Tuesday, June 4, 2019
Growing up, I was always told Hell was a burning lake, a fiery pit, a bottomless maze of caves filled with demons and presided over by El Diablo himself who, when he wasn't busy writing rock lyrics or Young Adult novels, spent eternity presiding over the torture of souls who had passed from the mortal plane without enough marks in the good column. Anything bad you can think of - and boy did I ever think of it - it wasn't even one one hundredth as bad as what was actually happening to those poor suckers. Even Dante couldn't possibly describe the horrors and torments in their full nightmarish intensity (though maybe Clive Barker got closer). It wasn't necessarily under the earth, but down was the direction in which you went to get there. And once you were there, you weren't ever. Ever. coming out.
There's another narrative that says that Hell is actually here on Earth - that we've separated so far from God that we are experiencing that torment now, spiritually, without realizing it. That all the torments that we visit upon ourselves (and make no mistake, at this point all of human suffering is of humanity's own making) are not only the result of The Fall, but its wages as well - we don't have to wait for eternal punishment, it's already been brought to us by - well, us.
I have come to believe that Hell is actually not a place, but a time. And that time is 3:00 am.
3:00 am is where all of your worst fears and anxieties can climb right into your skull and shake you awake. It's when you come to believe with the full irresistible force of genuine epiphany, backed up by the immense weight of vast sheaves of admittedly biased but nonetheless very real evidence, that all is lost and it's your fault. You, and your family, and your home, and your finances, and your career, and your yard, and your relationships, and your reputation, and your future are all not only forfeit, but even of themselves evidence that you have set yourself up not for the success that you thought maybe you sometimes were enjoying, but for the inevitable fate of watching it all burn while your eyes are held open by the sheer refusal of sleep to visit you.
3:00 am is the dwelling of the specters. They take the forms and voices of all of those people you love. All of those whom you admire. All who trusted you because they Did Not Yet Know. At 3:00 am, they gather and look at you and shake their heads and whisper to each other "there is an example of what happens. We never thought it would come to this, but here it is. We tried to help but it was no good - it was probably hopeless all along. And the children, poor souls - we'll expect the same or worse from them, I suppose. What a pity. What a waste."
Like the more traditional versions, this Hell has no escape. Once you recognize that you have entered 3:00 am, you can't get out. Your eyes burn, but won't close. The tiny sounds of your home at night as it seems to slowly come down around you each snap and creak in your ears, threatening to be the harbingers of that final structural failure that Will Really Cost You. The peaceful sounds of the slumber of your partner seem like tiny taunts. Your neck and back urge you to change positions again and again in an effort to find the arrangement that does not introduce jagged, rusty spikes into them, but it's all in vain because your pillow was made by this man:
Which means it's not a pillow at all, but a loosely-packed sack of random foam pieces that came in a box with a printed Bible verse on a little slip of paper inside. At 3:00 am, you can hear this demon laughing at you for paying close to $40 to be tormented by this horrible excuse for bedding that makes you envy the hobo who gets to sleep on the ground with his head on his bindle.
Of Course. How could 3:00 am have it otherwise?
Now some might think that 3:00 am is escapable - just wait until it passes. It's temporal, and temporary, right? No, friends - when 3:00 am gets its hooks in you, it stays with you. You carry 3:00 am right the heck through 4:00, and into 5:00 (when it often pulls a Ramsay Bolton on you, letting you think it's allowed you to escape only to drag you back and flay the sleep right off of you 20 minutes later). You carry 3:00 am on your face, and in your stomach, and in your very soul through the whole rest of the next damn day. And tomorrow night? Have no doubt that 3:00 am will be ready for you with torments both fresh and familiar.
In the beginning, when all was darkness until suddenly there was light, when the Earth made it's first rotation that brought one side into the light of the sun and turned the other to the void of space, 3:00 am was born. When humanity first fed of the apple that was the marking of time in hours, minutes and seconds, it gained its name. When it was decided that The Clock would become our constant liturgy, its canonical hours governing the activities of the pious and the virtuous, it gained its power. It has always been there, will always be there, waiting for us. And we, the tortured and damned who know its cruel embrace so well, will be there too.