The trick is to never stop pretending, and to follow a strict routine. Never deviate. The key is to create the constant sensation of a generic human presence. On Youtube you will find some great ambient sound videos, but our advice to you would be to avoid anything too dramatically out of line with your surroundings. Listening to the sounds of Times Square at rush hour or to the clinking glasses of a high-end restaurant is too much, and it will only ruin everything for you. The goal is to make the illusion of life as it used to be, quiet and light, nestled in our small suburb, as realistic as we possibly can. That is why we went into the neighbor’s house two or three weeks ago and switched on all the lights like we were Kevin in Home Alone. We entered his place through the back so we wouldn’t have to see the shimmer of broken glass in the morning when we can’t sleep and sit by our window as the moon ambles through the blue skies.
The important thing to remember is this: from now on, you will live inside your head forever. It is a small price to pay for the privilege of not losing your mind. We know that none of this is what you wanted, what you grew up for, but: (and we can’t believe we’re about to say this- oh, how far we’ve come!) it is what it is. The idea is to make the situation intellectually tolerable enough for despair not to set in, not even close. We suspect that with despair comes a secret chemical burning in the back of our minds, hidden beneath a thick protective layer, uncontrollable, lethal: hope. And the first and only commandment, if you should really boil down our entire philosophy to one maxim, is this: never, ever hope.
There is no point in playing games of the imagination. No point in wondering whether picking up the phone and dialing a made-up number would lead you to a voice. No point, either, in entertaining the possibility that the sound of the wind in the leaves at night might be a car driving in the distance or even an intruder, some sort of demented B&E professional breathing loudly near your ear, although you’re aware that makes no sense. There is no use looking at your face in the mirror in the morning and wondering what your children might have looked like, or your husband or wife if you’d finally met them, or the next president of the country. There is a lot of sense in continuing to care for your hair as though others were still around to see it. Don’t ask us why.
Don’t think too hard about any one person.
Quarantine the objects that carry intolerable weight to you.
Don’t think about your family if you can avoid it.
And if sometimes by the end of the day you think you can hear a voice inside asking why do you live, what is it for, what good is it, what difference does it make, how would it feel, would it hurt or would it be over quick, put on a record, or a DVD, and make yourself a nice meal using the food you’ve stolen from the store.
Once, we spend an entire evening in our neighbor Allie’s house going through her stuff. We try on her big clothes and jewelry. We lie on her bed, but not under the covers. Her shoes are too big. We find her wig. We do not find her pet. We find an old Playboy issue in her study. We sit in her leather couch and pretend to wait for her to come home from the university where she used to teach in the history department. She spoke a foreign language we do not understand and had books on Eastern Europe by the dozen. She ate strange unlabeled food she made and kept in jars. We smell things we do not recognize. We don’t know whether they’ve gone bad or whether this is how they are supposed to smell, so we do not eat them. Then we realize that Allie will never catch us, her mouth frozen open, eyes bulging, eyebrows raised. She will never stutter or scream, and she will most definitely not threaten to call the police. We even miss the police, the luxury of being able to make one phone call and see humans materialize at your door, because you want them to. We realize what we are doing in the sofa cannot really be described as waiting for Allie, because waits end, and this doesn’t. After that, we kind of snap. Understand us: it hasn’t been long then, perhaps only ten days. We don’t know how to cope yet. We are still counting time, keeping track of the passing of the weeks. We grab the smelly jars and open them and pour their contents onto her couch, her rug, her bed. We tear pages from her books and read them in a silly imitation of her voice, though we never disliked her. We smoke in her bedroom, though we know she hated the smell of cigarettes.
Once, during the 5:00-5:30 time slot normally allotted to a pre-dinner game of chess and an album from our 60’s record collection, we drop everything on a whim, disrupt our carefully-crafted routine just to take a walk. It is magic hour, our favorite, when the sun shines horizontally. The day has been pleasantly warm. We guess we’re just after one very simple thing: the good feeling of a walk outside on a nice day. We’ve only wandered a few yards from the house when we are overwhelmed with a crushing bout of anxiety that leaves us collapsed on the ground, vanquished by the realization that lying there, in the exact middle of the road, will never again be dangerous, or abnormal, or frowned upon. Nobody will drive down the road slightly tipsy after drinks with their coworkers, their vision slightly blurred, and swerve suddenly, their hands on the wheel, fingers white at the joints, when they see our dark back shaking with sobs and our head in communion with the asphalt. No more moms in station wagons driving their kids home from practice and swearing as they slam on the brakes with all their strength, their eyes on the soles of our shoes pointing at the sky, their mind on the children in the backseat. No one to think we are an asshole for lying there, risking everyone else’s life, or at least a very sick individual. No one can even hurt us or hate us anymore. There is no one.
After a while we get back up and go home and treat ourselves to one of the specials we’ve created for when it gets very bad, very difficult: we bring out the old stuffed animals and cuddle with them, and then we get drunk and run ourselves a hot bath and sing very loudly to songs our mom taught us to love. We sing an entire Kate Bush playlist at the top of our lungs and hit all the high notes. We cry and sink lower into the hot water until our tears can no longer be felt. We pretend David Bowie is our father and he is playing the guitar for us. We listen so intently for the rasp and asperities in his voice that part of us can almost believe he is there in the room with us. We hear the beginning of Heroes and picture ourselves sitting with our backs to a wall, bullets flying over our heads, our queen shaking in our arms. We look at our toes sticking out from the bath water, covered in soap bubbles, and we picture ourselves running in a field, in the countryside. We remember the time we first visited the big city in our late teens and picture ourselves walking in between tight rows of high-rises, bisecting a boulevard, our lungs hurting from all the air and the life. People are there, bumping into us, speaking too loudly, walking erratically. A song is playing, maybe Once in a Lifetime. We tell ourselves we could go, if we wanted to. We tell ourselves the world is still there, all these places still exist. They are proof we all lived, once. They are like those words scraped on every high school bathroom stall: I was here. We feel better. The next day, we play chess at the appointed time.