Therapy

My first therapy session…

“So what brings you in today? What’s going on?” She smiles knowingly behind her glasses. A plus six-foot-tall lady who towers over me while walking or standing. Luckily sitting down we are closer to peers, but not really. Her: The Help, The Knowledge, The Cure. And me? Utterly Fucked Up; a flawed and defective human unable to function at a basic level in life.

“Well,” I sit back and think. I pick at my fingers nervously. I shake in my usual way although a bit more driven by anxiety over the situation. “Well, I think…I think I struggle with depression.” She raises her eyebrows and nods, allowing me to continue on. “I hate my life. Something is wrong. Something I’m not consciously aware of. Others seem more…functional than I am? If that makes sense. Everyone seems okay with life and…I’m not.” I shrug and smile the smile that I always wear when talking about serious topics; a mask which I happily wear to drive away the inevitable pressing questions. If anything life is a joke and you need to be able to laugh about it.

And was I even that dysfunctional? I didn’t feel depressed or suicidal at the time. No, I had taken the first important steps to getting help and that meant I was probably not depressed at all, right? Not dysfunctional. I felt fine at the time; the depression was false. It was a lie. I was looking for attention, something like the school shooter’s desperate attempt at asking for help, the bridge jumper’s way of screaming to be noticed, but if I made the effort to find help didn’t that imply that I was functioning at a normal level? Was I a fraud even coming here and talking to her?

Something about the last two months stirred in my mind. The haze, the blur of it all. Sitting in the yard drunk off of ten beers and crying didn’t seem right — normal people didn’t do this (or did they?) — but everyone was unique, right? Maybe it was normal. Or that I was normal and everyone else was fucked up. And was debating jumping off a bridge in the early morning hours after work normal? Probably not. Something in the past few months caused me to make the desperate phone call for help, even being as socially awkward as anyone could be. The phone call itself was the sign that I needed help. I couldn’t even call the internet company to negotiate a lower monthly bill, so would I really call a number hungover and jittery and tell them I suffer from depression and that I Wanted to Talk to Someone? No, I probably wouldn’t. But I did, and this was a sign. A symptom of desperation. Maybe I did need help after all.

She peered at me through the glasses daring me to go on; there was always more to the story and everyone was hesitant at first. Please tell your story Defective Human and I’ll listen; it’s what you’re paying me for, her eyes said.

As if acknowledging her silent cues I said, “Okay, fine. I, uh, I think I hate myself. I hate everything I am. I know I’m supposed to love myself and I totally agree with it in theory…but I don’t. I don’t like me. I don’t want to be me. Sometimes I want to scratch my skin off and escape to another body — the same ugly bastard greets me in the mirror every morning — because I just can’t take it anymore. I overthink everything. Everyone hates me: at least I think so. I’m pretty sure of it actually. And I have nothing to offer the world. I don’t have any gifts — nothing that makes me unique or special — and I hate myself.” I put another fragile smile on my face and shrugged. It’s all a joke, everything is a joke. Maybe I got that from my dad.

She cleared her throat and looked at me from the clipboard she was violently scribbling notes on. I imagined what it said: Total nutcase, crazy, lack of self-esteem, possible alcoholic, severe past family issues, bipolar like no one else before, anxiety, fear of social rejection, McDonald’s after work? Maybe. But no; Taco Bell sounds much better!

She smiled knowingly over the glasses again and finally said something. “If you could take a stab at it, why do you think you feel this way? What specifically are you unhappy with in your life?”

I looked down at my shaking hands and thought for a moment. I looked out of the window at my parked car. I watched the clouds creep across the sky. I watched an old man hobble to his car. I wondered what he was suffering from. Was he too old to be a Vietnam veteran? PTSD? Scarred from the war fifty years ago? Or some other problem, maybe alcoholism to cope with the war? I scratched my head. My mind locked up as I felt her glare on my face. I fidgeted a bit to look casual. I looked at the scuff marks on my shoes. And why are there blankets and pillows on the couch I’m sitting on? Was I supposed to be lying down?

