how to kill time while waiting to die

How to Kill Time While Waiting to Die (an extract)

7

By the time the two weeks of sick pay were up, I had decided I wasn’t going back to work. Freedom had tasted too sweet and I now had over £4000 in my account which would support me for a while. For the third time in twelve months, I informed my workplace that I would no longer be returning through their front door. Amazon of course didn’t care; I was merely another number to cross off their list and quickly replace with another person desperate for minimum wage. Back once more to my default state of unemployment, I carried on writing my novel and sunbathing in the garden. I also fished out my old bike from my parent’s garage; it was in a beaten state but it was okay enough to at least get out into the countryside from some much-needed escapist ventures away from my parent’s house. Naturally, my mum and dad weren’t happy that I had given up my job and were consistently on my case. I shrugged off their comments and told them I had enough savings to last me until the pandemic was over. I told them I could pay their board and stay out of their hair until I was able to up and move somewhere else.

I tried that reclusive approach as much as I could but it was still a lockdown after all and inevitably I had to spend some time around them in the house. And naturally, they weren’t going to let me live an easy life under their noses without any pushback. They had endured a hard life and, like all people who had endured a hard life, they were not going to let those close to them laze around and smell the flowers. Suddenly I had a range of chores to do, frivolous things like clearing out the attic and whatever it was they could think of to get me to do some work. One day they asked me to mow the lawn even though it had recently been done and the dry weather had meant it had barely grown. I couldn’t help but comment on how pointless the task was. As soon as I did this, I realised my error. This was the comment they were waiting for; this was the comment that allowed them to get into character and give one of their inspiring working-class-hero speeches.

“I didn’t raise you to just sit around like a leech or bum,” my dad said. “You’ve got to learn some work ethic. What kind of person gives up a steady job at a time like this? You might not be able to get another soon. And how are you going to explain all these gaps on your CV to other employers? No one is going to want to hire you if you can’t hold down a job for more than a couple of months.”

“Sorry that I refuse to be enslaved by a piece of paper with some bullet-points.”

“You need to think about what you’re doing seriously. You’re going to end up homeless or living on benefits on some council estate full of drug dealers. I had to do that for a while and we want better than that for you.”

“Stop trying to install fear into me. Just because fear of the future controlled all the decisions you made in your life.”

“It’s called growing up, being responsible and thinking ahead. Everyone else does it. It’s not that hard. For you it’s just taking a bit longer than normal…” At that point I could feel a pool of fiery passion bubbling up within me. There was only so much a person could take of not being understood before they were pushed to breaking point. Most people’s eyes looked upon me and didn’t really see me, but there was something about having the people who created you having zero idea about who you were that pushed me over the edge. At that moment, I snapped and let the internal monologue inside my head make a rare appearance out into the world.

“Look, you brought me into this world,” I started. “I didn’t ask to come here and exist in this stupid society. Let’s be honest, you only had children because it was ‘the next thing’ to do in your life. You didn’t have an interest in doing anything else in life so once you were locked into the 9-5 routine so, like most people, you had kids to give yourself some sort of basic purpose. It’s the same reason nearly everyone has kids. To give their lives some meaning and to keep themselves busy with something because they have no idea what else they can do with their life outside of their job. It helps stop them having too much time to think to themselves. Because, the truth is, if most people did have time to think to themselves, they’d realise how utterly pointlesss and ridiculous their lives are. This is why you, like everyone else, keep yourself busy by working and watching TV and having kids and doing absolutely anything to avoid looking in the mirror and really reflecting on your life. And have you ever thought about how selfish it is to bring kids into this world just to give yourself something to do? And even worse, you bring kids into this world and then make them miserable by trying to make them do things they don’t want to do. You want me to have a stupid career so you can feel good about yourself and brag about what great parents you are – but I’m telling you now that that sort of life will drive me to suicide and make me even crazier than I already am. But still, you don’t care about how I feel. Okay, maybe you’re like other parents and you want me to ‘be safe’ and have ‘some security’ for the future. Well, did you ever think about safe and secure I was when I didn’t exist? There was no risk of anything at all before I entered this earth. What’s the point of bringing vulnerable human-beings into a violent and dangerous world and then trying to wrap them in cotton wool at the expense of everything else? At the expense of their own sanity and happiness? Maybe you do mean well, but have you ever stopped and thought about how insane your behaviour actually is? Have you ever stopped and thought about how insane life is in general?”

