Thirteen: The Grand Illusion

Alley

Next time, I’ll know better than to ask Taylor Hanson a vague, open-ended question.

It was nearly thirty minutes since I’d asked him to tell me a little about himself, and I was seriously beginning to regret it. Especially since my mind kept wandering, thinking about our bizarre situation… trying to conjure up plausible reasons for his appearance. There was a strange niggling in the back of my mind… like an idea trying to form and take shape… only, it couldn’t, because every time I came close to grasping it, Taylor would interrupt, sounding irritated, and ask if I was even listening to him.

“… so… we just sort of took up instruments, it wasn’t planned or anything, it just sort of happened…” Taylor paused, staring hard, apparently waiting for some sort of response from me.

I blinked, trying to figure out how far into his autobiography he’d gotten. Jeez, wasn’t he tired yet? “Instruments?” I managed to repeat. “Oh… why did you choose piano? Did you take lessons or something?” Hey, at least I was making an effort.

“I just told you that! Yes! Ike and I both did… but he started playing guitar because he worshipped Chuck Berry… I chose piano… Zac just sorta ended up with the drums…”

“Oh, okay, sorry,” I said absentmindedly. I lapsed back into deep thought, adding up the facts for about the 50th time that day. I glanced over at him, taking in his unblemished, flawless appearance… there had to be something up with that. Ordinary people, human beings just weren’t… perfect in everyday life… it was unfeasible in so many ways… everything on this Earth wore out eventually… got dirty, run down, or decayed…

I stopped at that thought, pondering two of those words: on Earth… Yes… but not, per say, somewhere a little more metaphysical…

Right… I’d had a class on religion last semester, where we had discussed perfection and its limitations… there were all sorts of interesting theories… like, for instance, Plato had said that only the idea of something could be perfect, never the physical manifestation of that idea… well, I wasn’t sure about that, because there was certainly a physical Taylor sitting there, babbling about his voice changing halfway through recording their first major record. What had Aquinas said? Something about how everything was classified by its perfection? I couldn’t remember what his point had been, possibly because none of his theories made a damn bit of sense to me during the lecture, but at any rate, I didn’t figure it mattered. That was sort of irrelevant, anyway… Hmmm… Augustine had come up with an idea about there being two parts to every person, imperfect and perfect; the body and the soul, and--

I blinked. Two parts?

“Hold that thought,” I said suddenly to Taylor, leaping up from the couch. “Stay right there! I’ll be back!” He gave me a bewildered look as I dashed from the room, a half-assed idea taking shape in my mind.

*****

Forty-five minutes, seven books, and one-and-a-half Ale8s later, I had my answer. Well, I had a hypothesis, anyway. Perhaps an odd, completely unbelievable hypothesis, but it was a start… and really, at this point, it was the only thing we had to go on. I clutched the ancient, worn copy of Retractations in my hand, feeling very accomplished.

It was right there on the page, in Augustine’s lectures on the Gospel of John. Number 32… I studied the second paragraph, rereading the key phrases. There is therefore an inner thirst and an inner belly, because there is an inner man. And that inner man is indeed invisible, but the outer man is visible; but yet better is the inner than the outer. I’d been taught that Augustine was referring to a statement made by Christ, about ‘filling’ one’s soul with the ‘sustenance’, or love, of God… hence the whole ‘inner belly’ thing… but was it possible that there was a physical, literal interpretation to it? It is quite certain that a man loves his soul more than his body. But further, a man loves the soul even in another more than the body. What is it that is loved in a friend, where the love is the purer and more sincere? What in the friend is loved -- the mind, or the body? Right… what mattered more? Obviously, the mind, the ‘inner man’… so… since the ‘inner’, or the soul, was more important, was it possible that he was sent here for me to take care of him? That somehow, the two Taylors – inner and outer – had gotten separated accidentally before their due time, and that until they could be… reunited, for lack of a better word, I was appointed the caretaker of his soul, for whatever reason?

I bookmarked the page and took a deep breath. Taylor, surprisingly, had remained downstairs, following my orders. I tucked the book under my arm, running down the steps into the living room. He looked up at me expectantly when I entered.

“I have an idea,” I said. “It’s a little crazy, and sort of ridiculous, and you’ll probably think I’ve been smoking crack, but it’s an idea. A theory.”

He gave me a surprised look. “You do?”

“Yeah…” I walked over to him, opening up the book. “Read this page.”

He took it from me, holding the book open and scanning down the page. I sat down next to him, waiting for his response. He was silent for several minutes, reading.

