tasting flight for the first time. There were baby turtles crawling courageously towards the ocean. There were little children standing up to bullies. There were shy loners creating beautiful music to be played in concert halls. There were poor kids growing up to be doctors and saving people’s lives. There were flowers growing through gaps in concrete streets. Yes, if you kept your eyes open, there were moments of pure universal triumph bursting and blooming and blossoming all around you. I knew this; I had seen these things with my own eyes. And yet I had forgotten them. Time and time again, I let the darkness of the world drive out the light, even when I had seen the glory in life and felt true bliss. I thought of those moments of standing on those sunset shorelines, staring out at the sea, watching the seagulls dancing in the sky as the daylight faded out and the light of distant stars was slowly revealed. I saw that sight again there in my room one more time as the pain faded for just a second.

Immediately, I wondered whether I was on my deathbed. This is how I imagined it to be on your deathbed, after all. You’d see all these visions of all the wonder your eyes had set sight upon throughout their long journey. I smiled to myself as I saw the other visions: bright faces in moments of joy; tender kisses on lips; the laughs of people free from their struggles. Yes, I knew things were bad – there was no denying that – and there was also some light on the other side of this sickness and my general struggles. I couldn’t feel it now but I knew it was there, and the only thing left to do was to own my suffering. This was my suffering that was currently taking place, and yet with it, I was finding something useful with it. It was a time to lie down, stare into space, and reflect. This was the purpose of my life at the moment. And I knew it was going to pass and that in a few days, I’d be back out on those streets with my mind in a different space. I’d be back at work, or running along the river, or shopping at the supermarket, or talking with friends in the pub. It would be time to re-enter the circus again and do my best to get through to the next day. In sickness and in health, fighting to go on and survive. The neverending battle. The only thing that we were all united on – trying to keep it together and finding the air to breathe and searching for the sunlight as the storm of life shakes us to the core.

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