At this point my parents just stared at the television shaking their heads. A terrible silence filled the room as I realised I had for once actually spoken the true contents of my manic mind. I knew that the truth was a creature of the darkness that didn’t belong out in the open world, and now it was out it was like the whole universe had crashed for a few moments in that living room. People’s brains couldn’t handle the truth; it caused them to crash and to stall. Time went slow as we all just sat and stared into space. Seconds felt like minutes. My mum eventually picked up her coffee and started to read the newspaper. Then my dad decided to break the silence.

“Honestly, you need to get your head sorted out first. You’ve been reading too many of those weird writers you’re into. You’ve been brainwashed.” At that point, I got up and stormed up to my room like an angry teenager. I lay in bed and let my head spin with thoughts for hours on end, rehearsing things to say to them, imagining how the rest of the argument would pan out if I carried on the conversation. Eventually I could hear my parents come upstairs and go to bed. Once again, I had to listen to them try and fail to have sex quietly. I reached for my headphones and started playing some music at full volume, drowning out the disturbing sounds of the very heinous act that had spawned me into this existence. I lay there staring at the ceiling, feeling like I was paralysed. Truly it was all too much what life could do to a man at times.

Things got even worse the next days when speaking to Eloise. I noticed that her chat with me had suddenly slowed down since our last meeting. Instead of taking minutes to reply, it was hours. And the sentences were shorter. And her general attitude more distant. One night I couldn’t avoid speaking about it any longer. Clearly something had changed between us and I was going to find out what it was. I rang her but she didn’t answer. So I sent a message asking what was up. Two hours later I got a reply. It was a reply telling me about the new situation between us. Apparently she wasn’t really single, but on a break with her boyfriend. Her boyfriend had been experiencing mental issues, and she wasn’t going to be with him until he recovered. Apparently his condition was improving though, as she was now out of bounds. She said we could still be friends but of course I knew that was just the standard meaningless statement. It appeared our chats were to be no more. Our camping trips were to be no more. And my delusions were to be no more. There would be no peaceful life with this woman. There would be no life without my usual war and wandering. I knew I was a fool to even let such thoughts enter my mind, and my cracked shell and exterior suddenly seized up again. I cemented those cracks harder than ever. I doubled down and withdrew once from the world other people lived in. I looked again at joy and peace and love as things like smoke; which could only be seen and not held or kept. I lay there on my childhood bed and life was more grey than ever – just a meaningless, cruel joke which one had to trudge through. Once again, I was detached, dejected, indifferent. Once again, I was a man killing time while waiting to die.

how to kill time while waiting to die

How to Kill Time While Waiting to Die (an extract)

Covid-19 was the name of the virus. Just when I thought life couldn’t be any more tedious, in came a new period of lockdown rules which reduced life to something that was merely going to work and sitting at home watching Netflix shows. There were no clubs open; no pubs open; no restaurants open; no gyms open; no libraries open. There were skies without planes; roads without cars; shops without food. ‘Stay Home’ was the national slogan and you were only permitted to go outside for one walk or exercise session a day. I knew most people chose safety over actually living their life, but now there wasn’t even a choice in the matter. Existence was all that was allowed in the name of safety. The only thing to do was dwell, to linger, to wait for something – anything. Yes, the apocalypse had come and my god – it was the boring apocalypse one could have predicted. No zombies or nuclear bombs or asteroids – just a slow dying of the human spirit as we all sat inside staring at screens and twiddling our thumbs.

Locked in my flat, l didn’t really have much to entertain myself with. I didn’t own a television or games console – just my laptop which I used for my writing (which had now stopped). I could have just got drunk of course, but for some reason I decided to pack in the drinking and dedicate myself to living a zen-like sort of lifestyle. Aside from my one run a day and the occasional visit to the supermarket (the only thing still open), all I did was I spend the time sitting and staring into space. Life quickly became a mix of meditation and masturbation; of getting lost down internet rabbit holes for hours into the early morning. My landlord Martin was in the flat too of course, although we somehow managed to rarely see each other. It was just the usual occasional chitchat in the kitchen before returning alone to our rooms. One might have thought the situation would bring us together – two people confined with no one else in the world to see or speak to, but for some reason it only made us more distant than before. Our aloof relationship was just another example of human interaction in the modern age – of having people constantly close to you but choosing to be alone with people on the internet instead. 

This solitary existence went on until sometime in the second week of lockdown when Martin told me I would have to move out after my next rent was up. I checked the calendar and realised this was in five days’ time. Typically, I wanted to question his reasoning behind this, but at that point I couldn’t be bothered to argue or even enquire about his seemingly spontaneous decision. Maybe the fearmongering media had already cast its spell upon him and he didn’t want a potential virus carrier living in his safe space? Maybe he just wanted the flat to himself now he was confined in it for twenty-three hours a day? Maybe I was more insufferable and annoying than I actually realised? Whatever his reason, I wasn’t going to argue about it and – when the time came – I packed my bags of the few things I owned, cleared out the junk from my room, and took one last look at it before leaving. There it went: another transient dwelling of mine now confined to memory; another mostly uneventful chapter of my life over as the dust settled on the tops of the shelves. 

