To an observer, it is a white male in his late twenties, seated in a Muni train with headphones on. His eyes are unfocused. His expression is just a little more than blank. On his face, there is a sadness that grips him from very far away. Not just in distance, but also in time.
To me, there is the scratch and beyond that, nothing.
When you are derealized, the universe around you becomes a lie of variable plausibility. If it is not so bad, the chair you are in, the room you occupy, your house perhaps: All these can usually maintain their validity in your mind. If you can touch them, say, certainly they must be real. As things get worse though, as they sometimes do, the lie closes in. It envelops neighborhoods, districts. Objects of enormous size as it makes its way closer to you. Eventually, you'll watch it pervade the walls of your room, erasing everything behind it. The persistence of your environment vanishes. The thought of opening a door gives the feeling that you would then stare out into the void on the other side. The cold, unfeeling edge of the universe, brought conveniently, right to your door. A fall into the infinite dark at your doorstep.
And when it gets very bad indeed, it will take you as well. Your arms will appear spindly in your vision. Laughably false, tugged about on strings by a puppetmaster somewhere above you. The illusion will press itself right up against the surface of your eyes, and in that moment, only the very essence of you will remain. The world around you will become as if the screen of an enormous television. A false environment, of no greater worth than the backdrop of any sitcom or nighttime procedural drama. And broken down just as easily.
And so for me, in this moment, the only thing that I have managed to spare, as the illusion rushed up and dissolved the permanence of everything around me, was the scratch.
Staring at this aluminum bar that makes up the handrail of this Muni train, there is a mar in the surface. It is less than a millimeter deep, I'd be surprised if it were a few microns, but it is there. And what's more, without fundamentally changing the structure of the bar, it will always be there. Until the muni is dismantled, until the bar is damaged beyond utility and replaced, until it is tossed in a pile of its own kind, until it is melted down in the crucible of a mill or of the unstably expanding corona of our star.
And staring at it, the only real thing left in the world to me in this moment, through it I achieve what is the best I can hope for right now: a numb state. I've become so tired thinking about the cruelly interrupted existences of those I know and love in the recent past that I constantly feel tears welling up in me. The struggle for quickly dwindling resources. The aging and eventual death of the universe itself. A massive, incomprehensible system, cold and alone, coming to its end, dragging our very understanding of the passage of time with it.
I've lost so much sleep. My body feels so horrifically taxed that I've begun to become irrationally afflicted by fever and chill. My work feels incomplete and worthless and I feel like a burden on anyone I spend more than a few minutes with each day.
This numb state is all I can ask for. Detached from my body, broken and unable to consider nothing but this minuscule gouge of metal. What choice to I have; I'll take what I can get. For this one precious moment, the illusion has robbed me of everything and with it inadvertently taken pain and fear. What little left there is to call me, I remain.
In this moment, all that exists is me and the scratch.