This seemed to be endless but I eventually came to a conclusion. I looked at her with a blank and helpless look and shrugged. “I have no idea. But four days ago I was, well, this probably doesn’t mean much, but I was…”

***

What I’ve learned is that any session that doesn’t leave you crying in a parking lot behind a fast food restaurant wasn’t productive. Some sessions you have don’t go anywhere. You should be okay with that. You’ll get there.

That was the comment she left on my social media page. The old “she,” the past “her,” not the new one. The new “her” doesn’t say much although I still crave anything from her. Four years later and the cycle repeats, stuck in a rut and unable to escape.

Although I disagree with her. The session wasn’t productive at all — I felt more lost than usual — but here I was crying in a park. Where was the fast food? Where was the enlightening moment? After finally getting help wasn’t I supposed to feel better? When was the magical moment supposed to happen? When was I supposed to be happy, or at least functional, in this thing called life? The more questions the therapist asked the more answers I lacked. I had no idea why I did what I did. My actions didn’t make any sense, especially to me. I knew other people to a higher degree than I knew myself. I have no idea why I’m writing this now at 1:05 in the morning trying to tie it all together: nothing makes sense. At all. Even the bare trees in February don’t make sense. Why were they there? I was seeing a fragment of the world in this tiny city in America, but was I even really here? It felt like a dream, a terrible dream, with time fixed that I couldn’t escape from. The dream was reality, the place you escape nightmares to find comfort in. But when reality is a nightmare what else is there for you to wake up in comfort to?

I thought of her for a bit randomly and without thought or reason. Maybe she was right. But maybe I didn’t care about what she thought anymore. And this made me more depressed somehow. And then back to my old habits. What does she think about me? Does she approve of me? Am I cooler now because I’m seeking help? Is it honorable to admit to your problems? Does she sympathize with my struggle? Is she impressed that I’m writing consistently now? Does she randomly think of me like I think of her? Or am I some past apparition that is just a ghost in her past, some fragment in her imagination, some shadow in her dreams?

And no progress. I am me with no escape. Thirty years of living with the same person and you’d think you’d grow to like yourself being stuck with yourself for so long. It’s the opposite. Every year I spend with myself I hate myself: my roommate of depression and gloom. He is stubborn. He is bitter. He is depressing. He can’t help himself. He is as ineffective at life as his mother and father. He is insecure. He is brutal. He has no self-esteem. He farms approval from everyone else and is pathetic. He can’t function in life. He lives at a basic level only surviving day after day just trying to pass time. He harms himself in some grand quest to transcend himself. He tries to escape himself despite himself. He wants to love what he hates which turns out to be himself and everything he is. And despite his best intentions he is inevitably trapped inside a prison that he cannot escape.

I looked down at my arm blurred by tears and started to scratch. Desperately trying to escape myself. No escape and only pain that I can’t avoid despite my dissociation. It’s always a part of me, the pain. And this is me. Stuck behind bars until I die. Escaping into reality that is outside the nightmare.

Untitled

This was a post from my other blog. I think it sort of fits the theme I’ve been keeping here though. Might as well post it.

“So, how have you been the past two weeks?”

Perfect. Happy. Depression was a thing of the past. Totally conquered. I had finally discovered myself. A toolkit of ways to fend off the bad vibes and thoughts. Perfectly comfortable in my skin. Cool, confident, and quiet. Problem solved! Problem solved…Problem solved?

Two days ago. Spiraling. Pointlessness. Anxiety. Depression. Dread. More sleeplessness. 5 a.m. with the sun coming up wondering what exactly life is. Benadryl to sleep; a drug to crutch along. Sleep at any cost. Where’s the purpose? The point? What am I meant to do here? Wasn’t I out of the woods? Wasn’t I happy? Weren’t those damn pills magical and finally fixed me?

