I can feel the eyes of other people in this gym watching me. I’m something of a mild curiosity, and most of the people here have spent the last sixty minutes staring out into open space. I might as well be live entertainment.
The idea of me doing stand up comedy is so ridiculous that I actually laugh a little to myself, which I quickly wipe off my face before someone finds me grinning at myself.
As the treadmill begins to move under my feet, I lean forward and enjoy the small moment of free fall before my foot kicks forward, planting and driving me into a sprint. Before I can think, the ground is moving fast, and all the thoughts and half thoughts fall away into the darkness.
This is all that matters, right in this moment. The hollow sound of the treadmill, the sound screaming in my ears, bass thumping along with my heartbeat as for one second, I honestly believe I can outrun everything, even myself. My past doesn’t exist here. My future has no relevance. I am here because I have chosen to be, slaking my thirst with my own sweat and blood.
I can feel my legs loosening with every stride, kicking out as the dial notches higher and higher. 12 km/h. 13 km/h. 14 km/h.
The world around me fades away. I can feel the ceiling now, hands pressed against it. I relish this moment, because I know that I have enough in the tank now. After months of training, I’m finally here, about to snap this ceiling and move to the next. I take the time to sync my breath to my footsteps, exhaling on the kick out, and finally I kick up the dial again.
It happens all at once. A sharp, cracking pain that shoots along the side of my leg, immediately dulled by the adrenaline flooding through my body. I can feel my heart in my chest again, and I can’t sync up my breath. I’m going too fast, but I can’t quit now. My leg kicks, but I can feel it failing imminently.
I’m seeing red, I want to keep going. I’m seeing red, I know that I need to stop.
The world is right there for the taking, I’m so close.
The world is askew, and I’m just trying to hold on.
In this moment, right here, I am free. I chose this, it was my decision. My head is empty now, even as I approach the cliff. The single thought that reverberates around my skull, is one question that even I don’t have an answer for.
“Are you happy?”
You know how this story ends. It ends how they all end.
Half an hour later, I’m in the parking lot. I thought I’d be blinking back tears by now, but no. It’s just a hollow feeling of disappointment. The taste of failure fills my mouth, and all I can think is that it tastes like blood.
I think my leg is fractured.
The dark is patient. It is kind, and it is generous.
It holds you over the burning embers of your failure and forces you, cruelly, to examine why you failed. This is the first gift. You lay awake at night and contemplate the world that you left behind – or if you’re honest enough, the world that left you behind.
The second gift is that it convinces you that you don’t need it to exist. It retreats into the brightness of day, and allows you to believe that you’re a better person than you really are. That the darkness will always recede into the day, and that the dark is temporary. This is a lie. The dark is the space between the stars, and the distance between the lips of lovers. It is always there, waiting. Watching. It is patient, and in your moments of weakness, it wraps itself around your body, rocking against you as it whispers that one day, all things end.
One day, even the stars will burn out.
The third gift is the most priceless of all. Even when you believe you’ve won, and that there is nothing left to fight for, in an instant it could all be wrenched away. Leaving you naked, shaking, desperate for answers. Clutching at the dreams that you once believed that were all you needed to be to be whole.
In this moment, when you find yourself sweeping the streets that you used to own, as your own screams reverberate around the walls that have closed in on you, you find that you have nothing.
But, if you can quiet your heart for long enough, you can hear what it never wanted you to find. The pause between breaths. The space between heartbeats. The feeling of nothing, the lightweight bounce in your step from being weighed down with no expectation. The free fall as gravity pulls you down to a world that no longer exists. The cliff, as it falls away into nothingness.
It’s the whisper in your ear, telling that you have never felt truly free until now. That happiness is freedom, and freedom is the sound of a hot engine roaring on cold asphalt, back wheels kicking out around a curve. Freedom is the sound of release as you run faster than you ever thought you could. It is the smack of a boxing glove against the jaw of a man twice your size, as you stumble, punch drunk and in love with the feeling of adrenaline careening through your system, on a high that no drug could provide.
Lips touch on dark nights and darker roads, streetlights shining back in the midnight sky like the stars above them, and it dawns on me that if I die before I see the dawn, I won’t mourn the death of the morning.
I have been here a thousand times, but I have never stayed until now. Always desperate to leave, but never content with what awaited on the other side. In love with the feeling of freedom, but first to give it up to chase something that could never fulfill me. This time, I’m staying.
I will find happiness in the place where fear lives, and in the solitude and loneliness, I’ll chase freedom forever. It’s what will keep me alive, long after the stars burn out.
I am the nothing king, and the king of nothing.