Recently I took several nocturnal journeys into the gritty underbelly of downtown Boston, where I distributed fliers for this website until dawn. On those occasions I had a multitude of surreal encounters with eclectic characters from all walks of life, and though I fully intend to write about the majority of those experiences in future articles, for today’s purposes I’ll be focusing on one person in particular.
Tom is a strikingly articulate and emaciated middle-aged man who repeatedly informed me that he is devoid of mental illness. He’s also, apparently, a former alcoholic turned “enlightened meth connoisseur.” Tom lives behind a rusted dumpster in a dark, dank alleyway where he preoccupies himself with occasionally snorting but mostly mainlining crank while hunkered down on stacks of yellowing newspaper beneath a decaying tarp. After offering him something to eat (an offer he unsurprisingly refused), I attempted to question him about the trajectory of his life. However, aside from briefly mentioning that he was once a “top-notch biochemist,” Tom was only interested in discussing one thing: the shadow people seen by severely sleep-deprived individuals. This phenomenon is nothing new, especially in the realm of extensive amphetamine use, but Tom insisted vehemently that the common understanding of the driving forces behind the manifestations of the shadow people is “dangerously misleading.”
According to Tom, the widespread belief that the shadow people are a simple byproduct of an overly stressed brain producing hallucinations is nonsense. “People believe that a lack of sleep alters one’s brain chemistry to the extent that they begin seeing phantoms. But what if I told you that those shadowy apparitions are always here – ever-present. However, due to complex biochemical processes that we don’t yet comprehend, they only become visible to the naked eye while one is acutely deprived of sleep.”
Tom went on to tell me that he ultimately lost everything during a five year period in which his primary goals were avoiding sleep and studying the shadow people. Upon discovering methamphetamine after being perpetually pumped up on lesser stimulants, his drug use became his “new everything.” It was at that moment he came to realize that near-constant wakefulness would “keep him in a equally frequent state of enlightenment” – even if that meant living among the shadow people and experiencing ostracization from society as a result. He further stated that he has absolutely no interest in seeking out help of any sort, as mental healthcare professionals would simply slap him with an addict label and then force him to discontinue his drug routine – “wean me off of what it takes to see the reality of which they are completely unaware.” His life’s purpose, he has come to believe, is gathering as much information as he can about the appearance and behavior of the shadow people – thousands of pages of observations scrawled into a series of raggedy notebooks thus far – which, in the end, will be his “manifesto on the other side.”
As the rising sun began to peek from behind heavy rain clouds, creating new shadows, Tom’s dramatically bloodshot eyes fixed onto something in the distance. “Stay awake long enough and you see the terrifying truth.”
Considering my background in psychology, it would be easy for me to merely write Tom off as “just another methhead,” but the fact of the matter is that few things in this life are as clear-cut as they seem. It’s a strange and haunting world out there, folks.