That Which We Are, We Are
I am strong of will and free of mind, and I can control the most significant of my own actions. This thought is now so thoroughly ingrained upon my consciousness that I no longer even have to repeat it to myself, with hands clasped about my ears while chanting above the din of dissenting voices, "Lalalalala, not listening," for it to hold true. But like everyone else, I am also a creature of habit, and even of plain inertia, and sometimes I wonder what good it is to be free if I should never desire to do otherwise than I have done in the past.
What experience has taught me about myself is that, left to my own devices, I shall invariably drink to excess and seldom wake, preferring a world built of hallucinations and dreams to one of muddy, springtime weather and a sun that is entirely too bright for rational eyes. So when my employers recently granted me six straight days of freedom from toil, I did what came naturally, renouncing the opportunity for novel experience, and instead plunging headlong into a bottle. In truth, several bottles. And why not? Why not let determinism run its familiar course, through that well-worn channel carved over many years by liquids both fermented and distilled? That, after all, is my goal: to imbibe, to geek, to whine, and not to bathe.
Drinking on the weekends, in the evenings, and in the company of friends is one thing. Drinking throughout the course of a week, in the mornings, and all alone is quite a different kind of experience. For one, it's the sort of thing that most people look down on, and so there's the head-rush that always accompanies the violating of conformist norms and the brazen flaunting of responsibility. There is a sense of openness about it, too, since whereas the shroud of night brings an air of clandestinity and mischief, in the daylight, one is disinclined to adopt masks. And while the night air seems permeated by unfathomable mysteries, the shine of day lends an aspect of abrupt revelation.
It was under these strange circumstances that I did most of my drinking. I'd wake up at around 2:00 AM, ingest caffeine, cook a meal, and then seek to quiet the mild nausea leftover from yesterday before beginning in earnest. My flatmates grew accustomed to my drunkenness in the mornings while they breakfasted and prepared for work. "Guess what I'm drinking," I asked Nat one morning.
He sniffed the air and responded, "Not water!"
"You're right! You're goddamned right. Not water." He closed the door to the bathroom and started the shower running, so I ambled shakily into the kitchen. There was Gavin, busy spreading peanut butter onto an English muffin. I tried to time my sips of bourbon to the movement of his knife: spread, sip, spread, sip. He wore a pressed shirt, a tie, and long pants, while I splayed out in the barstool in my shorts and stained T-shirt.
"Jesus," I yelled, "How many jars of peanut butter do you own? Three?" There were two jars of peanut butter there on the counter.
Gavin laughed. "Just one. That other one is Nat's."
"Oh." I felt ashamed, but it quickly passed.
Soon afterward, they headed out the door and I was alone for the day. The apartment was very quiet. I started back upstairs to my room, when for some strange reason I decided that the stairs looked comfortable, so I lay upon them. One sharp stair prodded my brainpan; another, my scapulae; still another stretched my Achilles tendons. The effect was something akin to a massage. For half an hour I lay on the stairs and sipped bourbon, and watched through the window as seagulls circled outside. They had but recently returned from their migration south, and were now very excited by a passing garbage truck. It had been many months since they had last tasted Maine trash.
I eventually made it back to my room, where I contemplated whether to play a PC or console game. I decided that I wasn't in the mood for a PC game, since they are often more complex, and what I needed was easy, straightforward fun. Some repressed portion of my psyche briefly swelled with panic, as I realized that the drink had brought out the weakness that I normally keep buried: my capacity for complexity--in games, and perhaps elsewhere--is in decline. I am not choosing the easy path; I am damned to it.
And then, as quickly as the feeling arose, it abated. I poured another drink and played some Crystalis from my bed.
At some point, I found myself back downstairs in the bathroom, staring at my reflection in the mirror. My eyes slipped their focus, and I saw that my face was smeared with a layer of fingerprints and a quick splatter of toothpaste. They shifted back, and once more I stared into my own bloodshot orbs. Inhale; exhale. This is who I am.
It was David Hume who shattered the entire notion of personal identity. He pointed out that the conventional view of a persistent self, identical from day to day and year to year, is an illusion. We are "but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement." Our perceptions constitute what we are, and although those perceptions are often interrelated, they are never identical.
Staring into the mirror--inhaling, exhaling--I wonder whether Hume had it backwards. Yes, he is right, we are not simply persistent entities, surviving intact from one moment to the next. But is he also right to think that as a result of this, we must fade into pure transience, never achieving anything at all like identity? Perhaps we exist all-as-one, with our personal identity made up of the entirety of our lives' experiences. I am Phillip Scuderi as he was, Phillip Scuderi as I am, and Phillip Scuderi as he will be until he dies; and I am such forever. Identity is not a matter of persistence through time, but of transcendence of it.
So this--this drinking of not-water, this playing of Crystalis, this staring into the mirror--is who I am. And I can't control it.