Something I used to do when I was five-years-old, before tucking in for the night, was spend a good hour or so re-arranging my few possessions in the drawers beside the bed, placing this box of hair ties just so, draping this necklace over that particular figurine.
It was a ritual; it comforted me. By hoarding and arranging these objects, I warded off my subconscious fear of the universe’s chaotic nature, that nothing was permanent and security the greatest fairytale ever told. After that I would turn off my bedside lamp, crawl beneath the bed-covers, arrange my teddy bears so they slept on either side of me, sandwiching and protecting me between them, and try and not think about death. At this I would inevitably fail, grapple for several minutes with the impossibility of imagining myself not existing, tell myself that as long as I had toys, and toys in abundance, I would be fine; and then fall asleep, curled up like a foetus.
I think I was born scared. I think, when I was born, I tried to crawl, in a mess of blood and fluids, blind and grub-like, back towards the warmth of the womb. And then life made me even more scared.
At two years of age my mother thought it would be a good idea for me to watch a horror movie with her (the details of the film linger in the background radiation of my mind to this day) and at seven-years-old, I was bullied at school to the point where I spent every lunchtime in the corner in the library losing myself in the worlds inside books to stave off tears. By the time the eleventh year of my life rolled around, I was the most introspective, melancholy and frightened young lady I knew – and also the best actress, capable of whipping up a smile and acting upbeat and cheerful even when my heart was shrieking.
Because if there is anything I have learned in the small handful of years I have lived on this Earth, it is that I do not belong on it, in the same way a camel does not belong on a boat borne on tossing seas. You ask that hypothetical camel whether it is happy: its little hypothetical camel heart, I assure you, is swamped by a mixture of bewilderment and fear vaster than the sky.
That is what I feel has led to my sense of apartness from other people, that lack of an anchor to return hold onto when things get tough, deep inside people’s hearts. The abyss has been ogling at me for years and years, and any day, I am certain it will decide enough is enough, and swallow me. When I walk outside, I feel like a tiny ant, aware that it walks in a world dominated by giants I cannot see, liable to be crushed any second. Things became especially bad when my father abandoned my family, leaving my mother to fend for herself. My father was what I like to call a “halfway-anchor”. He did not stop the abyss from looking at me, but he was so tall and strong and certain that he helped me look away from it for a little while. Basically, this meant that when he left me two years ago, I, who, as a little girl, tried to inject inanimate teddy bears with life-saving, heroic qualities in order to beat back existential dread, felt adrift, completely untethered.
Since then, the fear that has been present since my childhood has magnified. Extensive rumination brought on by more mature thinking processes has not helped matters. It is all too clear to me how fragile existence is, how impermanent, and how every second that passes is like a leaf being thrown onto a fire and shriveling up into ash. Other anchors – philosophy, books, art, the prospect of a partner to protect me from the world – which once tethered me have evaporated. With every minute that passes, a nameless fear leaks through my veins, making it hard to breathe and think.
The indifference of the universe crushes my heart. No-one cares if anyone dies, because life goes on; no-one cares if I die, because I am one in a sea of seven billion; and there is perhaps no God, no Anything, and we are all just repeating patterns of genetic complexity, at the end of a long chain of other complex organisms that have developed and encoded themselves into more complex chains over the course of evolution, who shall thrive and live and die in our own time, with nothing and no-one to care for us. Will we not be exactly like the dinosaurs one day, forgotten, pressed as bones into the soil for some future species to discover and ponder over?
What is important to note, however, is that this fear has not prevented me from still working towards my dreams, and going about my daily business – and if you suffer from a similar fear (I think everyone, on some level, does) you shouldn’t let it do so either. You must eat, even when you are scared; you must write, even when you are scared; you must go out, and buy the groceries, even if everything is going to end one day and you are scared and alone and no-one gives a damn about you and the world is going to shit.
In other words, you must keep on going, without knowing why you keep on going, or whether where you are going is going to be any better than where you already are, or perhaps even worse. You must believe in ridiculous notions like hope, and the fact that the universe has a plan for you, because the alternative is despair and emptiness. You must believe that the universe guides you, speaks to you; you must take every coincidence and synchronicity as a sign that you are being prodded in the right direction – even when you do not.
That is what living is about, I think, or otherwise we would have remained in our caves, huddled around fires and quaking in our hearts at sounds of the growls of the beasts in the night: to hope when you have no hope, to walk when you do not know why you are walking, to believe when you do not believe, to dream when all dreams are dead, and to love when you hate everything and everyone. I am fucking scared, and I know that no-one under the sun, in the end, can truly help me and take me where I want to go except myself; but I will keep on walking, towards my dreams, step by step, because that is all that I can see and all that I know, and you should do that too, so we can walk together, alone, on our little paths, like scurrying ants.