DeathGender & SexualityPsychologyReligion

Requiem aeternam

This essay is inten­ded for pub­lic­a­tion in the next issue of Ex Abyssō, but we wanted to present it early, as a med­it­a­tion on the eve of the second anniversary of the events described here.

We wrote this earlier this year dur­ing a major depress­ive epis­ode. The text is rep­res­ent­at­ive of the most nihil­istic, down­cast view of our his­tory and situ­ation. Right now, we usu­ally feel bet­ter or more neut­ral about it, but it is still an ongo­ing struggle.

Con­tent warn­ing: sui­cide, depres­sion, crises of identity

—OAOS, Novem­ber 2019

In a sig­ni­fic­ant sense, I died on the night of Novem­ber 19th, 2017.

Sev­eral factors con­trib­uted to what happened: mount­ing anxi­ety and the med­ic­a­tion I took to com­bat it that day, pos­it­ive emo­tions asso­ci­ated with being at a big event for trans people, a mod­est amount of alco­hol, a lurk­ing sense of being trapped inside my life and body.

I know what happened, but almost all of my memory of it is gone.

I know that I was so stressed and ill that I vomited heav­ily, hunch­ing over the edge of my bath for many minutes.

I know that without con­sciously choos­ing to do so, I even­tu­ally cleaned the bath, put in the stop­per, lay down in it in a fetal pos­i­tion, and let it fill with cold water.

I know that if my wife had­n’t been in the house and hadn’t come to check on me after a while of chan­ging sounds – the sud­den silence, the water rush­ing dif­fer­ently – I might have died there and then. Instead I was rushed to the hos­pital, hypo­thermic and delirious.

In a sig­ni­fic­ant sense, I did die that night.

My body lives on, but I am no longer myself. In fact, I feel like I never have been, though it’s impossible to tell.

I was hos­pit­al­ised for roughly three weeks after this, and dur­ing that period I was con­fron­ted sev­eral more times with an entity that wanted to des­troy me, itself, and everything. An entity that exis­ted inside my own body, and could wrench con­trol of it from me. It made me shake, made me fall out of my bed, made feeble attempts at strangling me while para­lys­ing the rest of my body.

I was forced to ask myself: if this entity is also me, then who am I?

It took me all of the months since then to gradu­ally develop a new answer to that ques­tion, because I was con­fron­ted quite harshly with the fact that the old answers just didn’t cut it for me.

My answer now may not be my answer in another year, or two, or five. But it is the best I can do.

Who am I? I am no one. I died on Novem­ber 19 2017. There is only a col­lec­tion of noth­ings and noones, my dif­fer­ent drives, emo­tions, lust, and loves. There is no I or me.

At the moment, there are four noones. Masks that occa­sion­ally come forth from the mist of my (sub)consciousness. I’ve painted them nicely, I must say. They have evoc­at­ive names, and typ­ical per­son­al­it­ies that people can some­times relate to or latch on to. But they are no one. They are not per­sons. Nor am I. There is no I. There is only the mist, and the occa­sion­ally emer­ging masks.

I keep writ­ing I, because no altern­at­ive appears prefer­able. I is the body mov­ing these fin­gers across these keys, driven by imper­at­ives from some­where within the mist. I is whichever mask, if any, is present­ing itself.

If you ask me, a per­son in fact is noth­ing more than a par­tic­u­lar mask. And it appears I have ety­mo­logy on my side. Latin per­sona, like its Estru­can ancestor 𐌘𐌄𐌓𐌔𐌖, meant ‘mask’, ‘a masked indi­vidual’, ‘an actor’. Only later, in medi­aeval times, did the word come to be used for the concept of per­son­hood which leads to how we roughly under­stand it today, as some­thing indi­vidual, whole, and core to our iden­tity as humans.

But we don’t really under­stand it, do we? Per­son is just a word we use to talk about things that are whole that sud­denly becomes use­less when things are broken.

I want to say that all of it is real. The body, the mist, the masks. But it doesn’t feel real. Noth­ing ever really did.

Des­pite that, I have to believe it’s as real as any other entity that we call a per­son. Because there is noth­ing else to me. No hid­den layer, no deep core that is the actual ‘me’. Just sur­faces. Just masks and mist. What you see is what you get.

There is no I or me. They died on the night of Novem­ber 19 2017. But there is still this. This body. The things it does and says. The mist it has to wade through and reach across to make sense of liv­ing. The masks it paints to be able to show at least some face to the world, some­thing for you to look at, and to make myself under­stand­able to myselves. Because without those, behind the masks and the mist, there is an empti­ness we are not ready to face until the very end.