CHIMERA – Copyright © Stephie Walls 2016
When Sylvie died, it left a hole in my being that seemed prodigious. I adorn my face with the plastic appearance people anticipate from me, but internally, I weep. Continuing through the monotonous motion of my daily life, I increasingly find myself lost in what my friends—well, those who remain—refer to as a fictional world: novels, authors, artists, musicians, and the illusion of relationships on social media. The more time I spend on Facebook, the more entrenched I become in the fiction that exists on the screen. I believe these “friends” are truly concerned for me; they’re what relationships are in reality. Sadly, these seem to be the only things keeping me hanging on, but the thread threatens to break daily, frayed from top to bottom. The tightly woven fabric that was once my life has deteriorated beyond recognition.
That’s the crux of my juxtaposition. My life had value, it had meaning. It was everything I had ever imagined it could be. But without Sylvie, black clouds roll through my mind, hindering my ability to think, eliminating productivity, and stifling my creativity. My art is as dead as I am. But online…online I can be anything I want to be, whatever version of myself I decide to show to the world. I don’t have to be the pathetic artist who lost his muse. I don’t have to be the sweet, sensitive man Sylvie loved. I don’t know whom I want to reinvent myself as, but the idea of being whatever still exists in my soul doesn’t appeal to me. My craft has become recreating my persona, anything to escape the pain, the desolation, and the solitude. Surely there’s art in recreating an identity.
Most days, I find it difficult to even get out of bed. The colder it gets outside, the shorter the days are, the deeper I sink—sometimes only escaping the protection of my covers to take a piss or get something to eat or drink. Although frequently, I let those things go in favor of marinating in my misery. My laptop calls to me from my nightstand when the loneliness becomes too much to bear, the darkness too black to see through.
That recognizable blue-and-white screen brings me comfort, the newsfeed seemingly a link to real conversation, touching base with the people I’ve known for years—but it always introduces the possibility of newcomers. The “friend recommendation” is the online equivalent to a friend introducing you to someone new; at least it is in my mind. I always check out the recommendations. They’re often other painters or singers that might have known Sylvie—or people I barely recognize from high school or college. But every once in a while, some totally random person surfaces with no tie to my past.
Those are the connections I find most interesting, most appealing.
They also seem to be the safest, having no knowledge of the person I once was, or how all that remains of me is a fragmented shell. I have made several “friends” this way, people I would say I’m close to—even though we’ve never met and likely never will. Herein lies my fictional world, the one my real friends don’t understand and believe to be emotionally damaging to me. I’m not processing my grief…blah, blah, blah. If I hear that shit one more time, I may scream.
As soon as I log in, the familiar recommendations bombard me as if the universe is playing some cruel joke. There she is, my Sylvie…only her name is Sera Martin. She’s a perfect duplicate with the same striking green eyes, long chestnut-colored hair, high cheekbones, and luscious, pouty lips.
I realize I haven’t inhaled or exhaled.
I gasp and hold my breath until my lungs burn. I haven’t seen her in years. The day she died, I came home and stripped our house of any reminder—every picture, every video, every stitch of clothing, anything she loved. It all had to leave. I couldn’t bear the weight of what the world took from me. I imagined if I discarded everything, she wouldn’t haunt me, and maybe, somehow, I would manage to learn to live again if reminders of her didn’t surround me.
Yet, her loss possesses me daily.
This girl. This Sera. Could this be Mother Nature returning my Sylvie to me in a strange twist of fate? The notion there’s a doppelganger roaming the world has always been a thought I believe in. It’s possible after years of suffering, dying inside, barely hanging on, that my savior has come. Without hesitation, I click “add friend.”
Sera responds to my request with a private message.
Sera: Wow! Are you really Bastian Thames?
Me: Yes. Have we met before?
Sera: Once, but I doubt you’d remember. It was at a gallery down on the West End where your work was being featured a couple years ago. Is this the real Bastian? Not some lurker claiming to be the famous artist?
Me: Far cry from famous, but yes, one and the same. Are you certain we met that night? I remember the opening and can assure you I would have remembered you.
Sera: Yes, you were with your wife. She’s quite lovely. I’m not sure which was more beautiful, her or the nudes you had in the collection. That showing was the talk of the art community for months around here.
Me: That was the last opening I did. Seems like a lifetime ago.
Sera: Are you not painting anymore? I hate to admit that I lost track of your work when I went off to college but for years, I was a huge fan.
Me: Life happened. I haven’t painted in some time.
Sera: I can’t imagine you quit painting. Surely you just quit putting them out for the public.
Me: No. I haven’t so much as held a brush in five years.
Sera: That’s a shame. Hey look, Bastian, I have to run out but I accepted your request. I hope maybe we can talk some later. Maybe you’ll let me pick your brain about a project I’m working on?
Me: Certainly. I hope to hear from you soon.
My mind races with possibilities. I immediately go to her profile to see what information I can garner on her before our next conversation—assuming one comes. Jesus, she’s twenty-five, went to the Rhode Island School of Design, graduated with her Masters in Fine Arts, and holy hell, she’s a sculptor. If these pictures are of her work, then she has phenomenal talent. Scouring her profile provides only surface-level information. There’s almost nothing personal. The pictures all seem to be with other artists or at galleries or in a studio. Moving to her wall, I find tons of posts by other local artists, memes about artwork, jokes…the proverbial Facebook bullshit.
I almost quit scrolling when I see a post that grabs my attention. There’s a picture of two beautiful women, scantily clad, one bent over, the other yielding a paddle, and the words, “Someone’s been a bad girl.” Jesus Christ. There are one hundred forty-seven comments and two hundred fifty-three likes on the thread posted by a Maria Martin.
I click on Maria’s name first, assuming it will be a sister or cousin, not expecting it to be her mother. Holy shit, whose mother posts this kind of profanity on their daughter’s Facebook wall? Making my way back to the thread, I find myself enthralled by the dialogue.
It’s cheeky and playful but talk about insight. This one picture, one conversation, tells me scads about who she is personally, not about her work, but seemingly what she enjoys—intimately. Reading her responses to the comments ignites a fire in an area of my anatomy I thought had died with Sylvie. As my cock starts to twitch, that old, familiar heat seeps through my crotch.
I stop myself, realizing I’m staring at dialogue—about a woman who could be my dead wife’s twin—between people I don’t know. It’s morbid, really. Backing out of the comments and Sera’s profile, then I set the computer aside. I don’t close the laptop for fear of missing a message from her. Lying back, I stare at the all-too-familiar ceiling. I know every blemish on the drywall with aching familiarity. There have been hours of loneliness and isolation. The depth of pain is so fathomless, I often wonder how I made it to the next day without feeling the cold steel in my hand, without pulling the trigger.