Too Loud for Fear to Leave Us

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A FEAR OF MISSING OUT. A FEAR OF MISSING OUT. A FEAR OF MISSING OUT. 

This is all that was in him before he dived head first into his own mechanical massacre.

He hadn’t been able to escape the sound of those people, the sonic-youth that travelled from sound space – to – sound space, looking for something to listen to and people to listen to it with. The pangs of what you are and what you are doing.

When he was young and anonymous, he told his older brother that he would never miss out on anything, that he was going to do everything, live a fulfilling life. His older brother told him that you couldn’t do everything, that with every choice made to do something, there was an equal and opposite choice not to do something else. You could never do it all; you had to decide what you were going to miss out on.

Before and leading up to his successful suicide, he had suffered from early-onset schizophrenia, and it was this fear of missing out that antagonized the tendencies of his illness all the more. The volume of his ego had been turned way up, so loud that the memory of his brother’s advice was drowned out, only ever listening for the next show, an opportunity to compulsively notify everyone of where and what he was doing. Participating, participating, participating. Homelessly riding the scene. Making exciting plans, only to break them for the last minute thrill of being in more than one place at once. He was touched and then he was untouched by the same malignant pleasure of having done it, and having not done it.    

But on those disappointing nights when he couldn’t find a friend to scare into going out, a friend that understood his need, his joy of being somewhere, being everywhere at all times, seemed to become louder and louder wherever he wasn’t. What he was missing became a presence, always there outside of what was happening. Conversations were full of inside references, invitations were excluding, and his interests outdated. All of a sudden it seemed like his time was a waste of time.

As the hallucinations worsened, the fear that all social value would leave him became real. Even the neighbor’s talk, seeping through the thin spots in the wall, seemed to be a jealous way back into what was happening.

When things were really bad, a silhouette of his brother would appear at the threshold of his door to ask, Are you capable of being bigger than your own room? How much space can you occupy? When he couldn’t even occupy his own room, he called in his own emergences, entered himself into the hospital when the superficial damage cut too deep.

The last night anyone saw him was at a sponsored event. This show was raising awareness for mental health through the fervent sounds of music. His makeup was applied during an episode before the event, and he looked in the mirror at how it captured the degree of disconformity to unreality. There was something clownish about it, as if his head was a gourd in the autumnal harvest, menacing in the colour of its shape – the last shapes of summer, the last shapes of somewhere else.

At the show, the people he talked with spat out the politics of conspiracy, connecting unconnected points, relating unrelated ideas, fearfully loud and illogical. They all had their own investigation board of photos and facts and pigmented string tying together whatever suspicion passed through the loose ends of their miscellaneous mandates. It didn’t matter what the information was; so long as it could be said loud enough, as long as there was no end to it, it was legitimate.

He listened to them all night, watched their fever burn at its height and then grow cold again, watched as they shook with the chill of lost spirit. Their breath was like a campfire, and for some reason he liked it, for some primordial reason that went all the way back to a time when smelling like smoke was an evolutionary advantage, because it meant they could start a fire, keep it raging, and do it all again. He found that he liked that burning stink in their mouth, found himself kissing their nicotine lips.

It was early the next morning, and the gears of construction starting up was all he heard as he walked past the future site of a playground. His makeup and tights had run with sweat and friction over the course of the night. The mania had died out, all the drinking had put him into a depression. He was done with it all and he needed a means to finish it.

It was part impulse and part selfless concern that had him ask the watchman about the mixing truck, had him climb the ladder, had him look at the failed attempts that had made his forearm skin thick and tough and numb with scarified track lines, had him missing himself in the deafening noise, the rage of the machine, so loud as to belong to it, fully. Only when you’re truly nowhere can you be assumed to be everywhere. This was his last epiphany.

Missing in a fear of missing out. Missing in a fear of missing out. Missing in a fear of missing out.

***

“IT WAS…WELL, THE WORST THING ANYONE COULD HAVE HAVE BEEN WITNESS TO.

Just out of the blue…There was nothing blue about it, actually. When I think back it was out of the red, it was all a red mess when we found it.

“I was in charge of watching the mixer. The day was cloudless and the sound of the grinder was all you could really hear, those metal-teeth gritting against each other. Our team had to fill a new playground by the end of that day, fill it with shredded tire, you know, so the kids wouldn’t hurt themselves when they fell off the playing equipment. Anyways, whenever you watch something as long as I was, you get fatigued by the waiting. It’s a different kind of labour – the lack of labour drains you in the head first. You can’t think and you can’t not think, and so you end up just, being there, like a sign or a statue, sleeping with your eyes wide open. That’s why when it happened I sort of thought it was, I dunno, not happening, like when you stay up too long on sleeping pills. I distrusted the sight of it before I believed it.

“We had a small crew of four: one idling the motor from the driver’s seat in the cab of the truck, one spraying the tire, one raking and spreading the spray, and me. I was standing by the entrance, making sure no pedestrians would enter in on the site.

