I am absolutely shattered. I have dozed off for spells over the last seven days, I’m sure of that, but I haven’t consciously decided to fall asleep. Dr Chowdry’s sleeping tablets remain in their box; as much as I desperately want to take them, I don’t like the lack of control that comes along with them, falling asleep and then waking up at a random point the next day, head full of haze and that strange wooziness that requires you to wade through a blancmange to return to your normal self. No, I need my wits about me at the moment.
Lucy is still there but hasn’t come any closer, mercifully, and tonight I attended my first therapy session at King’s College, huddled into a room with sixty other patients. This is not a revolutionary treatment, that’s for sure. It is essentially a wide circle with a volunteer named John sitting in the middle. John is your atypical, selfless charity representative, filled with enthusiasm and inoffensive ideas and implores us to open up to each other; to my surprise, we all do. To my relative relief, my symptoms appear consistent with those around me, the most traumatising of which is the presence in our dreams of undead relatives or friends that were killed by our hand when the Blood Turned.
We tell our tales through grim glances whilst others pass comment on how difficult the past week had been, and it’s all in the confessional style you’d expect from a 12 Steps program. I have my diary under my arm so I can suitably convey how I’m currently feeling and I’m certain one or two in the room recognised who I used to be. Others spoke about brothers, sisters and children in such harrowing terms that I felt guilty for the comparatively smooth nature of Lucy’s murder.
Since the Blood Turned, people have always been weighed down by what they did. It wasn’t murder, really – how could it be when the victim was already dead – but it was real enough, close enough, that not only did we never want to ponder the moral quandary, there was simply too much still going on to allow for a period of reflection. I can intuitively tell that this thought is shared by those present in that room.
Could I have done things differently? Maybe if I had locked Lucy away, kept her out of sight, she might have eventually come to her senses? If I hadn’t acted so hastily, might we still be together? The nature of my doubt mirrors every single other attendee of my session to the letter. We put on our rose-tinted glasses and think we could have saved them. We are all seeking belated closure and we need to persuade ourselves it was us or them.
Steve, who is a doctor, sat down next to me and went first out of everyone in the room. He shot his six-year-old daughter through the head before she made another attempt to attack her mother. Killing his child has almost killed him. But he told us that he’s making progress and is seeing visions of her less and less. We all clap and congratulate Steve for his achievement. Being on the wagon here is represented by not being haunted by your victims as you sleep every night.
Margaret, a lawyer, spoke next, after apologising about her late arrival due to a date in court. This is her fifth time and she welcomed us newcomers by assuring us that she had contemplated ending it all, before opening up and describing how she had to lock her twin sons into the garage before setting the wooden structure on fire. The twins are now keeping their distance and she can rest in as close to peace as she is capable of enjoying. She can in turn get on with being alive.
Jason’s story moved me most. I curled my eyes closed to stop myself from welling up as he told us about plunging a knife into his mother’s neck so many times that her putrid head fell from her shoulders, continuing to bite until the last nerve ending had detached. He was just fourteen; an only child with an absent father, isolated for days in his house with the corpse of his only loved one disintegrating on the floor in front of him. He’s struggling, he says. He is receiving no respite. He also mentioned something truly bizarre: that he is envisaging his mother’s head reattaching to her body, getting closer to completion with every cold sweat that awakens him.
He is 16 and I can’t help but be awestruck he’s made it this far but in Society 2.0, we try and get by, disturbed by the knowledge of what we have done – sorry, had to do.
I recall the appeal I made in my briefly-published article to publish people’s confessions; after my departure, all the letters were redirected to The Preservation for ‘filtration’ first. Not a single one was ever published. My intentions were admirable, at least. I wonder if the likes of Jason would have benefitted from telling his story earlier.
After I told my own story – the attack, the poker, burning the remains – I received the sympathy of the room like slipping under cold sheets with a hot water bottle. I won’t deny myself the sensation of positivity. It’s a long time since I experienced it.
I’m looking forward to next week. Looking forward is a feat in itself.
I’m finding the process of writing down my thoughts very therapeutic. I haven’t written for a while and it’s clear that it is something I need to do to regulate my brain.
That could be the trigger behind my reasonably peaceful few days, though barely allowing myself any sleep is probably the main driver behind keeping Lucy at a distance. Despite the fact I know that this version of my wife isn’t real, I still feel guilt when I attempt to banish her from my memory. I do my best to focus on the good times, like the night we first met at a concert and bonded over a mutual hatred of the terrible band playing in front of us. Or when we went out for our third date and the waiter slipped on his way back from the bar, spilling an entire jug of water down my back, leading Lucy to laugh uncontrollably until I eventually laughed along with her. Or even in the peaceful moments on that fateful evening when we could just talk to each other, exposing ourselves in such a candid way that meant neither of us was ever embarrassed or protective. We just knew each other. And now it seems as if I am pushing her away in her time of need and I need to shake myself and remember how ridiculous that is. She is dead and gone and this replacement does not represent her or our relationship. But it is hard, sometimes, exceptionally hard.
Tonight at my session something struck me as I listened to another posse of heartbroken souls, and I can’t get it out of my head. The stories I’ve heard so far all end on such a similar note. We talk about how we don’t know what came over us; we just knew that we had to attack the creature standing before us or else face death and we have then spent the time since revising our actions.
I remember my incident as clearly as I’ve forgotten everything else. When something like that happens to you, the event forms sharp focus as inconsequential memories haze over and eventually drift into the nothingness. I’ve gazed at it this past week in an attempt to understand it. The poker rested into my grasp and I was unerring in my thought process. I knew what I had to do with it to eliminate the threat, a threat that, as far as I was concerned, couldn’t exist.
Is that reaction normal? And yet, I did it. We all did it. We committed barbaric acts without flinching. Ms Locke was utterly dismissive of our ability to comprehend what was happening, believing that only when The Preservation got involved did the battle turn in our favour. The people sitting in these sessions are evidence that Ms Locke is wrong. The Preservation is wrong. We were the first line of defence, seconds, not hours, after the Blood Turned.
I very rarely venture out of here anymore because, beyond my sessions and collecting essentials like groceries, I don’t recognise any particular reason to. As such, maybe I’ve had too much time alone. Maybe I’m stretching logic beyond reasonable grounds. But if we were as reliant on The Preservation as Ms Locke suggested, how did we know what we were doing?
I’m not sure what that revelation means. I’m too tired. I will put my therapy to the test and see if Lucy’s march towards me has truly stalled.