Sometimes, when I look inside of myself, I see nothing.
When I started writing this I wanted to compare what I see at those times to how the ocean looks on a moonless night. But it’s an imperfect metaphor: with the ocean, even if you can’t see it, you know something is there. There’s movement, there’s sound, there’s a presence even if it’s not visible.
When I say that I see nothing, what I mean is that I see the absence of anything. Maybe that doesn’t seem like much of a distinction to you, but to me it’s everything. It’s like comparing an empty room in a house that no one has lived in to your childhood bedroom with everything removed. Both are empty, but with the latter there’s a sense of something that should be there, and that’s often what I see when I look inside myself. I sometimes imagine myself giving a tour of my emptiness: “On your left, you can see the place where most people store their sense of self-worth. Unfortunately, this model doesn’t come with that, but I hope you enjoy the vacancy regardless.”
When I was very young, and still lived in Louisiana, I fell while running and scraped my leg. It was on that sidewalk-like surface you sometimes see, with the rocks and stones embedded in it. It ripped through several layers of skin, and I was awed by the injury: I could poke at it, and squeeze it between my fingertips, and even stick my finger inside of my leg, but I didn’t feel anything. If I was a bio-nerd, I could have identified where epidermis gave way to dermis and so on. My relationship with this was cold and distant, as if I was observing a planet through a telescope. Eventually, someone noticed and I received appropriate medical attention from medical professionals.
While I have lost the details of this accident, I will always remember that strange disconnect between the wound and how I felt. At times, I feel that same disconnect with my nothingness. I know that it’s mine, and that it’s a part of me, but I don’t feel anything when I poke it. Maybe that’s because I feel like I have no agency to change it. In my mind, all I can do is wait for someone else to come along and make it better.
Over the last few years, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of the void. The kind of crushing, overwhelming nothingness that denies all attempts to grapple with it. I think of an astronaut whose tether to their shuttle gets severed, dooming them to spend the rest of their life spinning helplessly through the empty space between celestial bodies. I think of a diver slipping deeper and deeper into a trench, drawn further into the darkness without realizing that they’re running out of air.
If I think about it for too long, I start to cry. I’ve had to start and stop writing this post several times because of my crying. The first time it happened, a few paragraphs up from here, I thought, “Wowza, I’m really fucked up.” The second time it happened, I thought, “This has gotta be healthy for me, right?” At this point, I’ve just accepted that I’m full of all sorts of repressed shit.
To me, this void represents inevitability. It’s the heat death of the universe on a personal scale. It’s the terminus of life, of sensation, of experience. It’s the nothingness growing out to engulf the rest of me. Usually I shy away from the void, but sometimes, when it comes to me, I lean into it. If I’m in the right mood, I can find comfort in its familiarity and its certainty.