What Separates Me From You by Sydney

Perfection does not exist on Earth, but it exists elsewhere.

The world of forms, a mirror of your world, is the only place in the universe where excellence dwells. Parallel to the Earth, it is meant to impart its image of flawlessness into the consequent world of shadows, which is the human world.

But the Earth is tainted, and exactness is not faultlessly transferred. You are an imperfect people living in a projected shadow of the perfect.

A form is ideal—it exist as one superlative model of one object. It is the ideal standard of both the physical and the cerebral, applying to every object on Earth. A shoe pictured in the world of forms, for example, is the supreme form of a shoe. On Earth, variations of different shoes are created in an unconscious attempt to create perfection.

Mortal knowledge doesn’t surpass forms. No one man can imagine the perfect shoe, but in the world of forms it exists singularly.

But as if by an unseen filter, the world of shadows becomes an inadequate reflection of the world of forms. There is no such thing as supreme shoes on Earth, but there are echoes of it.

The same concept applies to people. There is one ideal version of each person, but they deviate from their unblemished personalities, traits, and physical description.

The unexplained blockage between the worlds is slowly crumbling as the Earth spirals into further and further deficiency. Every day the Earth moves further from the world of forms.

Any filtration between Earth and the world of forms is unexplained except by a metaphorical rift. It is an accepted fact that the Earth is an imperfect place and has been since its formation.

Because of the disconnect, the world of forms is inanimate and wholly independent from the world of shadows, whereas they are meant to be joined. The forms there are a stagnant standard of beauty, still trying to project our images and movement into the world.

The only task that forms can perform is to visit their shadows on Earth. In a generation before mine, forms and shadows interacted one-on-one. Elder forms taught their shadows ways to live in their ideal state, as late as the 17th century.

Now in the 19th century, interaction is null. Shadows are ignorant of their form, though we attempt to communicate using indirect methods.

Most of our access to our shadows comes when they sleep. We send them dreams that teach them virtue, but they mostly forget the visions by the time they wake.

This is what I attempt to do. Visiting my shadow consumes my time.

I am unable to speak to him. Every day we drift apart. I used to feel his presence, but now he seems transparent. He seems unreal. I talk, but he doesn’t talk back. He doesn’t know it, but I shared everything with him, and he with me.

Ideally, we would live together in one perfect projection. The filter stops pieces of me from becoming pieces of him, and he is tainted. We are separated.

We are physically twins, sharing the same auburn hair, dull brown eyes, round face, and pointed expression. He, however, is constantly disheveled and messy, never attaining the sharp standard I have.

We look very similar but share vastly different hearts. His virtues are not my own. His thoughts and ideas are a mockery of mine, and his intelligence is admittedly second-rate.

It isn’t his fault. It isn’t my fault, either. The fault is in the filter, and his watered down interaction with me.

It saddens me to follow him, but I do it because I love him despite his shortcomings. He is a missing part of me. In a way, he makes me imperfect, since we’re divided.

Nonetheless I follow him each day and bear witness to his menial yet meaningful life.

My shadow’s family is wealthy. They own a large house in the city and send their children to the best educational institutes in the vicinity, which teach imperfect and unintelligible wisps of 19th century ignorance about science, yet produce the geniuses of the literary age.

My mind is torn between loving and hating the humanity the filter creates. They are not entirely bad, but not living to their potential.

The concerns of the world of shadows are almost purely material. Few shadows are interested in an intellectual pursuit. This is disappointing, but also understandable. The material is all they know. They live their lives for monetary gain. Intellectualism is a hassle in the face of money. Rarely can you gain one and have the other.

Throughout the course of a day, I scrub through my shadow’s thoughts, tweaking what I can. Many of his ideas are uninspired and fleeting while in school, but he blossoms outside. After his menial school hours are done, we spend the rest of the day occupying ourselves with whatever task he busies himself with.

My shadow’s favorite undertaking is crafting and engineering. He builds small trinkets and tools that he stashes around his bedchambers, seemingly waiting for the day they’d all fit together.

He patents small wooden mechanical structures, mirroring things like da Vinci’s helicopter designs and crafting original building material. Occasionally he builds small structures that I know could be beautiful, had they been professionally constructed.

My shadow devotes himself tirelessly to this work. I know all of his quirks—how he scratched his ear when he’s nervous, blinks incessantly when he’s working through a problem and the glow in his eye when his inventions stand alone.

I know the dull look in his eyes when he is sad, when one of his projects fails. I could almost see the sparkle in him cease when he works so hard and still botches his projects.

When he’s upset, he takes to the streets of Paris, walking alone for hours at a time, watching other people roll past. The city inspires his work—it is the most conducive environment for his growing mind. He lives in a world without the Eiffel Tower, but he gathers inspiration from the colorful streets.

In a way I admire his pursuit. He does what he loves most without question and follows it with a passion. Sometimes the human mind doesn’t fall short. Sometimes it attains something good.

Shadows frequently scare and disappoint their forms, because we understand their true value and meaning, but we also understand their shortcomings. His projects are never perfect. Yet their growth is astonishing.