“Where do you see yourself in the future.”

I shrug. “I don’t know. I feel like I’m floating through life too scared to make any choice.”

“Sometimes it helps to visualize where you want to be in the future. This will give you purpose and something to work towards.”

Every path is miserable, only changing certain pros for cons. More money, less happiness. More possessions, more responsibilities, less freedom. More attachment. More stuff. More freedom, less security. The grass is always greener everywhere else. Not knowing what I’m meant to do. Knowing there is nothing I’m meant to do and it’s up for me to decide. Being unable to decide anything for fear of what misery each path holds. And all paths hold misery; I always make the wrong choice. Is floating such a bad thing? Is pointlessness such a bad thing? Is there anyone that knows what the hell they’re meant to do, even if there is nothing we’re meant to do? Is anyone as blindly confident that they know where to go? Is this another form of blindness? Is blindness happiness?

Five steps forward and six steps backwards. Seven, perhaps. No progress. No sense of empowerment. No moving forward. Self-discovery? No. Self-confusion and self-loss. When I think I find myself it disappears. Too much effort, too much work. The tools in the kit take too much work to use. Constantly being on-edge, looking for the next crisis. Playing chess with your own brain, trying to bring up thoughts as pawns to try to stop yourself from checkmating yourself. And the opponent is so much more motivated than you, the bad vibes are effortless. The chess grandmaster in your head; checkmated in less than ten moves. When are all my pawns gone? When do I run out of motivation to fight? When does it become easier to give in?

Awake after twelve hours of sleep: still tired. Still groggy. Still sleepy. Five cups of coffee, eight cups of coffee: still tired. But shaky. Just enough semblance of being awake to function. Nicotine, caffeine, give me any -ine you can find, maybe I’ll eventually wake up. Constantly shaking and tired. Constantly anxious. Enough awakeness to write low-quality posts. Not enough motivation to work on a story. Writer’s block that never ends. The constant fight towards some goal you don’t even have. And the tiredness. And time always moving forward. And you not moving anywhere at all except towards old age, failing mind, and death. Float along the river until it’s too late to change your course.

And sleeplessness at 5 a.m. once again. Still tired but awake.

“Is it possible that I like being miserable? Is that a thing?”

“Yes. Misery is easier than working to be happy. It takes less effort.”

The comfort of depression. Not caring. Knowing you don’t care. Knowing you’re functioning as a basic animal just staying alive. Food not for enjoyment but so you don’t feel more miserable. Water because your mouth is dry. Work because of bills and money. Write because there is nothing else better to do. Silence around people — you’re a piece of shit and are miserable to be around — why make everyone else miserable by being a piece of shit? Blaming your mood for being a failure. The comfort of depression. The comfort of giving up. Thirty years of nothing. Thirty years of zero progress. Thirty years of depression. Of never knowing yourself. Of never knowing anything. Of being totally lost, blind, and stumbling through life. How many more years?

“I woudn’t say this if it wasn’t true: you are making progress. I can see it. You just need to keep discovering yourself and moving forward.”

Values. What are my values? I don’t know. Blank slate once again. I am a nobody. The blank whiteboard waiting to have a purpose. The blank piece of paper waiting for a story, a picture, or spilled ink: waiting for anything.

I’m not cut out for self-discovery. I’m an idiot hiding under a mask of being smart. Maybe I shouldn’t know myself. Maybe I should stay blind to everything. The trivial defines me. Deep down? I don’t know. Why do I do the things I do? No clue. Ram through another wall and find another. The wall is well-constructed this time. Smash through this to find an iron gate. And another taller iron-gate. On and on from one problem to the next.

“Self-discovery is like an onion; it has many layers.”

