I know you
Yes. Your face looks familiar but I don’t think we’ve ever met. Unless it was a long time ago. What’s your name?
Does it matter?
No, not really. What do you do?
Does that matter either?
I suppose not. Would you like me to tell you your name?
Your name is Lucas Hemmingway. With two M’s. You get really annoyed when people miss out the extra M.
It’s not an extra M, it’s just how you spell my name.
I know. My surname used to be Abbott. Two bees, two tees. It used to annoy me too. You are 41. Your birthday is on the 10th July. I remember this because it is the same as my husbands birthday. You have been dating your girlfriend for nearly ten years. You keep asking her to marry you and she keeps saying no. Why do you keep asking?
Because I’m eternally optimistic and I love being surprised. One day, she might say yes. Life’s a lottery.
The odds are about the same.
Which means there’s a one in fourteen million chance of it happening. Slim, but still there.
You have one brother and one sister, they are both older than you. Your mum lives in the middle of nowhere and your dad is dead. You didn’t cry many tears over his death.
No, I didn’t.
Can we change the subject?
Please? You don’t have to tell me the things that I already know about my screwed up family.
He was the defining person in your life. The person who you didn’t want to become but didn’t want to disappoint. The person who you adored but hated. The person who destroyed your family, but the one person who you never directly blamed for it. All the guilt you carried around about it nearly destroyed you too.
I’m sorry, like I said, I know you.
You don’t look familiar at all. Considering all this information you seem to know about me, I would have thought I would have remembered you. When did we meet?
I don’t know.
We must have met for you to know this. Nobody knows this. Nobody breathing anyway.
He died five years ago this Halloween, didn’t he? Your best friend. The man who you told everything to since the age of twelve. He slit his throat in the bath while everyone else was at a party. Even though his phone hasn’t been in use for all this time, every time you get a new phone, you still program his old number into it. Both his flat and mobile numbers. What was his name?
Paul. That’s my brother’s name so we used to call him Heys.
You probably know why.
Yes, I do. What about the numbers? Why do you do that?
You probably know that too.
Yes, I do. I know more about you than you think you know about yourself.
Okay, what’s my favourite band?
Metallica. Your favourite Metallica album is the Black Album, because you have a theory that everyone’s favourite Metallica album is the one they grew up with, the one they released when they were getting into their own music at about ten or eleven. Paul’s is Master of Puppets, by the way.
I know. Favourite film?
Mad Max 2, The Road Warrior. But you have all three films on all available formats, VHS, DVD and a Blu-ray copy too.
Transmetropolitan. You have a half sleeve tattoo of Spider Jerusalem. You read most things that Warren Ellis has written because of this, and you have most other comics that Darick Robertson has drawn. You recently bid on and won a piece of original artwork. It cost you three thousand dollars. You will hang it above the TV, between the Indiana Jones poster and the bookcase.
Would you like more?
Ok, I was at a gallery opening last week with my girlfriend and she made a joke that I thought was hilarious and nobody else understood. What was it?
Somebody you were talking to mentioned that they had quite a bad temper and were easily riled. Your girlfriend joked that she was the female version of Trevor Phillips from Grand Theft Auto Five but with better personal hygiene.
Were you there? Did you here that conversation?
I wasn’t there, no. But I heard it.
How? How do you know? How did you hear it if you weren’t there?
I know because those are my words. It’s the same way I know what you both look like without you standing in front of me. I know what makes you cry, I know what makes you laugh, I know your love and your hates, I know your family histories and your futures. I know what you look like clothed, naked, asleep, awake, smiling, frowning, upset, angry and calm. I know everything about you. Things that even you don’t know yet. I know them.
I know them because you are not real. You are a fictional character I have invented. You are a name on a page and thoughts in my head. You are nothing more.
I’m sorry. Perhaps I shouldn’t have told you that.
Look at it this way, it’s only my perception of the situation. It’s not like I can persuade you you don’t exist in reality.
Why don’t you try?
Ok. Google yourself.
I wont find myself. I don’t use Twitter or Facebook, I don’t have a Tumblr account…
But this is the internet age. Even if you don’t, other people do. They might be talking about you, so your name will appear somewhere on the internet. Try it.
