THE CELL by The Sir Shags
Since the day I was born, I've been locked in a cage. Or at least it seems that way.
Although these four, rotten walls dominate me, I can always look forward to the fleeting escape of a long nap. Sometimes sleep comes, but never easily. Once it finally does, it's gone too soon. And when I've awoken, there is that sweet, blissful moment before I recall my own wretched condition. That precious tenth of a second is shattered when I roll over and finger the jagged brick edifice of my cell's wall. I scratch in another meaningless tally mark denoting one more planetary rotation, a ritual which long ago ceased to matter. And then I just face the day, because that's all I can do.
Boredom. I count the pebbles scattered across the floor. I scratch more of the paint off the wall. Sometimes, when I'm feeling particularly energetic, I skip around in circles. Those days are becoming less frequent now. Mostly, I sit and think; I let my mind wander while my body is confined. I think of rolling waves crashing on the golden beach that was my home. I remember the soft sand between my toes and the warm rays of the sun caressing my pale skin, toasting it until it was a hearty golden-brown. I can almost touch it, almost transport myself back to that reality, but the dank, cavernous room sucks me back in. I'm still stuck here, far from the refreshing surf and the salt spray, never again to fish those harbors that I took so for granted in my freer days. It's hard to tell how much time has passed anymore, but I think it's ticking by slowly. I'm starting to feel older.
I feel nothing at all most of the time, but sudden rushes of intense emotion seize me. I'm plagued by these almost nightly episodes. At first I feel normal, just whittling away the minutes and hours with simple distractions. Then a sudden, familiar fear bubbles up within me, surging, growing by leaps and bounds, until it reaches a fever pitch. My legs become restless and I want to flee to anywhere else, but I'm trapped in this inescapable tomb. I rattle the bars of the cage to no avail, as desperate frustration courses through me. I collapse in a ragged heap face first on the ground, burying my head in my arms. It's the utter isolation that has pushed me to the breaking point; the shadow people and hazy memories I entertain aren't enough to ward off these inevitable nervous breakdowns. The shimmering mirage of the shore dissipates, and only these damned, mocking walls remain. I writhe on the stony floor in scarlet rage, my heart pounding in my chest cavity like a flurry of strikes from a prizefighter. I hardly fight the blood-curdling scream that bursts forth from the pit of my stomach, a scream that goes unheard and unanswered. The echoes from my cry reverberate from those cursed walls; they vibrate throughout the room, and then drift off into total silence. Finally, my slow, heavy sobs take over as I struggle to catch my breath.
Then, as I accept this fate for the billionth time, everything is calm again.
I settle down and slowly I lose faith in my fruitless protest. I stumble back to my paper thin mattress and sit, knees to chest, in silent astonishment. I replay my irrational breakdown in my mind, recognize the futility of my predictable, routine tantrums, and I feel ashamed for losing my grip. I would admonish myself, had I any energy left to expend. Instead, I sit motionless, mouth ajar, my eyes glazed cherries, with harrowed thoughts ricocheting through my head. A feeling of impending doom permeates the air, even as I lay plans about how exactly I'll get out of here and what I'm going to do when I'm free. I envision the shackles releasing, falling to the ground, the walls crumbling, and in a dead sprint I find myself racing back to the water's edge. I see myself lying in the breakers, tossed about by the force of the roaring waves, so comfortably at peace. Part of me knows that my dream of returning home to a long forgotten life will never be realized – that in the end these walls are damned well closing in on me.
I should know, after all, because I built them.
Every day, when I leave my bedroom, gather my things, and board the train, I'm reminded I exist in a space where I'll never be truly comfortable. Smokestacks and ruined neighborhoods flank the railroad tracks as I zip past, cutting through smog and despair until the train pulls into the dock. The double doors slide open and a horde of blank countenances and exhausted minds hurry to shuffle slowly out of the gutter, like rats. There I emerge with them, into the belly of the beast, this stinking, filthy mass of metal, concrete, and misery, all to engage in another shift of obligatory drudgery. As I stroll through Chelsea and pivot toward the Flatiron District, a haggard man with an empty Styrofoam cup and not an ounce of hope might stop me for some spare change. Amidst the immaculate skyscrapers and the self-conscious affluence, I might share with this forgotten denizen of the streets a cigarette, a few stories, and maybe a laugh. A bittersweet appreciation for this precious shared moment, this self-indulgence in some minor benevolence among a city of gimme-gimme, is the only reprieve from the dark, omni-present specter of our selfish civil society.
The fool in me looks these things in the eye, rather than avoid them or rationalize. The anthem of "that's just the way the world is run today" offers me no comfort. The honest man in me acknowledges his own complicity in what has brought ruin to this world. My natural reaction is agitation, self-loathing, and anxiety.
Or is this worldview the result of some mental depravity? Are things as bad as they seem? Is some chemical imbalance or drug-induced psychosis really to blame for this internal strife? That seems too simple an explanation, even for good old Occam, and yet, shouldn't the beautiful things count for more? Even in those happy, rare moments when my mind turns to pleasant things, I realize that my human family is hard at work destroying them. How do you cope when you know you're contributing to that destruction in every action you take? Any objective appraisal of the situation proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that when the line is drawn I'll be standing on the wrong side of it. While I want to believe I can cross that line, I'm too busy imposing a sentence on myself to progress. Before I can be free, I must make amends, somehow, for all the terror that has been wrought. Until then, I deserve these shackles I have fashioned for myself.
Every day, I'll climb reluctantly back into battle, appreciating the little victories and overcoming the many defeats, until that glorious day when I finally tear the walls down once and for all.
If I am my own jailer, then I must already have the key, but I first need the strength to leave this cell behind.