The Darkest Evening of the Year


from Roger M. Wilcox's biography

"My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year."

    — "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening", by Robert Frost

I've felt that punch.

It happened in 1986. I was sick and tired of being a never-ending loser at everything that mattered the most to me, sick and tired of the relentless barrage of gut-punches that this little game called "living" was throwing at me day after day, sick and tired of my constant yearning for a romantic companion on one end and the constant rejection on the other.

I wanted out. I couldn't win, I couldn't break even, but I'd be damned if I couldn't get out of the game.

If I'd chosen the same means to get out of the game that others had, by jumping off a cliff or shooting myself, I wouldn't be around to write this. Because unlike the lucky ones, I didn't call a friend on the phone to chat at the last minute. I knew if I shared anything like what I was feeling right then with my friends or family or therapist, I'd just get more damned talking down to. In fact, this one act would be my means of defying all of them, of exercising the one power I had left. And so, on that one night — ironically, on the night of May Day — two bottles of sleeping pills slipped quietly down my throat.

I remember the bitter taste. I hadn't planned it all out, and didn't have enough water to swallow them all. I walked out of my bedroom to get to the kitchen, in full view of my parents and my dog, feeling like a spy in a hostile country as I downed a glass of milk, all the while thinking "They don't know!". It was almost eerie walking back into my bedroom, shutting my door behind me and turning out my lights for the last time.

And there I was, lying there in the darkness, with no deeds to do and no promises to keep, just waiting for the poison to work its dark magic. There were no parents to tell me I was doing something wrong, no friends to look down on me, no therapists to try and "fix" me. It was just me. My choice, and mine alone. The impending oblivion rolled over and over in my mind as I teetered on the edge of sleep.

Then something inside me took one, final stab at me.

And it won.

I bawled my eyes out. This was the absolute end of everything I was headed toward. It wouldn't be blackness, it wouldn't be numbness, because I wouldn't be around to even experience blackness or numbness anymore. I wouldn't even know that I wasn't around any more, because there wouldn't be any me to do the knowing. I switched on the light to look at the familiar bedroom around me. I remember my gaze landing on the cover of Champions III, a super-hero role-playing game supplement — the cartoon on the cover showed a defiant Icestar breaking loose from the bonds that were strapping him down to an evil experimenter's table. And still I wasn't sure. Should I let the pills I'd swallowed run their course to my non-existence?

No. No!

I marched outside and told my parents what I'd just done. It stunned them into action — but it stunned me into action even more. In the space of under a minute, I'd gone from welcoming sweet oblivion to fighting for my life.

I suppose, in retrospect, that my life wasn't in any serious danger once I'd stuck my finger down my own throat and barfed up much of the undigested drugs, but that wasn't my thinking at the time. Driven to the hospital and lying on an emergency room gurney, I waited for the results of the blood tests that would determine whether they'd have to feed me a black liquid called "charcoal and magnesium citrate". Enough of the sleeping pills had made their way into my blood stream that I started feeling sleepier and sleepier — and that scared the hell out of me. I "knew" that if I fell asleep I wouldn't wake up. I was starting to feel numb. I could barely stay awake enough to form whole sentences, but I. Would. Not. Let. Myself. Sleep.

And I remember, most vividly, staring across the room at the far wall, and seeing a little dance of lights playing on the blank surface, right in the center of my visual field. It was an illusion, of course, a product of whatever games the absorbed drugs were playing on my brain. To my thinking, I was seeing Death. I was staring Death right in the face. Those little lights, those little starbursty indicators that not all was right with my preceptions, were the harbingers of my eternal nonexistence.

Holy crap, is death ever an awful thing.

It was almost joyous when I felt the pain of the I.V. needle being stuck into the back of my hand. I.V.'s aren't like injections or drawing blood — their insertion crosses some pretty major nerves, and is only slightly less uncomfortable than having your genitals electrocuted. But to me, that bright, stabbing pain was a triumph. I could feel. I was alive.

Two years later, I received some cortisone tablets for some condition I don't remember, and I retched and vomited involuntarily when their taste reminded me of the flavor of those sleeping pills. Later, I broke out in a cold sweat when an optometrist put numbing drops in my eyes, because the lack of feeling reminded me of the terrifying numbness those sleeping pills gave me. And some nights, or some early mornings after a restless dream, I'll remember that the same yawning emptiness I managed to avoid that May Day night — "the darkest evening of the year" — will one day catch up to me and rip my existence out from under me no matter what I do, and I'll despair or worry or weep that I didn't live enough while I had the chance.

And that, in the words of a certain piece of cinematic art, all these moments will be lost in time like tears in the rain.

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."

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