Shadow on the Sidewalk
(May 29, 2017)
I’m not sure what his real name is. The few message boards on the Internet that even mention him aren’t united on a single name. The Shadow Man is the one that suits him best, and that’s what I’ve come to know my tormentor by. He comes at night, in the darkness, and his presence makes the dark darker. It’s as if all light ceases to exist within the bubble that must surround him. Sometimes, when I squint out between the blinds or through the peephole, he appears to be smoking. Willing to life a single bright ember at the tip of a cigarette, and then it’ll fade away.
Six months of sleepless nights. Waiting, wondering and watching. My nerves are shot, my apartment locked up tight. But if I were to tell you the awful truth, I don’t think that would matter one bit should he come knocking on my door. If he ever made his way up the sidewalk to my apartment door, I believe he’d walk right in. Maybe not right through the door like a ghost, but I don’t think a lock would even stop him. There’s definitely something supernatural about this man, this Shadow Man. You don’t have to be sensitive to things like that to see it.
Six months ago he appeared. I was coming back from the bathroom, hoping I hadn’t missed the monologue to The Late Show, and as I passed the two windows that look out the front of my apartment, I saw that glow. It was like a miniature sun blazing outside in the void of darkness. His darkness. I lifted a few slats on the blinds and stared. He appeared to be in slacks, an outline of a trench coat, a fedora atop his head. Then again, he might be completely naked. The former just stood out as if it were more likely in my mind for some reason. He never moved, but I lowered the slats and took a place on my couch, nursing a fresh beer while attempting to concentrate on the talk show host and his mediocre jokes about the President.
The next night, and the next, and then the month after. It came down after the second month that I started sleeping during the day and staying awake at night. For some reason, I just felt safer that way. As if me being awake would fend off his advance. The only time I left the house during the day was to restock my beer, and after the fourth month, I ditched the beer completely for harder liquor. I’d given up job hunting. I’d brushed off the instant messages and social media posts from my friends who suddenly decided I was worth talking to again. My parents even tried to call a couple of times just a few weeks ago. I suppose they finally realized I took their demand seriously and wasn’t coming back home anytime soon. But the damage was done. It was too late, in my mind. They’d set the tone for whatever was to come.
My parents. Dan, my older brother, was serving overseas. He isn’t in any combat zones, or whatever they call them, but he has been stationed in Germany for the last couple of years. Here at home, I’ve always been the one my mom and dad called when they needed help. I was filling in for their patriotic son while he was away. Filling in, that is, until I finally decided to come out and tell them I was gay. Seven months ago I announced what I’d been hiding and holding in for several years. Since high school, at least. I had even dropped out of college a few months before because the harassment had gotten so bad. When I returned home, I figured I might as well tell them before news followed me home. Dan, of course, already knew, and had honored my request to keep it a secret. Maybe I should have honored that request myself.
“Not my son.” “Don’t know who you are anymore.” “How could you?!” “Such a disappointment!” So many hurtful things from people you’d been raised by, who had taken care of you from birth, through 12 years of school, who always said you’d be their baby boy … and then … “Never want to see you in this house again.”
So I found this apartment. I had money, but had quit my job that was closer to college when I moved back home. I also had credit cards I could fall back on. So I had a bare bones apartment in a decent enough complex. I’d attempted to fall back on some friends for support, but even a few of them were suddenly uncomfortable. Maybe I’d kept it too good a secret. The ones who said they supported me and “had an idea,” suddenly were never available to talk. But my friend alcohol was always there. I was depressed, defeated, in a hole wishing I could reach the dirt to pull it back in on myself.
Maybe. Just maybe. Could that have been the signal to my new friend to visit me? Maybe I’d brought him here myself. Maybe he fed off these feelings, these emotions. Maybe he could sniff out depression, that feeling of being lost, that desperation to be accepted. For 6 months I’d wallowed in pity, drank myself deeper into depression, and watched my savings dwindle to the point that I’d eventually have to get another job. But I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to do anything. And what was worse, no one else seemed to care to help me out of the pit I was in. No one cared to call or visit except … except for my new friend. My Shadow. My darkness. My new soulmate.
Daylight blinks through the blinds as a new day begins. I glance at the clock and it’s 6:45am on a Tuesday. I smile for the first time in months. A real smile. I glance out the window and see he is no longer there. He’s returned to wherever, waiting for the night to fall again. And this time, I think I’ll invite him in. Maybe have a few drinks together. My smile refuses to collapse now as I drift off to sleep thinking of how tonight, I’ll finally meet the mysterious stranger at the end of my sidewalk face to face. I’ll be at the door, waiting.