To become one with yourself there can be only one of you. If you have ever stood still outside on a sunny day—not beneath a tree—but listening to a breeze ruffle the leaves of a nearby tree, and you have let the sun roll over your head and skin and felt its warmth, you have not been alone. Look down.
Look down, and there, spreading out like a spider, is an exact replica of your essence. There may be particularities left out here and there, but those particularities are only necessary when interacting with others as a culture. Those are contrasts, not realities. Smiles and noses and the tilt of the eye making contact or averting, because every culture is different when it comes to yes or no or please cover these peep shows with veils so no one may imagine when you think. These things are like words: ephemeral, misleading, they leave no lasting impression except when they’re misinterpreted and then the only things they can cause are harmful and death inducing. Words and faces. Without the two, there could be no peace.
But the culture could not survive if it was nothing but life and living and carrying on.
So take your pick. Peace or individuality.
Although I wanted the one, I settled for the other. Had I been able to obtain my shadow form, faceless and wordless, I may have achieved only momentary peace before the rest of the world would have had me tried and executed. Even if they’d allowed me a hermitage, they would have persecuted me nonetheless. And so I decided to choose to swing their way. Wholly individual. I would shuck my shadow form and my desire for silence. I would play their games and live their lives, and there was only one way for me to enjoy it.
It required a very sharp knife.
I knew I would have to cut deep.
I have seen others of my disposition and the scars that remain. I have seen men with long jagged scars running the full length of an appendage and they cringe, though healed, as if they cut deep enough to leave behind a pain in the crevices between their veins. But I can also see they failed, when the sun comes out, or the lights come on. I can see them put their hands over their ears when women open their mouths and words come out.
If you fail, the words hurt even more than they did before you tried to separate yourself into one being, a being who can survive any monstrosity of humanity.
And the faces, if you fail, the ones that see you and cringe, as if they can feel the pain between your morrow and your dermal layer, they hurt worse, too.
I have seen others of my disposition who very nearly succeeded. Instead of a few scars, I see missing limbs. There is no shadow to a missing limb. There is nothing, except the occasional pain, which radiates from the torso, intact, that was the object of that initial cut-and-failure.
Oh, how close they were.
In theory, I know the cut will have to be deep, and in theory, I know it can still fail.
I began the incision.
I know many who start this process with whisky. I started this process with a knife and a towel.
I cut deep and I could feel it peeling away. It lives deep inside a person, burrowing deeper every year that they live. As a baby, it is small and thin, but as an old person, it can be impossible to remove without severing the heart itself.
Once you remove the inklings of the darkness, the nodes, the synapses, the roots, and the seeds, you can sew back the missing pieces. But you must hurry. Before the skin dies.
This is where the scarring comes from. The long incision, the flap turned outward, the probing. Cutting out the bits of that other dark self, the primitiveness.
I started on my right leg. It took hours to remove every primitive node. I sewed it up myself. The stitches were large and thick.
If I missed even one nodule, it would come back.
I spent two days on the floor, half-unconscious on the towel crisp with my dried blood.
When I finally rose, I went out into the world and I stood in the wind beneath the sun. I listened to the leaves rustle. The sun washed over me and caressed my head and made me feel dirty—until it reached my right leg.
I looked down.
The shadow beneath me had a head, torso, two arms, one leg.
For the head and torso I solicited the help of a friend who claimed to be at peace with the overbalance of the world. He asked me why I wanted to give up every quiet dark moment and cut them out so painfully, all so that the only things that would be seen of me would be light and false.
I must have answered satisfactorily. He agreed to continue the operation.
He apologized to my soul for what we were doing. You’ll never be the same, he said.
I already wasn’t, I replied. But when I went out and people saw me, what they saw was not a half-being stuck onto a shadow anymore. What they saw, in their eyes, was perfection.
He tsked me, my friend, and accused me of making myself into a god. He said, I will not worship at your feet.
I said, I’ve already removed the shadow from my feet.
