Saturday, September 1, 2012

Hell is a Lonesome Place

Hell is a lonesome place.

Dark, wet, and sticky. Smells like the ass-end of a Burger King dumpster on a hot summer's day.

My friends aren't here. This is hell.

If I had friends here it wouldn't be so bad.

The tables in hell are made from perforated metal... large holes maybe an inch across, and then dipped in some grippy plastic. The tops of the tables curve downward slightly, like they were left out in the sun just a touch too long and started to droop.

None of the chairs in hell are comfortable. They either have no backs, or they rock side to side. Find the perfect chair only to realize that the back is broken as you lean back and nearly fall. Stand up and find yourself covered in itchy pet fur, bits of torn wool and reeking of stale urine.

In hell the televisions are always on. Nothing you want to see is on... but the TV strobes in and out of your vision no matter where you look. Compelling, numbing and terrifying at the same time. The audio track fails to sync so the newscaster's voice sounds too much like a detergent commercial.

Hell's designer should be fired on the basis of creating false promises. Everywhere that should be clean is anything but. Places that should be hidden from view, you are forced to walk through. Escalators that lurch and stagger. Handrails wait with splinters and smears of mucus left behind by toddlers too young to know better.

The custodial crew in hell expect everything to be recycled. Not just the good stuff. Everything. When you line up for your meal tray, and try to catch a glimpse of the kitchen, it looks like the food was just pulled out of garbage bags and broken milk crates. It is the smell that gets you though. The same salty, hot oil... the knowing scent of fried something or other. Your mouth waters before you notice the sickly sweet smell of rancid putrification.

In hell there are no bathrooms. Never mind a long line, there are no bathrooms. And worse still, you always need to pee. Every dark corner looks appealing as a place to stop and urinate until you realize that is exactly what everyone else has done. The pain comes in waves. Nausea mixed with sheer terror at having to keep waiting for a real bathroom. There has to be a bathroom somewhere. But there isn't. Hell's plumbing was designed by a general surgeon.

All of the voices in hell combine fingers on a chalkboard with toddler wailing. The resultant reverberation makes conversations sound like the clamor of an engine room on a cruise ship. In hell, you can see the horrific waves of halitosis as people cajole one another. Eventually, even your own inner voice starts to sound like your neighbor's cat in heat at two in the morning.

In hell, your fellow travelers are the bastards who screwed up everything they touched in your life. They are the assholes who broke your heart, teased you, molested you, chose you last for games on the schoolyard. Remembering the spilled milk, torn clothes, bitter iron in your mouth mixed with salty tears and the slurping back of the snot that just won't stop running down your nose... these are the people standing next to you everywhere you go in hell.

There is no view in hell. I tried for over a year to find a place from which to see out. I looked for a window, but all the windows just led to more halls, rooms, and escalators. There is no outside in hell. Everything is wrapped up in the dusty oily resinous exhaust that builds up between the acrid cleaning sessions that happen so infrequently. Touch anything and that grime finds its way on to you with even the slightest brush. Mirrors laugh at your reflection.

I kept waiting for a phone call in hell. All of the cell phones in hell ring incessantly. Not mine. I was surprised to see that there is cell reception in hell. Probably because of AT&T. To this day, I am not sure if that call would have been a pardon or my final sentencing.

I was in hell for over a year. Trying to tell time in perpetual twilight is like vertigo for the timeline.

Next week I begin the observance of my third year since entering the coma. This story was just one of many dozens that came from that experience.


  1. There is a sign down the road from us and it says, "Eternity in Hell is a Very Long Time", it seems as though hell is like that. We all have our little bits of hell and when we are there hell is all consuming. Your prose captures your feelings and in turn some of my thoughts and feelings as well.

  2. Thanks Linda. There were at least three different occasions in the coma where I ended up in places where time refused to pass. I still need to write about the bus depot scene. That was hellish. All the waiting! I think I may move my more personal writing off this blog though, and over to it's own place. What do you think? Keep the photography and personal stuff separate?

  3. It's not about separating the personal stuff from photography. It's more about not wallowing in this stuff any more. Yes, what happened to you was horrible in a life-changing sort of way. But three years out this is too self-centered and not condusive to happiness. Go help others who need it. Focus on others. Get over viewing yourself as a victim so you can stop being a victim. Work on minimizing your ego. Don't scratch the scabs all the time and then lament the blood.

    1. I've been debating how I should respond to this comment since it obviously touched a nerve. The comment certainly set off some pretty strong feelings on my end too.

      I considered simply deleting the post and letting it vanish into the ether. Didn't seem very fair to me. So I posted it.

      First off, Anonymous you are a coward to hide behind your anonymity. If you have something to say, for whatever reason, say it out loud, in person, and stand for it.

