By Sharon McClellan Thomason
Two shadows live in this house. One is male, 6-feet tall with a husky build, 31 years old. The other is female, 5’7” tall with a slim build accentuated by the slackness and paunchiness of age, 64 years old. The shadows pass one another throughout the day, usually coming in or out of a room, rarely interacting.
The male shadow is my son. He was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease when he was 24. Now, crippled by anxiety, he will no longer go out in public. I knew he was pretty much done when he started asking me to go buy his cigarettes for him—his last vestige of independence gone. Or so I thought.
A couple of days after Christmas, I asked him if he wanted to order pizza (something he’s always up for) and watch a movie. He said yes, but he didn’t want to call and place the order; he asked me to do that. He’s always been the one to call and order pizza, so I asked why he didn’t want to call. He said he didn’t like talking on the phone. I asked why. He said because he stutters, and it makes him feel uncomfortable, like a fool. I stood my ground, insisting that he’s already isolated himself so much that I was not going to allow him to isolate himself even more by refusing to talk on the phone. He called and ordered, but once the pizza arrived, he retreated to his room to eat. He faded into a shadow once more. We didn’t watch the movie. Another addition to the long list of things we didn’t do.
Mother’s Day has always been a day that my son has made special for me, sometimes with a meal that he’s prepared, sometimes with beautiful flowers, sometimes a special gift, always a card. This year, the day passed with nothing except a hug and a “Happy Mother’s Day” in the morning. The rest of the day, he once again faded into a shadow and stayed in his room.
I am the other shadow. I live in the same house with my son, but there is no interaction. We no longer have conversations. We no longer eat together. We no longer watch t.v. or movies together. We no longer do anything together. We are shadows that pass each other on the way in or out of a room, shapes with no substance, no dimension, no life of their own.
I am equally guilty. I feel like I’ve given up on trying to initiate conversations and activities because I know the answer will be, “No, thank you.” And so I’m finding myself sleeping for hours on end. I’m staying in my room. I’m not getting things done. I don’t feel like getting up, taking a shower, washing my hair, getting dressed. I don’t feel like shopping. I don’t feel like cooking. My energy is gone. All that’s left is my shadow. Am I depressed? I don’t think so; I’m taking antidepressants, just as I have for years. There’s just no animation; just a shadow.
A shadow has no life of its own. It has no independent action. It is simply a dark shape, moving through space and time, a reflection of its owner, dependent upon its owner to give it function.
The life of a shadow is lonely. It’s an isolating existence because the shadow feeds the shadow. The longer one exists as a shadow, the more one becomes nothing more than a shadow. I find myself often wondering how much longer two shadows, rather than vibrant human beings, will inhabit this house. It reminds me of the lyrics to a Carly Simon song from the 1970s—“That’s the Way I Always Heard It Should Be”:
My father sits at night with no lights on
His cigarette glows in the dark
The living room is still
I walk by, no remark
I tiptoe past the master bedroom where
My mother reads her magazines
I hear her call sweet dreams
But I forgot how to dream
Our shadows pass in the day. Our shadows pass in the night. Our shadows inhabit the same time and space, but our shadows have forgotten how to connect. We have forgotten how to be more than mere shadows of our selves. There are times when he makes a special effort to break through his anxiety, to participate in “life” once again. But it always ends with him being exhausted, sleeping around the clock for a couple of days, fading back into his shadow self. And I fade into mine.
It just feels so damn lonely.