“I keep telling myself that it was a fluke. I mean, we all used to joke about how useless the safety watch position was. Sure, you’d hear about an incident from time to time, and for a while safety standards would go up, become more restrictive and whatnot, but it was usually an accident. When you’ve worked in construction for long enough you come to realize that you have to take safety upon yourself, that no one can really help prevent the accident, no matter how many precautions are in place. I mean, you have to get through the work and part of the work is being uncomfortably close to what, if used improperly, could become a death trap. This wasn’t an accident, I knew that right away. There is just no way you could accidently…well, that’s what was most disturbing about it, for me, anyways, that it was intentional.

“I was…the first to see it. I climbed up the ladder. I looked into the machine. I knew what was clogging the system up before the rest of them suspected a thing. They might have thought it was a bird or something. Sometimes animals climbed into the mixer at night and in the morning, well, it was well through the day when we started having a problem with the sprayers, so it couldn’t have been. When it started coming out with the rest of the mix, as it loosened up, you know right away that there was too much of it for it to have been a bird or even a medium size animal, for that matter. No, it had to be more than an average animal….

“After I saw it in there, mangled and broken, I didn’t want to tell the others. My initial reaction was that it was my fault, that they would somehow blame me for this absurd happening. I should have been guarding the truck, I should have saw it coming. Now they would all have to know how much I failed them. It became my duty to tell them, but it was also my responsibility to have seen it for them, to make sure none of the rest of them had to see what I saw. It was enough that I had seen it, that sort of thing, that horrible, horrible mistake. Well, I knew I would never be the same, and I just wanted to spare the others….

“I don’t think people are capable of imagining something like that, and when they are, when it does happen, it changes the way you relate to people. I have a lot of bad, bad thoughts now. I…can’t un-imagine it. When my eyes are closed, it’s there, when my eyes are open, it’s even more there. That smear, of carnage, I see it smirking at me before I see anything else.

“You know, I even talked with the guy before he did it. And you know, I never would have saw it coming. I mean, sure, the guy was definitely a bit off, but for me to have been expected to make that connection?…No, never. Never. That is not the kind of thing that crosses your mind.

“He asked about the truck. He wanted to know all about it. I told him I was no mechanical engineer or nothin’, but that the gist of it was the raw material goes in through the main tank, gets ripped apart into smaller portions, and sifts through to be either segregated into the holding tank or the waste tank, where it then gets fed through and shot out by the propulsion of the sprayer’s gun. He wanted to know if anything had ever been caught in there…I guess he wanted to be sure that it had the ability to tear up just about anything that was put into it. I told him that it was definitely lethal. That’s what I mean when I say he was a bit off. Lots of people are curious about the truck, how much it cost or what kind of license you need to drive it around,  but he was interested in the process, and other applications for it, other materials that could go into it…

“Suicide is unexpected. We all later found out from the police that they knew the victim. Apparently he had been on suicide watch for some time and had made multiple attempts in the area. Of course they couldn’t identify him – at that point there wasn’t anything human enough left intact. Just gristly chunks and bone fragments, like something clogging the drain. When you pull it up you don’t know what you’re looking at until you know the backstory, how it got there and how it ended up looking like that. There is a reason for the way everything looks.

“I’ve taken some leave now. I’ve come to see you, and I still can’t imagine going back. I’m finished, I lost the nerve to be anywhere near any industrial equipment. Hell, I can’t even enter my tool shed to fix some insignificant problem with the family house. No, I’m done. That’s it for me. The other guys might go back, but I won’t. I’m glad they can, glad someone can, glad I could take the brunt of it for the rest of them.

“I can’t stand the sound of loud machinery any longer. Anything with a motor sends me back there. It has something to do with how I can’t make out the sounds beneath the rumbling of an engine’s ripping and roaring. That day, the loudness of the engine didn’t mean what it usually did, it took on a new significance.  When I saw what was coming out of the hose…the gore that exploded onto the playground, I felt like I was missing something that the engine wouldn’t let me hear. And then that sound that I heard everyday, the sound of a normal work day, became laden with uncertainty. I remember us scrambling to shut it off, but it took a while with the commotion. And all that time while it was still on, knowing there was something different about the sound…as long as it was running, it was too loud for fear to leave us.”


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“I don’t care how sick the bastard was, he was a terrorist. What he did to the crew that day, me included, though I’m still working, was far beyond what any company compensation can do for us. I’ll recover. I’ll be fine. But, then again, I hardly seen nothin’. I honestly don’t know if I’d be okay, if I’d seen more.

“All I remember is cutting the damn engine when I was told to. I saw what came out of that sprayer. All the bits and pieces, the dark chunks. But I’ll tell you, I wouldn’t have wanted to have been the guy on watch. He’s the one that took the most in, saw the damage done to the fool that went on into the tank. That man didn’t let any of us see the…uh…body, no, he spared us that much. When I ran around to the ladder with the rest of them and saw the face of that man, well, it’s safe to say he’ll be coming to you for some time. Me, I can’t imagine myself coming to much more than these mandatory sessions, no. No surprise to me that the world is amiss. Horrible things happen…best not dwell on them.