Infinite layers. The radius never shrinks, the circle never gets smaller. One layer leads to another layer. There is no core. There is no bright and shiny center. So much goddamn effort to peel anything away. Years of grime and dirt that doesn’t make any sense. If it does makes sense you can’t do anything with the sense it does make. One more layer down and onto the next. More confusion than before. More paralysis than before. More dread then before. Why am I this way? I hate myself for being this way. Helplessness knowing I can’t be anything else. This is me, and I hate it.

“Bring yourself to the source — whatever that is — and bask in it. Recharge.”

“Think of the love you hold in other peoples’ lives. Think happy thoughts. Think how you’re part of the whole.”

“Decide where you want to be in the future. It’ll help give you something to work towards.”

“Break a large goal down into smaller goals. Take small steps towards the goals.”

“Decide what your values are.”

“Think, ‘Is this thought useful to have right now?'”

“Maybe set boundaries with yourself in your interactions.”

It’s Friday. March 27th, 2020. 5:09 p.m. Now what? Always: Now What?

Rote Routine

A typical day avoiding a mental breakdown.

Wake up at 8:52 a.m. despite my alarm being set for 9:00 a.m.. Forget to turn the alarm off until it actually goes off at 9:00. Pavlovian reaction upon hearing the alarm sound. Dread. Anxiety. Depression. Lay in bed feeling greasy and dirty and strung out from having so little sleep. Imagine it feels similar to how a cocaine junkie feels coming down. In bed until 9:25. Put clothes on by 9:29. Right on schedule.

Go upstairs and drink a Bang energy drink. Or coffee if Bang is not available. Pee. Sit around dreading the day until 10:00. Try to use the bathroom at 10:05. Nothing happens. Put on boots at 10:20. Try to use the bathroom at 10:25. Nothing happens. Scared to possibly have to use the work bathrooms.

Get in car. Check mirrors. Seatbelt. Drive. Stop at traffic lights as they turn yellow just as get near them. See lifeless zombies stopping their cars next to me at the red lights. Drinking coffee. Caffeine. Cocaine? Stalk the parking lot for a parking spot that’s acceptable. Park. Readjust car because it’s not parked perfectly straight. Get out. Smoke cigarette. Watch people walk into work. Look at their faces. Happy. Sad. Hungover. Suicidal but smiling. Dread the day. Wonder why the sun is so goddamn bright. Or if it’s cloudy wonder why it’s so dreary/depressing and miss the sunlight as I forget how blinding it is. Walk into work ten minutes later.

Sit in a van for an hour. Scowl at coworkers. Hear the sound effects from cheap mobile games. Earplugs. Unload an airplane. Sit around for another hour. Load six containers into the plane. Wait 30 minutes. Load one container into the plane. Wait 5 minutes. Load three cans into the plane. Wait 10 minutes. Load five more cans in 4 minutes with management screaming at us that the plane is due out in 7 minutes. Sit for another half hour before the plane actually leaves.

Walk to car. Open door. Sit. Seatbelt. Shift. Drive. Listen to songs that don’t fit my current mood but unable to find a song that does. End up at McDonald’s. Order a #9 meal, large fry and large diet-coke please? Thanks. That’ll be some amount that I don’t listen to because I use a credit card to pay. Pull ahead to the second window please. Hand card to lady. Hands card and receipt back. Crumble receipt and throw it in the passenger seat. Get drink. Get bag of food. Say “Thank you.” Lady says “Uh huh.” Rolls her eyes as the automatic drive-thru window closes. Drive some more and pile food into my face. Wonder why the fries are burned. Wonder why the fry box is only 75% full. Feel bad about eating the food. Have anxiety about needing to use the bathroom at work in the 6 remaining hours I’ll be there. Have to pee. Too lazy to go into a convenience store to actually pee. Go back to work. Park.

