A Shadow of Someone

by languageformulatingbrain

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Am I the shadow of someone else's darkness? I had asked myself this as the greyed skies floated above me, drifting through the air like a dissipating notion. Everyone had left me cold; my friends from the 1980s had grown up and sought jobs of their own, lives to lead, families to tend to. I almost reached for a cigarette, even though I had stopped smoking years ago. Something regressed in me to a previous state. It was a state after childhood but before one could reliably make wise decisions if one grew up without self-esteem.

I reached for it to cloud my thoughts for a moment, as if I wanted to turn up the serpent-like hiss of a tape playing but leave the music unaltered. Game shows, cartoons on damaged VHS tapes, and Disney songs collided in a cacophony that somehow spun out a sentence I had never heard before:

"You have a Pinocchio in your mind, and its nose is getting longer," said the sentence in my mind.

I briefly considered that it was not my nose that was getting longer. It was a Pinocchio's nose that was getting longer. So, I reasoned to myself, it's something that had been put there: some lie, some fabrication that was growing within me. It was frustrating to chew on, because even if it had been placed there by nobody-knows-who, whether it was Walt Disney or some screaming psychotic in a psych ward, its lies about myself had become so enmeshed with who I was, had taken up so much space in my mind, that it was impossible to find some authentic sense of who I was.

I took a gander at myself and found that I could not trust my inner eye. I could not trust my parents without a pinch of salt, I could not trust my shrink, I could not trust any friend. I was alone with or the shadow of--whom?

I bit my fingernail a little bit and spat a nail fragment rather far, aiming for a crack in the sidewalk. It bounced off of the head of a dandelion that was growing in the crack and landed near the flower. Somewhere, there had been a dream to be different, to be someone with power, but all of my power was locked up with whatever I had become the shadow of.

I got off the steps I was sitting on and walked inside. There was a modern widescreen TV, a laptop that had a lock screen with a cyberpunk aesthetic, and a smart phone. Paranoia had congealed into a web of secrets in the digital devices I used. I didn't watch the television because I didn't want prying eyes to know what I was watching. Finding ways to read without big data knowing what I had read had become a chore, and so I rarely read. I had found ways to browse the Internet anonymously, so as far as I believed no one was the wiser if I wished to look up some kind of controversial subject.

It was not that I lived in a country where it was illegal to search for certain things, it was simply that doing so brought unwanted attention to oneself. One could not trust the people one met randomly; social media was out of the question. I had turned myself into a digital pariah. There were definitely conspiracies but they had little to do with aliens or the Earth being flat and more to do with corporate and political posturing, social control, and cults with whatever agenda they'd dreamed up. I had learned some things, even dangerous things, but I was wise enough not to trust my own understanding of things, let alone blurt it out to a stranger as if I were 100% certain I was correct.

I had dreamed up my own conspiracy; it was not a conspiracy for power, but for the right of expression, to say what I thought needed to be said, mock what I thought needed to be mocked, and to express in an abstract manner some things I held to be true as best I understood them. Sometimes I would even lie, and obviously so. Sometimes I would pretend to have enemies as friends, or know people I had never met.

Nevertheless, I allowed my imagination to take me as far as it could, to the very limits of human creativity, to transgress boundaries, bring together things which perhaps would be best left separate, and to cause tension between things that had been friendly. Was this what it meant to be a powerful artist, as absurd as the idea of a powerful artist may have seemed 50 years ago?

But something nagged at me. It was as if I had all along been the shadow of a coked up psychotic, and this world I lived in was fake. Psychotics speak of thinking their relatives had been replaced by imposters; I felt that neither I nor them were any more real than a character in a novel, or a video game. I felt that the world did not feel real, that it had ceased to be seen as real, and no one wanted to hear what I had to say. I didn't care; I had entered the labyrinth, and a minotaur was in the center. Hopefully neither I nor anyone I knew would grow a pair of wax wings and fly too close to the sun.

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