Being What I am Not

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
An attempt by a man to be seen by another human being leads to blows and laughter and a mutation of roles which ultimately questions what it means to be an individual.

Submitted: September 05, 2015

A A A | A A A

Submitted: September 05, 2015



I don’t want you to know where I am, for I’m always anxious when you’re near.  Where I am is where you are not.  Perhaps I want to be invisible; perhaps I don’t want to be seen.  I feel more alive when you’re seas away.  Alone I exist as everything; escorted I’m nothing.  This is how I feel, and it’s a burden, for you’re everywhere; you surround me, you land on my skin, and you’re inside me.  You are me.  You were me hundreds of years ago, thus you were me before I was born.  Am I even an I?  Or should I bow to fate and write we?

I was born in August of 1985, but I could have been born in 1273, 1776, or 2050.  My given name is Pierre Camus, of no relation to Albert Camus--although I’m sure he based The Stranger on me, because I’m a stranger to myself, less of a stranger to you.  I’m maintaining the first person in defiance of you.  You may be in my mind, you may be the blood of my veins, but I refuse to accept that you are me (ignore what I wrote and then ignore what I’m writing now).  Reading that my name is French, you may assume I’m French, and you’re half-correct--I’m French American--but I just as easily could’ve been born in Sparta or the Roman Empire or Uzbekistan.

Last week I recognized you as a being for the first time.  I and you met on the street (I know this is grammatically incorrect, but I come first).  I should be coherent: you are everywhere; you’re a composition of everything human beings have thought, done, and created.  In no particular order you are culture, custom, government, law: society.  In essence, you are everyone and everything--both visible and invisible.  All that I am was determined by you before I was born, thus what am I doing now?  Am I, the man who was predestined to drink Château Margaux wine, smoke Gauloises cigarettes, and paint en plein air, supposed to become or overcome Pierre Camus?  If you answered become, then it’s already decided!  What am I doing here?

But back to work (both literally and figuratively).  Along the way on a humid and hazy Monday morning, as I walked (no, you can’t walk for me) through your hungover, despairing, and righteous herds of occupation-steered humans, I sensed your humidity all over me; I inhaled your stale fumes of night-old beer and rotting steak, heard your news of school shootings and political gossip, and perceived your beauty-sex advertisements and self-numbing technological gadgets.  But I barely had the time to discern all of these senses before I was dodging and weaving through your cattle.  Yes, cattle.  And to make matters worse they were rendered sightless by the smartphones obstructing their eyes.  All they could see were the screens inches from their faces--not what moved beyond them, which was so often the case me.  Somehow, with the newly generated instincts given to them by you and your age of technology, they made their way to work on foot without seeing where they were going or why they were going there (perhaps you do walk for people).  But I couldn’t tolerate their behavior, not because they were going to work (so was I), but because they didn’t even notice me.  They advanced as if they were the only pedestrians on the sidewalk, some as if they were the only beings on Earth, thoroughly neglecting my existence; to them their smartphone touch screens were more alive than I was.  For good reason I became infuriated.  I had to do something; I had to show them that I was breathing--that my heart was beating.  A geyser of yearning to maintain my course without sidestepping erupted inside of me and flooded my reason.  

I strode unswervingly along one of the thousands of blocks in one of your cities (there’s no point naming the city, because it just as easily could’ve been New York, Los Angeles, Paris, London, Berlin, Taipei, Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo...), anticipating a collision with someone at any moment.  I wanted to stand upright and take the hit like an NFL quarterback.  But I couldn’t.  I failed.  Each time one of your blind bulls came within a few centimeters of my shoulder a zap of alarm coursed through me and in a millisecond I flinched--jerked out of the way like the Underground Menace.  This added doses of gasoline to my flames of pique and outrage.  My mind neared dementia; I didn’t know where I was going, yet, reminiscing on it now, a zephyr of pleasure drifted through me.  (Please do not liken me to the Underground Menace, however, for I didn’t desire a beat down; I merely wanted someone, anyone, to see me for one second, in which case I would’ve been satisfied; furthermore, the Underground Menace directed his angst on one human while I directed my angst on you, which, by the process of inclusion, means everyone and everything you’ve touched.)

Yet I must confess he crossed my mind as I put my head down, quickened my pace, and braced for impact.  Other than the few shoulders which grazed and bumped mine, however, I felt as if I were striding across a grassy plain by myself.  Time ceased, and I was alone in my mind.  Again I felt a tingle of solace--until my forehead met a mouth full of teeth and my groin was violated by a broad kneecap.  I stumbled back and grabbed my brow.  When I peered up through strained eyes, I saw you: you were tall, really tall, with mousse in your hair, aftershave on your face, and an earpiece in your ear; you wore a gray business suit and pants, a white dress shirt, a black tie, and black shoes.  You were stunned and appalled that someone would dare jostle you.  Flecks of crimson powder surfaced on your cheeks as you examined your gums for blood and waited for me to apologize.  “What?” I asked; “Watch where you’re walking.  You were in my way.”  Oh the look of indignation that accumulated in your eyes!  I wish you could’ve seen it; but you couldn’t, for it was on the thin outermost layer of your eyes, and, unfortunately, you cannot see that close.  “Are you serious?” you asked, still checking for blood; but there was none, for you don’t bleed; you are no more alive than a machine.