Find another parking spot. Sit in parking lot. Finish soda. Dump ice onto the ground. Unzip pants. Look left, right, and behind. Piss into the empty large diet-Coke cup carefully. Open door and dump piss onto parking lot. Wait 15 minutes. Get out of car and smoke a cigarette while standing in the piss puddle next to my car. Pretend not to know this fact as coworkers arrive. Walk inside. Wait an hour. Unload/load a plane. Wait an hour. Unload and load another plane. Wait 30 minutes. Leave. Drive home. Park at home. Sit in car listening to depressing music wanting to cry but being unable to cry for some reason. Feeling emotionally constipated. Think “Is this all life is?” Feel so hollow and pointless about thinking that that I also think there’s no reason to sit in the car and feel bad about it. Wonder why I can’t cry. Think about how much money I’m making. Think about why I’m making this much money in the first place. Cry.

Fumble with keys. Unlock outer door. Fumble with keys again. Unlock inner door. Take boots off. Take socks off. Insert socks into boots to be used again in 12 hours. Fill mug up. Microwave water for 2 minutes. Insert chamomile tea bag into hot water. Add 1 teaspoon of vinegar and honey each; the vinegar sounds terrible but really ties the flavors together. Drink tea. Play Morrowind. Autosave. F5. Get killed by endless cliff racers. Wonder why I never had adventures in real life.

Go to bedroom. Light a candle. Undress. Read a book. Tired at 12 a.m. but awake at 2 a.m. Unable to sleep. Grab phone. Check social media over and over and feel dirty about doing so. Wonder why no one texts me. Try to sleep. Remember something that happened two days ago and think about it unnecessarily. Anxiety. Think of something to write about. Grab phone again and writes in Google Docs. 3 a.m. and awake in 6 hours. Wonder why I am this way. Go upstairs, take a single diphenhydramine pill. Go back downstairs to bed. Scared of falling asleep because I’ll be teleported directly to feeling miserable again. Just a little more time please? I don’t want 9 a.m. to teleport directly to me yet. I don’t want to teleport to it either. Let’s stay apart. More anxiety. Dread. Fear. An endless, circling carousel. A few random disjointed and unconnected thoughts drift in and out of my head along with some faint colors.

The alarm goes off confusing and terrifying my dreaming brain. Dreaming of elephants in Africa. And zebras too. What’s that sound? It’s an alarm. Oh. Pavlov again: Terror, Fear, Dread. Reality slides back into focus. 9 a.m. I shut it off. And I’ll lay in bed until 9:25. Then I’ll put clothes on, and I’ll drink a coffee and then…and then…

The Puppeteer

Meeting The Puppeteer.

It was a grey, dreary, and foggy morning and my mood reflected this. I’m not sure if all people are this way but when I wake up my mood instantly reflects the weather outside. If it’s a bright and sunny day my mood is uplifted while a grey and dreary day brings it down to the level of crippling depression. Maybe it has something to do with my vitamin D levels?

Not that the weather made me depressed, because I can do that all on my own without assistance. Once again depression with no clear reason; the past few days of my life had been standard and average, but yet my mood was awful with nothing to point at or blame for triggering it. The weather just made it worse.

When I get that way I want to get out of my head. It’s like my mind runs nonstop with negative thoughts with no way to escape, hence the alcohol abuse, sleeping medicine abuse, and anything else I can get ahold of to derail the train of thought that runs through my dysfunctional brain. I want to get away from myself even though that is the most impossible thing that anyone could ever try to do. Being hopelessly locked in my head leaves me with no escape from my worst enemy: myself and my thoughts. All you can do is temporarily distract yourself.

Hence today and my walk. I don’t know why walking helps me, and sometimes I don’t even think it does help, but it’s something to do. It passes the time and makes it more likely that when I’m done my mood will have naturally improved. I headed out around 9 a.m. looking to do something, anything, to distract myself. I didn’t even know where I was going and let my subconsciousness direct me wherever it felt like. At first I went to the end of the yard, then I went to the end of the street, and after twenty or so minutes I found myself strolling through downtown Rockford.

