We’d been together for nearly three years, and I think I can speak for us both when I say neither of us had ever been happier. We did everything together. We lived together, we worked together (albeit in different departments), and we rarely spent a day apart.
Emma often woke up in the middle of the night. She wasn’t like me, in the way that I could always sleep through the thunderstorms or the rattling of the trains whizzing past the back of our flat at consistent hourly intervals.
She’d often tell me about what she’d heard throughout the night. Whether it was my sleep-talking, or our neighbours having another argument at three in the morning as the husband once again stumbled home drunk, there was always something that had happened.
My deep sleep had bothered her slightly, simply because I’d fall asleep first, and then she’d be left struggling to close her eyes alone. On many nights she’d find herself squashed up against the wall because I’d slowly shuffled my way across to her side of the bed. We could never swap sides, however, because we had both agreed that I had to be on the side closest to the door.
A month or so ago, as usual, Emma woke up to the train that passed us at 01:50am. She turned in the bed, switching on to her right side to face me - I was sound asleep, of course. This was when it first happened. She twisted her body around from the wall, but could not feel the sheets upon her skin, or her body against the mattress. She lifted her hands toward her face, and rubbed her eyes. Nothing.
“Alex.” she whimpered. “Alex.” she gently pushed my shoulder. I murmured a still-sleeping reply, but then one hard shove brought me back to the real world. When I opened my eyes, Emma was digging her nails into her face.
“I can’t feel anything.” she cried, tears beginning to well in her eyes. Seeing her like this, I sat up immediately, my heart-rate increasing ten-fold.
“Hey, hey, it’s alright.” I soothed, taking her into my arms so that her forehead rested on my chest. Her face was embedded with several red half-moons from her nails. “It must have been a bad dream, that’s all.”
“No.” she wept. “I can’t feel you touching me. I can’t feel anything. Right now.” When she said that, it sent shivers down my spine. I lifted her head so she was looking at me, and she rubbed her eyes with her palms with such force that I felt sick. “I can’t... feel anything.” she repeated. It was horrible seeing her like this. I grabbed her hands and pinned them down to her sides with a stern look and a heavy breath.
“Let me see.” I said, softly, but firmly. I pushed the covers off from us as tears began to roll down her cheeks and drip onto the pillow. Her hands began to scratch at the top of her knuckles, leaving long red lines leading to her wrists. “Stop, bub.” I ordered, motioning to her hands. She whimpered again, but paused the scratching and sat on her palms.
“Can you feel this?” I asked, running my fingernail along the base of her foot. A word didn’t manage to escape her lips, she just shook her head and let out a little cry. My hand worked my way up her leg, across her hips, her torso, and neck. I pinched her gently. I pinched her hard. She truly didn’t feel anything.
My mid was spinning through all of our options, but I sidled up next to her in bed and kissed her lips. She didn’t kiss back.
I guided her downstairs and drove her to A&E. Once we arrived, we waited in near silence until someone was ready to see us. Eventually, the two of us followed a nurse into an examination room, and the sterile smell married with the white walls and large tile-like lights above us. Emma sat in the chair and we waited a few moments more for the doctor to arrive. Once he joined us, Emma explained the condition that had overcome her, but the doctor was utterly bewildered.
“This condition is something I have only heard about.” he admitted. “It’ extremely rare... but moreover, it’s only ever been genetic.” Emma was scratching at her wrists again, so I tried to hold her hand. She didn’t even know until I made her look. The doctor kept her in overnight, and I stayed by her bed. She did actually manage to fall asleep, however, and I think it’s because she exhausted herself with worry. I, on the other hand, couldn’t bear to close my eyes. I watched her sleep until she woke up the following morning.
She woke and took a minute to get her bearings as the memories flooded back into her mind from the previous night. She patted her body with her hand, then again, and again and again. “I can feel!” she said, ecstatic. Then tears came, but happy tears. We cuddled and kissed, and she was discharged after a few tests.
We were both given the day off work. I’d called the night porters once she’d fallen asleep and informed them of the situation. So we spent the day at home, watching terrible reality T.V and cookery shows. We were completely back to normal, a simple blip in our pretty perfect lives.
