This is the story I was never supposed to tell.
Have you ever looked in the mirror and wondered who the other person was? No, not you, not your reversed mirror-self, but the man behind you. Or sometimes it’s a woman. Or sometimes it’s just a vague being without a gender, or at least one you can recognize or understand. An indefinable person. They’re a lurker—perhaps the lurker. A joyless, expressionless creature with ugly blue braces and a mole on their left cheek and one hand hidden in a plaid sweatshirt pocket—a hand holding something you don’t want to know, probably, but that’s neither here nor there. What’s relevant is how the lurker never goes away, no matter how long you wait. They’re always there, in the background of the room in the mirror but not in the room itself, probably.
You’ve never been able to figure out where exactly they are, or who exactly they are.
They might even be you.
I ran away from home because I thought I wasn’t special and my parents were trying to make me special. I had always wanted to be special, in some way or another, but I just simply wasn’t, so when I was finally told I was, I didn’t believe it. I was angry. I thought my parents were out of their minds. Honestly, they might be, but that’s neither here nor there. They told me I was sick, inside and out. They told me I was blind to real things and they told me the things I was seeing weren’t really there. It was what I had wanted to hear, for so long that I didn’t think it could possibly be true. I laughed in their faces and that night after they had gone to bed I packed my bags and headed for the train station. I saw myself in the news only 36 hours later. It was not really me, of course; it was me seven months ago on senior picture day, smiling a smarmy smile with my hair slicked back and the mole on my left cheek standing out like ink on a white page and the lurker lurking behind me, as lurkers do. I wondered sarcastically if people wouldn’t know which one I was, when they looked for me; whether I was the senior in high school with the smarmy smile or the lurker in the background. Of course, I know in reality that they were both me, or perhaps both you, but that’s neither here nor there either.
I thought I would be easier to find, but apparently I wasn’t, because they didn’t find me. So instead of waiting around for someone to show up, I got back on the train and went home and pretended I agreed, that I really was crazy and hallucinating and it was actually quite nice, to be honest, pretending I was special like I’d always dreamed I was. My parents brought me to all kinds of doctors and checked me into different day programs and gave me pills I never actually swallowed (that would be taking the game too far). They also bought me packs of Swedish Fish and Swiss Miss, and some new plaid sweatshirts, my favorite things. I didn’t keep it all for myself, though; I knew the lurker would be jealous if I did. We shared it all instead. Unfortunately, however, the hugs my parents lavished on me in the evenings, and the tears and tearful words they expended on my behalf when they thought I wasn’t eavesdropping, well, all of that was and had to be mine. I couldn’t share one bit of it with the lurker; pity doesn’t come in serving sizes. And so the lurker did get quite jealous about that. But there was nothing I could do, other than make vague promises to them and agree to do things I never otherwise would have agreed to do.
There were, of course, occasions when I wondered whether the lurker really was only real in my world, but I quickly dismissed all such thoughts soon after they arose because of the reality of living with such a creature. The lurker often told me what to do, or threatened me, hurt me or insulted me, if I didn’t do what I was told or something else provoked them. Someone like that clearly is as real as you and I. Otherwise the cruel words wouldn’t send chills down my back, or set my heart racing, or make me grind my braces in the effort of not talking back. Otherwise the knife wouldn’t cut my skin, that small patch behind my left knee where the lurker liked to slide their blade of choice—often my shaving razor, but sometimes they got creative. As I said I sometimes wondered if the lurker was real. But feeling the wound the next day was more than enough to convince me that the prior day’s events—whatever fight we’d had, that is—was as real as anything else. As real as you and I.
In the end I couldn’t keep up the act, as I guess you know by now. But your arrival was the greatest kind of blessing, and you’re the reason I’m still alive today, at least not quite dead yet, and the reason why I’m able to tell this story, at least to you, if not to anyone else. All I can say is thank you, thank you for getting the lurker off my back and freeing me forever from their cruelties. At this point even if I do bleed out—I guess no lurker goes without a fight, but it’s certainly unfortunate that I was not the only one who knew about the box cutter in my bottom desk drawer, like I thought—at least I’ve got you, and the lurker’s gone. Gone for good I imagine. But before I go I need to ask you to do something for me. Two things. The first thing is to tell my parents it was an act after all. I want them to know the truth, about the lurker and who was really hurting me and why I was too scared to get out of bed sometimes. And then the second thing is to tell me your name. I’d like to know who saved me, at least for a little while.
It doesn’t happen often, but this time, I’ll admit I’m surprised. I’ve got such an odd name, I never would’ve thought we shared it. After all, we look nothing alike—at least no one will mix us up. That is, if I make it through the night. I hate to say it, but I’m not optimistic. Even still—will you wait here? Will you stay? By my side?
Just until morning. I want to make it. There’s so much I’ve always wanted to do, and now that the lurker’s gone—