      Secondly, I didn't ask for your thoughts about my experience. I don't give a shit what you think about what I have been through. I simply asked what folks thought about moving more sensitive, vulnerable writings off of my photography blog and giving them their own space.

      You seem to think that after a certain time frame everything is healed and all better. Soonest forgotten, soonest healed? Sorry. I did that with my childhood. I have pushed through my life as hard and fast as possible, skipping over my emotional needs so that I could care for others.

      This brings me to your next comment about helping others in need. If you knew me at all, you would know that I have spend my life helping others. Since you don't know that, and don't know me, then I have to assume that your comment really is about yourself.

      As for minimizing my ego... good luck with that. After having spent the last few years rebuilding my body, my life and my family, the last thing on earth I am going to do is feel shame about what I have been through. Not a chance. I am damned proud of what I have lived through. I am doubly proud of my family and my friends. They have stood by through thick and thin. Their reactions to your post speak volumes about their devotion. And yes, I need that devotion.

      Lastly, don't talk to me about scabs and blood until you have had someone stick their entire hand into your gaping wound to scrape out dead infected skin. For all of your comment's altruistic affectation what really shines through is your total disregard for my experience and those around me.

    2. Damn straight. And, Anonymous, you must not actually know Alex, because if you did, you'd know he is the happiest he has ever been in his life. When you've been through what he went through, maybe you can come back and share your experience, but until then, don't presume to know anything about what we've been through, or what we're feeling. Please be careful in the future about the assumptions you make and the insults you hurl sanctimoniously at someone you don't even know.

  4. Wow, what a callous, insensitive, and unnecessary comment. (Above) Alex didn't ask for any advice. He was sharing an experience because people ask him all the time about the coma dreams. You don't have to read the coma stories if you don't want to, and you certainly shouldn't telling him what to do. This has nothing to do with self-centeredness or ego. And Alex does not see himself as a victim. I should know, I'm his wife. I have actually seen the changes he has been through and am not basing my statements on assumptions made after reading a story. You obviously don't know Alex well, if at all. And to make such an insulting comment anonymously? Wow. What a coward.

  5. Wow, "Anonymous" -- what an insensitive, not to mention self-righteous, comment. How dare you judge someone for his reaction to an experience you almost certainly have NOT had. No one has the right to tell anyone else how, or for how long, they should process trauma. If you can't respond with empathy to such a story, or at least with compassion, you should shut the hell up.

  6. So, "Anonymous", how many comas have YOU been in? What's that? None? I'm shocked, because based on your hateful words and desire for anonymity, I thought you were a an expert.

    So now I shall offer YOU a piece of advice, "Anonymous". My advice is to think long and hard about whether the words you have to share with others will be helpful, will be wanted, and won't hurt someone. Think about that before your fingers hit the keyboard next time.

  7. what the person above Nancy does not seem to know is that we are layers of our past. I have watched you all go though a private and public walk in hell and come out recently better and better with life is good and happiness around you.
    I have had my own walks in hell and even though they are not the first thing I think about everyday they are there everyday.
    To forget all the past is to act like it never happened.
    Keep up the stories Alex it is healing for us all.

    1. Thank you Meredith. Glad the stories seem worth reading. I wish that I could find the head-space to just get them all onto the screen once and for all... but it takes so long to write them down.

  8. And to think...the hell you perceived in this coma dream was most likely your mind's way of detaching you from an even more painful reality. I don't know how anyone could survive this journey into hell, much less emerge from it and find the strength to carry on, but never do cease to amaze me!

    1. Thanks Carrie. Part of how it happens is with all of the support I get from all of my friends. You are a big part of that!

  9. "Let those find fault whose wit's so very small,
    They've need to show that they can think at all;
    Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow;
    He who would search for pearls, must dive below.
    Fops may have leave to level all they can;
    As pigmies would be glad to lop a man.
    Half-wits are fleas; so little and so light,
    We scarce could know they live, but that they bite."

    ~John Dryden

  10. Alex - I'd be curious so see what you have to say to Anonymous.

    1. I posted my comment as a reply to Anonymous.

  11. Alex, you obviously are not meeting someone's needs. Refund his subscription fee and stop forcing him to read your blog.

    1. Dennis, I think you hit the nail on the head. You get what you pay for with this blog. lol.

  12. I think the only negative thing I have found about blogs; the one thing I regret about having known some folks is how insensitive and mean some folks can be via blogging. Some people don't realize or don't care how hurtful their actions and words can be; it seems to me it's those folks who have the biggest egos with their own narcissistic needs in mind and little regard for anyone else around them. Perhaps those folks have never suffered ill health or traumas in their lives. But just living long enough to be an adult and able to read a blog or write a comment on a blog they should have some semblance of empathy and they should realize how their words can hurt others. This person could have contacted you personally but chose a roundabout way to speak their mind.

    We all heal and learn through speaking to one another and sharing our experiences.

    the words - if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all - come to mind.