I lived in her shadows
But I was not real.
I was just a chapter
Of the clear skies,
Haunted by the scandals
Of the dice.
Touched by many
But seen by none.
Controversy of lies
Stumbling on the truth
Passion tinted with risk
Blanket of fire
With the taste of vintage blood.
I’m her imagination
Bold and Young,
Until I’m there with you.
“That’s not what it means, I’m telling you.”
Alex seemed like he would spit out his coffee across the table. Jake could barely keep his eyes on his waffles.
It was Wednesday morning in Chicago and the buzz was just getting started. But even the babel of their breakfast mecca couldn’t hide the clouds looming above their table.
Last week, at a friend’s party, Jake had dared Alex to chug down two cans of beer in a row. In return Alex, after having thrown up quite spectacularly had dared Jake to read his favourite book.
Way to kill a party.
Eight days later they were sitting in their usual café, at their usual spot having their usual; arguing about something they usually didn’t.
“This girl, Stacy, she was in high school, had abusive parents, always in the spotlight – I mean, isn’t that pretty much every high school girl’s story?”
Alex watched the paperboy cycle away. He’d always felt that cafés were eternal. One could sit in a booth and sip coffee all morning just by thinking, talking and being themselves.
It’s a luxury way to exist.
His eyes hovered back to meet his friend’s. Jake was the brother he’d never had, since back in elementary school. But there was something, something that didn’t fit. Something Alex wouldn’t explain and Jake could never understand. That’s why defending this book was so close to home for him.
“You can’t possibly think that that’s all there to someone’s story. There is so much pain. Numbness. It never stops. People run from it all their lives and when they’re out of breath, they settle down and take up 9 to 5 jobs just for a taste of escape.”
Jake sighed. “Okay man, now look, I don’t know where you’re getting that from but we’re late for school so, you know, wrap it up.”
Don’t ask. Don’t tell. Don’t breathe.
Alex stopped playing with the last bite of his pancake.
Getting up to pay, he realized both of their espressos were still sitting on the table, now cold.
“And anyway, girl switching places with her shadows, that’s total crap,” Jake smirked while pushing through the door.
“Sure dude, whatever,” Alex muttered under his breath, falling behind a few steps.
Not everyone gets to be a jock. Most of the crowd is made up of broken toys, toys people played with till all the tricks ran out. Happy endings are like a drug, it’s all fun and games until we end up overdosing.
Another morning, another day at high school.
They say you can barely feel the heat in Manhattan, but you know summer’s here when you find yourself counting the days left up to summer break. That’s all Stacy could think about as she closed up her locker. The Destiny’s Child poster inside it apparently wasn’t “cool” enough.
That’s high school. Everyone has an opinion about everything. From Avery’s flare pants to Jason’s sunglasses, everything was on the table.
Sometimes, while walking through the hallways towards the caféteria or on the streets under the green haze, listening to the crickets doze off, it felt as if everything had frozen around her. It was like drowning in maple syrup, she could feel the pandemonium. She could make out each whisper as clearly as if the Queen Bee was murmuring it right into her ear. Every condescending stare, every pair of judgemental eyes, every hushed whisper –
“Whatcha thinking so hard about?”
Avery was making that face she always did. The girls were giggling like they always did.
“My yoghurt looks -“
“Hush, look who just walked in. I heard Sara hooked up with her boyfriend’s older brother at their house party. What a whore!”
Yeah, everything’s fucking fine.
So, Sara hooked up with her boyfriend’s brother and her best friend at the same party and all hell broke loose. Some girls pushed her into the pool this morning because someone has to get that bitch on a leash, right?
I think there’s something really wrong with me. And not just because I feel it but because Mom and Dad have been treating me like I’m made of glass. No one has yelled or flung anything around in weeks. But that’s them. Quiet in this house always feels like the quiet before a rainstorm.
But despite the weird parental non-compulsion, I just don’t know how to say it without sounding cliché, but there’s just – I don’t feel anything.
Anything at all, I mean, I don’t know why I can’t giggle at everything the boys say, or wear shiny corduroys with a thong. It’s like every night when I’m in the cab coming home after a party, I just watch the streetlights flash by, one yellow blur at a time, and it’s quiet inside my head just for a second. But even for only a moment, the whole evening seems worth it.
I wish I could just feel. Even if all there is to feel is the pain, because the crimson on my skin isn’t deep enough to hurt anymore.
This is what it feels like after
Coups de feu
Walking down the streets she knew that this spring will feel like autumn. She had never felt that life could be so ordinary and yet so different. Her baby blue eyes had the same shade as the new day.
She could feel the breeze and her nightmares alone brisking through the park.
Her life was different before she met her.
She walked through the gates of her school gasping for air and walking aimlessly.
She could hear the slam of the door but instead, she turned to the whispers.
