Come, Armageddon! Come!

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On a recent balmy evening, over oysters and Caesar salad at a sidewalk cafe, we were discussing the dreadful phenomenon of feeling “not right.” This is different from sinking into depression or coming down with the flu, and though illness or depression may sometimes be contributing factors, this “not right” feeling is much, much worse. It’s an acute sensation of total disjointedness, of not being at home in the universe, of not processing reality correctly. It”s hard to describe (and inaptly named), but it can come on quickly, and unlike the (sometimes) reassuring background thrum of depression or the reliable physicality of the flu, this kind of unease is impossible to pinpoint — it ravages you with fear.

The best illustration I can think of is an episode of the Twilight Zone where three astronauts come back to earth from a difficult but successful mission and are soon overwhelmed by this mysterious “not right” feeling. One of the astronauts says something to his friend along the lines of, “I feel like it takes every ounce of concentration I have to keep myself from blinking out of existence — like if I relax for even a second, I’ll be gone!” Sure enough, one by one the astronauts disappear, as does all memory and record that they ever existed.

Poking around the internet to find out the title of this episode (“And When the Sky Was Opened”) led me to its IMDb page and a single user comment by someone named Doug that sums up certain points better than I ever could. (And as all the kids are saying these days, “italics mine!“):

“One of series’ spookiest entries. It’s fascinating to watch the byplay between the fun-loving astronauts spiral away from flyboy hijinks into the nervous hysteria of brave men caught up in the inexplicable. Some fine group performances, especially Rod Taylor’s whose mounting panic reminds me of Kevin Mc Carthy’s unhinged doctor in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The brief shot of this cool professional coming unglued while posed against a cosmic starscape could serve as an icon for the entire series. Note also the clever touch of posing Charles Aidman against a faintly blinking neon, implying that his stay on earth is shaky at best. Speaking of the bar scene, watch the busty babe’s amusing what’s-his-line-gonna-be reaction to Taylor’s aggressive approach. It’s this contrast between the seemingly normal and the emerging paranormal that heightens the show’s effect. One teasing question presented is how much our sense of reality depends not only on what our five senses tell us, but on how much we can agree on. That is, a reality composed not only on what we’ve seen, but on what we can agree on having seen. Put the two in conflict and worlds, like Taylor’s, come apart.

Monica Says

Monica says she’s feeling down
Look at the rain all over town
It’s never gonna go away

I try to whisper in her ear
All of the things she loves to hear
But I can’t remember how

Maybe someday when I’m not proud
I’ll get to say these things out loud
And then we’ll be happy again

Monica tries with all her might
Lies awake reading through the night
And thinks of things that went away

I’d like to whisper in her ear
All of the things she wants to hear
That I can’t remember now

Look at the rain, it’s pouring down
Crashing like waves all over town
We’ll never be happy again

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Morning After Addendum:

I found a direct quote from the Rod Serling teleplay of the Twilight Zone episode. Not the one I was paraphrasing above, but exceedingly apropos nonetheless:

COL. FORBES: Oh, I know he’s not an illusion. I know. He’s been yanked out of here. He’s been taken away. He told me, remember. He told me. Maybe somebody or something made a mistake. Let us get through when we shouldn’t have gotten through. Gotta come back to get us. Somebody up there. Oh, Bill. This is weird. This is plain weird. Like I just don’t belong. Just like I don’t belong. Oh, no. Oh, no!!! I don’t want this to happen! Bill, I don’t want it to happen! I don’t want it to happen! I don’t want it to happen!!!

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3 Replies to “Come, Armageddon! Come!”

  1. If I understand this feeling — and I believe I do, though I’d never have been able to articulate it like you have — one of the few things that provides relief from it is to alternate between the company of someone who doesn’t understand it at all with the company of someone who understands it completely, thereby allowing you the comfort of being understood but reducing the liability of a prolonged “misery loves company” scenario.

  2. I agree with Mrs Kennedy and suggest that one of the companions in the above scenario be a golden retriever or some kind of sporting dog or hound. (Avoid terriers and cats).

  3. I’m not sure I wouldn’t go straight to the hospital if I ever went into an existential free-fall like that again, but I agree that when the current of morbid dislocation is running through you, one of the things that can sometimes ground you back to reality is physical contact with another living being, and that includes big, friendly dogs.

    I used to use Jameson’s, of course, and it worked — after a couple of shots, the dials were succesfully turned back down, and the roar of panic was muffled by numbing warmth and serenity. But there’s fierce blowback to that method, obviously. You’re just running up a tab you can’t ever really pay, adding to a circle of frothing viciousness. In fact, I think all of my memories of feeling “not right” (a handful of very distinct, individual occasions) involved cosmic hangovers.

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