Something about downtown attracts me. Perhaps because it’s where my dad and mom used to take me as a kid. They used to take me to the river where I could ride my bike along the bike path. Or in-line skate. Or just walk. Sometimes we’d feed the ducks. Apparently you’re not supposed to feed the ducks/geese anymore because they breed too much and bread isn’t good for them anyways. My mind is filled with a handful of very cloudy and vague memories of being downtown next to the river on sunny, wonderful days filled with childhood positivity and naivety. Maybe I go there because I like to pretend I’m a worry-free child again. Maybe it feels like coming back home to where I’m comfortable and at peace with my life. I don’t know if this is why I always end up here when I’m in a strange mood; I’m not a therapist/psychologist.

“Hey, I know you. Yes! It’s you!

The voice startled me as I didn’t know anyone was around me. I turned and looked to my side and there was, I assumed, a homeless man standing there talking to me. I stared at him, too surprised to say anything.

“It’s you! The boy from my dream!”

This time I was able to choke out a very weak reply. “Um. What?”

“Yes, don’t you remember me? I was there!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I didn’t understand how this bum surprised me in the way he did. I looked around and realized where I was at: the corner of Chestnut and First Street. This bum was always here and in my introspection didn’t notice where I was. I had seen him countless times driving along this street and while never paying him much attention knew this was his usual location. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen him elsewhere than on this very corner of this very intersection. Bums always did seem to have a usual haunt for some reason. Maybe he was able to get more money from the passing vehicles here than anywhere else?

He wore an old military jacket with rips, tears, and stains all over it. I couldn’t read the name or anything to identify beside the discolored and ragged American flag patch sewn onto his sleeve. The jacket was open and underneath it he wore a dirty, ripped, and stained grey sweatshirt. His beard had food embedded in it along with what I assumed was saliva or phlegm. He was missing an eye but didn’t have a patch on or anything to cover it up. There was only an indentation in his face where an eye should’ve been. He was wearing a seemingly perpetual smile that was fractured by his rotten teeth. About half of them seemed to be missing, and the other half were a putrid color resembling pus or moldy cheese. I shuddered slightly.

He said, “Your name is…uh, well, what was it? Hmm. It started with a “J”. Jacob? No. Jeremy? No. Hmmm? Oh yeah: Jimmy. Your name is Jimmy, isn’t it? Well, you’re real name is James but your friends call you Jimmy, right?”

“How did you know that?” I asked of him. I wasn’t feeling good about the conversation anymore. Something seemed dreadfully off about it.

“I told you already! I seen you in my dreams! The dreams. You’re always there, walking around, jumping around, fluttering around like a bug. Trying to run but finding your legs are too heavy. You’re usually there with the girl, right?”

“What girl? What are you talking about?”

The girl. You know her, you’ve always known her!” The bum began whispering and held his hand next to his mouth as if to shield his voice from any listeners, which of course there were none with no one around. “You fancy her, don’t ya?” He giggled spewing the putrid scent of rotting teeth into my face. “You don’t need to answer me, friend. I already know she’s special to you. But let me tell ya a secret: she fancies you too! You’re like two cute peas-in-a-pod, ya know that? Because I do. I watch you two. She fancies you and you fancy her. Boy, you would make a cute couple. Would ya like that?”

I simply stared at him.

“You know who I’m talking about, don’t be shy! The girl with the pale white skin, the blonde hair, the braid that falls over her shoulder. The one that kissed you. You know her!” He giggled.

I still didn’t know what he was talking about.

“Do you know why I know? It’s because I’m The Puppeteer! Some people call me The Puppet Master, and I don’t have a preference really. You can call me either one you want, or you can call me Blaine. Blaine is my name, and puppeteering is my game. Ha!” He laughed a disgusting laugh punctuated by coughing up phlegm and snot. Some chunks fell into his beard while the others ended up on the sidewalk. “I know my puppets, and I know you.”

“Look, I need to go. I have to be to work soon. And I don’t have any cash to give you, I’m sorry.” I turned to walk away but Blaine, The Puppeteer, kept taking, holding me firm by the threads of conversation.

