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I’m not entirely sure when the first time I felt absolutely nothing was. I know the first time I remember feeling it, or the first time I think I did. Honestly, apathy is something that has so impacted my life that sometimes I believe I’ve tailored my memories around it. Either way, I feel like I should start from the beginning, even if it is illusory, to tell my story.
Everything started at my grandmother’s funeral; I was in the first couple rows with the rest of my family, the best view for the saddest people. All around me people were crying. Someone was reciting whatever it was my grandma had wanted everyone to know before she died. I was bored. This was duller than a weather report, blander than tapioca pudding. I barely knew the lady, had only a couple fuzzy memories of her from years past. All I wanted to do was get out of that ugly suit and that stifling church, to go out and play outside with my cousins. Still, I knew that everyone around me was expecting me to be as wracked with grief as they were, so I avoided blinking as much as possible to feign some tears. It was a small dusting of lies and apathy, of fake emotions and family expectations, but the seed was planted.
Fast-forward two years to my middle school years. A quiet war had been brooding in my family for a long while, and had suddenly become much more loud. My older brother’s grades were terrible. He was sneaking around, ignoring parents, goofing off, and generally not caring about his education and his future. To my parents, this was abhorrent. Grades were God to them. But, through his own manipulative magic, he turned them against everyone else. He twisted Mom’s wishes to save him into a tool to get away with doing nothing; he stirred my father into an abusive fury; he mastered the art of hurting my little brother and me. For a while, he was all-powerful. He drew out our self-hate and anger, and spun it into a web against us.
I remember vividly him abusing me from a very young age. Quiet threats peppered with overwhelming violence on occasion. He always seemed to have more than me: more friends, more money, more stuff, everything I wanted. While I hated him, I also envied his power, and he machined my envy to his own desires. In the same way he manipulated my little brother. He excluded and mocked him, making him so desperate for attention that he would do anything to receive it. It wasn’t that he or I didn’t realize we were being mistreated, but any criticism we made was thrown back into our faces a hundredfold. To him we were selfish, childish, and stupid for even considering any action of his immoral. Or, better yet, he made us believe we were predestined to become the same monster that he was. His cruelty would leech into our veins and make us just the same.
Amidst this warfare I was destroyed. I lay awake at night for hours, listening to yelling and fighting, praying to a god I barely believed in for a second of silence. I hugged a pillow, clenched in the fetal position, stifling tears and sobs. Apathy was my cure, my drug, my saint; it shielded me from a home life that was destroying me and gave me the strength to plaster on a fake smile for another day to entertain the people who wanted to see me happy.
Middle school came and went and before long my grades were slipping, too. I heard the same line with a thousand variations spewed from every teacher I had: “He has so much potential, if only he’d apply himself/focus more/actually give a s*** about the class he’d be so successful.” I didn’t care. The only thing I felt when this happened was a mild sense of self-satisfaction when I actually managed to provoke teachers to swear. The truth was, I was terrified of teachers the same way I was terrified of my parents, the same way I was terrified of myself, but I would bury that for a couple more years before uncovering it. To my mind my teachers were a sort of enemy; I quietly came into their classes and amazed everyone with wit and knowledge before failing or barely passing by not turning in homework or by ignoring the requirements for an assignment, or by just plain not caring. It became exhilarating to go into a class that I was completely unprepared for and bulls*** my way through. My parents worried. They scrambled for some magic fix to who I was. Fittingly, becoming my brother was surprisingly easy, and his cruelty combined with my actions created a self-fulfilling prophecy. I soon had my own skills, becoming a wordsmith of weaponized thoughts. I figured out how to pack enough hate into a half sentence to cut to the core. I bought a leather jacket, walked around thinking I looked intimidating, rather than like a little p****. My mind was on how to maintain these layers and layers of falsity that I had built up. A fall was coming, but I busied myself in pretending it would never happen. I treated it the way I did tests, homework assignments and final exams. I hid.
The fall came. At the end of freshman year I had ruined my life with amazing speed and skill. I had quickly made massive enemies, both at home and in my family. I burned almost every bridge I had. Several times I contemplated suicide. My life as I knew it was over. That summer I suffered through periods of vengefulness, sadness, self-hatred, terror, I quietly begged for a death I was too weak to bring to myself. Somehow, I survived. I don’t know if it was the spiteful strength I still felt, fueled by a vengeful feeling I had towards those who helped me along my path to destruction or the quiet need to tell my story, even if only as a warning to others. Either way, I endured. I began seeing a shrink. I still lied to him, but I did it a lot less, almost as little as I lied to myself. I built myself up into a different person, even if only slightly. I healed, bit-by-bit, moment-by-moment. Things were still dark--shouting matches with my parents were a nightly affair, but I could feel my mind patch itself up.