“Wait, Stacy” shouted Oliver, his voice coming closer as she slowed down a bit.
“I thought maybe we could walk together, we have the same class….Psychology right?” he asked, though his eyes barely left the floor.
She nodded and they marched together to the class.
The class was beginning to settle down now, as everyone walked past the stale morning air and into the room full of fake lip gloss curled smiles.
Stacy sat down two benches ahead of him, with some guy he didn’t know. That was Stacy, she was always lurking around the corridor or climbing a fence with some guy you didn’t know.
The madness in her veins was like poison on her lips, one taste was all it took to get intoxicated.
She tucked a chunk of her black hair behind her embellished ear and looked at him, punk eyeliner running wild above her eyes. And even though she was looking at him, he could feel that she wasn’t there. It’s like her eyes were somewhere so far away that he wasn’t real to her.
The lunch bell went off just as he convinced himself to stop thinking about her mad eyeliner.
The cafeteria seemed pretty lonely until she walked in.
She stepped in and glanced around for some room, his eyes met hers and then there were no second thoughts. She strutted down the aisle, sat down next to him, whipped out a notebook and started scribbling.
Oliver kept on stuffing his mouth with fries. Stacy kept on scribbling. Who said silence wasn’t golden?
A glance here, a glance there. A forbidden poem met his eye.
There is a void
Climbing down your heart.
Even the melted chocolate
Can’t cure the chaos.
As light blends the darkness,
You stand there with a smirk.
But stories have stories too,
Lies can turn into truth,
And burnt bridges can embrace.
Caged birds can dream of freedom
Like a pendulum, she swings
Waiting for the invisible hurricane
To turn her into a voyage.
Then the bell went again and the crowd began to move.
“See you in the class?” he asked, half hoping-half begging.
Only when she was halfway down the hallway did a smile finally creep onto her lips.
The day ended.
It was just a warm day and moving away from the shadow was just a difficult part.
Peeking around the corner of the room she saw someone familiar.
Beautiful and naive,
Her chest rising and falling at a very fast rate
And all the unimaginable horrors coming to life.
Like a vast abyss of the dark forest. Calling her into the land of unknown.
She sighed and took a step for the journey of sorrow,
She was declination of overwhelming,
She was the Queen of shadows until.
Just an uncertain life with a deliberate
Her life was well scripted.
The door creaked open and there she stood
Switched bodies with the host.
She feared she was losing her mind
Different phases at different times
My memories were her and her darkness became mine
Plagued with memories of another time.
She was an ancient myth
It had two stories to the same chapter
And two ends to the same fate
As I resurface I drown again.
The silence was deafening
And the storm was beyond control.
There was a sacrifice of a devil’s soul.
The likely events turned to unlikely
And again she looked into the mirror
To find her reflection smiling the deepest
Secrets barging into her life
Like paint on a canvas
As the lights went off
Someone stood there watching it go off
And how the darkness danced on the walls
Quieter than usual and fascination of the unrevealed.
Hearing the hum
Breathing the smoky air
He just knocked thrice assuming
Who would be on the other side?
There she was the woman, blonde and red-eyed
Misery dripping from her face
She just said, “Come in, son.”
He went inside seeking everything
He knew something was wrong but the source was unknown.
His eyes darted towards her mother
Asking softly “Are you fine, Mrs Claude?”
Deep down, he knew the answer
Her mother nodded but her heart said something else.
She was tired and had lost every bit of hope
That her daughter will get better,
The daily ritual of shouting and cursing would be over
But who would know?
She broke down right there in front of him, and he knew that something was going on.
Stacy had changed in these past few months.
She flinched whenever her mother would kiss her goodnight,
She would just snap and become someone she is not.
He listened so intently but his eyes were on a file
So he just coughed a little
This made Mrs Claude worried so she got up to fetch some water
In the meantime, he picked the file and went through it.
What am I trying to do with this information? I’m not mentally equipped for this. I don’t know where to go from here. And the next thing I know that I’m basically sprinting out of there. As much as I hate myself for my actions, she’s better off without me. I can’t do this. Neither for her nor to myself.
Stacy stayed up all night,
She went outside in the middle of the night.
It was soothing how the grass felt
The stars had their own magic that night.
Just for a second, she thought she can make through it
How her dreams were on the verge of breaking,
How her parents were going through hell,
How she saw her proud father cry,
And how badly she wanted the rain.
Just a sign
So empty and so drained.
This was her end but with a new start.
Love her or revile her,
Her opaque darkness can make you squirm.
It’s standing right behind us
No matter where you go how far you go.
In the light, there will be a shadow
Your shadow is a darker part of yourself.
It’s all the light you’ve lost throughout your life,
It’s all shame and embarrassment and insecurities,
It’s all that’s impure in you, all that poisons you
And sometimes, it’s the monster that tries to become you.
