The One Who Wasn’t There

“Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today,
I wish, I wish he’d go away…”

– William Hughes Mearns, Antigonish (1899)

For as far back as I can remember, I have always felt invisible. There were times when I wondered if I existed at all. Not only was I unseen, but I was unheard too.

Every now and then I would be brought to life and made visible by someone’s attention. Yet who they saw and what they heard… was not me.

I tried to be seen and heard by them, but they preferred to create their own version of me, one who was who they needed me to be, said what they wanted to hear, did what they wanted me to do. If the real me intruded on their fantasy, they told me to go away.

When I wasn’t around I existed more than when I was. I was more real to others the more unreal I was.

I was a shadow.

I was trapped in limbo. A world between existence and non-existence.

I don’t think I’ve ever solved this enigma. I don’t know if it can be resolved. In many ways it is an intrinsic part of my identity. To be and not to be.

The only one who ever really saw me and heard me as I was, was my reflection in a mirror.

Being and not being means I see and hear things which people do and say when they think they are unseen and unheard.

I know secrets about people which even they seem not to know, perhaps because they don’t want to know those things about themselves.

I never share those secrets.

No one would hear me if I did.

I live in shadow.

For some shadows are silent. For others they can hear shadow as a mumbling whisper, and it frightens them because they do not know what it is saying, and they imagine the worst.

Shadows speak to me, loudly and clearly, they invite me to share a chat over a cup of tea and I hear their secrets shared.

I am a shadow.

Perhaps that is why I love taking photographs of shadows so much.