I headed back to my hometown of Coventry via the train. Fortunately they were still running, although you were only permitted to use them for ‘essential or emergency purposes’. I wasn’t sure that the UK government were going to go full-on totalitarian with the rules, but it appeared I was wrong as I got stopped by a police officer at the station who asked me my reason for travel. I told him I’d just been kicked out my place and was having to move back with my parents. He looked at me and my flimsy backpack with almost a sad and pitiful look. He then looked down at the floor and back up to my face. “On you go lad,” he finally said. 

I got on the train and sat there alone in the totally empty carriage, enjoying the rare peace and quiet that was seldom found on public transport (it appeared this apocalypse thing actually had some benefits). I then stared out the window, looking out at the countryside, reflecting on the next chapter of my life that was to come. I hadn’t really acknowledged the situation at hand so far, but at the point of being on my way home it suddenly hit me: I was thirty years old and about to be back living with my parents. It was a situation that was almost enough to make a grown man weep – especially a man who was at odds with his parents as much as me, but I reminded myself that it wasn’t completely my fault and that such a tragic situation was acceptable given the unprecedented circumstances. Still, such mental gymnastics wasn’t going to spare me of the actual horror of the situation at hand. It had been six years since my last spell there; and my last memories of that period weren’t great to say the least. I recalled the frequent arguments with my parents, the constant annoyances, the desire to escape at the nearest opportunity. I recalled the horror of having to listen to my parents have sex through the paperthin walls; of listening to them argue about the most trivial and meaningless things. Could I really endure such a way of being once more? Every year of my life seemed to distance me further away from my parents, and any commonground that was once there was now gone. I almost even felt that I wasn’t welcome in their home anymore – like I was now a stranger in comparison to the boy who grew up there. In the place of that hopeful child, they now had a disenfranchised thirty-year-old man who saw the world through very different eyes than he once had. What was I but yet another adult that had been beaten and bent out of shape by the world that awaited you once you had grew up and left home.

When I got home, I dropped my bags and made a cup of coffee. As soon as I walked into the living room, my mum was stressing about the rug. “Watch your coffee! This is a brand new rug! Don’t you dare spill anything on it…” Once again it appeared they had purchased something that brought them much happiness to their lives. After a brief bit of small-talk about the virus, my dad moved the conversation onto the cost of living there. £50 a week – which wasn’t as bad as I expected. My parents were both working class and were constantly itching to remind me that there wasn’t anything such as a free lunch. “I had to go out and work for a living when I was 16….” “Nobody paid my way.” “If you want to stay with us, you’ll have to contribute…. you’re a grown man now.” It was all the usual stuff that showcased what absolute working class heroes they were. Anyway, I was prepared for their script and told them I’d even pay the first month up front – that got them off my back for a while.

I then sat there with them watching television shows for a couple of hours. These included game shows and television soaps where you sat watching fictional characters live their lives as yours passed by on a sofa. It seemed not much had changed since I had last lived here – the five hours of television each evening before bed was still the norm. I guess that was their way of killing time, each person did it differently. At one point I had seen enough and took myself upstairs to my childhood bedroom. There I sat there on the bed, staring out the window into the back garden. I then stared at the walls, and my old books, and then my reflection of the mirror on my wardrobe. I recalled the times I had stared at it as a child and teenager. Here I was again: my face older, my body with more creaks and scars, my hair now starting to grey. My youth had deserted me and I was now edging towards middle-age, back in the same spot like nothing had happened. And when I thought about it, it was true – nothing had really happened. Like many people of my generation, my twenties had passed me by in an uneventful blur of stumbling around physically and mentally. No relationships, no adventures, no real purpose or meaning – just a constant existence of confusion and dissastisfaction. It was enough to cause waves of sadness to wash over me. I was supposed to be concerned with what was happening out there in the world, but what was happening in my world seemed like the real crisis. My detached nature suddenly escaped me and I looked up at the stars wistfully. I looked at them shining in the night sky and longed for something more, for not simply being dejected and disillusioned with this wretched world that I was stuck in. I longed for meaning and purpose; for some kind of sustenance for my soul. And I thought of all the others like me out there, locked down in their homes or wherever the hell they were. I thought of them staring up at the same sky and feeling the same things – of feeling confused and dismayed with this world; tired of the human experience; bored with absolutely everything that this life offered. Truly this earth and existence was some kind of prison for a certain type of person – the ones who looked up above and thought a bit more about everything than you were supposed to. It was too much to take so I went and rejoined my parents to watch some more mindless programs and numb my brain to sleep.

