Waking Up To Walking In
I used to be the sort of person nobody would notice. Shy, retiring, self-effacing to the point of invisibility, you might be thinking. Too polite to be provocative. Too plain to stand out in a crowd. Neutral colours, no name jeans and jackets. Hair by nobody. And you wouldn’t be far off. I was never much of a presence. Personality was a preference of others. A preference I respectfully declined. Dull and undistinguished was my disguise. Let’s face it, everybody’s got one. It covers who they really are and keeps them safe from inspection. Well, me too.
Eventually I got tired of being ignored. In discussions and get-togethers, meet ‘n greets and what not, I found I had more and more to say. You know, Hey what about this? It may not be a solution but it’s pointing in the right direction. But I was never acknowledged, never mind listened to. Sure, a lifetime of fading into the background should have prepared me, but by then I was wondering how people could be so cruel. It wasn’t as if it was some A-list party that I’d snuck into by bribing the servers, though I did get to that later.
Another night, somewhat disconsolate, I wandered through an unfamiliar neighbourhood and finding an art house theatre I’d never noticed before, strolled in, unnoticed by the ticket vendor. They were showing that old movie Ghost. I’d seen it years before but thought a second view was somehow in order. I fell helplessly into the story, following its path into the dark woods of mystery. That scene where the one ghost shows the other how to kick a can in the subway was like a wake-up call. That’s what I needed to do, focus my will to make things happen. The whole thing seemed to rejuvenate me and I found my way back to the party full of bravado. One of the servers raised her tray and said ‘Here take two’. All spunky now, I finished the first in a gulp and readied number two.
Looking about the crowded room, filled with posture chatter, chuckles and glasses held aloft, I spied a youngish woman demurely decorating a love seat all by herself. I focused my will, don’t ask me how, and she looked in my direction and smiled. I walked over and whispered in her ear, something I had never done before. Can we go back to your place? Bold beyond belief but she immediately replied that she’d been looking for an excuse to leave. Nobody seemed to take any notice as we squeezed our way out. I was used to being invisible but was she? Outside she magnetized a cab out of nowhere, and we hopped in. I touched her fingers lightly as we were driven to an upscale neighbourhood far beyond my payscale and into a townhouse, the likes of which I’d never seen the inside of and likely would never see again. Too wonderful for words but here we were in the words.
She invited me to make myself comfortable and poured me a generous measure of a vintage malt twice my age. She settled beside me with her own and we clinked to sip. I couldn’t believe my luck but I knew better than to question it. Lesley asked where I’d been all her life. I said, Waiting for you. We kissed and kissed again. Passion waited patiently in the wings. She apologized for the shock but said her partner, a bit of a high l flyer always on the move, was due back very soon and that I might have to hide. I nodded, knowing it would just be a blip. She gestured towards the kitchen, saying ‘He never ever goes there, just waits for me to fetch’. One of his things apparently. But his wealth and frequent absences made it all worthwhile. When present he was kind, thoughtful but always preoccupied.
I bided my time in the kitchen while he more or less ravished her on what I assumed was the couch, though it may have been the carpet. Her response sounded gratefully enthusiastic. She did not, apparently, feel short changed by her marital duties. After he climaxed and slumped I found it easy to slip into his body. We were mostly a match but somehow he felt a little different from post-coital bliss, but was suddenly fraught with texts, too busy to notice as Lesley poured him a malt for him to absent-mindedly sip. But I was paying attention, it felt like I was drinking it.
When a few moments later, he collapsed into bed, I used his exhaustion to establish the sort of serenity I had known all my life but had never consciously employed assuming it to be little more than determined coping with loneliness. Being timid and reserved had shown me the smooth insides of quiet. Lesley snuggled up to this oasis of calm she’d only known when alone. While he slept the sleep of the dead, his brain churning over with acquisitions, mergers and all that Wall Street jargon jive, I asked if she was comfortable with the new arrangement. She whispered Oh yes and promptly fell asleep. She looked as calm as a baby. Maybe I’d call her that, My baby, like I’d always wanted.
The following days were fascinating, instructive in the ways of rapid fire decision makers. I listened, observed and took notes. I warmed myself by the fire of his hyperactive absorption and analysis of fluctuations and buy/sell options. Associates called with opportunities, warnings and appeals for advice. Did he know I was there observing, did he care that I might be in the process of stealing his multitasking thunder? My fascination with his exquisitely foreign way of processing did not extend to any kind of slavish or ambitious imitation. I’d satisfied myself with being a low level operative in the global economy for so long, obeying the rules, following the norms while enjoying my meagre slice of the capitalist pie, that my comfort zone really was comfortable. The marketing of lifestyle upgrades and hi-tech knick-knacks had slipped right by me. The likes of Middlemarch, Rilke and Schostakovitch kept me well catered in the culture department while regular treks to MOMA made modernity palatable.