“Okay,” he said finally. “Wow.”

“I know, right?” I said. “What do you think?”

His face reddened a little, oddly enough. “About?”

“About what Augustine said. Do you think that it’s… possible?”

“Well… anything’s possible, isn’t it?” he asked. “Especially with the way things are going here…”

“You know what I mean,” I said. “Doesn’t it make sense, though?”

He was quiet for several more moments, and I eyed him suspiciously. Right. Sometimes I forgot that not everyone in this world was as nerdy as me. “Taylor,” I said slowly. “Did you understand what you just read?”

He pressed his lips tightly together. “Uh… no.”

I sighed, closing my eyes. “Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place?”

“Sorry! I didn’t want to look stupid!” he grumbled. “We’re not all geniuses like you. Now, can you explain this in layman’s terms for me?”

“Alright,” I muttered. I took a minute to collect my thoughts before offering him an explanation. “I’ve had classes on this sort of thing. This book here,” I picked it up, pointing to the cover, “was written by St. Augustine, a religious philosopher. He believed that every person is basically composed of two parts. Everyone has an ‘inner man’ and an ‘outer man’. Or, ‘inner woman’ and ‘outer woman’, whatever the case may be. Anyway, this ‘inner man’ is like, a person’s soul. Souls are as close to perfection as we can get. You know, no one can ever truly be ‘perfect’ because only God is ‘perfect’. The ‘outer man’ is the body that holds a soul. It’s not perfect, and it, in fact, holds the soul back. Augustine actually went so far as to call a person’s body a ‘prison’ for the soul. When we think of people going to heaven, we think of their souls going to heaven, correct? Not the actual bodies. The ‘inner’ and ’outer’ man have to separate when a person dies.”

“You’ve lost me,” he interrupted. “What’s this got to do with me?”

I sighed impatiently. Couldn’t he see where this was heading?! “I’m not done yet. Now, what I think might have happened is that somehow your ‘inner man’ and ‘outer man’ have been separated before their due time. Your ‘outer man’ is back in a Tulsa hospital, bandaged and bruised… You,” I poked him hard in the ribs, “you, sittingright here in my living room, are the ‘inner man’, without the prison of a real body.”

He stared at me, as if I’d just told him that I was the Prime Minister of Canada. “But I have a body! You’re poking it right now! Bruising it, actually…”

“Oh?” I asked. “Yes, I can touch it… but who else can?” He remained silent after that, point taken. I continued. “I think it’s just an illusion… For some reason, I’ve been given this ability to be able to touch you, see you, communicate with you. No one else can… I dunno, this is sort of a silly example, but it’s kind of like those 3-D glasses you use with movies and stuff. If you don’t have the glasses, you don’t know you’re missing anything. They use optical illusions to allow you to see all the extra stuff. So let’s think of it this way: God, or whatever higher power you believe in, has given me some kind of extraordinary perception, like those 3-D glasses, so that I can see you… You’re real, and you’re tangible to me, but not to anyone else.”

He nodded, soaking in that information. “Now, this would also explain why you haven’t felt the need to shower within the past few weeks, and why you don’t appear to be harmed in any way from your accident,” I said. “The ‘outer man’ takes the brunt of physical harm and change; it doesn’t much affect the guy inside.” I leaned back against the cushion, picking at the hem of my shirt. “And… as for you ending up here… you said you prayed, right?” He nodded. “Well… I think that I’ve been, like… appointed your caretaker, for the time being… maybe that’s why I’ve been given the ‘gift’ of seeing you. You prayed for help, you ended up here. So…” I trailed off.

Taylor stared out the window for a minute. “Damn,” he said. “That’s… incredible. You thought of all that yourself?”

“Well,” I said, blushing a little. “Technically, Augustine thought of it, thousands of years ago…”

He waved me off. “Yeah, but… wow. It sounds unbelievable, but… it makes sense. It really makes sense…” He shook his head and offered me a small smile. “I would have never thought of that in a million years.”

I shrugged. “Yeah, I even surprised myself with that one.”

“So…” he said slowly. “We’ve established how I ended up like this… but… why? Why would my ‘inner man’ have been separated? And why would you be the one to help me?”

“Maybe there’s been a mistake…”

He gave me a sharp look. “God doesn’t make mistakes.”

“Right…” I murmured, staring absentmindedly at the side pocket of his khakis. The edge of the fabric, right where the seams ran down, was beginning to fray. “Well, Taylor… I guess we’re just going to have to wait and see how all this plays out, because that’s one thing I definitely don’t have an answer for.”