short stories

~ Trapped in Time ~

pexels-photo-5207797
Trapped in Time

It was a random weekend and I had come back to visit the parents in my hometown of Coventry. I was unemployed and waiting to do a medical trial in a couple of weeks’ time, so I thought I’d pop home to be bored there instead of where I was currently living (Nottingham). It was still national lockdown from the coronavirus and there wasn’t much to do, so I arranged to meet a friend and walk around the local park while venting our frustration at the situation. We were both approaching our 30th birthday as the closing years of our twenties were wasted by a hysterical overreaction of a virus outbreak. Both of us should have been out travelling the world, having romances, living life, but instead we were wandering around the drab suburbs of our childhood town, unable to even go to a bar or do anything of any real excitement. After a while he told me his younger brother had just bought a house and was having a house-warming gathering. Well, what the hell; it was something else to do other than wander around aimlessly, so we bought some drinks from a cornershop then headed over.

We made our way inside the house where his brother and a friend were setting up a TV on the wall. We helped them assemble some chairs and then got started with the drinking. His brother and his friend were 21-years old; they had crates of beer, wide eyes, high spirits and were ready for another Saturday on the booze. Soon enough another couple of his brother’s friends arrived to join the party. We were a good age distance apart from everyone there and it wasn’t long until the obvious subject of our age came up. “How old are you?” one of them asked. “29″ I said. “29?” he said. “That’s old man. I thought I’d be having kids and stuff at 29. Don’t you want to have kids?” I shrugged my shoulders and told him no. I then cracked open another beer before moving on to the drinking games. At first it was drink whenever someone with your name scored in a football game, then it was beer pong, then a load of other games as shots and drinks were consumed every few minutes. Vodka, Rum, Bucksfast – it all went down as my memory began to black out as it had so many times over the years.

The next day I awoke in my bedroom covered in cuts and scratches. There were bloodstains on the sheets and unhappy parents downstairs. It took me a while to figure out the ins and outs of the situation, but apparently I had been kicked out of the house-gathering by my friend’s younger brother. Having skipped dinner and downed copious amounts of alcohol, I had become intoxicated to the point I was spilling my drinks everywhere and falling over into thorn bushes. I had also lost my jacket and smashed a bottle of liquor I had bought my mum for mother’s day. Oh – and just to round things off – I had left the key in the front door along with blood on the handle (something my parents found slightly disconcerting). The thought hit me that I was about to leave my youth behind and I was still doing the same stupid shit I had always done. In fact, I was even worse than those 21-year-olds. It was a sobering realisation and I tried to avoid the judgment of my parents by hiding in my room all day. In that lair I dwelled in my hungover state until boredom and horniness caused me to get out my phone to go on Tinder. It was after a few minutes of mindless swiping that I came across the profile of a girl I used to see when I was twenty-two. Seven years had passed but I thought I’d start speaking to her again anyway. Suddenly I was feeling super nostalgic; probably I just wanted to feel like I was younger again, but I asked her to go for a walk over the local farmland near where we lived. She agreed.

We met on a street corner and started catching up. It had been a strange year since the pandemic began, but this was perhaps the strangest moment of all. We hadn’t spoken in five years yet somehow it felt like no time had passed at all. Tales of the past and present were discussed as we wandered around the farm fields under a grey and gloomy sky.

“So what are you doing with your life now?” she asked. “It must be weird now the pandemic caused you to be a stable UK citizen.”

“It has been weird,” I said. “I was about to jet off to South America when the pandemic hit but  instead I found myself moving back in with my parents and getting a job at Amazon. Then I quit and enjoyed the summer before moving back to Nottingham. But yeah, to be honest, I don’t really know what I’m doing right now. I always wanted to just travel throughout my twenties, but now that has been taken away from me by this pandemic. Right now I’m just living month to month, working here and there, doing medical trials and trying to get by. You know how it is…”

“I can imagine it’s been strange for you not being able to take some trips…” There was a pause. “So do you think you can finally see yourself settling down or are you planning to get away again after the crisis is over?“ I knew why she was asking this of course – it was to see if I was finally someone worth imagining a future with. That was what she wanted in the past and what I had disappointed her with once already. When I came back from an eighteen-month trip five years ago, she had hopes that I was finished with the life of being a wandering nomad. We saw each other a couple of times again but I quickly realised it was the wrong thing to do. She only ever wanted a normal life and back then even after that trip I knew there was no way I could give her what she wanted. Well, here I was five years on still feeling the exact same way. Time had changed nothing; I was still just a drifting bum with no direction or desire to join her in a settled existence. Well, if I wanted to get laid I’d have to give her hope, so I continued talking about how I was open to whatever life brought my way now travel wasn’t possible.