Of course being close to Lesley made it all worthwhile. We worked out a system whereby she’d pursued her social engagements, shopping and whatnot, while I traversed the world of business and finance from inside Harold’s head. The respect, deference and fearful worship that he seemed to inspire without really trying was amazing to the nobody I’d trained myself to be. She admitted to wanting to brag about our arrangement but knew her already small social circle would quickly shrink further should the temptation be indulged. Our bond, she decided, was all the more blissful for being secret. Harold seem unperturbed, even as he felt a growing self-satisfaction creeping into his concept of himself. He took to taking Sundays off, running through the park after dawn and squiring us for a leisurely brunch on some swanky patio. The three of us got on rather well at such times.
Such arrangements could be seen as the creepy side of threesomes, that I knew, despite my limited cultural exposure. Yet I did not feel in any way vampiric. I had no need Harold’s blood or breath or whatever I was supposed to be sucking on. I was actually giving him a whole measure of calm, one that seemed to smooth out much of his endless edginess. Between nibbles of her lobster quiche, Lesley said ‘I really like this new Harold’. He looked at his wife, admiringly I thought, being inside of him and not looking at him, and these words came, more haltingly than was his habit, ‘You know, I think I do too’. He pondered some then added, ‘More of a companion than a taskmaster’.
Lesley replied, ‘Surely that’s a good thing Harold. You need to be kinder to yourself’. I could sense she wanted to add something about not beating yourself up but thought better of it. The exchange, both spoken and self-censored, was something of a reveal: Lesley cared more than her gal-about-town lifestyle had suggested. She was more than silk scarves and blouses, beyond spas and saunas. My fascination with the whole process had not lead to psychic imprisonment of any kind. I had not succumbed as much as my embodiment might suggest. I came and went as I pleased. Accompanying Lesley on some of her jaunts was a pleasure despite the girly nature of most of it. Sing-songy chatter about a patio table proved more endearing that I ever would have expected, and the fact that no-one could see me other than her charmed me more than I could say. Even the nervy, hyper, neurotic ninnies fussing with their purses could be endearing in the manner of giggly girls planning their prom dress. Of course they had glued themselves to Lesley in the hopes that her ethereal style would settle on them.
And a few days after our initial contact blending, a visit to my old place, now cleared out and readied for repainting, brought back the suppressed memory of seeing my long lost brother organize my cremation and deposition of the will. Simple enough once the charitable donations were dealt with. We’d barely spoken in a decade as it was and the upset to his tidy life was minimal and well rewarded. Well, reasonably well. Isn’t it amazing what you can hide from yourself?
Harold’s ever busy deal making brain had kept him ticking over 24/7 for just about ever I suspected, but the wealth pile, although mostly on paper, was beginning to become a burden, or so it seemed to that guy that had borne a do-not-disturb sign around his neck since college. I had to chuckle, we were quite a pair to be sharing. But we did seem to be good for each other. He felt me like someone watching from a distance, but so quiet and non-judgmental as to be easily ignorable, a curiosity in a cabinet. The realms of abnormal psychology, – deviance, neurosis and pill popping nut-bardom had always failed to generate any serious interest. The sharks of high finance had kept him engaged and amused. At least until I entered the picture. Of course Lesley was the draw for me, the prize I found irresistible. Harold was my less than threatening rival, the twin that did not need to be road tested.
Once set on his course, about as soon after high school as you might have guessed, he’d wished for a trophy wife to complement the picture and Lesley, already enjoying her rich girl cruise but minding her radar, had conveniently stepped up to the plate, accepted the offer while matching it with her own, quickly sensing her niche would never be seriously challenged. More of a merger than a hire. She had already owned that confidence, she told me, and I had no trouble believing it, even as I knew myself awash in her beauty. Coming from a childhood of abusive, wealthy and selfish parenting, she’d clambered out of victimhood cliches to figure out the lay of the land and all the characters who populated it.
On one memorable occasion, with Harold off to London for some post-Brexit harvesting and Lesley to the Hamptons for a lazy smiley weekend, I thought to make a break for a bit and maybe see what was there for me beyond my current connection, which was, let’s face it, my new life. I floated through the downtown core, enjoying the movements of bodies and energies, seeing a music in their subtle interactions, the sort of thing you rarely noticed as you hurry from point to point on your wage slave existence. At first you are intrigued then charmed then blissed out and then busy doing nothing seems like the place to be. I felt as if I could disappear, even from myself. Being an invisible spirit is sure a good place to start from and that I was, once out of Harold’s body. Lesley had clued in somehow but no-one else so much as guessed, although some poodles and Jack Russells seemed to take a brief interest..
Of course, there’s lots of ghosts wandering the streets, you get used to that and often it’s hard to tell who’s flesh and who’s the mere memory of flesh. After a while you think maybe you’re getting better and then you wonder if it matters really. Humans, spirits, most of them, seem programmed like robots and you wonder what or who is doing the programming. Fear, desire, ambition, or just mere mindless habit? Then that distinction seems to fade into this flow that just keeps flowing. One of those mysteries wrapped in an enigma, as if my tale was often told and you know, tamed by retelling. My own take on it was as bare and frail as most. Cliché’d ghosts clanking about in creaky attics, sleepers disturbed, children terrified, audience unimpressed.
