“Don’t scream,” whispered a voice as my eyes snapped open and focused on the scarred desk.
The yellowing fluorescence had made the claustrophobic space feverish in spite of the Autumn chill beyond the windows. The hum of noise had been a hive of unmotivated workers – lecturers, paper-pushers, cleaners, security – what felt like only minutes ago. Now it was dark, the hall was quiet. The door-
My gaze swerved to it. The door was still closed but if the little rectangle window above it was to be believed, the hall outside was dark, lightless, obstinately at odds with how I knew it should be. Had to be. It was only-
I blinked into the glaring white nuisance of the computer screen, blissfully still blinding. It was 02:24. AM. A gust of breath escaped me. That was what happened when you hid in your office like the newly hired office hermit. I slid off the chair, falling into a casually upright pile of bones and aching muscles and shoved my laptop, my keys, into my bag. I looked over the desk. Nothing. Impersonal telephone, impersonal pen, even more impersonal notes. Shrugging the bag over my shoulder I lifted my hand to the door.
“Don’t,” whispered a voice.
My fingers stiffened on the handle. I’d already pulled it down. It strained to be let loose, the door not quite aligned. It would need to be pushed back and the handle slowly released to lock me back in.
Footsteps in the hall. The scuffing of shoes over the carpet.
“Scream,” whispered a voice inside the office with me.
But did I?
Nope. Nope. That would be cool though. In fact, that? That would be bitching. Like my nightmares. They’re never what I want anymore. Give me monsters, ghouls, fanged gentlemen, and evil seductresses. But what do I get? I get 02:24 pm nightmares. Home invasions, financial strain, those horrifying dreams about misplacing your baby and finding him weeks later having somehow survived on scraps as a mongrel.
Yes, yes that is my sleeping brain.
That isn’t what I want, but that is what I get. My exhausted mind is building its own horror to deal with a pack of waking issues that shouldn’t be more than blips on my radar. But these things, they steal from me. They’re stealing my life, my happiness, my joy in my ten-month old daughter, my aspirations.
Today I, for the ninth time this year alone, made someone else’s dreams come true. I wrote an article that was reviewed by not one person, not two, not just by my manager and an editor. Oh no, it was revised by six people. I was emailed multiple times by the interviewee and instructed as to how the content should appear. I devised a title which was reviewed and changed twice at the end, without my input. The only thing about that article that is still me is the name at the bottom. And at the end of it I was emailed by the interviewee in question who giddily told me that the article had gone viral and she was so grateful to me. For what, I thought. For putting my name on something that is no longer mine but is a Frankenstein representation of what I can actually achieve if I am left to do what I imagine I do best?
And I am humiliated.
We all have to do things we don’t want to, to survive. For our families to survive. But I am a writer, goddamn it. A dedicated writer crawling out of a dedicated mother. I write for me, and I write for her. I write because I want to give my baby girl everything, even if “everything” is the darkest forms that my expressions of love can manifest in words and twisted images. Because there is beauty in darkness. There’s satisfaction in an overwhelming victory against the nightmare. There’s security in the arms of the anti-hero. In dreams the dark can be mesmerising.
The only real deterrent is my own mind. The same mind that looks at my three open projects and becomes so childishly overwhelmed that it then says “Hey, how about, right? Instead of writing, why don’t we just… Watch Top 10 lists on Youtube?” That’s where my head is at right now. But if I were ruled by my own panicking whiner of a socially inept brain, I’d never get into the gym swimming pool again because of the Tulpa Pool Shark (story for another time).
The only person holding me back is me. I know that. Maybe I’ve always known that. But now it seems to be about the right time to fight that instinct, kick it in the teeth, bury its bones in my garden and hang its head over my big tv screen. As my husband says (and I’ll bet he’s way proud of me now for saying it so publicly): everything up to now is just another fucking opportunity for growth.