That night, the 01:50am train shook past the flat and jolted Emma awake. She scratched her body all over, unable to feel pain, and then woke me up. I comforted her as she cried, truly terrified she’d be living like this for the rest of her life. We both fell asleep at home, as the doctor had told us there was no medication to help.
We were both at work the following morning, tired, but relieved. It seemed to only be a night-time ailment, and something that could be overcome with a little time. I made her promise to wake me up whenever she couldn’t feel pain.
For a week, that was our lives. She would wake up, and then wake me up. We got into the habit of watching Youtube to pass the time, and I made sure that she always fell asleep first.
Last Friday night, Emma didn’t wake me up. When I opened my eyes in the morning, I cuddled up to her until she awoke. She bolted upright. Long scratch marks that had bled overnight and healed over covered her forearms. “What did you do?” I asked, trying to hide how scared it had made me.
She was starting to cry again. “When I woke up... I didn’t feel scared.”
“Well that’s good.” I said, relaxing a little.
“No, you don’t understand.” she muttered. “I didn’t feel anything, but... not only physically, emotionally, too.” I squinted slightly out of confusion and felt creases appear on my forehead. “I wasn’t scared.” she repeated. She looked at me as began to cry even more. “But what scares me the most now?” she whimpered, “Is that I didn’t even love you. I just didn’t care. I had no emotion in me at all, and I just couldn’t be bothered to wake you up.”
I felt my heart tear a little inside, but I understood the situation. That wasn’t the real Emma. I smiled, and soothed her. “Well you love me now, right?”
“Of course!” she cried, falling into my arms. She cried heavily, sobbing against my chest as I stroked her hair. I hushed her, and told her it would all be okay. We spent the day at home and ordered pizza for dinner. We pretty much went back to normality. But I couldn’t stop staring at her wrists. I set an alarm for 2am.
My alarm is pretty gentle, one of those that slowly gets louder with each recurring cycle. When it finally pulled me from my sleep, I turned to find Emma was nowhere to be found.
I cautiously made my way out of our room and toward the kitchen. I found Emma naked and facing away from me, staring out of the window and painted in a layer of tea from the streetlight outside. A long kitchen knife was in her right hand, and dark blood was dripping from the tip into a small pool beneath her.
“Em?” I quietly called.
“I can’t feel anything.” she said, lifelessly.
She slowly turned around to face me. Her face was placid, despite two long cuts on both sides from cheek-bone to chin. Blood was dripping down her neck. Her top half was a mix of slashes and stabs.
“Oh Emma.” I stuttered, fumbling towards her.
“Come near me and I’ll kill you.” she warned. There was no aggressiveness in her voice. It was a total matter-of-fact statement.
I exhaled a hopeless breath, and begged her to please let me help, but she pointed the knife at me. “You don’t understand,” she said, “It’s all relative. I’m not afraid to die anymore. I’m free. I have nothing to hold me to this world. I’m not sad or happy, or scared or brave. I just see it how it is now.”
“I’m calling an ambulance.” I stated.
“Whatever, just stay away from me.” I called the ambulance and gave them our information, and they told me to stay on the phone. I dropped it when Emma plunged the knife into her ribcage. Without thinking, I ran over and grabbed her hands.
“But I said not to come over.” she said, fighting against my hands. The knife jarringly retracted and reinserted into her stomach a few times. Eventually it fully exited with her hands on the handle and my hands around her wrist. With enormous effort, I managed to prise apart her fingers. I took her to the floor and locked her arms behind her back until the paramedics arrived.
They tied her down during the journey to the hospital, and she seemed completely unbothered by it all.
I was by her side when the sun rose from behind the horizon. I was by her side when she woke up. I was by her side when she looked at me and said, “I still don’t feel anything.”
Emma was submitted to a psychiatric hospital last week not too far from our flat. My life isn’t the same without her. I just can’t live like this. The worst part of it all, however, is that when I go to visit her, and she sits across from me in her straightjacket, every now and again the real Emma comes out. And she cries, and she asks me to help her.
And she tells me that she is so scared.