By sophomore year, I was ready to try to fit in again. Rumors swarmed me like plague rats, but I was a skilled enough liar to shake most of them off. I’m still terrified of sharing what happened to me with people. I built a new group of friends, designed more for safety than intimacy. I managed to fit my cog into the social machine. Some teeth were broken, but I spun along with everyone else. I earned decent enough grades to reach my parents severely lowered standards. I proved to myself that I could still meet the demands that the real world burdened me with.
Still, I had the sinking sensation that something was severely wrong. I was surviving, but not living. I was constantly on stage. I thought it was better to not expose myself to the world; I feared that my own self-hate would be mirrored in the faces of my peers. I even fell in love once (although now I doubt it was true love), but the mask of myself I showed her didn’t impress. Nobody, not even I, tasted the saccharine. Living a lie became more and more comfortable. I sat there, content, until I realized I was trapped.
My next summer was quieter, but still it seemed more horrible to me than the first. I had work to line my pocket and keep myself busy--good food, happy parents, enough sleep, free time, video games, books--everything I believed I wanted. In my ignorance, an existential quandary snuck up and smacked me in the face. I realized why I felt constantly uncomfortable: nobody, not even I, knew me as anyone other than who I pretended to be. Everyone around me was happy with me, but I was starting to doubt that the person they so loved even existed. Gradually, I withdrew from human contact as much as possible, isolating myself in my room for as long as I could before hunger forced me out. My sweet apathy had left my sadness half-finished and moved on to other emotions. I felt no true happiness, no sense of satisfaction in a job well done, no friendship, not even anger when I fought with my parents. The sense of grim satisfaction I used to feel after a fight was gone. The fights we had swung wildly between laughably and pitifully stupid and pointless. Nobody cared, least of all me.
There came a point where even my shrink thought I was doing well. The single person who had been a lifeline to me for so long was now blinded by the same fog that I had wrapped others in. I was infinitely and inescapably alone. I was an automaton, giving labor for a fair price in food, but I loved and enjoyed none of it. My psychologist had a vacation coming up, and after that I would have one right as he got back. He suggested we take a break; I agreed.
I finally cracked in Hawaii. My parents had hyped this as the crown jewel of our summer vacation, claiming that the surf and the air would cure everything wrong with our family. Instead, our demons grew. The combination of being forced to interact with each other after months of relative freedom and living in a tiny two-bedroom apartment served just to concentrate the toxic stew of family problems that had simmered all summer. In only days, the mild depression I had been nursing turned into a crippling one, and from there progressed into a suicidal spiral. Seeing the self-centered hatred spewed by all of my loved ones at each other (and at me) made me want nothing more than death.
What people fail to understand about suicide is that it isn’t an action taken in cowardice, or fear, or sadness, or any other emotion. It is the logical consequence of an unbearable life, the only feasible response to impotence and despair. It is neither a brave nor a fearful action, merely an instinctive response as base as coming up for air when drowning. I was that drowning man, yet I was begging to be drowned.
I finally took action. I decided to try to hypothermiate myself in a tub of freezing water. I turned on the tap, and waited for numbness. Sitting there shivering, I waited for death. I thought nothing would stop me. I was wrong. Quietly freezing left me with time to think; I realized that the illusions I’d smothered myself with wouldn’t go away if I committed suicide, and that the real me under all those lies had some intrinsic value. I crawled out of that tub, wrapped myself in towels, and went to my bed. I came out slightly less deluded, and ready to peel back every layer of myself until I reached my core. My problems had not vanished; they had grown, but now I came at them with the determination to improve my life and myself.
Coming back to school this year has been anything but easy. I constantly juggle who I am and what I want people to see. My old friends are still there, and I try to meet their expectations while still being honest, and I search for new friends who like the person I am now. Living this way isn’t easy; I’m both the happiest and the saddest I’ve ever been. I try to accept my past and define my future. I still lie, I still hide, but I’m doing them less every day. I’m not afraid of who I was, and for the first time in my life I’m redefining who I am.