Today is day three hundred and sixty-four.
Three hundred and sixty-four days since my last night of sleep. That's almost nine thousand hours. Five hundred and twenty-four thousand minutes. Thirty-one million seconds.
Or, if you want to go in the opposite direction, fifty-two weeks. Twelve months.
One whole year without a single night of rest.
One year of stumbling through life in a semiconscious dream state. One year of opening my eyes to find myself in another room, another building, without any recollection of when I got there or how I arrived.
One year of sleeping pills and eye drops and chugging caffeine by the quart-full. Of jittery fingers and drooping eyelids. Of becoming intimately familiar with the night.
One whole year since my Mason was taken from me, and still, I'm no closer to the truth.
"Isabelle, you're on in five."
My pupils are drilling into a spot in the carpet. A spot with no significance, really, other than the fact that my eyes seem to like it here. My surroundings grow fuzzy as the spot—my spot—gets sharper, clearer. Like tunnel vision.
I wish I could always have tunnel vision: the ability to selectively focus on one single thing at a time. Turn everything else into static. White noise.
There's a hand in front of my face now, waving. Fingers clicking. It makes me blink.
"Earth to Isabelle."
"Sorry," I say, shaking my head, as if the motion could somehow clear the fog like windshield wipers swiping at rain. I blink a few more times before trying to find the spot again, but it's gone now. I know it's gone. It's melted back into the carpet, into oblivion, the way I wish I could. "Sorry, yeah. On in five."
I lift my arm and take a sip of my Styrofoam cup of coffee—strong, black, squeaky when my chapped lips stick to the rim. I used to savor the taste of that daily morning cup. I lived for the smell of it wafting through my kitchen; the warmth of a mug pushed against my fingers, cold and stiff from standing on the back porch, watching the sun come up with morning dew beading on my skin.
But it wasn't the coffee I needed, I know that now. It was the routine, the familiarity. Comfort-in-a-cup, like those dehydrated noodles you splash faucet water onto before popping them into the microwave and calling it a meal. But I don't care about that anymore: comfort, routine. Comfort is a luxury I can no longer afford, and routine... well. I haven't had that in a long time, either.
Now I just need the caffeine. I need to stay awake.
"On in two."
I look up at the man standing before me, clipboard resting against his hip. I nod, down the rest of the coffee, and savor the bitter pinch in my jaw. It tastes like shit, but I don't care. It's doing its job. I dig my hand into my purse and pull out a bottle of eye drops—redness relief—and squirt three beads of liquid into each eye with expert precision. I guess this is my routine now. Then I stand up, run my hands over the front of my pants, and slap my palms against my thighs, signaling that I'm ready.
"If you'll follow me."
I hold out my arm, gesturing for the man to lead the way. And then I follow. I follow him out the door and through a dim hallway, the fluorescent lights buzzing in my ear like an electric chair humming to life. I follow him through another door, the gentle roar of applause erupting as soon as it opens and we step inside. I walk past him, to the edge of the stage, and stand behind a black curtain, the audience just barely obscured from view.
This is a big one. The biggest I've done.