Now I get how real it all is. I may be a specter of who I used to be, but I feel as full of life as ever, even fuller truth to tell. Lesley gave up denying me almost immediately. Harold would be sleeping and we would whisper endearments on the pillow. At other time Harold would mount her and I would be right there, partly enjoying and partly enduring as Lesley would prefer. A creeped-out threesome perhaps but beyond imagination. After my floaty wander about town I found myself in the park by the big pond. I lay back on the grass to enjoy the passing scene. A shadow crossed my eyes; A man leaned over smiling. You know who I am right? Yeah. That was a familiar face. We’d met up many times but I’d let it all slip. Amazing what you can hide form yourself. He lowered himself and sat beside me. I looked up, knowing another reveal was coming.
So: I was what is known as a walk-in. Soon Harold would be leaving and my soul would be the only occupant of the body. It would be an adjustment but the process was well underway. Anticipating my query he reported that it had all been setup beforehand. Before what? Well it depended on how far back you wanted to go. Rival warriors, blood brothers, sworn enemies, head-banging father and son, jousting for a pale-faced, a hanky-waving Lesley, right up to this past birth where this kind of sharing was suggested and contemplated. Harold planned to complete his ambitious arc of wealth attainment and I was to perfect the disbursement to worthy causes in the years to come. As a conservative oft-times parsimonious loner this would be a challenge. I would not be just giving it all away like some drunk on a windy day. That it might sustain its beneficial effects wealth had to be managed and despite my natural distaste for such a role I would be the money manager.
Nothing seemed a shock to whatever system I was actually in. I knew he was right, this was merely a reminder. Amazing what you can actually know ehrn you step confidently out of denial. He asked, did I have any questions or maybe lingering doubts? I was about to ask who he was really when I knew the ‘really’ would be impossible to answer. He was who he needed to be in any situation. He was the flexible host of many situations. He came and went as needed. Perhaps he was, in some ways, me. The smarter me. And maybe the smarter Harold too. He touched me lightly on the forehead and set himself to depart. I asked if he’d be checking in from time to time. As he walked off I thought I heard him say ‘We’ll see about that’.
I spent the remainder of that long weekend relaxing about the condo, reading and listening to classical music, working my way diligently through the Sibelius symphonies, something I’d been meaning to get to for years. Harold had three complete sets, one of them still sealed. The others would return and we would resume our roles for a time. I knew somehow it would all work out smoothly, and it did over months. I learned more and more of Harold’s sharp analytical mind and ability to make snap smart decisions without doubt or fear. He seemed to fade slowly into some background, observing my slow but sure uptake. Lesley continued to enjoy her two men and her privileged life. Free from status anxiety and the need for self-esteem, she sailed though her days and nights I like some perennially undisturbed cruise ship on some calm inland sea. Everything was taken care of by a staff that was no more than her careful management of schedules, appointments, and emotions.
One might suspect the old truism about a woman truly loved is a woman calm and satisfied, but her serenity seemed to arrive prepackaged from some distant shore where all had been turbulent but tamed by a patience that long suffering had carved to serve up as some sumptuous banquet, the very one she was partaking of now. And the joy was I got to share in that as I climbed on the horse that Harold had thought he’d exercised into compliance. But like most guys he’d been baffled by the mysteries of femininity by about five years old and just fell into line without ever fighting back. There’s a line from a poem that says it all, though I can’t recall the poet – “even the mother does not tell the son”.
Down the road apiece Lesley let me in on her secret, which she insisted wasn’t really a secret, just common sense about social navigation. Let others do the doing, – the plans, the strategies, the opinions, the moods. You navigate around all that as though it was of no consequence because usually it has none. Sound and fury signifying nothing. Storms that always subside The damage can always be rearranged. Give up a mild version of the reaction they seek. They’ll think you a sweetheart, easy to manipulate and maybe a bit wimpy. But you get to surf the flow of time and space like an angel come to earth for a change of pace. I reacted that it was easy in her privileged position to take such a tack, that others less fortunate could not be so soignee/blasé. She insisted, smoothly as was her way, that it was no quirk of circumstance that she landed where she did. Spreading the good vibes of bemused serenity was her mission and she was at ease with it. Guilt and shame were not her games.
Over the months and then years I got the hang of big risky business, and learned to sell off and reinvest in good causes. Philanthropy as a lifestyle. Lesley was great at picking out the scam artists and shysters, of which there was more than a few once the word got around that Harold had gone limp. Of course we knew he had gone completely, left by previous arrangement with me as the walk-in, as they say in the mystical books, a couple of which Lesley already knew of. After a lifetime of timid low-level accountancy I enjoyed being a do-gooder. Ramping up my talents, most of which I never suspected existed, was simpler than I’d ever imagined. Indulging, yes, but with care. Fine liquors on the weekend, lazy brunches, some high culture, the sort that came with pledging support for the arts, but no drug indulgences and no gold taps in the bathroom with svelte babes to turn them on and off. Lesley laughed when I mentioned it, saying ‘Hey dude I can slap on a robe and bend fetchingly over the bath’.
When renting in the Hamptons, who needs to own anything else, condos are a big enough pain in the butt, we make out like a couple of middle-aged muddlers, chuckling behind our smiles at those who find us daffy. We’ve gotten good at daffy. And that’s all you need to know. For now.