“Do you know why they call me The Puppeteer? Do ya? Take a guess!”

“You like puppets? I don’t know. I really need to go. I have to be to work by two and…”

“Yes I do! In a way. My buddies in the war gave me the name. I suppose I used to be what you’d call a ventriloquist before the war. I’d get my dummies out, they’d tell some jokes and have some fun and my friends would laugh! It was a great time. Some people laughed but others found the dummies scary. But in the war, well, war changes you. It gets into your soul and brings out the demons. The demons that are yourself. I’d see dead people all the time, dead men, dead women, and especially dead children. And that gets under your skin.” He started to scratch his arm, seemingly unaware he was doing so, and laughed another dreadful laugh. “But the war didn’t get under my skin. It didn’t change me at all. I’m still the same dummy loving dummy that I was when I was drafted.

“So I’d keep bringing the dummies out, trying to make my pals laugh when things were scary and life didn’t seem worth living, but they started to not find it funny. And the dead women and children filled my head and danced around as if on strings, sometimes in my dreams but sometimes in real life. Like marionette puppets they’d dance. I was a ventriloquist and didn’t know about marionettes, but I became curious about them! The dead people as puppets. You can always learn a new art if you really want to.”

“Well, we came across a pile of people, there were always piles of people around. And I wanted to make them dance! To talk! To come to life! To give their stolen lives back to them! So ya know what I did? I found some rope. I tossed the rope over some tree branches and strung them up! It was hard work lifting these very heavy puppets off the ground but I did it. The children were the easiest and were always the happiest to be alive again. I made puppets out of all of them, I pulled the ropes to make them dance, and they were all happy. I could see them smiling when I pulled the strings to play with them.

“I showed my friends my puppetshow and some didn’t have a sense of humor about it. Some started puking. Some told me what I was doing wasn’t right. Some of the serious ones started crying. They didn’t understand the show. But some? Some of them laughed about it, they understood the show! A few even took the ropes and made the puppets dance on their own! The ones that did understand, they started calling me The Puppeteer. They got it! They understood me! So that’s who I am. I’m The Puppeteer! I string the puppets up, make them dance, put on a show, and people laugh. Even if they don’t understand the show at first, they eventually understand. Everyone laughs eventually. The puppets just have to dance long enough for them to understand.”

“Look, sir, thanks for your service and all, but I have to go. I really need to go.”

“You can go, I suppose, but don’t go too far.” He started whispering again. “I won’t let you go too far. Remember, I’m The Puppeteer, and guess who is one of my puppets? You are! You and that girl of yours! I’ve been watching both of you, and I think you’d be great to play around with. You both can make the audience laugh, cry, and feel something. And isn’t that the point of life? To feel something? So, yes, run along with your day, I’m sure I’ll see you one of these nights. Bring your friend too! I need both of you for the play!” He held his hand up in a spidery fashion as if he was holding a marionette puppet’s strings in his hand and shook it, making his imaginary puppet dance. His lone eye sparkled with madness as he giggled.

I gave him one long and piercing look, turned, and walked away. After a few steps I started jogging. And after a few more steps I started sprinting. Eventually it felt like I was running away from a predator, my blood pumped full of adrenaline, the fight-or-flight response in full effect. I knew the so-called Puppeteer was another lonely soul left behind in a quickly changing society and was no real harm — he just needed some mental help — but…what if? And the more I ran the more I noticed a feeling I couldn’t ignore. My arms felt heavy, as if strings were attached to them and holding me back. My legs also felt the same way, as if some force was trying to stop my running. I turned around and looked at the tiny and almost imperceptible shape of a person standing next to the road far in the distance. The shape was holding his hand out as one would do to control a puppet. Spidery and threatening. It had to be all in my head. I turned and tried to forget all about The Puppeteer on the corner of Chestnut and First, still running as fast as my legs would allow.