Invisible

I have the sinking feeling that I’ve been written in to someone else’s story. A bit part, a day player, the symbolic blip between pages 97 and 101. A dazzling entrance. The fizzle of an exit. Never to be heard from again.

Serves me right.

I’ve always been the type to pop into other people’s lives at the moment they need me most. I help, comfort, amuse, and disappear with the elegance of a jelly-fish floating in the blue-lit tank of an aquarium. A teacher of mine once advised our class to leave parties early, before we were drunk. This way, we would never embarrass ourselves and always remain slightly mysterious. Since then, it’s been a strategy of mine to strike from the heart, exit quickly, and cause the least amount of damage for the most amount of good. Bashfulness is an extreme sport, and shyness can hide in the cacophony of fashionable confusion.

It’s Hallowe’en, days after the storm that sunk the Lower East Side. In true New York fashion, the bar is packed, the citizens of the city making a concerted effort to ignore what’s happening twenty blocks away. I’m sitting across from a most amazing stranger. We’re yelling to each other over the din of the kitchen and surrounding conversations, half lit by fluorescents, and half by candle light.

He’s a self-made man of incredible intelligence, enormous wit, and deep passion. I need only ask one question every fifteen minutes, and he is propelled into his story. I sit back and listen. If I don’t have to speak, I don’t have to wriggle around a rigid truth. And I don’t have to lie. My alter-ego can take a well deserved break and drink her wine.

***

Years ago, I had a dream that I worked at a food prep station. As I was chopping tomatoes, a light emanated from the refried beans. A booming voice declared that I had been given super-human powers.

In the dream, I was stunned silent for a moment. I stopped chopping, tilted my head, and sat back on a food grade container of mayonnaise.

“What are they,” I finally asked, after a pregnant pause.

“That is for you to discover,” the light whispered before sinking back into the bubbling quagmire of over-cooked legumes.

The dream stuck with me. Super-powers are a grave responsibility. To receive them without knowing what they are or how to access them is puzzling, to say the least.

***

There is a most memorable entrance. I hustle up Ninth Avenue with Superman. Superman’s friend, Nick, follows close behind pulling the Superman soundtrack from the clouds to his smart phone. My date waits for me on the corner. I’m laughing; Superman postures behind me, elbows out, fists pressed into his waist. Nick hums along with the music, thrilled to have found a practical use for his iphone. My date is bewildered at first, but he takes it in stride. It’s not everyday you’re accosted by a man in a cape and a laughing girl on the corner of 54th and 9th.

Moments later, Superman flies off to his event, and we find our spot in a restaurant, order our food, and sip our wine. I smile, uneasy, out of practice, and incredibly impressed. First I ask him “what,” and then I move to “how,” by the time we reach “where” and “when,” I notice my skin is slightly transparent. At “who,” a mere thirty minutes later, all that’s left of me are two blinking eyes, and a tipsy smile.

I suddenly know what my super power is.

I am invisible.

It’s not so bad. Invisible doesn’t mean I’m not there. It just means that when people look at me, they don’t see me.

Once you get used to it, invisible can be fun. Especially on dates. You can chew with your mouth open, and tell off-color jokes. You can spill your wine, pull your hair, and stand on a chair, rant and rave about South African accents and family dramas. You can pick your teeth with your fork, climb out through the bathroom window, and tickle the knee of the lady in the cheap nylons sitting next to you. And as long as you can keep your date talking, he won’t notice a thing.

Most of all, when you’re invisible, you see better, hear better, smell better. Your senses become alive and information flows without the need for words. The space between your molecules widens and the story, that other person’s story, becomes your own.

It takes a little getting used. Its smarts at first, especially if you think you think you’re kind of cute and quirky and worthy of a glance. Slowly, it sinks in that you’ve been invisible before, many times, when people who don’t know you like you or love you or hate you or think they know things about you… you discover that they were never looking at you. They were looking in your general direction, and seeing themselves. That’s the moment you can feel everything you were hoping for slip through the cracks in your fingers.

The date fizzled. Not only was I invisible, but I disappeared, too. I still haven’t learned how to harness my powers.

All super-heroes are destined for loneliness. It’s part of the gig. The melancholy of invisibility, especially when you most want to be seen, dissipates with the realization that the less of me that is seen means that more of me sees.

In quantum physics, they’ve discovered that atoms act differently when they’re being observed than when they are left alone to be themselves. Expectation of these atoms’ behavior also affects how they behave.

People act differently when they’re being observed, too. I suspect invisibility is a truth serum.

As far as super-powers go, being invisible wouldn’t have been my first choice. But it is a potent skill. And maybe one day I’ll figure out how to use my powers for good.

Anyway, I have no one to blame but myself. And those fucking refried beans.

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