• It started with a simple habit. Asking a question.

    It was a habit that, ordinarily, wouldn‘t have counted as “self-destructive” by any stretch of the imagination. But it began as just that; a stretch. Or rather, a desire to flex the tendrils of thought outward from the hull of the mind.

    It is the undying urge to let that intangible arm reach out into the ether, collect what it can, and bring back the ingredients. Facts are reeled in from the pages of books, rumors from the toothpaste-cornered mouths of peers. Sometimes, deep in our own gut, the line snags on a hint of instinct and pulls it up from our bowels and into the light.

    Nimble fingers work fast to calculate this information, and the end result is an answer. It doesn’t have to be right. Any thought produced after one asks oneself a question is defined as an answer, but if you want to be nitpicky, call it a response.

    But that’s what finally did it; not the answer itself, but the act of trying to add the facts, rumors, and instinct into a discernible response to the question:
    “What is I?”

    I suppose I can’t guarantee that you will be able to follow me, as I admit, I was lost along the way. The simple act of questioning the ability to think resulted in the utter dissolution of a human mind.

    In asking such a dangerous question, I should have known the risks. It is equivalent to brushing against the hairs of a cat- or in this case, sanity- so as to irritate the protective skin that lies between us and the raw, rhythmic vibrations of life‘s pattern. The physical body has been planned to work in time; the intake and exhalation of air, the flow of each blood cell sealed into veins that coil and stretch to the organs, who pound out their daily routine in a synchronized series of tasks.

    The human mind, though, has more than a physical pattern to comply with. The very idea of I exists there. Everything you were, everything you are, and everything you hope to become begins with I- I was, I am, I will be… There is no gland that secretes the essence of I, it is simply there, overlooking the actions we take, and yet unable to control what puts the body in motion.

    It was this curiosity, the origin of I, that was a mistake.

    Please bear with me, and do try not to contemplate the essence of I in yourself, but instead, pretend this is a lighthearted article about a fruitcake recipe…Excuse the pun.

    For the record, my name is Harold Osman, but I call myself I. Muriel’s Home for the Mentally Ill is my home, situated on a hill overlooking your bustling little community. I live in a small room no bigger than a thimble, and hardly any more comfortable, with only one small window placed high on the door. The view is as uninteresting as the contents of a sewing basket.

    There are others here like myself; unraveling spools who clomp, heavy-footed, down the halls, their hands always reaching out for another’s. There are the steely-eyed, needle-bearing doctors who take the spools by their hands and weave them from one cup of pills to the next. Then there are the rags who have become so mentally threadbare, they simply cannot handle the weight and tugging of treatment, and so they are left behind closed doors with no windows and a thick pad to keep out the sound; as little stimulation as possible to save what can never be patched.

    The rags are as useful as scarecrows; a definite human shape and the right kind of stuffing, yet they lack the essence of I, and thus so, they scare people like myself into clinging to what scraps of ourselves may remain.

    This form of propaganda worked as my “therapy” for a time; I lived in fear of questions (and the answer I have yet to formulate properly) for almost thirty-seven years, until I cast out the line of thought once more and was surprised to find something new struggling on the hook.

    The scarecrows are blissful in their mind‘s enclosure.

    To hell with it. My journey to discover I robbed me of a normal man’s life, took away my freedom. Even without the bars in the window and the food divided into individual sections of the tray, captivity is eminent. I’ve come to believe that the only thing to do is to search for freedom in a new place; the darkest thoughts that have waxed against the blinding light of my sanity for almost four decades.

    To hide from this realization which so frightens me is to try, in vain, to stop the revolution of the moon. It’ll come ‘round, first bright and clear as day, but I feel the phase of sanity slipping, and that dark edge beginning to peek over the horizon. I have grown tired of mentally straining to keep the cycle of thought itself from devouring me in darkness, but alas...

    I have it all right here, in this miraculous feat of engineering, the human mind ticking like clockwork. Admittedly, age has made it difficult to think normal thoughts, to replay memories that, only yesterday, were so vivid. Each recollection takes the cranking of rusted gears, the mental elbow grease of a younger individual to grind the dirt from the cogs. Those nimble fingers, once skilled at printing organized lines in black and white, have gnarled with a sort of arthritis of the mind.

    But I still have the pieces, every fact, every rumor, every bit of instinct pulled from deep within.
    To best sort it out, I’ve figured out the key; to discover I, I must discover me. It’s an agonizing cycle, a tough one to crack, but I’m finally ready to admit to myself the truth.

    Here in the margins of the headline column, with a pencil so ridden with bite marks there is hardly any yellow paint, I am writing the truth. For you, for myself, and for I.

    I is complex and infinite. It is awe-inspiring and impenetrable, sheer energy molded from its rawest form into meaning, into understanding. I is power, I is weakness. I is intangible, and yet capable of controlling something physical. I is a gift from God. I is love so powerful it brings an ache to the heart simply to imagine losing it. I is sorrow so bitter it brings a tear to the eye, a physical reaction to a vague message. I is the thread of life, the concept of death, and the hope for an afterlife. It is the seed of creation, the acorn that grows into a grand oak within the mind‘s pod.

    In a nut’s shell, I is imaginary…Excuse the pun.


    Dr. Verraine was making the daily rounds, cup of pills in hand. As she drew nearer to room #294, something stirred in her chest. Call it a sixth sense if you wish, but Dr. Verraine knew that something in the atmosphere had changed. Peering through the bars and Plexiglas that separated herself from Harold Osman, she witnessed something horrifying, jarring… a miracle.

    He was straining to write something along the margin of a folded newspaper. The vein in his forehead throbbed, sweat dripped from every pore. The muscles in his hand shook violently.

    How interesting, she thought, What words could inspire such a reaction as this?

    As his fingers lost their grip on the pencil, she watched as Harold Osman finished the sentence, smiled to himself, and wrote the very last words left in his mind.

    He slumped over sideways, his face growing less red. His breathing slowed ‘til she could hardly tell if he were breathing at all.

    “Nurse! Nurse, come quick!” Dr. Verraine swiped her key in the door and hurried in. She kicked aside the newspaper that Harold’s weak, gnarled hands had dropped to the floor.

    He wasn’t dead, she could tell right away. But he was gone.

    Two nurses crammed themselves through the door, one bearing a sedative, the other clutching a first aid kit. Dr. Verraine raised her hand, signal to stay back.

    “Mr. Osman?” she whispered, “Harold?”

    When he did not respond, she took his hand and peered into his dull eyes. She sighed. “Are you in there, Harold? Please tell me somebody’s home.”

    “I is here,” he muttered, and a dreamy smile painted its way across his lips. “Not me.”

    She bowed her head; in prayer, frustration, or sorrow, no one could tell. She said to the nurse’s bearing their medicines, “No use anymore. He’s far too gone.”

    The nurse with the sedative lowered the syringe, pursing her lips angrily. The other wrinkled her brow, uncertain. “What should we do, doctor?”

    “Move him to the fourth floor tomorrow,” replied Dr. Verraine hastily, “There’s somebody home, but it isn't him.”

    And just like that, Harold Osman was swept into what some may call the peril of insanity. His room was wiped clean of any reminders of him; the robe he wore to bed, the tearstains on the pillow, and a mysterious message scrawled on a newspaper. Of course the janitor had no idea what he was getting himself into when he read Harold’s answer, and like Harold, was rendered a delirious- yet happy- mental case. But ask Harold and the janitor, and they’ll tell you (as any of the scarecrows would, if they could still speak),
    “Just as there is sanity and insanity, like day and night, there is I. And let me tell you, the darkness of madness is more peaceful than the blinding light of my sanity.”