She thought she’d try until dawn, to search for any reason at all to hold on.
At 3:58, she decided there were none.
Like Vincent Van Gogh had proclaimed before he left, the sadness will never end.
But there was someone else who needed to leave as well, all her darkness and poison was like a ghost, latching on to her back like a beast.
There were two gunshots.
One for her.
One for her shadow.
“I am the shadow you see beside you at night
The distorted, blackened version of yourself
Flickering in and out of alleyways,
Not quite a person
Just the manifestation of all that you are trying to hide,
Just the agony of being who you are,
Everything you don’t want the world to see
I am everything you don’t want the world to see.
Why are you afraid of me?
You run from me
But I am attached to you.
We can never be separated
But through the noon sun’s light, I can be you
And in total darkness, you can be me
Which would you prefer?
I was drowning in chaos,
Sleep was just another nemesis.
You must be wondering about the two gunshots.
One was for me and one for my shadow,
For she had to leave with me.
I needed to get away from my life
I needed peace
And I found my sweet haven in hell.”
8 months later:
Carl Jung is famous for formulating the concept of the shadow, the portion of everyone’s personality which, through the course of one’s life, is relegated to the darkness of the unconscious.
The shadow goes by many familiar names: the disowned self, the lower self, the dark twin or brother in bible and myth, the double, repressed self, alter ego.
I almost feel her absence. It’s the “almost” part that’s bugging me. Was she so mundane and unremarkable that I barely remember her? Was she of so little worth to me? Am I that much of a twat that she’s become a mere memory to me? She showed me that people are fascinating in their extremities, not in their happiness. Am I doing justice to her?
If I can’t honour her more than trying to make sense of the enigma that she was, all this would have been a waste.
16th December 2000
I’m back to my spot by the tree. I follow my daily ritual of standing in the dark, looking through the window of the girl I stalk for 4 hours straight while taking notes of any suspicious activity which though started out plenty, has now dwindled to almost none over time. I had hoped that my creepy stalker obsession would wash off but sadly that is not the case. As I stand out here, I have a lot of idle time and the mind wonders. What am I doing? Most importantly, why? What use is this to me to build myself a better future? It’s not like one day her house will catch on fire and I’ll go rushing in like a gallant hero and save her life. What am I hoping to get out of this?
I was immersed in my train of thought when I heard the gunshot. Running, huffing, panic followed by a long breathless silence, then a shriek. You don’t need a very active imagination to figure out what had happened. I left my spot by the tree and hid behind a car across the street when I heard sirens. Everything was a blur from that point. Flashing lights, paramedics, photographers, the police and her mother weeping by a gurney with a black bag. This all must be a joke. Some elaborate prank. Stacy had figured out my routine so she got her parents and the police in on this prank to teach me a lesson. Anytime now she’s going to come out of the house rolling her eyes, calling me a perv and telling me to buzz off or next time she’ll be pointing the gun at me and it won’t be a prank. I waited. I waited. And I waited. It was a long night.
17th December 2000.
“We have been informed that Stacy’s death has been declared a suicide. Even though we might try to understand the reason for her doing this, we can never truly understand what was going on that made her take her life. This may be hard for some of us to do. Counsellors are still available in school to help us deal with our feelings. If you feel the need to speak to a counsellor, either alone or with a friend, tell a teacher, the principal or the school nurse and they will help make the arrangements” the school speaker booms.
Oliver walked through the school hallways like a ghost, he never thought he would thank God for keeping him invisible in school all these years, but he did. No matter how much time, space and alone time he got, he wasn’t able to accept the fact that Stacy was gone. Her parents were going to come by to clear her locker today. Oliver was hoping to get what was in the locker before them. He waited for the bell to ring and for all the students to go to their classes. He made sure no one was around and started picking the lock on Stacy’s locker. When it finally opened, he found a history book and a diary. That’s it? She’s been going to this school for four years now and this is all she has to show for her time here after her death? No friends, one stalker and two stationary objects?
He leafs through the diary and sees only a few pages have been used. Maybe this is a new one, he thinks, I have to get the old one. Maybe she’ll have it in her room. He puts everything in its right place and leaves for his class, with the diary. He thinks of little for the rest of the day. He even considers skipping school but he couldn’t risk being flagged at such a delicate time.
After the last bell, Oliver rushes home, bolts up to his room and locks the door. Sits down on his bed with the diary but he almost cannot bring himself to open it. It’s a huge breach of privacy, a dishonour to Stacy’s memory and what if he finds something he doesn’t want to find?
In the end, he decides that curiosity is greater than some false sense of privacy. Moreover, he thought, she dishonoured her own memory when she took the coward’s way out.
He flips open to the first page of the diary,
I am the shadow you see…”
– Shivangi Mishra
– Ananya Ghosh
– Prachi Ghosh
– Oindrilla Majumdar