His successes are mine, and sometimes—very rarely—he is so happy it feels like we are one in the same. I know he will never be better than he is, but he can accomplish great feats independent of perfection.

As incorrect as they can be, the shadows are all the form has—the only thing we can see, watch, etc. It is odd that he is so vulnerable to me, all the while never knowing I exist.

***

Despite his inevitable limitation, it is a great shock to that he died.

There is an outbreak of dysentery in the city that 19th century medicine can’t cure. I am with him when he takes to the streets in the morning, contracting the infection from the sick poor in the street. I am there when he exhibits symptoms.

In just days, he escalates to the point of being bedridden. I witness the most depraved version of him. He is pale, sweaty, and weak from being unable to eat or drink.

He completely stops the production of his trinkets. Most of his day is spent fading in and out of consciousness, replenishing the energy that he lost as his body fights the infection.

I watch doctors hopelessly attempt to treat him, but they are strained—the whole city is infected, and they have no cure.

There is no sign of recovery after a week, and his body succumbs to the illness. The doctors come and go but achieve nothing. I watch my shadow waste away without food or drink, knowing what action could have saved his life.

“Conditions are grave. I do not expect him to make it through the night.” The doctor told my shadow’s teary-eyed parents one night. “The winter air is not kind this year.”

I feel closer to him in death than I ever have before. It feels more like he is returning to his perfection.

I sit with him at all hours of the day, waiting for his eyes to flutter open. Sometimes they do, and he stares directly at me. I stare back, knowing he is looking at air.

“You’re always here.” He says one night.

I’m startled. I hardly know what to say in reply—I cannot explain myself in the minutes I know he’ll stay awake. Surely he notices I am a pristine version of himself. I can see a wondrous expression in his tired eyes. “I’ve been here as long as you have.” I reply simply, longing for a lengthier discussion in happier circumstances.

“Thank you,” he adds simply, before drifting off.

I am there when he takes his last breath, and when his nurse discovers his already lukewarm corpse in the night. I am there when his mother and father kiss his forehead, and the nurse again lays a sheet on him.

Almost immediately his mother prepares mourning clothing for the family, as is customary at the time. His father orders a simple wooden coffin to be cut and sent to the house quickly.

I feel the need to disappear with him, but I couldn’t. What happened to me happened to him, but not the other way around. I wouldn’t disappear until the day of my shadow’s natural death. And his death is unwarranted. I have another 40 to 50 years to live without him uselessly.

Forms are not affected by the shadow. If he gets hurt, I don’t. If something ever happened to me, however, he would be hurt as well. Earth arbitrarily affects shadows. With their imperfections, they are subject to disease, violence, abuse, etc.

His death did not kill me, though I almost wish it had.

My closest companion is gone. I feel a strong sense of nostalgia watching his mother drape all the mirrors and trinkets in his room with a black cloth. Nurses strip his soiled sheets from his bed and gather their supplies.

It is most overwhelming to watch his parents send out funeral invitations, and to see his coffin in the parlor of the family home. Dejection plagues the house—all members of the household dress in unadorned black garments.

The funeral and burial are held days later. It is frightening to know the remains of his entire being are contained in one casket, and he’d never craft anything, or speak, or think ever again. One half of me is dead and stuck in a box.

It felt unnatural to watch others cry over his death and speak about their thoughts and memories of him. I know the people. I see their forms journeying besides them. Their recounts of his life never capture the essence of his character. I wish I had the ability to speak and correct them, but I don’t.

Everything about the funeral feels wrong, but his family wills it, and it is tradition. The idea of leaving his body alone at the funeral feels more wrong. So I stay and listen to the frivolities. The religious service is the only genuine part of the memorial.

I sadly realize I have no reason to walk the Earth without my shadow. There is no one for me to follow—no one for me to know intimately. I am thankful for the bit of conversation we had before his death. It is the only thing I have left to cherish of him. I know I need to return to the world of forms in his absence.

In death, we are one person. My half becomes the whole. His spirit joins mine in a certain way, but it is never the same as watching him enjoy his life. It is not the same as watching him grow.

***

Mourning, I return to the world of forms.

It is disheartening to return to the stagnant realm. It seems like worse is in store for the Earth as I started back home, understanding I can never return now that my shadow is no longer waiting for me.

In between the two worlds is ethereal blackness, in which I can see the stars. I observe the solar system. The entirety of space engulfs it. It is so large and innocent. I know in my heart it deserves the perfection it is destined for. But I also know the bounds of possibility.

I reluctantly look forward at the world of forms in front of me. The inky blackness of space engulfs it, too, but it is independent of the universe—it is outside of it.

I take a deep breath and walk the rest of the way home, memorizing the position of stars and planets on the way. I feel myself materialize in the world I call home. The air is cleaner, but it is deathly quiet. It is a great contrast that shocks me for many moments after.

I recognize those lying dormant, like they are shut down. The forms projecting their image on Earth are dormant in their bodies. They see the world below, not the one in front of them.

I look back at the Earth and wish something positive would result from my shadow’s death. I know I can never return there, but I stare longingly, waiting for the aftereffect. My connection with the world of shadows is severed.

Space crumbles and the Earth falls away with it.

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