It must have worked as the next day she invited me around to her place for the evening. I walked over to hers from my parents, a fifty-minute walk through the streets of a sleepy suburb, filled with big houses and nice cars on the drives outside. I got to her house, knocked on the front door and entered. Inside I was jumped upon by her puppy – an eight-month-old cocker-spaniel. She had bought him during lockdown, presumably to have some company while living alone. I then made my way into the living room and sat down with her on the sofa. As we chatted about life, I looked around at the interior of the house. It was clean and well-decorated, but something about it saddened me. It was a new-build house and you could see it was a formulaic design –  a computer-generated building on a computer-generated street where everything looked the same (almost like it was taken from The Sims). I looked at all the Ikea furniture tidily laid out; I looked out at the garden which was a blank square of grass with a small shed at the bottom. Everything was neat, clean, featureless. Of course, I couldn’t knock her for buying her own home at the tender age of twenty-five, but to me it seemed that there was just no soul there at all. In that soulless house we sat discussing old times as I imagined the possibility of finally forming a relationship with this girl. I could live here with her in suburbia, come home to this sofa, walk the dog in the local park, make love with her at night. I could get my old job back at the Amazon warehouse that was right off her street. It was all there within my reach: a civilized and normal life. A chance to come in from the wilderness. A chance to ‘grow up’, as my parents kept pressuring me to do. No more getting drunk and hurting myself. No more floating idly with the breeze. Just a steady, sensible, neat, ordinary existence.

Eventually we started making out and I ended up staying the night. The next morning we made love again before I headed to leave her so she could get started with her job. Of course, I didn’t have such responsibility and I walked out into the rain to begin the long walk back to my parents place. “Do you want a lift?” she asked as I headed out the door. I remembered how she always gave me a lift home in the past from her old place. I still hadn’t got my driving license after all these years, but this time I couldn’t allow her to drop me home. “No, don’t worry about it, “ I said. I then left her with a kiss before walking off into the rain (without my rain jacket, of course, which had been lost at the house-warming party).

When I got back to my parents, I packed my bags and began the journey back to Nottingham. It had been a strange old weekend and I just wanted to be back far away from my hometown. The train journey would be two hours and I spent that time staring out the window, my old pastime, wondering what was next for me in this purgatory state of living I had been experiencing. It had now been one year of living in this existential blur. No direction, no desire, no possibility to do what I wanted to do anymore. All the years were coming and going. I saw the younger kids buying houses and settling down. I saw past love flames still living a stable existence. Elsewhere friends were getting married or engaged, climbing career ladders, having babies. All those things which I still had no desire to do. My way of life was dead for the time being and I saw myself as just plodding along, acting as stupid and reckless as I had always done. Getting drunk and hurting myself; losing my belongings and breaking things; leading girls on I had no intention of forming a relationship with. Not much had changed over the last decade. I was a man trapped in time, repeating the same reckless behaviours I had always done. A couple of lines across the forehead showed the passage of time aging me, but other than that just the same old fool I had always been. Where to go from here? Who the hell knew. The lockdown of the world had left my brain in a frozen state and all I could do was stare into space and wait for something to appear to me in the greyness.

short stories

~ Medical Trial Madness ~

~ Medical Trial Madness ~

The first time I heard about it was while travelling around Australia. I had just been working an overnight job in Adelaide in which me and my friend had spent a few hours pulling down some plastic sheets that covered the clothing racks of a department store during a smoke test. Following this highly skilled work, we were sat in a McDonald’s joint at dawn watching the streets begin to stir with life over a morning coffee and breakfast bagel. As we discussed the different ways to make money while backpacking in Australia, a fellow worker on the table beside us interrupted with some friendly advice.

“Why don’t you guys do one of those human guinea-pig things?” he said, chomping away on a sausage and egg McMuffin.

“One of those human guinea-pig things?” asked my friend.

“Yeah, you know, one of those medical trial experiments? You just go into a clinic, take some new medicine, and then you stay in there while you have your health monitored. When it’s finished, you come out with a few thousand dollars in the bank. Easy as bro.”

Immediately we both stopped eating and turned to face him like he was some sort of holy prophet. The sound of ‘a few thousand dollars’ to broke backpackers was like the sound of heroin to a smack addict. Being as desperate for money as we were, we naturally disregarded anything to do with the safety of testing unknown drugs.

