By Tiffanie Hinds
Shadow Man was there one day. I was listening to CDs in my room. Alone. I looked over to the corner and he was just standing there. And I was disconcerted. And I wondered what he was doing there, but I never came up with any answers. And so I gave up. Shadow Man told me that was the best choice. And I just got used to him standing in the corner, always on the edge of my vision.
One day he was bigger. It was a few years later. And I was alone, in my room, lying on my bed. I noticed him more, then. Was he closer? But every time I tried to look at him, he wasn't there. I invited a friend over, hoping she would notice him, but she never did. And I never brought it up. After all, I didn't want anyone to think I was crazy. But maybe I was. I looked again for answers. Things change in a few years and maybe someone would have found something out by now. There must be other Shadow Men. Or was mine the only one? It seemed like that was the case, because again, no answers. Shadow Man was bigger now and I would just have to get used to it. After all, weren't there worse things in the world than Shadow Man? There are people in this world who are starving. People right now whose loved ones are dying. People who are experiencing unimaginable suffering. And I'm worried about some Shadow Man? I should be ashamed of myself, Shadow Man said.
Shadow Man was standing over my bed one day. On a bright, beautiful Saturday morning. I wanted to; the sunbeams shined through my window and dotted and warmed my skin. But Shadow Man was very big and blocking my way. And so I just lay there until the sun went down.
Shadow Man joined me for my first job interview. We took the bus; Shadow Man made it too difficult for me to drive a car—telling me I brake too fast or drive too slow and what do I even think I'm doing on the road I'm a terrible driver and I'm going to get somebody killed! And so we took the bus. Shadow Man sat next to me in the booth of the restaurant while my potential boss, who couldn’t see or didn’t acknowledge Shadow Man, asked me some questions. He asked me about my strengths. Not many, said Shadow Man, and none of them useful. He asked me about my weaknesses. Too many, Shadow Man said. You don't want to hire this person. My potential boss told me he didn't think this was the right job for me and Shadow Man whole-heartedly agreed. No job is the right job for me, he said.
And so Shadow Man followed me out of the restaurant and across the street to buy a magazine; the bus wouldn't come for a very long time. And we sat on the bench and he read over my shoulder and commented on how pretty those girls were and told me I'd never look like them. So don't even try.
And so I didn't. And I spent the summer after high school on the couch watching re-runs, getting further and further away from looking like those girls in the magazine. And when I went outside it was only after dark, because Shadow Man said nobody should ever have to see me.
My friend invited me out to dinner. Nowhere fancy, I asked. Shadow Man hated to see me dress up. My friend had traveled that whole summer and would be going to a prestigious school in a week. Shadow Man'd told me not to bother applying to any schools; nobody would ever accept me. And so I didn't. Shadow Man told me she'd forget all about me in a week when she went off to college and made friends and did things normal people my age did.
We sat down at a booth—Shadow Man, my friend, and I. She talked. But it was hard to listen with Shadow Man in my ear. And still she didn't notice.
Shadow Man neglected to follow me to a job interview once, but he came back even bigger when I started working there. He told me to look at how the guys were hitting on all the girls but me. I asked him how come. He said it was because guys didn't hit on girls like me. Girls like me didn't deserve attention. They didn't deserve to feel pretty because they weren't. They shouldn't even be here in the first place.
I thought I could at least make friends. To replace the one Shadow Man had assured me had forgotten all about me. But Shadow Man said making friends was too hard and that nobody wants to hang out with someone like me, anyway.
I fight him, sometimes, when I think he's gone too far. And sometimes I win. But it's hard to fight against something so big. Something so big that nobody else can see.
When I'd had enough of my terrible job, I wanted to go to school. He asked, who would accept me? I told him I was sure someone would. And when I filled out an application and all I had to do was sign it, or stamp the envelope, he told me don't bother; I won't get accepted. People like me are too stupid to go to school.
It took a long time, but I won that fight. And I did well in school. And I felt good. Sort of. Shadow Man said I was out of place. That I shouldn't be there. That I was so much older than everyone else. That I shouldn't talk to anyone, because they'll just think I'm weird.
Shadow Man got stronger after I graduated. And bigger. And louder. And still nobody noticed. Shadow Man told me not to look for any jobs. Sure, I had good grades, he said, but that doesn't mean anything in the real world. People like me don't belong in the real world.
Shadow Man told me to stay in bed all summer. He stood in front of me and blocked all the light. He showed me a knife and told me that I deserved pain. As soon as I thought I should tell someone about this, as soon as I made a move to get out of bed, he pushed me back down. I didn't know he could do that. Nobody cares, he snarled. They'll just think I'm crazy. And so I didn't get up. And so he became even bigger.
My phone's ringing. But Shadow Man stands in front of it. It keeps ringing and ringing. And the doorbell, too. But Shadow Man's in front of everything, and I can't see anything but him.
I should fight him.
But how would I even start? How do you fight something so big? And why even bother? He's always going to be there, getting bigger and bigger. He’s always going to push me down when I try to get up. And it would be so much easier to just stop.
And who would even notice, anyway? People don’t notice people like me.