I haven’t seen this young man since-sad, listless in an absence that even he didn’t notice. His own absence. The first time he told me about his life, he explained to me why he had no shadow. He gave me a chaste peck on the lips, as if he were a child, and kept staring at the sea, his hand covering his left eye.
I had just graduated from nursing school when I came to this clinic for addicts. I was sent to take care of him. My job was to keep him company, to talk to him. But he didn’t talk to me, he only said yes, no, and asked for small things-a glass of water, a book. So I enjoyed the beach, beside the silent companion.
I read his medical file. He had gone through the darkest valleys of heroin. I don’t know how he was still alive. It was clear that he didn’t want to live-overdose, trouble with the law, several suicide attempts. I began to wonder who cared so much to save him, who paid the bill for the most exclusive, expensive clinic. He had no visitors.
Dr. Van der Graff was in charge of psychotherapy. One morning, Johnny-he only responded to this name-was swimming in the pool, the doctor approached me and asked if Johnny ever talked to me. I told him no. I couldn’t help but ask him if he thought Johnny had suffered any brain damage. “Look at him,” the doctor pointed his chin toward Johnny, who was taking slow strokes under water. “He’s not the person we think he is. He’s an actor named Johnny…Johnny Depp. He really believes that.” While the doctor gave an account of his theories on multiple personality, Johnny reached the edge of the pool, wiped his face, shook his long hair, and looked at me. His glance was a flock of blackbirds flying over me.
“You think you’re an actor,” I asked, wanting to provoke him. It didn’t work. He flashed me a condescending smile, his lips shut tight. He returned his gaze to the sea. Then I told him a lie. “If you like, we could get on one of those sailing boats you sometimes see in the distance.” Johnny’s smile turned into a serious expression, as if he contemplated what he was going to say. In the end, he remained silent, but his eyes showed a restlessness that I took as the beginning of something, some progress. I kept him company while he was having his afternoon snack, and left him in his room.
Days later he had an anxiety attack, but it was not as severe as the previous ones, they said. One afternoon he wanted to take a walk on the beach again. He walked slowly and let me walk beside him. Before he always walked ahead of me. From time to time he turned to find his footprints. He seemed to enjoy this. All of a sudden I stopped. I was frightened-Johnny had no shadow. Mine stretched out, lingered on the foam that waves left under our feet, but he had no shadow. I told him so as calmly as possible when he shot me a quizzical look. Then he came close and gave me a chaste peck. I didn’t know what to say. Johnny covered his left eye, as if to see something on the horizon, then kept walking. I preferred to walk behind him.
Those long walks ended beside a few crags that received the calming embrace of the sea. He sat there. He gestured for me to sit next to him. “You think I’m crazy, don’t you?” he asked me. I told him no. “I’m alone,” he added. I told him again about his shadow. “Stars have no shadow,” he answered. And he told me how he lost it. “While we were shooting Arizona Dream… Have you seen it? With Faye Dunaway and Lili Taylor. You must see it. One day when we didn’t film, I went to see a wise Indian, an old man. He told me I was living in fear of my shadow. And he took it from me to take my fear away. But there’s nothing to worry about. It’s not lost somewhere. I have it inside. Do you understand? Inside.” He pointed with his finger to the veins in his arms, his scars from needles and anxiety.
His straight black hair almost touched his shoulders. A lock of his hair fell over his face. He was thin, he ate little. Also a bit haggard, pale, pale brown. He had a sharply outlined chin, manly and firm. His smile was shy. There was a sadness in his eyes, a sadness of a blackbird. Johnny let me observe him. I realized that I enjoyed what I was looking at, so I turned my gaze toward the sea. “What happens in the movie, Somebody’s Dream?” I asked him.
“It’s a weird movie, you know? I like those movies, they are my favorites. Faye plays a woman who dreams of flying. Lili, Faye’s daughter in the movie, dreams of reincarnating as a turtle,” he said.
“And you?” I asked. “What was your dream?”
Johnny didn’t answer. The wind blew through his hair. He brought his hands to his temples and said, “I’m tired.” We went back.
Van der Graff was closing Johnny’s file. He was going to discharge him. While he jotted down his conclusions, he asked me again if Johnny told me something. I told him that the other day we had talked about one of his movies. The doctor frowned. “His movies?” he asked, his icy blue eyes piercing me. That afternoon, the head nurse told me that Johnny would leave the next morning, that he was already “clean.” The rest of the day, I felt very irritable. I found Dr. Van der Graff and told him about the shadow. He shrugged and told me that sometimes people have illusions, superstitions… anyway, Johnny’s case was closed. I went for a walk with Johnny at the usual time. It was a cold afternoon, so he had a white blanket over his shoulders. His pensive walk irritated me ever more. He said nothing, he was not going to say goodbye. He would be gone, and that was it. I stopped. He noticed that he was walking alone and turned to look at me. He took off his blanket and gave it to me. “The boat,” he whispered. “Take this sail for your boat…”
Through the window of his empty room, I saw Johnny leave in a black limousine, like the ones that carry Hollywood stars. Stars without shadows.