What did you find?
Pictures of people who have my name but aren’t me. People who have a similar name to me but aren’t me. People who have names that are nothing like mine. Lots of pictures of Taylor Swift.
So what you’re telling me is that because I don’t exist on the internet, I don’t exist in reality?
There is an argument for that.
Which doesn’t hold up. Lots of people exist in reality and not on the internet. Most people over the age of eighty I would imagine. And what about the right to be forgotten? How do you know that I didn’t apply to Google to take my name off their search engine? Perhaps I didn’t want my private life splashed over Google images, forever.
It would still be on the internet though. You can remove your name from a search engine, but your footprint is still available on each separate website. Ok, try Bing then.
There’s even less on there.
Look, how about you think of it like this. We are all the lead actors in our own films, only seeing things from our own point of view, the internal narration that we give our lives giving the only plot points that we care about. Supporting actors come and go, parents, siblings, partners but our own story is only ever told by us. There is only ever our way to be our story, only ever our way to act our part.
Therefore, you are more real to me than most people I meet in daily life, because I am the narrator of your life. All the people who are sat on the bus with me on my trip home from work, I maybe able to touch them, but will I ever know their hope and fears, their wishes for the future like I know yours. There has to be something more to reality than being able to touch something with your fingers and feel it being there. As for Google, I could design a website for you, with all the information about yourself that you would ever need to know. I could post pictures of someone who looks like you under your name and Google would have Its images. All the internet is billions of voices trying to make themselves heard over the other billions of voices. If a few of them are actually fake, who is going to realise over the cacophony of all the other fake voices that belong to real people anyway? Just because there wont be a real Lucas Hemmingway shouting at the end of a broadband connection, doesn’t make him any more real or unreal than any of them.
So what about you? Are you real? Do you exist?
I think, therefore I am.
That’s shitty A Level philosophy, and avoiding the question. I think, therefore I am.
You may, but your thoughts aren’t yours. They are mine. I gave them to you. I gave you everything. You’re welcome, by the way.
I don’t see any way this argument can ever be resolved. We are just going round in circles. I don’t have anything tangible to prove to you that I do exist in reality. Maybe it’s the same for you. I think it may be beside the point you’re trying to make. I think you are trying to tell me that together, we are in a privileged, possibly unique, position. That together, we see through each others eyes. What you experience, I possibly could experience if you decide it should be that way. You may change it to fit my character, but the choices, ultimately, are all yours. Ultimately absolving me of any responsibility for anything. I can just blame it all on you.
You wont though because I wont let you. To me, you exist. I have been writing your life for the last twenty years. To everyone else that you don’t know, you don’t exist. And it’s just the same for me. They are the extras to your lead actor. I am the extra to their lead actor. Just because I have a Twitter account and a Facebook account and a Tumblr that I don’t use very often, doesn’t make me any more real than you. At the end of 2014, everything can be authored. Politics, history, the news, the lives of the famous, all this comes with a bias. All of it is make believe. Maybe its always been that way. People are just the same. Everyone is fake to some degree.
So what do we do now?
You leave this café and mention to Maggie and Paul that you’ve just met a certifiable woman who told you you were imagined. We both get on with our lives. You think about how there is an argument for the unreality of everything, even yourself and perhaps make some fantastic art out of it, in whatever medium. I go back to my boring life of wife, mother, blogger and sometime writer, if I can fit all that in between the masses of books I have to read and the part-time day job.
And that’s it? That’s how you are going to leave it?
I can’t really leave it any other way can I?
In olden days, when people said they had spoken to God or been visited by an angel, they were revered as prophets. Now we would say they are schizophrenic. But that was their reality, whether you believe they were mentally ill or not. Labelling them is beside the point. The only thing you can label is their experience, which you can never truly know because you didn’t experience it. Just because I thought of your experiences, doesn’t make them any less yours. You experienced them.
Going around in circles, remember. It was nice to finally meet you by the way.
I wish I could say the same.
I wont take that personally. I’ll see you soon.