Again, he agreed to continue.
The operation on my head took a full day, with a week to recover. The likelihood that I would ever have hair was slim. My nose was askance. My facial features were rearranged and put back grotesque. I would have accused him of doing that on purpose except that when a woman came to the door selling flowers, she proclaimed me exquisite, despite the stitching and the welts. She was in awe and she gave me all of her flowers. These are yours anyway, she said.
My friend told me, I hope you enjoy the flowers because the final stage of the operation is going to take days and you’ll probably die. Is it worth it? To cut out the parts of yourself that disapprove of human nature? To remove the parts dissatisfied with who you have to be?
Doesn’t that answer your own question? I asked. Why would anyone live otherwise? Half loving half hating? A contradiction. It’s too painful.
He sharpened the knife.
My friend had to stop several times for rest, and so my body could partially recover. He couldn’t pause for more than a few hours, though, or the recently severed nodes would begin to grow back. Neither of us wanted to start the whole process over. If we failed here, I would welcome death.
It took three days to work up from my bowel into my chest cavity.
It’s starting to attach to your heart, he said.
Then cut it out. Quick.
He removed it, deep as he could. He cut out my heart. He squeezed it dry, cut it into bits, then reassembled it and blew it back up like a balloon.
That was the last part. The last node. I was no longer whole and I was no longer two and when the sun shone, you couldn’t see anything else except my brightness; I outshone everything at all.
It took months to recover, convalescing with my friend in the shade of my old oak tree. We played chess with the dried pieces of my shadow. He kept a wary eye on me and often turned the tide of conversation. When at last I felt strong enough to stand on my own, my friend stood and took his leave.
It’s nothing you’ve said and nothing you’ve done, but I no longer care to be in your company, he said. There’s something I don’t like.
He packed up the bits of my shadow we used for chess, slowly, he held one up to the light and it sucked in the light, though it was dead, so you almost couldn’t see it.
This would be the way I would prefer it, he said. We’re opposites. If it was me, I wouldn’t remove the shadow to be satisfied with the world. I’d remove the world and bask in the shadow.
I offered to help. Together maybe we could find a way to reverse the process.
No, he said. He didn’t trust me.
I smiled my fileted lips and felt the scars tug and the sun reflected painfully off my grin like I was made of the shiniest glass and not human at all. It was the feeling of bliss. To know that what you actually offered to give your closest friend was death with a smile. To know you lied and to do it gleefully.
My friend left me and I convalesced and regained my strength. I wasn’t sure where he went, but I suspected it was not into the world at all.
I returned to the world, proudly showing my scars, showing the lines that separated me from them. How embarrassed they were, at first, and many looked away. Others, caught staring, became dazzled at the mere sight of me. The few who dared speak to me fell to their knees with awe. They recognized me and my power and the perfection of being wholly comfortable in your body when you could be just that: a body and nothing else.
They made me their king, their celebrity, their god. They came to me for all answers to all problems. They trusted me and worshipped me.
Disparaging, I gave them a taste. I pitied them and reviled them, softly.
But I was their god, so I didn’t kill them all at once. I just made suggestions. When it was best to do so. You poor pathetic creatures, subhuman.
I was the only human in existence, and I was the one at whose feet they fell when they jumped off buildings at my behest.
There is nothing more blissful than the all-encompassing peace of being one, literally one, with your body, and sharing it with no shadow at all.
A graduate of Bath Spa University in England, Dawn Wilson has had the pleasure to dabble in kitsch, surrealism, and espièglerie. Her work can be found in Rabbit Catastrophe Review, Gone Lawn, Paper Darts Magazine, Apocrypha and Abstractions, Liquid Imagination, and Dr. Hurley’s Snake Oil Cure, and forthcoming from Metazen, Mad Hat Lit, and Punchnel’s while the author herself can be found dismantling the kitchen for wearable items, or at nightdawn.wordpress.com. She is at work on a madcap novel.