“And how do you sign up for one?” I asked, salivating at the prospect.

“Just go onto their website and register bro. Their clinic is in town. I’ve got a surfer friend whose been doing them for years now. He just knocks out three or four trials then goes and surfs and gets drunk in Bali for six months or something. Pretty cruisy ‘ey?”

“Unreal,” said my friend. “And anyone can do it?”

“Pretty much bro. As long as you can pass a drug test and don’t mind getting stabbed with a needle a few times a day.”

Me and my friend turned to each other with a look of curiosity. After a few seconds of silent contemplation, it was decided. Right there and then in that McDonald’s joint, I realised that a glorious new career beckoned upon the horizon of my future. So far in Australia, I had been a factory line operative, a party-hire event worker, a fruit picker and a bartender – but now I was to venture into the pharmaceutical industry where I would nobly donate my body and time in the pursuit of trying to rid the world of the many illnesses that plagued humanity. Oh, and also to afford another month or so of travelling around Australia while getting drunk on cheap wine.

It was just a couple of weeks later when I walked triumphantly out of my first medical trial. I had just tested some new medicine to treat Asthma while staying in the clinic for five nights. I walked back out onto the sidewalks of society joyfully breathing in the fresh summer air, skipping down the street, feeling the sun’s rays bouncing off my skin. I was like a man in possession of a great secret; I had just spent the best part of a week lying around, being cared for, being fed, playing ping pong and pool while getting paid over a thousand dollars for all of it. Instead of forking out on pricey hostels, I had found a way to get all-inclusive free accommodation plus a large sum of money. I stood there on that street and looked up at skies above knowing that I had found my true calling at last. Some were born to be doctors, some teachers, others – presidents. Me? I was born to be a human guinea-pig. It was a pivotal day in my life and to celebrate my new profession, I went online to book myself a trip to go and cage dive with some great white sharks with the money I had just made in the clinic.

Over the next few years, I continued venturing in and out of the human guinea-pig industry. Returning home to the U.K, I found I could only take part in a drug trial every three months, so I had to be calculative about when and which assignment I wanted to take part in. I was still travelling on and off somewhere out in the world, so all the trials acted as a convenient way to top up the bank account in between adventures. My equilibrium of life became some sort of comical cartoon where one moment I’d be hiking in the Himalayas and the next I’d be confined in a clinic having some nurse monitor my urine whilst being pumped full of drugs.

I thought maybe it would just be my way of life for a short while, but I soon realised that this lifestyle was somewhat sustainable. Due to the entropy of the universe, there was always a wealth of work to be had. My many assignments in the guinea-pig industry included testing drugs to treat diseases and illnesses such as pulmonary arterial hypertension, neutropenia, cystic fibrosis, Parkinson’s and that old notorious bad guy: cancer. Each one varied from three to eighteen days in clinic and helped contribute to whatever adventure I was planning next.

As the needles pierced my skin and the blood was drained from my body, my financial health and travel prospects flourished. I made money to go hike in the Himalayas; I made money to go party in Central America; I made money to go walk across Spain while drinking red wine every day of the summer. It was a simple transaction and, truthfully, the whole damn thing seemed too good to be true. The money was great and even the trials themselves were a pleasant experience. Inside those clinics I found fellow wanderers like myself living out on the fringes of society. Inside those clinics I found a way I could sit around playing on an Xbox all day while not feeling guilty about wasting the day away. You didn’t have to spend a single penny while you were in there, so essentially everything you earned was total profit and savings. Hell, it was even tax-free as the money was classed as an ‘inconvenience allowance’ and not a payment. Yes, for once in my chaotic life everything fit neatly into place, but naturally such an unconventional line of work brought about the naysayers.

“You don’t know what they are giving you.”

     “You’re only thinking about the money.”

     “Don’t you care about health?”

     “Sort your life out and get a proper job you hobo…”

Maybe those naysayers were right, but I couldn’t help but dedicate myself to the profession anyway. No doubt I was blinded by the money, but it seemed that being a human guinea-pig was my true calling. I had tried and failed hopelessly at almost every other profession the human species had offered to me. I had no common sense or dexterity to do any of the trades; I was too open and honest to deal with the bullshit and bureaucracy of the business world; and I had even become disenfranchised with my degree profession of journalism. It seemed that nothing in this society suited me except lying in a bed and being fed some drugs while having my blood sucked dry by a pharmaceutical company that saw me as a mere subject number in a scientific study. It was a funny situation, I guess. My friends all had job titles that included: ‘marketing manager’, ‘graphic designer’, ‘business consultant’, and ‘systems engineer’. I suppose ‘human guinea-pig’ didn’t seem to fit in quite as well with those on the surface of things, but the more I took part in those drug trials, the more I realised that such a line of work drew many parallels with those other conventional professions.