I touched my forehead, a viscid substance clung to my fingertips, and I grinned.  Slowly, with a widening smirk, I lowered my fingers to perceive the blood upon them.  “Are you crazy?” you asked.  “No,” I answered, “I’m bleeding and you’re not.”  And you saw me; all the other pedestrians dissipated, as they did for me, and you saw only me--and I saw only you.  You hated me, and I hated you, but I was happy, and you were not.  “You’re happy because you’re bleeding and I’m not?” you asked, peering down at me as if I were a child, your demeanor transforming from cross to patronizing.  “Yes,” I said, displaying my gore-caked fingertips; “And because you see me.”  “Of course I see you!  You ran into me!”  “And you ran into me.”  “You’re blaming me?  I’ve never run into anyone before.”  “Were you not looking at your smartphone and not where you were walking?”  “Yeah, but so does everyone else, and we never run into each other.  You were the one walking with your head down on a line.”

I was enjoying myself too much by this time; finally I could see you clearly, and you could see me.  I had to instigate.  (But again, please don’t think I wanted to be like Tyler Durden; I only wanted you to understand me.)  “Yeah, I was walking with my head down,” I confirmed; “I chose the line I wanted to take, and I took it.  You should’ve moved out of my way.”  You stepped towards me with a face-on-fire; “Yeah, and I chose the line I was taking.  You should’ve moved out of my way.”  The simplicity of you!  If only you could see your self; if only I could see my self.  “You chose to walk with a phone blocking your eyes before I chose to walk with my head down,” I said.  “So you did it on purpose?” you asked, your agitation persisting.  “Perhaps I did,” I answered to your neck (you were only inches away now); “What then?”

And our civil conversation terminated here: you pushed me back with your clammy hands (the outlines of your palms still mark my shirt), and I tumbled back with a burst of guffaws.  An inferno fueled by my titters burned your thin skin.  “Woah!” I exclaimed between laughs; “What was that for?”  “You want a fight, so you’ll get a fight,” you said as you shoved me a second time.  “Wow!  You’re touching me!” I howled with hilarity; “Haha!  You see me and feel me!  Can you smell me too?”

You goggled at me as if I were a maniac on speed (the delusion is on you); “I can smell your fear: that’s why you’re laughing.”  “I can smell your fury; that’s why I’m laughing.”  I don’t know what it was about my response--perhaps you apprehended that you were in fact mad?--but your embedded impulse (or was it his?) manipulated your mind and sent your fists gliding into my face.

No, I’m sure now; you became him.  For the first time I perceived him and not you, and he perceived me--not as you but as him.  His animal instinct rushed like rapids and catapulted his untested knuckles at my unkempt French handsomeness.  He hooked the back of my head with his left hand as his right hand soared in raves.  Oh the feral and untamed wrath seething in his eyes!  It will never be matched.  He awakened in a tête-à-tête conflict, a skirmish for his world--his life.  But I held nothing with which to sally but glee; I couldn’t stop grinning and laughing and bleeding, and this provoked him more.  But how could I have retaliated?  I was receiving what I desired: he was seeing and understanding me; I was seeing and understanding him.  Neither of us were acting in bad faith; no longer were we play-acting.  Although I had been insincere by instigating the quarrel (my true self is a coward) and he had been insincere by merely pushing me (he’s a brawler at heart), we were now becoming.  Etiquette, manner, and the law did not survive in his mind; he was ensnared by the moment of passion, and I loved him for it.  He wanted to bleed, to feel, and to laugh with me, but I wouldn’t fight.  I couldn’t lift my arm; something held me back.

“Hit me back!” he snarled with spittle.  “You coward!  Hit me back!”

He cocked his shoulder back once more, this one meant to be the grand finale, but it failed to launch; suddenly, from the void surrounding our world, you emerged as an airborne police officer in royal black and blue and tackled my friend.  After a few moments of grunting and cursing and scattering dust he metamorphosed back into you, and there were two of you.  You denied any wrongdoing, and you read yourself your rights.  Another you took my arm and asked me if I was alright.  I wasn’t alright, because I was you.  I wanted to weep, to collapse onto my knees and beg you to take me--take me to jail!  But it was too late, for you were already conducting yourself to the backseat of the police car, and my face--my true face--was being treated for wounds.  My eyes were violet-blue, my cheekbones saffron, my lips scarlet, and my face bloated.  You questioned me as you sponged my face clean, but I couldn’t speak, because I was you.  I saw my face in a mirror, and the face in the mirror wasn’t mine.  Even a coward will fight for his life, I realized, and I didn’t; I had wanted to die.  And by the process of inclusion, if I had wanted to die, I was you.  

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