He rubbed his temples but the pain didn’t subside. It never did and yet he persisted each time his head ached. He never really thought about it either, it was just something he’d always done, some habit picked up along the way. He did, however, force his jaw to relax because he knew if he was grinding his teeth his headache would never go away. The clenching always come about involuntarily but with concentrated effort he could make it stop. Most of the time.
Sometimes only sleep would provide him relief. Most of the time sleep was a luxury he could not attain.
At the moment it felt like someone had taken a hammer to his head. Though, in truth he didn’t really know what that would feel like and only could imagine. He seriously doubted he wanted to know what it actually felt like but since his jaw and cheek bones already throbbed as if broken, perhaps he could at least guess.
He sighed and pushed the pain away. It didn’t work completely but it was enough for him to get back to work. The promise of his bed at the end of the day helped some too. The mind, as always, was his strongest muscle. Exercising it could help him power through everything else that needed to get done. And there was a lot he still had to do.
The bed would be there but not necessarily sleep. Good sleep. Dreams. He didn’t always want the dreams anyway. The things he had done haunted him when they came. He let the doubt and self-loathing consume him during his awake hours too much already to also be happy when that aspect of his psyche took control of his sleep. Sleep was restorative and essential but he found himself pushing it off for longer and longer intervals.
He couldn’t actually remember the last time he’d slept. It didn’t matter, though, he had work to do.
Shadow demons stalked his room, mirroring the pain and anger rampaging in his mind. They slithered from corner to corner and whispered their visions of despair. The storm outside raged, seething darkness and destruction and he began to weep. Such was the state of his exhaustion that he could no longer hold the worst of his emotions in check and delusions sprang from his spiraling thoughts. Shadowy teeth snarled. Sinister eyes flashed. He knew all he had to do was close his eyes and sleep would save him from himself but his eyes refused to shut. His monsters ruled the night.
Wind rattled the windows and screamed in frustration. Of what, he did not know, did not care to guess. The wind was something he had never understood anyway. Its howling was not to be ignored, though. It rose and fell in shrieks and moans, and seemed to give further voice, gnashing and menacing, to the shadow demons. They pressed close now. They would loom over him and then flit back to the corners when his eyes darted their direction. Soon they would grow brash enough to stay even under his gaze. They would learn that he was powerless against him and then they would pounce.
He longed for that, actually. Since his eyes refused to shut and he had long before even stopped trying to controls the demons he had produced, letting them sink their teeth and rip his flesh would be an end to his torture of waiting, or watching the minutes tick by, or feelings his mind continue to unravel. He almost called out to them, “What are you waiting for?” But, his mouth was too dry to form the words.
It was only a matter of time. He hoped. They would come for him. He hoped. Then his eyes would close. He hoped.
They called him the bag man. He didn’t carry trash bags or push a shopping cart. He didn’t live on the streets. Where his next meal was going to come from was never a question. He dressed nicely, had a roof over his head and people who he loved and who loved him in return. His work was steady and fulfilling. Money was not a problem. They called him the bag man because he always had bags under his eyes. Sometimes barely visible, sometimes they were deep and dark and hanging so low they seemed capable of falling off his face, but they were always, always, visible.
He knew about his bags, the lines and circles and smudges of color, under his eyes. When they had first appeared years before he had worn them as badges of honor. Then he had grown embarrassed of them but had been unable to resolve the underlying issues that created them. Then he had accepted them as part of who he was, not quite the badge of honor he had once seen them as but more like a sign of who he had become, who he was.
So it was, day after day, he carried his bags with neither pride nor regret. He went about his life and those around him, behind his back, from the shadows, called him the bag man.
Over time I have come realize that there are different degrees of exhausted from the still functioning, power through, doing okay to the zombie status where it is amazing I can keep my feet. In between those extremes, the various levels are determined by the number of cups of coffee needed to make me feel functional, by how hungry I am (because my brain constantly confuses hungry and tired), and by how dry I feel from my eyes to my hands. It is not a fun scale or comparison.
Today I am sinking, struggling to stay afloat just above zombie status. My mind feels sharp only in short bursts. My eyes feel like they might crack with each blink and my hands, as they type this out, are paper thin. I can’t stop eating. I feel insatiably hungry. And coffee isn’t doing anything to curb my appetite or lift me up.
So it goes in the Kingdom these days. Going to bed early doesn’t always mean a good night. Staying up late doesn’t always mean a bad next day. It’s the chaos of little children and pets and a castle and all the other little details that all play their role. I know I’m not alone in this.
I can’t see it in the faces around me, hear it in their words and read it across the blogosphere. We are all tired. So, to that end, I say pour another cuppa and hope for better days ahead.
Hundreds of lights glowed in rows along the hillside, the tidy street lamps of the tucked away neighborhoods. But, they didn’t look like lights or even starbursts in the pre-dawn darkness of my travels. They shone clearly as crosses. Crosses. Hundreds of them. Was it a sign? Was I on the wrong path? Was I on the right path? Was it just my tired eyes once again playing tricks on me?
It wouldn’t have been the first time.
As I drew nearer the crosses became clearer. Beacons of light burning in the night, burning away the darkness.
My breath stuck in my throat and my blood raced. Was I witnessing a miracle? Had sleep deprivation finally driven me crazy?
Perhaps either was likely. The road turned away from the hill-nestled neighborhood and the vision disappeared. Eventually my pulse slowed and I breathed normally again. Eventually the memory of those moments will fade away, returning to the darkness. Eventually even these words will be lost.
That’s as it should be.
The fleeting nature of things makes them more beautiful, from a tired vision of street lights turned crosses on a morning commute to a silly handful of words grasping at finding deeper meaning…