The Shadow Man

A man follows me.

Tall and thick, he is forced to shop in the big and tall stores and chooses long, dark coats; dark, heavy jeans; and tall, black work boots. He is always shrouded in darkness, merely a silhouette. His face is always hidden, not by a hood, but as if his features cannot reflect light. I’ve never seen his eyes, his nose, or his lips, and I imagine that his face is not a face, but rather a plain of smooth skin devoid of facial features that somehow sees, smells, whispers, laughs, breathes, tastes, and feels.

I cannot request a restraining order for this man. I cannot run from him. I cannot barricade myself behind a locked door, for this man is not truly a man, but a manifestation of darkness that lives inside of me, a black shadow so deep that it sucks the light and the warmth out of my surroundings.

He is me.

Sometimes he walks behind me, always within reach, but not interfering. These are the moments that I am happiest, the moments that I can almost be normal, but his presence alone will taint everything I do or say, the anticipation of his touch and voice rips away any happiness I can feel.

Other times he envelopes me, surrounds me with a dark blanket that shades the bright blue sky, the yellow sun, the greenest trees with a dim coat of black. These moments of my life are marked with sharpened charcoal instead of colored pencils. It dims my routine, my heart, my marriage, my friendships, my emotions. In these moments, I walk through everyday with a blank, distant visage, while in my mind, hissing screams as he whispers to me, fighting his hold on me.

My own hold on me.

He whispers, with a hoarse throat, every berating word all at once. The fault always lies with me. I am never good enough. I should have known better. As ethereal as a shadow, but his blows are worst than any man’s. He punches with sorrow, slaps with guilt, and kicks with loneliness. I drown in emotion more real, more terrifying than the muddiest of waters.

Because at least I can escape water by either breaking the surface or drowning.

I cannot escape him.

He is me.

He holds me under with hands as real as a wisp of smoke, but as strong as steel, defying all the physical laws devised by Newton and Einstein. I choke on thick emotions, unable to breathe or see. I flail blindly, scratching, and hitting, but eventually I tire not only from exhaustion, but also from his familiarity. Like an old lover, he caresses with strokes more familiar than the problems which materialize him. Only then do I give in and embrace him, the visceral shadow that lives inside of me. At these moments, I am strangely at peace, the two sides of me finally converged into one.

I am always fighting; ever since I was born, this shadow man has followed me. I am accustomed to the fight. So the peace jars me with its wrongness, its unfamiliarity.

I pull out of the darkness. I scream at the dark man and scramble to the surface of the emotional water. I notice the bright sky, the warm sun, the colorful flowers, my husband’s green eyes, and my friends’ laughter. I startle the shadow man with the light, and he dissipates for a few days.

But he returns to pace behind me.

Because you cannot escape yourself.


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