I remember lying in bed on one of the studies and getting talking to a middle-aged man on the bed next to mine. We both began speaking about our lives and why we were doing the trial, and how many we had done, and what we were planning to do after the trial. Naturally with him being a middle-aged human who had successfully reproduced, I presumed he was a functioning member of society with a career and confident knowledge of what he was actually doing in life. However, after talking for ten minutes, it turned out that miraculously I somehow had a better grip on life than he did. He was spontaneously doing the two-week medical trial after just quitting his job as a store manager for IKEA. He explained to me how the long hours and time away from home had gradually ruined his marriage and social life and left him empty on the inside. He went on to say how he finally decided to quit after his friend had killed himself after also working as a boss for IKEA for twenty years. The death left a profound impact on him. It turned out he was doing the trial to give himself some time alone to think about his next move in life so he didn’t end up as another suicide case driven to the ledge by the cold, mechanical world of business.

Right there and then I realised that the job of a human guinea-pig was no different than many jobs and professions out there. In the process of trying to obtain money, I went and stayed in a set place for a certain amount of time where I gradually had my blood sucked dry by some company that saw me primarily as a number on a screen. Maybe it was a bit more nonchalant and ‘to-the-point’, but it didn’t seem to be so different from the IKEA job that man had told me about. At least with medical trials, it was a lot clearer how it worked: “Look you need money, and we need your body, so come in and sacrifice your freedom and health for a set period of time, and we will reimburse you with a financial payment into your bank account.”

If anything, I had to applaud them for their honesty. Many faceless companies out there tried to confuse you with sneaky slogans like ‘career progression’, ‘success’ and ‘bettering yourself’. Many companies out there tried to make you feel good, when really you were just spending the best years of your life confined in some small space doing some menial task as your health was damaged by the stress and the inevitable lack of exercise that came with being too tired to do anything after work. Maybe medical trials were no different in regard to how they used you, but I respected the fact that at least they were a lot more transparent about proceedings.

As I carried on my career in the guinea-pig industry, I realised that the IKEA guy wasn’t a one-off. Often I came across people who had dropped out of the rat race and started doing trials in an attempt to afford extra time off during the year, or a way to supplement an adventurous lifestyle like the one I was attempting to live. Mostly they were on the other side of forty. I figured that this was because it was usually at that age many people awoke to the fact that they had squandered their youth working at a job they had no interest in for a company that had no interest in them. Finally realising this unfortunate set of circumstances, they set about simplifying their life and finding a way to afford to actually spend time doing what they cared about – whether that was travel, art, sports or even something as simple as gardening. It was a sudden sidestep to say the least, but mostly it was a good score: the trials themselves were a nice retreat from society and allowed a person to sit inside all day and maybe learn a new language, play the ukulele or – in my case – work on some existential memoirs they had been wanting to jot down for a while. Of course, there was the obvious possibility that something could go wrong and you’d get elephantiasis or something, but overall it was a risk I was happy taking.

And take I did. The years went on and on and so did those trials and adventures. Sometimes it was taking a pill to stop nicotine addiction, sometimes it was an injection to treat irritable bowel syndrome. Eventually I managed to get into the routine of doing three trials a year. With this money supplementing my chaotic lifestyle of bohemian travel, I usually only had to work an actual job for no more a few months a year. The situation was strange, but a good kind of strange – although I did think maybe I had gone a little too far when I was sat in a toilet holding a container under myself as I went about my business. I had ended up on a trial which required us to give a feacal sample at least once every day. I specifically remember the awkwardness of walking through the clinic ward while holding my container to go and place it on a tray alongside all the other guinea-pig’s cluttered pots of feaces. I thought of how my friends would be handing in coursework, or important projects of some sort they had completed at work. Me? I was quite literally handing in a piece of shit.

Eventually, after trial number twelve or thirteen, friends and relatives started raising eyebrows that I was still continuing my career in the guinea-pig industry at a relentless pace.

“This is getting ridiculous – you can’t do it forever.”

     “You need to think about getting something solid behind you.”

     “You need a proper trade or qualification.”

It was the standard script that parents, teachers and professional human-beings could recite at any given moment on any given day. Even my sister, usually generally on my side with most things, had her eyebrows raised along with the others.

