I started hearing it several months ago, just once in a while, always late at night. There were strange loud noises at night. The chug chug of a diesel engine accompanied with strange whirring and grinding, electric humming and buzzing. Clanging, creaking.
What was odd was just how close it sounded. It was as though there was machinery running right outside the building, maybe even in the building somehow. My building is right near a commercial area. I just assumed one of these businesses was using trucks and heavy machinery at night, and that it sounded closer than it actually was. I had no idea how close to home, and how sinister and evil these sounds actually were until recently.
Lately it’s been keeping me up every night. I hear the machinery arrive; I’ve seen it. It arrived disguised as a motorcycle and rider. But the rider is mechanical tentacles coiled into a vaguely human form. The engine idles and the tentacles unfurl and attach themselves to my building. At 3:00 AM, every night, the noise is unbearable.
As soon as I laid eyes on it, I knew what it was doing. It was pumping and draining the life force out of the residents in my building. I could feel it happen, all the life leaving my body and being sucked greedily into this hungry machine.
I live in a section 8 housing project. It’s run by a nonprofit housing trust but subsidized with project-based vouchers by the federal government. The tenants here are low income, disabled, and some have experienced homelessness.
I can’t write about the specifics of my neighbor’s experiences or tell their stories, but I will say that the past year has been filled with tragedy. We’ve lost people, people who were so fucking important. We’ve been sick and injured. There has been violence in our community and police at our doors and court appearances and papers and social workers. There have been hospital visits and hospitalizations and meds and trouble accessing the right meds. We never seem to catch a break.
At least the place is nice. Really it is. The rent is low, comparatively. There’s a sound roof over our heads, heat in the winter, double pane windows, and accessibility features. At least we have water and the power mostly stays on. The driveway gets plowed when it snows. The trash gets collected. The lawn gets mowed. Really, we have much to be thankful for.
But we’re dying. All of us. Why are we dying?
It’s this goddamn machine. It’s killing us!
I tried to get a picture of it, for proof of this plot to destroy the poor people living in my building. But like most experiences outside of consensus reality, the machine didn’t show up in any of my photos. It’s not real, at least not in the reality that most of us inhabit. It was only a vision.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a machine designed to slowly kill off section 8 recipients. My visions over the past year have almost always been profoundly meaningful. I wouldn’t be hearing this machine repeatedly for months and seeing it with my own eyes if it didn’t mean something very real.
I told Emily about the machine one night recently. I haven’t gotten much sleep lately and the days have blurred together. I was up at 3:00 AM terrified of the killing machine, and she was up too, it being a bit earlier in another time zone. I knew it sounded crazy, as I was messaging her about it, I knew. I said as much in the message. “I know this sounds crazy.”
Now most people, would probably try to convince me at this point that I was paranoid and delusional and hallucinating. I’ve been trying very hard to avoid such conversations with most people. I’ve been very much valuing a few friendships within the Mad Pride movement, a few rare souls who don’t pathologize or demonize or ridicule my sometimes rather unusual ideas about things.
So to my relief, Emily messages me back “That doesn’t sound crazy.”
She asked me if I’d read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which I have read several years ago and had forgotten most of. I want to read it again soon. Emily mentioned that Chief Bromden talks about a machine that comes at night and fogs everything up, a possible metaphor for thorazine.
Now, at the time, I didn’t think the machine attached to my house pumping out my lifeforce was a metaphor for anything. I thought it was real. But now I’m willing to admit that its metaphorically true and not literally real in this particular universe.
I looked up some notes online on Cuckoos Nest and actually there is a lot of machine imagery that I had forgotten about entirely. Bromden talks about the workings of society as a giant machine called the Combine. The Combine exists to oppress the people within it. The hospital ward is an extension of that Combine, a factory made for remedying mistakes within its workings.
And so now I’m thinking about my current situation as a broke queer disabled single parent living in section 8 housing, and I’m thinking about the struggles of the other people I share a roof with. There is a machine trying to kill us.
Government funds are allowing us to have housing we can afford, but even more money is being poured into systems that keep us from ever escaping poverty and that lead to our early deaths. There is constant police presence in this neighborhood, like they are watching and waiting for us to fuck up. Police presence doesn’t actually seem to deter violence though, which happens and it’s scary and bad. The healthcare system has so many barriers to accessing quality care and harmful paternalism throughout, so we get sick and we stay sick. There is never enough money to meet all of our needs and we are always stressed and always fighting just to get by.
And when we finally get beat down by all the violence, and the lack of resources, the oppressive courts and state departments, when we just lash out and rage at this life that is unfair and unbearable, or when we hurt ourselves to cope with all that trauma and pain, the mental health system is ready to bring us into its paternalistic embrace. To lock us up, strip search us, force us to take more drugs we don’t want, and return us to the exact same oppressive shit that drove us mad in the first place.
All of this is the machine that is killing me and my neighbors, slowly pumping out all of our capacity to live in this world. We are dying. Please if you are reading this, who ever you are, I beg you, please help me dismantle this goddamn machine.