“Leave me alone,” he said to no one in particular. He wasn’t sure why he said it. He hadn’t spoken aloud in years. Had someone touched him? Impossible. He couldn’t remember the last time he had physical contact with another human being.
He was OK with that.
He’d fled from humanity decades ago. He remembered the agony of being among people. It was greater that agoraphobia or xenophobia. He desperately craved solitude. The silence comforted him. He was far from lonely. He was content to sit in his favorite chair and watch life go by outside his window. He loved that chair, the way its cushions conformed to body. He didn’t so much sit in it as he melted into it and became part of it. As he sat there, he could feel his sense of self drift away, until he was nothing but a floating sense of consciousness.
It was bliss.
Occasionally, however, there was the nightmare. A wild, violent nightmare, which shook him to his core.
Of course, he was never alone in his nightmares. Just the presence of another terrified him. Not only was he not alone, he was in a crowd of people.
Leave me alone.
Everyone was packed in shoulder-to-shoulder with no room to move and barely room to breathe.
Leave. Me. Alone!
The worst part of it was that all of their attention was focused on him. An infinite number of eyes stared at him. An infinite number of hands reached out to touch him. He couldn’t stop the touching. There was nowhere to go. Their rancid breath in his face made him vomit. They were undeterred. Whatever he said, whatever he did, they wanted more. Wherever he tried to go, they were there.
LEAVE ME ALONE!
Inevitably, he woke up. The nightmare was soon just a terrible memory. He would seek the familiar comfort of his chair and resume his reverie. Soon, his heartbeat slowed to normal, then almost nothing. His breathing slowed until he almost didn’t need to.
Sometimes, in what was almost a moment of clarity, he wondered if his nightmare was actually his reality. What if he really was in that room? What if they were really pressing into him? What if this is really the dream? He allowed himself a small shudder at the passing thought. It was a small miracle that he even allowed the synapse that formed the thought to fire in his brain. No, he knew what was real. He knew what was real.
“He said it again, doctor.”
The nurse hovered cautiously over the seemingly catatonic patient. Normally, when he uttered that phrase, he was thrashing violently. He almost broke his restraints on more than one occasion. This time, however, he was calm. No one had even touched him. Could he be aware of their presence?
“Any change in his scans?”
The doctor looked over the chart curiously, if somewhat impatiently. Over the years, he’d grown tired of this patient. The patient had been there for decades. His outbursts were growing more and more violent. Now, the patient was showing small signs of consciousness. Was there something there? Maybe. Who would he tell if there were? The patient’s family had long since died or moved on. No one called about him. No one e-mailed about him. Not one letter came for him.
This man was completely alone.