“Have you not thought about what job you actually want to do?” she said, sitting across from me on the sofa. “You’re twenty-six now after all. You need some security. You can’t rely on testing medicines all the time.” I was disappointed by my sister’s reaction, but I understood her position. By now my sister was twenty-eight, studying a physiotherapy degree and preparing to finally fit herself into the paradigm of society after a decade of floating around. The psychology elements of her degree made her feel like she could understand the chaos of my mind, and she sat back into the groove of the sofa and studied me like she was a therapist and I was her patient. I got into the swing of it and went ahead explaining that by doing a medical trial, working three months and then doing another one, I could afford to travel over half the year for the rest of my life while working on my writing projects. There was no nod of agreement; just a look of bewilderment, of concern – of outright fear. It was a look I would have to learn to become immune from if I didn’t want to be caged by the judgemental nature of the human-race which was always ready to cast those glares and scowls upon you in the millions.

I thought inside the clinic was safe from such judgement, but I began to see a lot of people in there were also insecure about whether this line of work was an acceptable way of surviving in this world. The middle-aged people were usually comfortable with them as they did them in combination with some other line of work. But the fellow guinea-pigs my age were often chatting away about other plans or studies or ventures to show that medical trials weren’t their final destination in life. In particular, I met one guy called Daniel, a couple years older than me in his late twenties, who had been out travelling the world the last few years and had now returned home to face the screeching music of ‘the real world’ – an experience I knew all too well.

I saw him scribbling fastidiously in his notebook. “What are you writing?” I asked.

“Ahh, just trying to get some plans down.” I looked down at the page where bullet-points and ideas were littered everywhere across the page. There was a long list of possible job roles and courses, all as varied as a kid’s pick n mix candy selection.

“Wow, you’ve got a lot of plans,” I said.

“Yeah, well, you know how it is. After travelling for so long you’ve got to get yourself in shape and figure out what you want to do with your life. You can’t rely on doing these trials all the time really, can you?” Immediately I started to recall the conversation we had a few days before in the ward. He had told me all about his travels and how much money he was making as a club rep in Sydney, and how he had planned to go back out there, then later go to Canada, and how he hoped to do all these wild and exciting and adventurous things.

“But what about all the other things you planned to do?” I asked. “I thought you were thinking of doing another couple of medical trials and then heading back out to Oz?”

“Yeah, that’s true,” he said. “But I’ve been thinking about it. I’m twenty-seven now, and I’ve got no relevant experience in my field of study since I graduated. Looking at jobs while in here has made me realise that I’m a bit out of the loop, you know? All my friends here have stable careers. Having to rely on medical trials to get by isn’t what I want to be doing in my thirties. Maybe the travels can wait a bit for now.”

Naturally, I was surprised by this reaction. I wanted to question him on his sudden U-turn of thought but decided against it. It already seemed like he had enough going on inside his mind. Hearing it off someone like me how he changed his mind so drastically probably wasn’t going to help. But it was true: he had waltzed into the study excitedly talking about all his travels and his plans to continue his adventures after Christmas, but now, in less than a week, the pressure of society’s expectations and the fact he was getting money from medical trials had started to wear down his idealism of travelling the world. It made me slightly sad and I avoided talking to him any more about those plans he was constantly scribbling down in his notebook of anxiety. It was clear to me he could easily get some quick money together doing this then head back out to Australia in the new year to continue the life he had proclaimed to love so much. But the situation of coming home and having no ‘real job’ and testing drugs for money had left him spooked. His stance had changed, and he had retreated back to the world of social normality. His fleeting guinea-pig career was over just as it was getting started.

After that encounter, I kept thinking more about my emerging occupation as a human guinea-pig. I thought of Daniel, my sister and all the concerned others. Maybe it was true that an individual couldn’t rely on testing drugs forever, but all in all, I was happy with the line of work I had chosen for the time being. Maybe it would cause me health problems in the future, and even knock a few years off my life, but overall I was content with the fact that it at least it afforded me months of freedom where I could venture out into the world and live a life of exploration and adventure. I was content that I was at least living the life that allowed me to explore my interests and passions to the full. We were all slowly decaying and dying anyway, so why not do something that at least allowed you to have fun in the small time we had available here? Why not try something a little different? As a great philosopher once said: “better to have a short life full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.”

Well, here’s to you Alan Watts – writing this while temporarily enclosed in a medical trial clinic so I can get some money to go out hiking in the mountains again. Here’s to a glittering career of testing new medicines and blowing the cash on adventure. Here’s to helping cure humanity’s ills while sitting around playing on an Xbox. Here’s to social alienation and awkward pauses whenever someone asks me ‘what I do’ for work. Now, if only I can get rid of these purple spots on my skin…