Just yesterday, I found out I was growing up. Though such a realization may be late for a twenty-one year old to have, it came and went and now my bones rattle as I type. Each word is an epitaph. Each one is my last.
This is how it happened. It was four in the morning, and my room showed no evidence of darkness. Except for the window, every light shone. Lamps were directed to the ceiling, their rays casting a universe of miniature suns on the white background. A computer screen flickered and a booklight snapped in and out of existence. The faint primal hum of an artificial jungle could be heard. Buzzzzzz. Buzzzzzz. The room was alive in a time that wasn’t.
So was I. Like a dust mite caught in the rays, I stood in the middle of my room swaying left and right. No music played, unless the grunt of electrons firing off could be called be said to have a melody. This electric choir could hardly bug me, though. Steeped in artificial sunlight in the middle of the room, I was everywhere. Each movement I made, however quick or however sloppy, created a series of grand puppet shows around me. There I was on every wall, an amorphous blob of fading black that eventually tapered off into nothing.
As I moved, the hundreds of Kacpers followed. When I shambled left, they did too. When I raised my arm, the dark globs, which captured all the angles of my silhouette, raised their stalks in solidarity. Some did so with nothing more than small sticks waving around in the air. Others were defiant in their escalation; their arms belonged to muscular monstrosities. Once and a while, I flexed if only to see the bulldozers that would arise from my shadows.
As I bent into various shapes and forms, I noticed that some of the silhouettes did not belong in either extreme. Neither miniscule nor gargantuan, they matched my outline perfectly. No matter how much I dipped or whirled, my shoulders were theirs and my hands, with its scratches and bruises and its tiny, innumerous hairs, were their hands, with its scratches and bruises and its tiny, innumerous hairs. On the wall, in a corner, sitting at my desk, I could find no caricature, no gross over or underestimation of what I thought I was. Instead, there was a shadow plastered in two dimensions and I was it plastered in three.
I stopped moving. The computer whizzed on and on, boding me to keep working if only for a little while. Lamps continued to illuminate my actions even as I stood still. Darkness crept bit by bit into the room; the night was wearing on and I was doing the same. My shadows wore on with me. Some of them disappeared in the stillness.
A memory floated in to the room as an attempt to fill the quiet. From a room soaked in man-made light came a sunny day, green fields, and worn jeans. I was walking and all of a sudden, I noticed a black figure lingering behind me. It stalked right behind my toes. Curiosity mixed with fear, and I turned around. It had turned with me. Again, I rotated. It did the same. Turn after turn after turn, it was behind me.
My dad noticed me twirling around. I told him why. He grabbed my hand, pointed behind him, and said that the black mark was a shadow, a dark shape produced because the sun was not able to pass through an object.
I looked at the sun for a moment. It kissed me with an indifferent greeting. I asked my dad if it would always be behind me. He said, “No. It can be in front of you too.” I wondered if I’d ever known which it would be. He replied while continuing to grab my hand and tussling me along, “Sometimes. But sometimes you don’t.” He stopped ahead of me, his hand limp on my wrist. “All you can know is that whether in front or behind, something’s always there before you.”
The memory ended there. Back in my light bulb for a room, I was kicked into a movement again. It was slow and laggard. Inch by inch, I crawled. The lights beamed on. I reached for my lamp, turning it off. A hundred different shadows died. I moved to my computer, slamming it shut. A dozen of miniature Kacpers were murdered in that instant. Next, the power bar’s red light. It screamed an electronic yell as the outlet was wrenched from the wall. The light switch flickered like a shotgun shell hitting the floor. The booklight with its single, weak glimmer choked in the darkness.
The light stood on my bed, facing the far wall of my closet. A long, gross Kacper stood in its rays. I turned for old times sake, and he breathed on my neck. “Don’t.” he said in a heavy breath. “I’m your friend. Your only friend. I’m you. You’re me. We’re growing together. Remember how small you were? I made you feel big. Strong even. I made you feel worthy. Now look at us. Look at how I expand into forever. Look behind then in front and back again. That’s me. That’s you more importantly. And listen, Kacper: I’m what you’re growing in to. I’m what you will grow to know. I’m all you’ll grow to be. See: I’m your outline and you follow me. That’s what this whole thing is about. Look – I’ve been here for a while, so I know a thing or two. And I’ll tell you a secret as a pal: this growing up business is about getting to accept your shadow.”
I turned again. The warped shade stretched on behind me. I took a step forward.
“Hey, hey, hey. Wait a second. I’m not done yet. If you don’t accept your shadow, you’ll never be able to do anything. Really. I mean it. Life’s about accepting some unalterable facts. There’ll be some obstacles you can’t change. I’m one of them. I’ll always be there. When you awake, I’ll be waiting. When you eat, I’ll be eating with you. When you die, I’ll be doing the same, dying right next to you.”
“But I won’t. Ha. You see, Kacper. I’ll be there after you. You’ll be a limp rock of flesh and bone and weak, weak muscle. You’ll stink. You’ll rot. And earworms will enter your skull and eat the little worth you filled your brain with.”
“And I’ll be overtop of you and beside you and under you. I’ll be all you have left and all you ever left behind.”
“I’m darkness and I am everywhere. You can’t get rid of me by jus…”
The booklight squealed and the shadow shook and I killed both with my thumb.
Darkness consumed my room. I wobbled there with my finger on the switch. Waning electric breaths from the heat of the bulb tickled my hand. Minutes passed. Time eroded on. And somewhere, stars died, worlds were born, and the universe spread bit by bit by bit like jelly.
After five minutes, the cold forced me into my bed. I bundled up in the covers, but felt no warmer. I went to sleep shivering.