 

“I was raking the shredded tire, evening it out in places. Following the sprayer. You could smell the rubber in the heat of the sun. I had my ear protection on to block out the industrial sound of the equipment, and my goggles clouded out most of the scene, restricting my sight. All I needed to see was the movements of the sprayer. So by the time that I realized that I was no longer raking just tire but some wet clod, something that was clumping the tire together, making it harder to separate then before, it was well after I could do anything.

“I always made an effort to work harder than the boys, since I was the only woman on the crew and felt that it was necessary to avoid any harassment. Maybe it was my work ethic that made me deny the situation as it was happening.

“It was weird. Even though I knew that the tire was not tire, I kept raking, even when I saw the blood glistening over it, even when I smelled the bloody vapour in the air. I kept working. I just kept following the sprayer.

“And for some reason, he was still spraying with the same composure as he always had, unflinching, unchanging, unbelieving. I guess I was in shock, or worried that what I thought was happening wasn’t what was happening for him, that maybe I’d gone crazy or something. I took off the polarized goggles and attempted to break apart the clump with my boot. It cracked and felt like stepping through a rotting log on a damp forest floor. But what I held in my hands wasn’t meant to come apart, it was sticky and meant to hold together. I dropped it when I realized it was a section of a rib cage.

“Then, I knew it had to be the way it was. The others were running in a panic around the truck, but not the sprayer, no, he was still blowing the body all over that playground. The machine may have mutilated, it but the sprayer didn’t stop until the engine was cut. I don’t think his expression changed; he must have gone numb from the shock.

“The sprayer’s father was CEO of the construction company we work for. He worked harder than all of us. He was the first to show, last to leave. There were four other brothers and he was the youngest, all from different mothers, that he had to compete with. I think that’s why he was the way he was. Seeing his shock, though, I imagine he’ll be coming to see you eventually. After the suicide was called in, he dealt with the police. He took the truck to a landfill and washed out the waste tank — it was full of blood and bone. There was no way to dispose of a body without a carcass, one butchered into so many pieces, so the police watched over the cleaning of the waste tank, and that was it.”

***

MY SISTER’S FIANCE HAD JUST FINISHED TELLING ME A STORY THAT HAD COME FROM FAR AWAY, A HORROR STORY. 

It had traveled with him, to be heard by me, as we drove through the Rocky Mountains and towards the Okanogan. It was there that I would spend the weekend sitting on the beach, getting to know him before their wedding.

“So you’re telling me you didn’t even go to a single psychological evaluation after the suicide? Weren’t you upset, weren’t you troubled by it? You blasted an industrial accident, a torrent of guts, all over a place where children would one day play! Couldn’t you feel the strain the hose was under? It must have been vibrating in the hand you were carrying the hose with!”

My reaction, after he finished, was not so much directed at the story itself. I would have been equally surprised by the same story if I’d read it in the morning paper. My reaction was to the storyteller. He told it as though it were not him that had been there, like he was simply reporting an objective opinion or sequence of events, the facts, the stuff everyone knew already.

The wheels of the car were abound; the asphalt of new highway cut into and out of the blackened, exploded rock of the jagged mountain face. It was masked by the links of a protective mesh, in case an avalanche of stone tears tumbled down, into the long weekend traffic.

As I waited for a reply, we passed through the tunnels under the mountain, and in those breathless dark stretches, only his detached silence filled the dark intervals. His face would flash in the rearview mirror, the chinks in the tunnel breaking the day up into seconds. I watched the glow of the digital cloak on the dashboard, involuntarily playing that childhood game, not breathing a breath.

“Thirty-seconds,” my sister gasped from the passenger seat, as we emerged from under the bridge and the daylight hit us like rain.

“…There was nothing more to say. I had dealt with the problem the best my father’s company could. Industrial accidents happen every day, you know. Suicides happen every day. They are expected to happen. I’m not going to prevent them from happening because I tell a psychologist that I encountered one.”

He said this as saturnine as it could be said.

“But you have to admit, this was not your average industrial accident, not your average suicide. This was something that most people will not only never experience, but never even hear about in a lifetime, and you’re saying it wasn’t worth telling a paid practitioner about?” It felt wrong, my criticizing the way he’d reacted to something so traumatic, so tragic. But something wasn’t sitting right with me. “Was this the first time you told anyone about it? I mean, I know you told my sister the facts, but have you explored your emotions concerning it? Like, how did it make you feel, then and now, really? That’s a lot of stress to keep in.”

Another tunnel. This time it was only ten seconds, underground and without air.

“Look. I told your sister about it when it happened. I’m telling you now because the topic happened to come up. This vehicle could plummet down the side of this cliff at any moment, and tons of oncoming traffic is only a line of separation away. You’re right beside what could happen, yet you drive on, and even if it did happen, and you survived the impact, you would walk on. I can’t let what could happen and what does happen become the only things that happen to me. I’m not afraid of experiencing nothing when I need to….”

This time the tunnel felt like it really did suck the air out from our lungs, that even if we wanted to breathe, we would have to wait till the end of the tunnel to bring the sky, the oxygen, back. The heaviness of the mountain was above us. Sometimes, I still feel like I’m counting away the dark breathless place beneath that heaviness, waiting for his reply, knowing, somehow, that he didn’t need to breathe in that breathless place as often as we did.


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